Imagine riding your horse in the wilderness…and then suddenly your saddle bag straps break. What do you do? Are you going to kick yourself thinking you should have gotten the more expensive gear? In this article, I’m going to be sharing my thoughts and personal experiences with the saddle bags that I used to ride my two horses across Ireland for two months.
Author: Krystal Kelly
Saddle bags: these are the bags that you’re going to put all of your stuff in. You’re basically going to be living out of them for the next weeks or months or years, or however long it takes to complete your trip. So what’s the best thing you can do when you’re investing in saddle bags for horses? Should you go for the cheap canvas ones or for the more expensive leather versions? I got the cheap canvas ones (same brand but different types). So here are my thoughts on them and what I would do differently in the future. Let’s discuss which saddle bags for horses are the best to use!
Saddle Bags: What Did I Use?
The first kind of saddle bag we used was for the front of the saddle. I used two English saddles for our trip. So I wanted something that didn’t need to hook onto a horn (as English saddles do not have one). I managed to find some that were very inexpensive and could strap onto the front of the English saddles. The ride we were planning to do across Ireland was going to be very wet. So we wanted something that was waterproof if nothing else. The saddle bags that we bought were definitely waterproof. Additionally, they could hold small things like water bottles or emergency equipment to be accessed quickly.
We also had saddle bags for the back of the saddle. We had two different kinds of these. One type was for my short-backed little Arabian mare. We didn’t want to put a lot of stuff on her back because it would actually go up onto her bum. On her bum, we ended up using a dry bag that was actually made for motorcycles. We put our sleeping bags in there. This actually sat on top of her bum just behind the saddle. It worked fine because it hardly weighed anything.
Are These the Best Saddle Bags for Horses? See How We Did on Our Long Distance Ride
You can see in the documentary series “Riding Horses Across Ireland” on the Equestrian Adventuresses YouTube channel, that we had a hard time trying to get that dry bag to stay in place on her little round bum. It kept sliding all over the place because she has this superpower walk! It took a couple of weeks before we figured out how to hold it there with baling twine and straps. This was definitely a process: some days it just didn’t work and other days it did just fine.
Best Saddle Bags for Horses on Our Arabian Mare
My little Arabian mare also had another bag that actually went under the saddle. It was resting on top of the saddle pad and falling on either side of her belly. These were square and didn’t fit a lot. Because they were very square you couldn’t put wide items into them without making the bag scrunch up. Which might have caused rubbing against her skin. For that reason, I found those bags a little bit awkward. We had to keep just flat things in there, like journals and other small items. My horse Lilly managed to go across Ireland for two months with these bags. But then again, she wasn’t carrying very much stuff. The bags were slightly heavy but not too much; she carried an extra 10 or perhaps 15 pounds.
Best Saddle Bags for Horses on Our Thoroughbred Mare
For Q, our thoroughbred horse, we had a different setup, due to her larger size. She is about 16.1 hh and very long-backed. We had a sheepskin that someone had gifted us which wasn’t designed for horses. But we folded it in half, punched holes in it, and made little straps. That way we could tie it to the saddle so it wouldn’t slip around. So Q had a saddle pad and the sheepskin. We only wanted the sheepskin pad to be on her back where the saddle bags would go. Because the saddle bags are made of this kind of nylon canvas material and she’s a thoroughbred, and she’s a bit boney (that’s just how she is). That way the bags couldn’t rub on her and cause any injuries or irritation.
I didn’t trust the saddle bags by themselves to not do that and the sheepskin pads seemed to do the job. There was no sign of rubbing or anything on Q throughout the entire 2-month ride. We typically rode for about 5 or 6 hours every day, and she would put herself into a pace and maintain that pace all day. So if something was going to rub, it would have!
We did have a mishap with Q one day. It was a really, really silly situation! It was the front saddle bags where the water bottles go – I think we took the camera to take some photos and put it back in the front bag slightly differently than how we usually did. Somehow it shifted around enough that the bag actually started to rub her. Luckily, when we stopped for lunch, we realized it had just rubbed the hair and not the skin.
I felt SO awful because she didn’t even react! We caught it before causing any damage. And after that, we always remembered to put the camera back in a certain spot so that it didn’t rub her. I am definitely very, very particular about checking if something is poking the horses to see if it could potentially rub. So I think that if all your saddle bags are positioned in such a way that nothing is rubbing, you’re good.
The other type of bag that we used on the back of Q was a canvas velcro bag that could come off. And I put all of our clothes in that one. The bag was sitting on top of her back. We didn’t want the stuff on her spine to be too heavy. So we put the heaviest stuff on the two side bags that were kind of dangling and then on the top we also tied on our tent. The tent wasn’t actually a part of the saddle bag equipment. So we ended up strapping it to the bag with the clothes.
We didn’t have very many clothes: we both had about two pairs of clean shorts and two pairs of riding breeches. One we were wearing and one in the bag so there was one clean pair at all times. And then we had other basic stuff like socks and one pair of sleeping clothes.
We didn’t have a lot so it would all compress and the tent fit quite nicely on top of the bag. It seemed to work quite well! l We ended up downsizing our tent and getting a smaller one about halfway through the ride. We did that because we didn’t want the horse to be carrying so much weight. My husband only weighs about 70 kilos and the saddle bags also weren’t very heavy, but we were riding very minimalistic, as we were knocking on strangers’ doors asking if we could have a place to stay with our horses, so our saddlebag experience might be different to yours! We weren’t carrying any food or stoves or anything. We just had what we could fit on our horses and that was it!
What About Food and Feed?
We would stop at fuel stations to grab food and stuff like that, so it was a very minimalistic trip. As mentioned before we had the two bags on the sides of Lilly, so we did carry a stove for a little while and some pots and things that were very small and really lightweight. In the end, we didn’t really use them, I think we used them about 3 times, and then we got rid of most of them.
Furthermore, we didn’t carry feed for our horses, except a tiny little bag of treats. During riding breaks in the day, the horses would grass on the “long acre”. This is what the Irish call the grass along the roads and tracks we were riding on. During the night we would find a grass field for them to stay in and eat. A couple of nights the horses had the luxury of staying in stables, where they were given hay and feed.
Q also had some heavy items she was carrying around, like an extra lead rope and lunging rope. She had a little bit more weight on her than Lilly but not too much – I would say less than 20 pounds.
As far as saddle bags went, they did survive the ride. I think in the first week some of the loops broke and ripped – not the loop itself but the little metal piece that was guarding the hole came completely off. We weren’t able to just put the straps on as they were not really made for English saddles. We kind of just made it work! Other than that, none of the zippers broke and the saddle bags were waterproof. We did a lot of riding in the rain in Ireland, and we both wore big wool ponchos that we had bought in Brazil that were big enough to cover ourselves and our gear. The ponchos definitely helped to keep all the saddle bags, equipment, and ourselves dry by adding an extra layer.
Other comments about these saddle bags for horses are that they were inexpensive and that after that adventure, I don’t really plan on using them again. They’re not totally trashed, but I think if I was to do future long-distance adventure rides I would probably invest in leather saddle bags.
Best Saddle Bags for Horses for One-Time, One-Off Rides
Considering that I didn’t want to invest a lot of money in gear and we were just doing a one-time, one-off thing for 2 months, I think they worked out perfectly, and I’m totally happy and satisfied with them. Again, if I was going to do something more intense, I would go with leather bags. That being said, the ones we used are perfect for small adventures. We still have them as a backup; the front ones definitely come in handy, as they fit water bottles and other small important things. I’m quite happy with those saddle bags and would definitely recommend them to someone as a “starter” or if you’re not too worried about them getting trashed a little bit.
Plan Your Own Adventure
I hope you found this article helpful! Please comment below and let me know what kind of saddle bags for horses you have used and work for you, and if you want any other information or tips on packing saddle bags for horses.
If you are thinking about having adventures on horseback or you just want to read about other women’s adventures, I would highly recommend that you check out our Equestrian Adventuresses book series, which you can find on Amazon worldwide.
Equestrian Adventuresses Book Series
Book 1 includes my story about riding my horses across Ireland, and in the other books, you’ll find other women’s stories. There’s a story about a woman who has been riding across South America with her toddlers for the past couple of years! Pretty insane stuff that makes my ride across Ireland look like child’s play! There’s another woman who bought horses in Mongolia to travel around Mongolia with but actually ended up in lots of different countries as part of her adventure.
These books are definitely worth checking out. They are filled with super amazing stories of awesome women having incredible adventures on horseback. How can you go wrong? Find the Equestrian Adventuresses book series on Amazon worldwide.
Looking to connect with equestrian adventuresses around the world? Check out our Facebook group!
Are you looking for more information and resources regarding long-distance riding and other horse riding adventures? A good place to start is our essential packing list for horse riders. Check it out!