There’s a line in the 1985 movie “Murphy’s Romance” with James Garner and Sally Field. They are at the horse auction and the auctioneer says “We’ve got some bargains and some surprises here today folks, your job is to figure which is which.”
Sadly, too many people selling something you might want tend to keep the surprises to themselves
If your local car dealer takes a clunker to the auto auction and does not disclose the surprises, he could be banned from future auctions if his secret is uncovered. So for the most part, cars from the reputable auctions are as they appear; no surprises. Not so with consignment tack auctions, or with someone just selling a saddle in front of the barn. To avoid a surprise and find a bargain when buying a used saddle, you need some understanding of where the surprises might be hiding. Here are 9 things to look for (or at) before you buy a used saddle.
AGE Not a deal breaker because a good saddle can be ageless. I have seen some really good ones that I know were 40 years old. On the other hand, I have seen some year-old saddles turned into junk. Some saddles come with serial numbers and the manufacturer can date them for you. Being told how old (or young) the saddle is just means you must decide for yourself if that is a factor.
Like NEW A used saddle is going to have some signs of normal wear and some scuffs and scrapes. If you don’t want that, get a new one. But the new one will have scuffs and scrapes if you ride anywhere except in the parade ring.
The TREE The tree is what’s under all that leather (or that cheap stuff). When they build a saddle they make the tree and attach everything to it. It is the foundation of the saddle and it should be solid. To test the tree, set the saddle on the ground like a gymnast doing the splits. Hold the saddle horn and press down on the cantle (the back of the seat) and twist. If anything bends you may be twisting on a broken tree. A broken tree is a deal breaker. DO NOT purchase a saddle with a broken tree.
LEATHER There’s really good leather and then there’s “quickie leather”. The good stuff will be thick, soft, and supple and will last almost forever if you treat it right. It always costs more because there is more time in the preparation. Cheaper leather (the stuff that doesn’t get much attention, just “slam bam”) will be thin, stiff, often cracked, and will tend to curl. Avoid buying a used saddle with low quality leather. There’s no bargain there. Don’t fall for that ol’ gag “a little cleaning and conditioning will bring it right back”. If that was true, it would have been “brought back” before it went on sale. If you want one of those 10 pound “artificial” saddles you can wash off with a garden hose, buy a new one, they usually cost less than 150 bucks (but don’t expect much).
FLEECE Most, if not all, saddles have a furry fleece on the underside. Expect to find a good amount of wear and dirt here. If it looks like it needs to be replaced, move on. No bargain here. “ï¿½Nuther point; uneven wear can be a sign of a badly designed saddle, or a saddle that doesn’t fit the horse well. The fleece may be dirty, but if the saddle has been cared for it should not be offensive. Saddle fleece can be easily cleaned with mild detergent (liquid) and a good scrub brush. I do it once a season.
STITCHING Stitching holds everything together. Problems can occur and should be addressed immediately. Saddles for sale with a lot of rotting and missing stitching should send up the warning flags. Beware the saddle with several obvious stitching repairs. Maybe if the saddle has been in that many fights it might not be right for you.
AS GOOD AS I looked at a saddle for sale once and was told “It’s as good as a Tucker!”. Once a saddle maker gets a good reputation, copycats come from everywhere. Most “sorta” get it, but few have been able to copy all the reasons why I would want the original. I am not inclined to try to get something “built like” the real thing, no matter how much money I can save. When it comes to my comfort on the trail, I want the good stuff.
STIRRUPS This article is about western saddles. I can’t abide by those little wisps of leather those snooty jodhpurs-wearing dray-sage people with the funny hats call saddles. Western stirrups can be easily changed. But the used saddle you buy should come with stirrups and they should look like they belong there. Change ’em after the purchase, but no stirrups, or definite mismatches, send up more red flags
ASKING PRICE I get real cautious when I see a price followed by “OBO” (or best offer). A saddle worth sellin’ is worth putting a price on and not advertising you are willing to dicker. Sure, most folks will bargain on the price. Even some reputable tack shops have room to maneuver, but they don’t hang out a sign that says if you are stupid enough to pay the asking price, come on in.
When I see a price with a big “OBO” is doesn’t say to me “I am willing to negotiate” instead, I read it as “I’m desperate”.
Again you gotta be the expert. If you can buy it new for $1200, why give someone $900 for one with signs of wear? If it ain’t at least half of new price, keep lookin’.
Do a little homework and your used saddle purchase can be a bargain with little or no surprises… and I’ll see you on the trail.