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Synthetic or Leather Saddles – Which saddle is best?

This article is about the pros and cons of leather versus synthetic material saddles. Both have their disadvatages and advantages. Depending on your lifestyle, riding discipline and budget it is important to know the facts about both kinds of saddle. 

In keeping with the principles of natural horsemanship & natural horsecare, which we strive to promote, it is of the utmost importance that we make sure our saddles fit our horses properly and do not cause any discomfort or pain. 

An ill-fitting saddle can cause so many problems.  The following article is from and is writtin by Chris, one of their ranch staff writers. Enjoy!

Synthetic or Leather Saddles – Which saddle is best?

Leather Western Saddle

For centuries, leather was the material used to make saddles. You bought a saddle and it lasted a lifetime. Now it is not uncommon for people to have several saddles for the different riding disciplines they might enjoy.

I personally own several western saddles, endurance saddles, a dressage saddle, and a variety of English jumping and general purpose saddles in a mix of leather and synthetics.

Since I have both leather and synthetic saddles, I am frequently asked which material is better. I hate to be wishy-sashy, but the answer is: it depends. The final answer may be to own both.

Synthetic English Saddle

I’ve tried to capture my thoughts on both by listing several criteria and describing how each fares. It may be that you too may end up with a mix of both leather and synthetic.

Synthetic Saddles: Advantages and Disadvantages


No doubt about it, synthetic variations of a saddle are lighter than their leather counterparts. This makes a synthetic saddle easier for a child or woman to lift a saddle onto a horse.

Another consideration is that synthetic saddles are less weight for the horse to carry. If you’re heavy and concerned about the weight your horse is carrying, a synthetic saddle might lighten the load.

Care and Cleaning

Synthetic saddles are easy to clean. I’ve literally hosed mine down after a muddy ride and then wiped it dry. With my leather saddles I have to clean them with glycerin soap (which is great for your hands) and oil them several times a year.


Leather English Jumping Saddle

Okay, leather saddles have a longer lifespan, so leather wins this criterion. That said, there is no reason your synthetic saddle should live at least ten years, many longer with normal wear and care. The first synthetic I bought around 1999 barely looks worn today. I guess they are like most things, if they are cared for you can stretch out the life span.

When my daughter was little I didn’t want to invest in an expensive leather saddle she would outgrow in a few years, so I bought her a child’s sized synthetic saddle. Delaying an expensive purchase until you know riding isn’t a passing whim could save you an unnecessary expense.


Leather Endurance Saddle

If you have different horses and they are of different builds, you often have to have different saddles for them as not every saddle fits every horse. I know many people who had to sell their prize imported saddle because it doesn’t fit their new show horse. If you have multiple horses, getting them the cheaper synthetic saddles has its advantages. You can afford to get a saddle that fits the horse, rather than try to make the saddle fit by using special pads which usually makes the fit problem worse.

Fit is one area where some manufacturers of synthetics have the leather saddles beat. Several synthetic saddle manufacturers provide the ability to change out the gullets so you can actually customize the fit of the saddle for the horse. This allows you more flexibility in fitting the same saddle to different horses. There are a few leather saddle makers who make adjustable trees in their leather saddles. However, more synthetic manufacturers than leather offer changeable gullets. One synthetic manufacturer even offers air panels that cushion the horses back.

Another option for someone with a really hard to fit horse might be a treeless saddle. These don’t press on your horses back like a regular saddle, but most people recommend you already have a secure seat before you transition to a treeless.


Synthetic Australian Stock Saddle

Bright colors – Leather saddles come in tan, brown or black. The only color is usually in the seat. Synthetic saddles come in every color imaginable. You’re limited only on your tolerance to gaudiness. I tend to be conservative in my choice of synthetics and normally stick brown and black although I do have one green one. However, my Kids love the colors and I know several little girls who are very proud of their pink saddles.

Many of the synthetics have a version that look like leather. You have to do a double take on them because they could easily pass as leather. These tend to be higher end synthetics, but if you don’t want a saddle that screams synthetic, they are a good choice.

Many leather western saddles often have attractive tooling. Obviously this wouldn’t be an option for a synthetic. Also, very few synthentics have flashy details like silver, conchos, bone or rawhide accents. If you want those accents, leather is your best choice.


Synthetic saddles are less expensive. Leather saddles last longer, but the initial investment is more than synthetics.

If you want leather tack, one alternative to blowing your budget is to buy it used. Since well cared for leather tack will last for years, you can often find great brand names in the used tack market.


Leather and synthetic saddles come in all varieties. The one advantage of a synthetic in versatility is that you could test out a riding style in a synthetic saddle before you invest on an expensive leather version.

Show Ring

Since I ride different disciplines, I have synthetics for day to day riding, and save my leather saddles for shows. Many judges are traditional and are partial to leather, so if you can afford it, use leather in the show ring. Synthetics are fine for play day shows and gymkhanas, but for A-level shows, I’d recommend you bring out your leather.

Okay, hopefully I’ve shed some light on pros and cons of synthetic and leather tack. Both are great and depending on your goals one or both might work for you.

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