This is a very interesting thread for someone who rides western. I had no idea it was so common (so easy?) for english saddle trees to break.
I mean, if you can physically break a saddle tree by bending the cantle towards your body, how would that stand up to riding? I can't imagine them breaking THAT easy......right? If I could break a saddle tree with my bare hands, I would consider it already cracked/broken.
For western saddles I have always been told to put them nose down, on the ground, put your hands on the cantle and push downwards and look for movement. I have been guilty of buying saddles without actually testing the tree and all have been fine (to my knowledge). Now I think I am going to be even more careful with western saddles.
Also, is 12 years old, actually OLD for an english saddle? In western saddles, I would consider that practically new. I wouldn't turn down a 50-75 yr old western saddle if it fit my horse. In fact, these are often considered better quality than the newer ones.
So hmm. I've learned a lot about english saddles today. If I ever come across one cheap (which I would probably pick up just as something to play around with) I now know that apparently tree breakage is a common problem to be on the lookout for.
To the OP, I'm so sorry you had to go through this. I would be heart-broken and upset too. What a major bummer!
I guess sometimes there ARE advantages to buying new saddles.