Equestrians come in as many varieties as the steeds they ride. But whatever their bent, almost everyone who rides needs one thing: a saddle.

And that's where Leonard Gayer comes in. "We normally sit on about 800 saddles," he says, speaking metaphorically, of course. They are piled high in the small dimly lighted shop next to the house and 10 acres where he grew up on Dower House Road near Andrews Air Force Base.

Because Dominion Saddle moved from the median of Route 301 in Bowie up the road to Crofton, and with the Gayer's of Laurel--an unrelated business sold out of family years ago--now liquidating its entire stock, Gayer's Saddlery Inc. soon will be the only tack shop in Prince George's County.

They come to Gayer's from Virginia, from Pennsylvania and from right down the road. Gayer's also ships saddles out West and overseas, to Saudi Arabia, England, Germany and the Philippines, among other places. On rare occasions, when the saddle fit is problematic, Gayer will make house calls, or owners will bring their horses to him.

His walk-in customers, Gayer says, are "mostly middle-class America," and some foreigners, including embassy people assigned to Washington or passing through.

Gayer, a stocky, 51-year-old Vietnam veteran; his wife, Kay; and nephew Larry work at the business Gayer's late mother began 40 years ago at the same location. Lucille Gayer sold a couple of used saddles and a couple of horses and suddenly found herself in business. "There was a need," said her son, the owner.

The need is greater now and in some ways different. "When we began, practically everyone who bought a saddle had a horse. Now half don't but want their own saddle to use for taking lessons."

Similarly, demand for the more formal English saddles has grown, and demand for Western-style saddles has diminished, reflecting perhaps a more sedate clientele. "A Western saddle is like a dump truck," Gayer says. "The English is more the equivalent of a sports car."

To restock his inventory, Gayer makes two trips a year to England.

The English saddles Gayer carries range from $99 to $2,800. Western saddles run from $200 to $1,800. Gayer discourages upper-end purchases, which is surprising, since they are the bulk of his stock,

"The price is a better indicator of nerve than quality," he says. "There's a certain ambience or prestige to spending a certain amount on a saddle, like a car. . . . Frankly, most everything over $1,000 is a rip-off. I sell $2,800 saddles only to people who won't listen to me, which is a fair number of people."

Gayer also sells a full line of equestrian accessories. For humans, he sells riding apparel, protective helmets, Western boots ("I live in them, wear shoes to weddings and funerals, sometimes," Gayer said), bumper stickers that say "I {heart} Thoroughbreds" and horseshoe earrings.

He also stocks a horse shampoo, which was briefly popular a few years back for human use, and a pill designed to "soften up" the joints. Originally for horses, the item is now being marketed as "Grand Flex Rider" for people.

"I don't know how it is for people. It's pretty good for horses," says Gayer, who somehow makes a living despite his disarming candor. "I'm not starving to death," he says. "If I'm gonna be a crook, I'd be a politician and make some real money."

CAPTION: Leonard Gayer, of Gayer's Saddlery, has about 800 saddles piled high in his county shop.