Many imported or cheaply-made saddles have imitation leather that is usually a vinyl. There is no breaking in imitation leather. You can oil it all night and day; the saddle is going to remain stiff. But what is most shocking to most people who fall for the imported saddle is that many times the bottom layer of “leather” is made out of paper. Yes, you read that right. On a well-made saddle, two layers of leather are used to make the skirt.
Many sketchy manufacturers, especially in Mexico, are now using pressed paper in between the top layer of leather and the fleece. This is unidentifiable from the side of the saddle. This material is actually 50-100 sheets of thin paper compressed together, then sewed to the top leather. How safe would you feel if your D ring was resting between leather and paper? How long does the saddle last when what your horse is sweating into is slowly disintegrating? Dale has had customers lose their D ring the first time they cinched up their new saddle.
Many of these inexpensive imports have trees that are made with sketchy materials. Dale has seen two combinations more than others. The first is a Styrofoam tree that has been dipped in fiberglass. He discovered this while doing repair work and a nail simply would not stay in the tree and was sliding right out. Upon investigation, he found that the tree was made of Styrofoam.
This is scary for a variety of reasons, but most importantly, styrofoam can easily warp under pressure. The second combination is a low-grade wood covered in plaster of paris, then wrapped in cheesecloth. This doesn’t sound too terrible until you find that the plaster of paris succumbs to pressure and becomes powder. The more you ride the saddle, the more the tree is slowly disintegrating into a powdery mess.
Because these companies are creating such generic trees, 50 to 60% of horses can’t even fit into them. The measurements are so generic that you’re lucky if it fits when it arrives. These saddles usually fit a large pony or small horse. Why? Because the trees are so cheaply made, the bigger the tree gets, the more likely it is to just fall apart.
The hardware is made of steel or low grade nickel, which will quickly rust.
The fleece is so thin you can blow on it to see the cheesecloth underneath.
Our biggest concern over these cheap imports is not that you’re getting ripped off and will probably have to buy another saddle sooner than you planned. It’s that these saddles are usually unsafe. Pressed paper? Styrofoam? Buyer, beware. Your safest bet in buying a saddle is to know the manufacturer. Where are the saddles made? Ask questions about the materials. Most cheap imports do not have a return policy or a warranty.
A question that usually comes to us after this explanation is What about Dakota? Dakota Saddlery is our lowest priced manufacturer here at the saddle shop and because their prices are so low, some customers jump to the conclusion that Dakota saddles are low quality. Not so! Dakota saddles are just as well-made as our Circle Y and Tuckers, using premium materials and great craftsmanship.
The reason why Dakota’s prices are significantly lower is because Dakota does not have a working inventory. All Dakota saddles are custom made to order, which means you’re not paying any overhead. Fortunately, we have a large inventory that Dakota keeps filled for us so that most of the saddles online are ready to order.
Here at HorseSaddleShop.com, we pride ourselves on not being the Wal-Mart of saddle shopping. You’re simply not going to be ripped off. All our products pass our standards for high quality, and we keep our prices competitively low. You can buy with confidence knowing that you’re getting saddles and tack that are American made and will pass the test of time.