December 18, 2012

This Is How We Roll: Dressage Saddles, Pt. II

There's a little town in England where cows live in everlasting terror.  It is called Walsall and it is home to, among others, the saddlemakers at Black Country, Kent & Masters (formerly Fairfax), Frank Baines, Albion, Harry Dabbs...need I continue?

In March, after trying 427 models (perhaps I exaggerate a little....but not much!), we decided on a Kent & Masters dressage saddle for Encore, since Solo's Black Country Eden, while heavenly, was all kinds of the wrong shape for a flat OTTB back.  The tree sat on Encore like it was built for him, the balance was perfect and I loved riding in it.  My ever-generous mother made it a wonderful gift and we moved forward with much glee.

As a side note, K&M has moved in sync with a few other brands and offers changeable gullet plates.  I have mixed feelings about these; they are obviously not a panacaea as they only slightly adjust one part of the tree.  Do it wrong and you can throw the whole saddle off balance.  But they have been helpful as my horses change shape with training and muscular development.  I have owned Wintecs and still have a Collegiate Convertible that I like but for one problem:  the gullet plates have very short tree points and created pressure points under the ends because there was not enough metal to distribute the weight down the horse's side.  My saddle fitter and I both mourned this shortcoming and tried to make up for it in several ways.  I finally successfully put a bandaid on it with my Collegiate, called the magical powers of Ecogold pads.  But K&M (and Thorowgood) did me one better:  they built a longer plate.

To the left are two medium gullet plates.  The one on top is a K&M plate, the bottom one is a Wintec/Collegiate plate.  Both have the same angle.  But not only is the K&M significantly longer, but it also does not pinch in about halfway down the way the other does.  Colour me happy. 

Problem:  within the first two weeks, the dye beneath the stirrup leathers began to rub off a tiny bit.  I contacted my fitter, from whom I had purchased the K&M, and she said to photo track it and let her know what happened.  Most of the Walsall companies are known not only for their well-made saddles, but their excellent service, so I had a low(er) level of distress about options.

Fast forward seven months to October and the dye was becoming an endangered substance anywhere my leathers or legs touched the saddle and by December, it looked like this:

Now, if this was a $500 saddle, I might say, well, my leg covers it all, oh well.  But even though the saddle was a gift, the gifter still put down about $1600 and I expect a heck of a lot better wear for that price!  Were there going to be holes right through the flap in two years?

I will spare you the excruciating details, but I tapped the customer service pipeline.  I hoped I could at least get some money back -- the saddle still rode wonderfully, I didn't want to get rid of it.  To my surprise, I learned that I was not alone.  The company had suffered a bad dye lot (not uncommon in leather-world) and was speedily responding to reported issues and rectifying them generously.  So maybe, I could get really lucky and get them to send some new flaps!

Oh no, Walsall does not take leather inadequacies likely.  My fitter informed me that they were going to replace the whole thing and my NEW new saddle would arrive in early December!


And it did.  Fitter informed me the company had slightly streamlined the design and tree since March and if I had ANY reservations, to just let her know immediately and K&M would work as long as it took until we were sorted.  I was a bit nervous -- the words "new tree" send a shudder down my spine.  However, I took a deep breath and set it on Encore's back...and fell in love all over again.

Clip job not finished yet.  Ha.
It assumed its rightful position with gorgeous wither clearance and settled onto his back like a homing pigeon (only without claws).  I sat in it and walked around a bit and was happy to find it felt just as correct and comfortable as its predecessor.

All that is left now is to re-break it in and hopefully we are set.  Time will tell, but I feel much more comfortable knowing that if I DO have any further issues (hey, shit happens), I will not be left stranded.  I cannot give higher praise to K&M -- a company which stands so firmly behind its products and recognizes the significant financial output of its customers will gladly receive my recommendation and business any day of the week.


  1. Drooling over the beautiful saddle. Think I might have gotten some drool in the keyboard.
    Yeah for good Customer Service!!

  2. I have this exact saddle for my standardbred, and an original cob for my half arab.... like you, I cannot sing its praises enough.

    I made the move from a Wintec Isabell, Pro, and 500 dressage...excruciating! LOL

  3. Jen, they are indeed drool-worthy; I really like the new design and it just fits me so well.

    Faith, I had a Wintec Pro Dressage and quite liked it but boy, I would not trade back now, LOL! It's such a great saddle, I'm surprised it's not more popular, really, especially at that price point, which is not that much higher than the Wintec Isabel, yet 1000x nicer saddle.

  4. Great customer service is falling by the wayside...good to know there are still companies out there that stand behind their products and want their customers happy.

  5. That is incredible service!
    Absolutely gorgeous saddle, great customer service, will have to check these guys out.

  6. What great customer service!

    How soft is the leather??

  7. Indeed, they are great! The leather is not too soft -- I don't like that super squishy calf stuff that scratches. It's sturdy and feels like it will break in well.

  8. That is a beautiful saddle. It's design reminds me of my Albion, at least what I can see of it from the side. ;)

    Cows beware.

  9. Wow, color me impressed! I'm not in the dressage saddle market, but I will definitely keep them in mind. Any chance they make jump saddles?

  10. SB, they DO make jump saddles. Pretty ones even, LOL.

    Sucks to be a cow.

  11. Wow, that's some spectacular customer service, alright! Nice to know *some* companies stand behind their product (Note: Walsall is not in China... ahem).

    Looks to me like the knee rolls are not exactly the same shape on the new model. Guess that's okay with you? It's gorgeous no matter what and I would have guess it cost more like $3,000+!

  12. Thanks, RW -- I think the knee rolls (removable) are about the same size, but the new flap is not broken in yet to the curve of my leg.

  13. You are the second blogger this week to mention one o these saddles. That is a really great price for a quality leather saddle. I have an adjustable wintec to start my new boy in but I will keep these in mind. I'm lookin forward to getting my tush back into leather once he fill out a little.