Choosing A Scale-Miniature Western Saddle
Original version printed in EQUINEWS, "Tacky Subjects" -- Nov. 1994
Updated to current hobby standards July 2005
copyright 1994, 2005 Melody D. Snow
One of the most frequent tack questions I get asked is how to choose a western saddle. Usually, the question is from a novice shower and goes something like this: "I want to start western showing, but I don't have a lot of money. Which saddle should I buy?"
Well, this novice may be farther along than you are in the decision process. She has decided to buy a saddle. You may not have. For a discussion of the advantages/disadvantages of making your own tack, see Should You Make Your Own Tack.
WHAT NOT TO BUY
So, starting with the basic assumption you are going to buy a western saddle, how do you decide? First, let's discuss what not to buy.
Don't buy a western saddle from Breyer, Dakin, or MAS if you want to do serious showing. These are great playsets, maybe even collectibles -- I still have two Breyer sets from the 70's -- but they won't cut it in the show arena. They usually are the wrong size and frequently lack all needed working parts.
Don't buy cheap. Now, there is a difference between cheap and less-refined. Cheap is a western saddle made out of felt. Less-refined (and therefore less expensive) is a western saddle
that doesn't have hand-rubbed edges. Cheap screams at you.
Less-refined takes a trained eye to see. We'll come back to this.
WHAT TO BUY
Your best bet for a starter western saddle is a plain dark brown, Texas skirt (squared), double-rigged saddle. The plain design means you are purchasing the absolute cheapest saddle.
The brown color matches most, though not all, horses. The Texas skirt is the most common skirt. Double-rigging (two cinches and two sets of billets) insures that the saddle is suitable for working classes. It can be used in almost all western events, though as you go from Novice showing to Intermediate and Pro levels, you will want to purchase specialist saddles for the different classes. The advantage to starting here, besides the cost, is that this saddle will not be a throw-away purchase. You will need a neat, simple rig for working western classes (e.g. Ranch Events, cutting, team roping, etc.). It also gives you something to practice with, until time and skill demand another saddle.
Your second saddle should be a western pleasure saddle. These saddles are generally tooled and may have silver on them. They may be single or double-rigged. The decision on which you need is dependent on which bridle type you will be using. If split reins, double-rigged is fine. However, if using romal reins, hobbles may be required (check the appropriate association rules).
Hobbles are usually attached on the rear rigging slot on the near side (thus necessitating the rear billets be absent or removable.) A lariat may also be required.
Your next saddles can be whatever you want. More than likely, they will be a selection of specialist saddles, like a gaming saddle and parade set. Maybe, they will be fancier western
pleasure saddles or tooled ropers. It's up to you.
CHOOSING A TACKMAKER
You know what saddle you want, but how do you choose a reputable tackmaker?
Visit the Model Horse Gallery. This on-line model horse, artist, tackmakers museum show cases many tackmakers' work. Be sure to visit the
tack & obstacle and the performance sections.
Read your hobby magazines! Not only will you get a
wide selection of advertisers, you will probably see pictures of the tackmakers' work. If someone's work just blows you away, get her catalog or visit her website. For a listing of the magazines I know about, see Hobby Links. You should also check out some of the "General Information" links.
Next, ask your friends. Remember, though, that tackmakers have styles, too, and what your friends like may or may not be what you want.
After you have seen a sample of the tackmaker's work and her catalog, there are two more things you should check before ordering. 1) How long will it take to receive your order? For a
popular tackmaker, this wait could be upwards of a year or more. 2)What is her return policy? If there isn't a return policy, don't order.
FEATURES VS COST
Okay, you know which saddle you want and who you want to buy from, what now?
Oh, boy. Here's where it get's tricky. Remember our less-refined comment from the
"Don't buy section?"
Pricing arrangements vary from tackmaker to tackmaker and different features are included in each "deal." Find out what features are included in the base price before you buy. Please note: features may include some accessories! For example, all my saddles come with breast collars and a saddle blanket. If you are willing to cut back on the extra features, you may be able to get a cheaper price. Of course, if you have a little extra money, you might want
to add something.
TWO OTHER CONSIDERATIONS
There are two other things you want to consider when buying a saddle (and all tack). First, what scale do you want? Stablemate? Little Bits? Classics? Traditionals? Something
else? Your best bet, when starting out, is to choose just one size to show in. That way the tack you purchase can be used on more than one show horse.
Second, does the saddle fit the horse? At first glance, you would think this is the tackmaker's problem. Yes and no. If you order the saddle to fit one particular horse, then it is
the tackmaker's responsibility to see that it fits that horse. Custom fits, which include fitting customized (formally called rrh or repaint/remake/hair) and most non-Breyers, can be challenging. Your tackmaker should have a fitting chart for you to fill out. Mistakes can still happen in sizing, especially if one of you reads the chart wrong. If you are going to do custom fits, make sure the tackmaker offers alterations free-of-charge within a specified period.)
Unless the tack item you order is a costume, you probably will want to use a "standard" size, instead of custom fit. This allows you to use your tack on a wider range of models. Most of the time this works and most of the time this is what the tackmaker will provide you. But, all Traditional sized horses are not the same. A traditional sized western saddle will not fit all Traditional sized horses. Deciding if it fits a particular horse or not is your
decision! Check out some books at your local library for a fitting chart. Compare your turnout to real horse photos. And, never be afraid of asking questions.
That pretty much covers what you need to know about getting your first saddle. Go
For information on purchasing one of our Western Saddles, please visit the Catalog or Production List.
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