SUBSCRIBE TODAY Smiley face  Get updates via email! 

We Are Flying Solo

April 10, 2010

This Is How We Roll: Jumping Saddles

To add to our review series, I thought I'd talk a little about saddles.  I started out with a secondhand old-style medium tree Crosby event saddle; it was fantastic, with a spring tree that fit many horses.  Of course, as luck would have it, it stopped fitting MY horse as soon as I put him in regular work:  too narrow.  So the quest for a new saddle began. I decided to start with a close contact saddle and add a dressage saddle later when funds allowed. I could always do dressage in a cc but sure can't jump in a dressage saddle.

I should not have used the word "quest" so lightly; I quickly learned why horse people spook and swear when they hear the words "saddle shopping." Because it's a form of torture akin to holding one's hands in a campfire while being poked in the eyeballs with sharp sticks. If you have any restrictive criteria whatsoever, it adds an extra layer of "fun," like a rabbit slowly chewing off your toes while your hands roast.

Because this was my set of rules:
Had to be less than $1500
Had to have a long forward flap to accommodate my freaky long thigh
Had to fit my horse, who now went in a wide tree and would probably continue to change
Had to have wool flocking so I could fit to suit and adjust as needed
Had to be well-balanced and made well enough to last a while (ie more than five years)

Then I proceeded to peruse catalogues and haunt saddle shops. While pulling my hair out. Most helpful was the saddle clerk who took one look at said thighs and said "Oh, you'll need to order custom." Lady, what part of 1996 truck I was driving at the time said to you that I could afford custom saddles???

After a long and ardurous journey which I will spare you, we ended up with this: the Collegiate Convertible Diploma w/ Long Flap. And I can tell you honestly, three years later, I freaking love this saddle. With an initial coat of oil, the leather darkened to the perfect havana shade and broke in soft enough to be comfy, but is still strong enough not to scratch all the time. I've ridden hours in it on the trail, spent over a year doing dressage in it, and of course, run lots of XC in it. It's been flocked and adjusted to fit Solo nicely and sits in a good balance on his back. It has worn impeccably, and still looks lovely all cleaned up, often mistaken for a much more expensive piece of leather. For a saddle bought new for less than $1000, I don't think it can be beat.

I am not sorry I got the convertible gullet -- he's gone from medium to wide to extra wide and then seems to have settled on wide.  Lord help me if I had to buy new saddles every time!

Would I change anything about it? The only thing I might change is to design the tree with a little more wither clearance on the wider gullet plates. Solo can be a bit hard to fit because he has a huge shoulder. I always use a sheepskin cutout pad with the cc saddle so I ensure that his withers are enshrined only in softness. It works for us.

If you have to embark on this particular brand of torture, I highly recommend trying LOTS of things.  Go to stores, sit in them.  Yes, you will fall in love with some $4000 saddle you sit in, but if you're lucky it won't fit your horse.  I strongly suggest NOT sitting in the $4000 saddles.  It's just cruel to your hiney, mostly.  It's better if your ass doesn't know what it's missing.  Also, put lots of saddles on your horse.  They don't all fit the same and a medium in a Stubben is not the same as a medium in a Wintec which is not the same as a medium in a Prestige.  I know, it's like they WANT us to be crazy.

Also, say YES to a GOOD saddle fitter.  Having gone through three of them, I emphasize the word GOOD.  The saddle fitter can make or break your horse's comfort, so proceed with caution and ask questions and do research.

Do make a list of what is most important to you and be honest with yourself.  Many women buy saddles that are too small for them because of some silly insecurities about butt size.  Ladies:  the seat size of your saddle is very much about the length of your femur and not so much about the size of you butt.  And a saddle that is the wrong size can truly screw up your position on the horse.  I moved up from a 17.5" to an 18" seat to accommodate the freaky thighs and it made a huge difference in comfort; it's lovely not to have my knee sliding over the edge of the flap all the time!

While the process of finding the perfect saddle for me and Solo sucked royally, I also learned a lot a lot a lot a lot about saddles, construction, fitting, and balance.  I guess that is my tradeoff, as lessons learned the hard way certainly do stick very well!


  1. I had a hard time finding a saddle for my TB gelding. His is a med narrow. I found that Wintec had a good saddle choice until we build some muscle. It was hard for me to get a saddle fitter and try on saddles. We lived in Hawaii and they have like 2 tack shops there and only one sold saddles. Wintec won due to versitility and I had to order a larger seat due to "femur" length not butt size. Good Post!!!!

  2. Oh man, I can't even imagine how hard it must be to track down tack shops in Hawaii! Glad you made it work -- I will share our Wintec love in a coming dressage saddle post!

  3. Love the part about the rabbit chewing off your toes while your hands roast! LOL. Boy, am I ever sympathetic about the saddle hunting thing. You & I are built completely opposite; I'm short & curvy. And of course I'm totally mismatched with a 17hh TB who is built warmbloody (I think he's like Clifford & love made him grow :-) )I think the Crosby I just got for him is going to work out; it has the cutback, which seems to accomodate his mountainous withers. He's terribly out of shape though, so we'll see what happens once he's ridden more, heh!

  4. Ah yes... I am on the hunt for a dressage saddle that fits me (I am also part of the freeky thigh group) and my crazy TB, and (here's hoping) my next TB. Thank goodness the barn Jackson is at has 40 horses with owners who will let me use their saddles, that has made things much easier! I'm leaning towards a Wintec Isabelle, but I rode on a $3,000 Klimke that fit both of us perfectly, and was for sale for 2,500. Why does that always happen??

  5. See, this is the anguish of sitting in expensive saddles. It makes you want them and your brain convinces itself that you can't live without them.

  6. I got lucky in the opposite direction, by finding a $1600 saddle that feels like a $4000 saddle. Love! And it fits Squeaker's round body/flat back/no wither/huge shoulder, too. Now to sell my old (too narrow) saddle to pay for this treasure!

  7. Uuuuggghh, the dreaded "s-f" phrase that has become like nails on a chalkboard to me.
    I am ashamed to say that I spent over twenty years being blissfully ignorant about saddle fit. Even when I read about others' saddle-fitting woes, it never occurred to me that my saddle could have caused pain to any of the bazillion horses I've ridden in it.
    I'm planning on selling my old saddle, and I guess I'll wait until I get another horse to buy a new one. Although I look forward to the horse, I am most definitely NOT looking forward to the impossible and frustrating Saddle-Finding Adventure!

  8. Good find, Squeak! And don't feel too bad, Frizz, I did exactly the same thing. Ignorance is indeed bliss and bless the poor patient horses who put up with me!

  9. As someone who had saddle-fit issues last year (yes, YEAR), I feel your pain. I'm fortunate enough to not have any special conformational issues that need to be accounted for, but between the complete lack of saddle fitters in the area coupled with us having only one tack store that even carries english stuff, finding a saddle that worked was a NIGHTMARE.

    Oh, and did I mention I was developing a young horse who's back was constantly changing? Yeah, that bad. I like your recommendation. If I'm ever in the market again (and I really, really hope not to be), I'll look into it.

  10. Also perhaps give Trumbull Mtn tack a try. One of their fitters has a great blog, which I may have to highlight. Lifeshighway has a link over on her blog.