Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Selling a Side Saddle

One thing I've learned in my search for a saddle is that not everyone selling a saddle knows what a buyer might be looking for.  Trust me, if you are selling a saddle, "long seat" and "wide tree" are not going to satisfy my inquiries.  I need the best actual measurements I can get.  With the nearside long point the SHAPE of the tree is every bit as important as the WIDTH of the tree.  And the only way you can even begin to make an educated guess at what that might be, you have to start with some measurements.

 A high percentage of saddle shopping takes place long distance either by email or phone and often with several time zones, and ocean, and cultural barriers in between.  Communication issues will arise.  So, in the interest of buyers and sellers everywhere, both educated and inexperienced, I thought I would put out a few tips of what I need to know with photos to improve my communication options.  It is also important to know if the measurements are being made in centimeters or inches.

1. Length of seat, in inches. From the front of the fixed pommel to the center of the cantle. This is the American method of measuring. The English method involves the measurement from the cutback to cantle, but even the English will admit that the American method is more practical when matching to a rider measurement.
Most saddles seem to be around 21" to 21.5". So we'll consider that an "average" size seat. Taller riders, 5'8" and up, with longer legs, will be shopping in the 22" to 23" length. These saddles are harder to find and come at a premium. Demand exceeds supply. A nice quality longer saddle with a corresponding wide tree to accomodate the taller lady's larger horse may run as much as $1000 more than an otherwise identical saddle of a standard length.
The more petite ladies, 5'5" and under, will be looking for the 19" and 20" saddles. These are also harder to find.

2.  Width of seat at the widest point.  This can be anything from an average 12" to 14".  Generally, the longer saddles (22" to 23") will run in 13" to 14" width to accomodate the wider frame of a taller woman, and does not necessarily correspond with gullet width.  The smaller saddles may have a width aroubd 11".  The width of the seat is designed to put one seat bone on each side of the horse's spine, and no, they don't come in extra extra wide to accomodate "middle aged spread" of fanny.  The seat bone measurement is what we are trying to fit, not the fanny spread, although if the width of the saddle minimizes the appearance of the fanny spread, that is a plus!  The saddle may fit the pelvis, but if fat hangs over, it will appear that your saddle is too small.

3.  Gullet width determined by Dee to Dee measurement.  This is not a praticularly helpful measurement as dee rings can be installed at varying points on the tree, but it does help put things into perspective.  If you have a narrow gullet (short Dee to Dee measurement) and a wide Point to Point, you can expect the curve of the saddle to be markedly different than if you have a wide gullet and a short Point to Point.  For an example, go to the NEA Saddle Fitting page and scroll down to Tree and Gullet Width.

4.  Point to Point Measurement.  This seems to be the most difficult measurement for people because with some saddles you really have to struggle with the safe to find an accurate point to measure from.  The idea is to estimate the measurement from the inside of the tree surface on the off side point, to the inside tree surface of the near side point.  It is NOT the measurement from the inside of the padding, and can be hard to achieve on some saddles.

On the Lissadell saddle pictured above left, I have hightlighted the points, easily visible in their leather pockets.

A narrower measurement will be 16" or so.  A wider horse will be shopping in the 17"-18" range, but a lot depends on the curve of the point.

CORRECT location of Point to Point Measurement from
tip of off side tree point to tip of near side tree point

INCORRECT from off side point to edge of safe
INCORRECT from surface of off side panel to edge of safe
INCORRECT from edge of off side flap to edge of safe

What else I will want to see:

A clear photo of the front of the saddle so I can see the overall shape of the tree and padding for myself.   From this I can tell how much flocking is present and whether the saddle has been flocked heavily to fit a wider tree to a narrower horse.

This diagram shows two saddles with identical trees.  The one on the left has been flocked to try to fit a wider tree to a narrower horse.  This gives it a more defined "neck" to the pommel.  The saddle on the right has less flocking and would fit a round horse better.  I like to think of the difference between the shape of a wishbone and that of a rainbow.  My wide, well sprung horse needs
"less wishbone - more rainbow".

I would also like to see a photo of the underside showing the conditon of the panels, photos of the billets on each side, and one of the stirrup fitting or bar on the tree.  It is also important to know what inventory of accessories are being sold with the saddle including the balance strap (with measurement), over girth, stirrup/stirrup leather and fitting, and to get photos of those.  The balance strap may not fit the intended horse, but including these accessories adds to the over all value of the package.  Balance straps are easy to replace, but stirrups and fittings can add up quickly.  Standard, oval eye stirrups are fairly common, but it is always a bonus to get a breakaway stirrup instead.
Up close (and focused) photos of any known imprefections, tears, stains, broken stitching or worn or cracked leather.

I bought this safety stirrup on ebay two years before I bought my first saddle! 
 It still looks great on a shelf.
Once you have found a saddle that you are considering, send a verified wither tracing to have the seller match it up to the saddle.  Of course, it is always best if the seller is experienced with the challenges of fitting saddles, but at the very least, they should be willing to send you a photo of your tracing held up to the outline of the saddle tree so you can judge for yourself.

Here a seller, Carla Peetros, has sent me a photo of William's
tracing against a M&M which appears to be a close match.
Thank you Carla for allowing me to use this photo.

Because of the difficulty of fitting saddles, it is always a plus to be allowed a trial period with return option.  The buyer buys the saddle, and if it does not fit, they can send it back, at their own cost, for a full or partial refund contingent on the saddle being returned in the same condition.  The Side Saddlery offers this policy, and many sellers dealing with larger numbers of saddles will also accommodate this.  Some sellers just need the saddle to be sold and have a need for the cash and may not be willing to do this which is understandable. 

I will say again that the ladies who have been riding aside for any number of years, as well as some of us "newbies" are a very helpful lot.  They want you to be as happy with your saddle as they have been with their's and for it to be a rewarding experience for all involved.  In my search I have met many helpful people and count them among my friends and fellow horse enthusiasts.  Because of this, I have no doubt the discipline will continue to florish and provide many with an enjoyable hobby for years to come.

Here are excellent examples of For Sale listings with clear, complete and concise information supported with photos:

Side Saddle Heaven also does an excellent job of furnishing measurements on their available saddles:
Side Saddle Heaven Sales List