Every serious horse owner knows the deal. When it comes to buying a saddle, be it western or English, there's one question that you have to answer.

Should I buy a used saddle or not?

The saddle is the most expensive piece of horse tack that you're likely to buy. High end leather saddles can easily cost many thousands of dollars. Even an entry level synthetic saddle is going to set you back several hundreds of dollars. No wonder so many people take a gander at the market for used saddles.

At the same time, you want to be careful of getting stingy on this particular item. A good saddle makes for a good riding experience, regardless of your skill level. It's also ground zero in equipment when it comes to safety. And finally, your horse will thank you for purchasing a sound and well-fitting saddle.

Still, if you're willing to take your time and be real picky, a used saddle doesn't have to disappoint. In fact, it can be a perfectly good alternative.

For some people, the used saddle market should be the first place they look. One reason for this is that you can often find amazing bargains. Let's say a local dressage rider has decided that the Passier she was using last season isn't quite up to snuff this year. She ditches it in favor of another. If she's taken good care of it, you could wind up with a three or four thousand dollar saddle for maybe half the price!

Another reason you might want to consider a used saddle before a new one is if you happen to be a young rider – or, more importantly, if you're the wallet for that young person! We all know how fast children grow. A saddle that was just right last spring might be impossibly tight by fall. Why shell out big bucks for a saddle that your child is only going to outgrow?

Besides which, everyone – even equestrians – love a good deal. If you're willing to shop judiciously and not fall for the first offer, the odds are that you'll find a good and functional saddle at a price your fellow riders will envy.

What should you look for in a used saddle? Two things. First, size. The saddle has to fit both you and your horse. Try to fit the saddle to your horse before you pay for it. And don't decide that you're suddenly going to start riding Western just because somebody's offering you a real steal!

Be sure to eyeball the saddle for obvious signs of deterioration. There's going to some measure of wear and tear. The saddle panels though, shouldn't have any rips or tears in them. Flex the saddletree – there should be a little give but if there's too much, you'll want to pass on it.

It can't be stressed enough – don't even think about being in a hurry. The used saddle market is rarely a buyer's market. But it can yield up some real treasures for the careful buyer.