Use Your Commonsense When Buying a Used Saddle
Aside from the price of a used saddle, there are other areas that you need to be concerned with. Look at the billets on the saddle. That's always one of the first things to go. Are they cracked or have they de-laminated (pulled apart)? The billets are what hold the saddle to your horse! In other words, its crucial that they are in good shape. But if they aren't in good shape, don't fret, they can be replaced. A complete all billet installation will start around $100. Prices will vary between tack repair individuals.
Next, look at the seat of the saddle. Is there any sign of wear, specifically where the "piping" runs along the outer portion of the seat. Sometimes that will start to split. Its a high friction area because of the way our seat bones contact the saddle. The seat can also be replaced but that can turn out to be an expensive repair. The cost will vary from saddle to saddle depending on the condition.
What shape are the panels in underneath? Are they cracked or showing signs of excessive wear? Panels break down over a period of time. Panels are generally stuffed 1) entirely with wool or a 2) combination of layers alternating wool, felt, and foam. Neither is necessarily superior over the other but it is often considered easier re-stuffing the wool flock panels. Once again, a reputable tack repair individual can re-stuff panels. Prices will vary depending on the condition of the panels but should start around $50.
What about the tree of the saddle? Trees are either wood or fiberglass/plastic. You can't always tell whether a saddle tree is broken or not without "getting into" the saddle but there is a little test that you can perform when considering a saddle. Hold the saddle "lengthwise" (pommel first) against the front part of your leg or knee. Grasp the cantle or rear of the saddle and gently pull toward yourself. A saddle that "does not" have a broken tree will give or flex when you are pulling but if there is an excessive amount of give where it looks like the seat is "buckling", that might be an indication that there is a problem with the tree. Trees can be repaired and once again, its a very "specialized" process and should be done only by a qualified repair person. The cost can be high, but sometimes can be considerably less than the purchase of a new saddle.
In summary, use your commonsense when buying a used saddle. Don't necessarily be concerned with the age of the saddle. An older saddle can be in better shape than a newer one that has not been well cared for. Look at the overall appearance. Has the previous owner maintained (cleaned and conditioned) the saddle on a regular basis. If the saddle looks dry but otherwise in good condition, remember that a good conditioner can do remarkable things, so the saddle may be worth your consideration. Don't let price throw you. Most owners are willing to negotiate. Concentrate on what you and your horse require. Don't try and fit the saddle to your horse "in your mind". Take the saddle out or have it sent to you so you can put it on your horse. Most shops will allow you to do that.
Helpful Hints: All Crosby saddles have an "M" or "W" stamped on the near side stirrup bar. That indicates a medium or wide tree. Stubben stamps the tree size, a 28 cm(centimeter), 29cm, 30cm, 31cm, or a 32 cm on the far side billet guard indicating tree size with 31 cm being considered medium tree. In earlier years they used the alphabet A,B,C,D etc. (Sometimes this will wear off after time and can't be seen) Stubben also stamps the serial # of the saddle on the far side billet guard. When traced back to Stubben, the number can tell you the year the saddle was made, who actually crafted the saddle, flap size, tree size(and probably what they had for breakfast). Passier and Hermes saddles are also stamped with serial numbers that can provide you with some very interesting and helpful info.