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Alright, so I am sure this is a fairly common question. I have a decent little saddle, nothing fancy, honestly. But sound, in good condition, and comfortable. I bought it as a project to have fun with and maybe learn a thing or two for reconditioning/refurbishing saddles. It's going well so far! I have been an english rider my entire "career" but have kind of jumped headfirst into picking up some western riding. I am guiding trails and breaking colts this summer, and really just liked the idea of having my own saddle instead of borrowing and worrying about someone else's. Then this saddle dropped into my lap with the right tree and seat size, and in need of some TLC. So, here we are.

Now that that is said... how important is the fleece in the bottom, really? It's all in one piece and seems uniform - no holes or missing tufts. It might have been replaced at some point, it might be synthetic, I don't know enough to know. It still feels soft and has some cushion, but it is definitely packed down and doesn't seem like it was super thick to begin with. I would love to learn how to replace the fleece but I understand the work that goes into it, and that's just not something that I have time to attempt. If you are using those big, thick saddle pads anyway, what is the point of the fleece? And again, I would LOVE to go and replace the fleece. I just can't justify the money (I am a college student) and don't have the time to do it myself before I want to use it.

I am just asking how absolutely necessary is it, and at what point would you refuse to use a saddle based on the condition of the fleece?
 

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Fleece is not that important since we started using pads.

I've picked up used saddles with all but fragments of fleece left on them and used them until I either decided to keep or sell. If I keep, I do get new sheep's fleece put on.

I've never sored a horse and we generally go for hours in hilly country.
 

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Yep, as long as the fleece is relatively even (whether there or not), you're ok with a GOOD saddle pad. If it's bunchy, you're better taking it off as it can make pressure points. When you look at saddles, real sheepskin generally means a quality saddle to begin with. Artificial fleece are usually off-the-rack or lower-end saddles. If you find a good older saddle with real fleece, it's worth having refleeced.

Since you're going to be riding a wide variety of horses, you'll want to invest in a couple of good quality saddle pads. A 3/4" wool felt (5-star is best, diamond wool is ok) can be used alone or with a saddle blanket over or under it if you need it thicker. You can get a western saddle that is a bit too wide to fit a horse well enough to get by for awhile by padding him up a bit. If, however, the saddle is too narrow, nothing will work. Know what kind of saddle you have/what tree it has, and have whoever is selecting your horses for you choose ones that saddle will fit.
 
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