Traditional horse saddles were made exclusively out of leather because it was durable, attractive and readily available. As saddle and textile manufacturing has advanced in technology, traditional leather saddles have been joined on the market by saddles that are made from synthetic materials. Before you purchase a saddle, it is important to carefully consider both the benefits and the downsides of each type of saddle and figure out whether a synthetic or leather saddle is the right choice for you.
Leather saddles are very traditional in appearance. The most commonly colors are light oil brown, dark oil brown and black though you sometimes see leather saddles with brightly colored seats and accents.
A well constructed leather saddle that is cared for properly can last for more than a decade in good condition. However, leather saddles should only be cleaned using products that are specially designed for use on leather. Cleaning a leather saddle with the wrong cleaning products can cause it to become discolored, dry out or crack. Improper cleaning can cause lasting damage and will shorten the useful lifespan of the saddle. Leather saddles should not get wet or be left in the sun for long periods of time. In order to get the most use out of your leather saddle, you need to make a habit out of storing it safely in a dry, shaded location where it is fully protected from the elements and cleaning it regularly in order to prevent it from drying out or molding.
Leather saddles are commonly found in most riding competitions, though some speed event horses and lower level show competitors may use synthetics.
Synthetic saddles have been gaining popularity in recent years due to their lower costs and minimal maintenance requirements. Synthetic saddles can be purchased in a wide variety of colors and patterns. Some synthetic saddles are almost indistinguishable from their leather counterparts while others are manufactured using bright neon colors or animal patterns.
Synthetic saddles are often significantly lighter weight than their leather counterparts and appeal to riders who do not want to carry around or lift a heavy saddle. They are also very low maintenance in terms of care. Most synthetic saddles can be kept clean by periodically wiping them down with a soft washcloth, soap and water. Synthetic saddles are not negatively affected by water and can be ridden in regardless of the weather without worrying about causing damage.
Synthetic saddles are a favorite of trail riders and lesson programs because they can withstand a significant amount of wear and tear with minimal maintenance or protection.