Reining-saddle test ride.
During a reining pattern, you'll need to move your body and your legs forward and backward to cue for various maneuvers. Make sure your reining saddle allows for free movement.
Before you get on, look at the detail. Does the seat look flat and have a narrow twist, allowing you to sit back or lean forward without a high cantle or high seat rise? A reining saddle shouldn't lock you into one position. Look at the leather. Is it good quality? You don't want your stirrup fender to stretch easily on the left side where you mount. Also look at how the riggings attach. Will they rub on the fenders and cause holes, or do all attachments lie flat?
When you sit in a saddle before your purchase (and do test before you buy), make sure that the stirrups hang straight down and that you're in a balanced position. Next, swing your legs forward and back and make sure the movement feels smooth, without cumbersome materials to limit you. For a stop, you need to get your legs forward, but if you need to kick, you need to reach back, all with fluid motion.
Go through the motions of the maneuvers: You want to sit deep without hitting your spine on the cantle when you go to a sliding stop. If you're doing fast circles, you don't want there to be excessive buildup in the front that will stop you from moving forward to ask for speed.
Tip: If you invest in a work saddle and show saddle, make sure the saddles have the same tree and same design. Only the external decorations should be different. Your everyday saddle and your show saddle should feel the same so your cues are always consistent. And keep in mind you don't need tons of sparkle in the reining pen. All judges' eyes are on you, and it's more important that your tack be clean and work well instead of having tons of shine.
--Reining Trainer Devin Warren, Franktown, Colorado (2011 Dodge(r) Invitational Freestyle Reining Champion)
Model: The Reinmaker Competition Series.
Maker: Leson Saddles.
Why buy: Made with many of Donn Leson's custom saddle features (hand-made in his studio, laminated wood and rawhide tree, permanently twisted stirrup leathers, close-contact seat and skirt, and strong rigging dees) but without the expected price tag. The seat is padded and has top-grain leather, and the saddle is finished with corner tooling and an all-over basket stamp; add on more options at your discretion. Made by a master who's made saddles since 1966.
More info: lesonsaddles.com; (541) 476-1762.
Price: Starting at $3,999.
Add the Bling
Model: Cicero Floral.
Maker: Kyle Tack.
Why buy: Choose a work version (as shown) or add full tooling and customized silver on a saddle with the same custom tree. Hermann Oak leather on the whole saddle and smooth or suede leather seats in your favorite leather colors. Opt for engraved, leather, wooden, or aluminum stirrups. All saddles are made to order.
More info: kyletack.com; (877) 429-2116.
Price: Starting at $4,000.
Model: Lady Reiner Saddle.
Maker: Bob's Custom Saddles.
Why buy: Women wanted the narrow seat and a close-contact feel. This saddle delivers and offers slightly shorter skirts, fenders, and seat jockeys. Narrow fenders allow riders' legs to move freely. An in-skirt rigging adds to the close feel.
More info: bobscustomsaddles.com; (800) 207-6373.
Price: As shown, $6,602.
Rose of Texas
Model: Billy Cook Hamley Rose Reiner.
Maker: Simco-Longhorn Co., Inc.
Why buy: Made in Texas and hand-carved with a swirling rose border, this saddle has stirrups and fenders tooled to match. The cut-away skirts, full double stainless rigging with dropped front dees, and tree designed for the sport make it sturdy and smooth.
More info: simcolonghorn.com; (800) 251-6294.
Wonders of a Work Saddle
A work saddle serves as a standby piece of equipment that you should be able to rely on for everyday use------often work that can cause wear and tear. Here are a few things to consider when buying a work saddle for everyday use.
Saddle fit: True for any saddle, a work saddle must fit your horse, or it's useless. If you'll use the saddle for a number of horses, find a universal fit or plan to purchase more than one that will offer a good fit to get the most out of each horse.
Leather type: Roughout or smooth leather--it comes down to personal preference. Roughout can offer more security in the saddle and is meant to show the wear and tear that comes along with everyday use. Smooth leather allows for more movement and can be tooled to your preferences.
Versatility: Consider your training needs. Most working saddles offer numerous dees on the swells and skirts to accommodate many different training aids.
Durability: A work saddle you'll use regularly has to hold up to rigorous use. It's not an item on which to pinch too many pennies.
Comfort: The purpose of a work saddle is to use it for regular riding------your comfort is worth its weight in gold when you log long hours horseback.
Model: 104 Trainer.
Maker: JR Wegner Custom Saddles and Tack.
Why buy: You value a dealer-direct ordering system. The JR Wenger system is set up so that you don't pay until you have the saddle in your hands, ensuring that it meets your specifications. Quick-change stirrup buckles are handy; a custom VC rawhide-covered saddletree (the same used in their more expensive saddles) and endless customization options allow you to make this saddle your own.
More info: jrwengersaddles.com; (717) 752-5902.
Work and Save
Model: Equitation Trainer.
Why buy: The wood and fiberglass tree matches those in Reinsman's show-saddle line, allowing you to save the fancy saddle without losing the feel. Sanded roughout leather helps reduce chafing and offers a secure ride. Dees line the saddle to attach training tack.
More info: reinsman.com; (800) 548-2487.
Price: $ 1,950.
Model: Roughout Trainer Saddle (1439).
Maker: Circle Y?.
Why buy: You respect a well-known brand name with a storied history. High-cut skirts with a custom shape allow close contact, and the dees on the swells and skirts accommodate manyt training aids.
More info: circley.com; (800) 882-5375.
Model: Ranch and Performance Saddle.
Maker: Cowboy Classic Saddlery.
Why buy: You value handmade craftsmanship from a family-owned business. Generous saddle strings set this work saddle apart from its arena-bound brethren. The flat seat is suitable for arena work, but also has enough rise to be comfortable for long rides and hard stops. Custom options let you make this saddle perfect for your needs.
More info: cowboyclassicsaddlery.com; (888) 483-9921.
Price: Starting at $800.
Understand the two important terms when shopping for a woven saddle blanket. Weft and warp affect how long your blanket will last. Weft is the colored pattern or solid color that you can see. Warp is the framework of the blanket. You can't see it, but it's the part of the weave that holds the blanket in shape.
For long-term investments, aim for blankets that have 100-percent-wool weft and warp. Inexpensive blankets may use synthetic blends for the warp but have a wool weft. Because you can't see this synthetic layer, you may not notice the difference in quality until time wears on. Eventually, nylon, polyester, and even cotton may not hold up to your horse's perspiration and other cleansing products, and the blanket will lose it's padding and shock absorption.
--Joel Gleason of Avila's Pro Shop
The Envelope Please
Model: Hunter's Bend Wool Saddle Pad.
Maker: Team Equine? USA.
Why buy: On the outside, choose a weave to match your style and trust that the New Zealand wool top is protected with heavy-duty leather reinforcements at the girth. Underneath, find an envelope to place a wool-felt or closed-cell foam insert. With wool and extra padding, you'll have the look you want and the weight distribution you need in the show ring. The oversized, 34-inch-by-36-inch pad fits well under larger show saddles.
More info: teamequineusa.com; (503) 829-6439.
Maker: Wade Saddle Pads.
Why buy: Feel close to your horse without the bulk but with a dense protection. This pad is shaped to fit your horse's back (and therefore stay in place) and conforms to your saddle and horse. Closed-cell foam layers relieve pressure points and absorb shock. Decorate the top layer with your choice of tooling patterns, colors, and textures.
More info: wadepads.co.
Price: $120 to $343.
When pads are therapeutic.
There's really no substitute for a well-fitted saddle. Still, today's therapeutic saddle pads can help soften the ride for both horse and rider. With new materials, the ability to shim-fit problem spots, and high-tech cooling properties, saddle pads have come a long way.
Wool: Despite high-tech fabric advances, wool and wool felt are still great choices for the layer directly on the horse's back. Wool wicks moisture, cools, and insulates. Wool felt is simply made of compressed wool fibers.
Closed-cell foam: Molded foam with tight weave. It conforms to the horse and holds its cushioning under weight. However, it's not very breathable and doesn't have wicking properties.
Open-cell foam: This is the foam used in Tempur-pedic mattresses. It tends to collapse under weight more than closed-cell foam does, but still provides a layer of cushion that molds to the horse's shape.
Supracor?: Medical-grade honeycomb material first used in the space program and now used in hospitals to prevent bedsores. It's breathable and cushioning.
Why buy: You want the features of wool without bulk over the spine, along with several shim channels. Open channel over the spine. The ThinLine material is only a quarter-inch thick, eliminating bulk. Comes with three shimming options: shoulder, bridging, and rear for protection and lift.
More info: thinlinepads.com; (888) 401-9101.
Model: Pressure Relief Pad.
Maker: Diamond Wool Pad Company.
Why buy: You've noticed uneven sweat patterns on your horse after a workout, and you're concerned that there might be some unequal weight distribution and pressure on his back. Felt shims can be added to or removed from pockets along the spine of the pad to help distribute weight and improve your horse's comfort. Wear leathers are securely sewn only along their tops, making it easy to cut out the felt backing if you desire closer leg contact. Wool bottom is breathable, absorbing and releasing moisture gradually to insulate your horse against heat and cold. Available with contouring along the horse's spine.
More info: diamondwoolpads.com; (866) WOOL-PAD.
Price: $72, $85 with contouring.
Cool and Gripping
Model: Supracor Western Cool Grip?.
Why buy: You want moisture control, as well as honeycomb-pad cushioning. Two removable Stimulite honeycomb inserts inside a Cordura and wool cover. For additional ventilation, the top center of the pad is split and connected with breathable wool.
More info: supracor.com; (800) 924-6773.
Work Saddle Pads
For the saddle pad layer closest to your horse, you're often faced with a choice between a material that specializes in either wicking moisture away from the skin or gripping the horse.
Ultra-wicking materials include traditional wool felt or fleece, and some synthetics.
Prime materials for slip prevention include Neoprene (synthetic rubber) and closed-cell foam. Because these block moisture, they're usually textured or perforated to prevent trapping heat and sweat.
The material best for your horse depends on the task at hand. Trail rides and everyday training sessions might call for a wicking material, while running barrels might require a good gripping layer.
Maker: The Rope Shop.
Why buy: First introduced 15 years ago, this pad is taking reining pens by storm with endorsees including Dell Hendricks. SCUBA-quality Neoprene backs this felt pad to help prevent saddle slippage and promote an even sweat without moisture affecting your pad. In the winter, there's nothing to freeze; in the summer sweat is easy to clean away without harming the inside of the pad. Ride for seven days and like it, or receive your refund.
More info: theropeshoponline.com; (800) 447-6259.
Model: Contour Micro Suede Tacky Too(r).
Why buy: Because slipping and sliding are meant for swimsuits and summer fun, not for saddles. Both the micro suede top and the patented Tacky Too bottom are anti-slip. Bottom is ventilated and doesn't pull the horse's hair. Micro suede top is super-soft, yet durable and abrasion-resistant. Plus, this comfort-contoured saddle pad comes in a slew of fun colors.
More info: reinsman.com, 800-548-2487.
Cut Out and Contoured
Model: Ricotti Pad, Wool.
Why buy: Use this pad daily then place it under a show blanket for a padded layer. A foam insert equalizes weight under the saddle's bars and distributes weight over a large area. The contoured top conforms to the horse's back and keeps the pad in place, and the cutout area around the withers reduces stress points.
More info: toklat.com; (888) 486-5528.
Find the entire Gear Guide in the May 2011 issue of Horse&Rider magazine.