A saddle is one of the most important pieces of horse equipment, and one of the most expensive. According to the "The American Quarter Horse Journal," the No. 1 factor you need to consider when choosing a saddle is comfort, so your child can relax and enjoy riding. When shopping for a saddle for your child, put in the time to ensure you choose one that will be a good fit for your child, your horse and your budget.
The type of riding your child will be doing dictates the type of saddle she needs. English saddles are quite different from Western ones, and specialty saddles are available for activities such as roping, barrel racing, dressage, jumping, trail riding, endurance riding and polo. Remember that Western saddles tend to be heavier than English ones. The weight won't affect the horse because the saddle's weight is spread out over a larger area of its back, but the weight might make it more difficult for a child to saddle up without help.
Saddles are available in synthetic materials and leather. If price is a consideration, synthetic saddles do tend to be cheaper, and are lighter and easier to clean, according to Horse.com, but leather ones have the advantage of being stronger, more flexible and more durable. Mid-priced leather saddles are often imported from Argentina, while the top-of-the-line ones tend to be made in the United Kingdom. One budget-friendly option is to buy a used saddle because even one in "barely used" condition will usually be significantly less expensive than a new one.
Many saddle manufacturers carry brands that are especially sized to fit children's smaller bodies and shorter legs, with seat sizes generally ranging from 13 inches to 16 inches, stirrups 4 inches to 4 1/2 inches wide and stirrup leathers 42 inches to 48 inches long, according to Smartpakequine.com. For the smallest children, saddles are available in the 7 inch to 12 inch range. English saddle size is usually determined by the length of a child's upper leg, while Western saddle size is determined by the child's weight.
If you're starting a very young child in the saddle and your primary concern is having him stay on the horse, several manufacturers offer special products designed with safety in mind. The Sure Grip Saddle Seat is a cover that fits over the saddle seat and comes with Velcro straps that attach around the child's legs, allowing him to stick to the saddle for a more secure seat. The Inky Dinky Children's Saddle, designed for very young children, has a fully adjustable pommel and cantle that can be shaped to provide a snug fit.