March 4, 2012

Goldilocks And The 14 Saddles

I'm used to having a difficult to fit horse.  Solo, with his curvy back and hollows behind the withers, is enough to give any saddle fitter a case of the shakes.  When I saw Encore, with his textbook TB-flattish back and high withers, I thought, sweet, I finally have something normal.  Even if it is the COMPLETE OPPOSITE SHAPE FROM SOLO.  Ha.

I got a copy of his tracings and sent them off to the lovely Jay at Trumbull Mtn, as they are always helpful and very experienced, dealing with hundreds of horses and saddles a year, trying to find the perfect for for equine and human.  I also worked with my saddle fitter here at home.

This is where we started, my beloved Black Country Eden MW.  A more wonderful saddle to ride in was never made, I swear it.

However, the tree was a "banana" shaped tree longitudinally, as I talked about here, so it rocked like a grandaddy on a Southern front porch.  You can see that Solo's special wither gussets didn't sit quite right on Encore either, so it was off to the "tasting room" to try and find the porridge that was just right.

Behind door #1:  A Verhan Odyssey, complete bliss to sit in on "Bucky," our tack shop's patient plastic mount.  On Encore, however...

I can see already that the tree is too curvy.
The shape doesn't match his back and look at the upsweep of those back panels.  Their shape side to side isn't bad, but the back 1/3 doesn't even touch the horse!

We want full contact, not "some" contact!
On the plus side wither clearance was lovely, so I rode in it anyway, just for one go, since it felt so amazing on the shop.  Turns out, on Encore, it felt like C.R.A.P.  It was hard, it pitched me forward and was generally the most unpleasant, unbalanced ride I've had in a while.  It ended quickly.

We moved on to door #2:  A Passier Nicole Grand Gilbert.  I heard so many folks rave about their Passiers and their TBs, I had to try it.

Sitting on him, it was not terrible, although still more upsweep at the back of the panel than I'd like -- you really want your panels resting evenly on the horse's back to distribute weight and avoid pressure points.  But then I hit the deal killer:

AHHHHHH!  Wither doom imminent!
Yes, it was nearly touching his withers with no weight on it.  Needless to say, I did not test ride this one and it moved to the "REJECTED" pile with the Verhan.

Perhaps door #3 would be kinder?  It held a Prestige 2000D.  I've never been the biggest Prestige fan; they have always seemed overpriced and of variable fit and quality to me, but I gave it a shot.

The balance was...not bad!  And look at those panels, perfectly following his back!  Wither clearance was lovely and, even though I have a general hatred of external thigh blocks, perhaps I could learn to live with it? 

I took it out for a couple rides.  My balance felt steady and Encore felt comfortable.  But I couldn't get away from the fact that the whole saddle was just...uncomfortable...for me.  The seat was rock hard, the thigh blocks were maddening and awkward, and I just didn't feel the love.  So even though fit was decent, I rejected it too because for several thousand dollars, a girl needs to have a little bit of love for her butt (yeah, I know your brain went there too).

Door #4 (how many freaking doors am I going to have to open already?):  An Arthur Kottas (made by KLM) sent to me to trial by Trumbull Mtn (the others I had borrowed from local shop).  It was a lovely saddle and it had a...wait for it...subtle blue pinstripe around the seat that EXACTLY matched my eventing colours.  WANT.

Good balance, nice panel contact

Width is ok, maybe a bit narrow at the top, but not horrible and withers are CLEAR.
Hmmm, panels look like the stuffing fairy got a little too excited, but perhaps with some softening, we could un-sausage them?
It was quite comfy to sit in and rode well.  My hopes were rising that I would get to keep my beloved blue stripe (oh, how shallow I can be).  However, on the second ride, Encore made it clear that it was too narrow and he was being pinched.  He was unhappy and the sides of his withers were quite sore after the ride, so I had to send it back.  I asked Trumbull if perhaps just getting the next size up might fix all of our problems, but she was very cautious and said don't do it if you can't trial it first.

With a heavy heart, I called local fitter to see if she had any other suggestions.  She offered a saddle from a new line -- the folks who make Thorowgood (synthetic and leather) and Fairfax (all leather version) saddles had come out with a new leather model called the Kent & Masters (all are made in Walsall, England, just like the Black Countries, so my heart rose cautiously).  My BO had a Fairfax that fit very well on her TB, but had the external thigh blocks that I hate.  The K&M was essentially the same saddle, but specifically redesigned for the many folks who had complained about the blocks.  So we gave it a go.

The balance...was perfect.  Wither clearance lovely, panels sat on his back perfectly.  It rode very nicely and seemed designed for the TB back.  It was even reasonably priced for an English built, decently made saddle, at $1595 (which I will note is cheaper than all the consignment saddles I tried except for the Kottas).  I could find no complaints (other than it wasn't the complete hiney bliss of my Black Country, but it was still quite comfortable and I didn't have another $3000 lying around to satisfy my BC longing) so I said "ORDER IT!"

I've now had three rides on new saddle.  Encore seems to like the fit.  It doesn't have the instantly broken in magic of my BC so I'm still working on getting the flaps to lay nicely.  I'm carefully watching some flap wear, but my fitter assures me that if there are any problems, the company has been fantastic about service and any warranty issues should they arise.  So while it may need a flocking tweak in a couple places, I think we have found the right tree for Goldilocks and can end (for now!) the horror that is the saddle hunt.

Thus endeth Saddle Wars 2012 (at least Round 1 - I am far too experienced to think they ever really stop!) and hopefully we can have some peace for a while!


  1. Informative post. :)

    That Kent and Masters is a nice looking saddle - congrats. And yay - no crazy big thigh blocks. No offense to anyone, but the exposed blocks just freak me out to look at. Like the saddle isn't finished yet. Hope you two have lots of happy rides!

  2. Isn't saddle shopping just kick-yourself-in-the-head fun?! ;-)
    Glad you were able to find something that fits your horsie, fits you, and is (semi) reasonably priced!
    Right now, I have one saddle and it does not fit my horse. I don't know what *would* fit him, apart from the gorgeous and astronomically expensive Arc de Triomphe Classique that I won't be able to afford for, oh, the next 20 years or so, lol. Salem is a sixteen-two (sorry, my "six" key isn't working!)TB, but he has a huge WB-like build.

  3. I hope we can get it broken in and tweaked quickly and it does not give us any problems -- that's the last thing I need in mid-horse-trial-season!

    Frizz, have you looked into the Thorowgood stuff? They have a lot of different trees and options, if you haven't checked it out.

  4. I am currently playing this game. I too have a TB with reasonable withers, a flat back and just a bit of a hollow behind the withers. So far, we have struck out with an HDR Austal, a Black Country Adelinda, a county connection, a Hulsebos WB4. Am cautiously hoping the Barnsby NGage I have on trial with work (though it does have the external blocks)

  5. I wanted to try a Barnsby, but couldn't find a used one in the right size. A friend had excellent luck with a Berney Bros. too.

  6. No, Solo, I haven't looked at the Thorowgoods, partly becuase I don't even really know what type of tree Salem needs or exactly what kind of back he has. I was always just taught to get a saddle that fits the rider, pile 8,000 floofy pads on the horse, and ride off into the sunset. :-( Oh, and I'm working with a budget of roughly 50 cents, lol.

  7. THANK YOU. This was amazingly informative! I have been following another blogger's trials and tribulations of saddle hunting, and I'm sorry to say I could not really see a thing wrong with the one she already owned, much less the ones she's tried out. Having never owned my own horse, the only time I've saddle shopped it's been just to suit me, and I nearly drove myself bonkers doing that. Fitting a horse is clearly worse! Anyway, your photos were easy to follow and I could actually see the issues with the other saddles. Very, very helpful... luckily, my saddle has done pretty well with a wide variety of school horses, and I don't think I've been torturing any of them, thank goodness.

  8. RW, it is a blessing from the universe when things go right with saddles! Glad it could be helpful. I wanted to include some more detail, but after 6 years of saddle wars, that would be the longest post ever!! Let's just say, at this point, I know what pictures to take and where to stick my fingers!

    Frizz, get thee to the Trumbull Mtn folks -- they will teach you how to measure your horse and point you in the right direction, FOR FREE. They are soooo experienced and amazingly helpful. Even just reading their website will teach you a lot. Then start putting quarters in a jar. ;-)