Monday, May 9, 2016

What's your saddle fitting philosophy?

On Saturday, while I was away, Tristan had his dressage saddle re-fitted. It had been two years, and he's muscling up so much better this spring that I wanted to make sure everything was all set.

My dressage saddle is an Albion, not sure what model, that I bought used about 8 years ago. I adore it on a number of levels: it's comfortable, it's minimal, and it puts me in the right spot.

the saddle in question, on a grumpy faced mustang.

For me, though, its most important quality is that the general shape and line of the tree is a good match to the underlying spinal structures in his back. I looked at a LOT of dressage saddles over a number of years. None of them quite worked, even though I fell head over heels in love with them.

The key to making it work was having a good relationship with a local used tack store that had a) a good inventory and b) a tack fitter on staff. When I finally got serious about wanting to buy a dressage saddle, I stopped taking random saddles that I liked and did a wither tracing of Tristan's back, and took that to the store with me. I sat only in saddles that the saddle fitter thought probably worked. I took a few home on one week trials. Eventually, I came across my saddle.

I never had a preconceived brand in mind. I had a vague idea of style - more minimalist - but other than that, my top priority was the fit for Tristan, and my second priority was the way I sat in it. Both of those things had to work really well in order to buy, but the overall fit to Tristan's back was my most important criterion.

So now I've had this saddle adjusted about a half dozen times over the years, by three different fitters, and each one has only done partial reflocking.

In a way, I've probably been lucky; Tristan doesn't have a wildly difficult body type, and he is on the stoic end of the spectrum. So I had a wider range to choose from to begin with, and also a wider margin of success, since his back wasn't going to demand one very specific type of fit.

last saddle fitting

I do think that some of what played into this process and made it a success was the philosophy I had at the beginning. I never fell in love with one brand and demanded I get that. I never needed a brand new saddle. I worked with a saddle fitter, and a tack store, that I knew and trusted from day one. The idea of buying a saddle sight unseen off the internet kind of baffles and scares me.

At the same time, I realize there are a lot of people who want to purchase a particular brand or type of saddle, for whatever reason, and they make that work for their horse. (Or for multiple horses.) Professional riders often get custom free saddles in exchange for brand representation. Sometimes riders have trainers who want them riding in a certain brand. (In fact, my jumping saddle, a Passier, came to me because its previous owner rode with a trainer who demanded all her students buy Passiers; she bought the saddle, but it never really fit her horse, and 10 years later I bought her $3,000 saddle for $300.) People have a long brand relationship with a particular company - because of quality, or good customer service, or a style or philosophy preference. I'm sure sometimes people cycle through what is trendy or looks good.

My way works for me. Other ways work for other people, including lots of people whose blogs I read. There's no right or wrong way as long as you're keeping your horse's best interests in mind.

So: which side do you fall on?


  1. I have a similar philosophy to you - I don't really care what brand the saddle is as long as it fits horse & rider well! I honestly think it's silly and counter-productive to be married to a particular brand of saddle and expect it to fit every horse & rider out there. For example, as much as I would love to have, say, a County saddle, the trees are WAY too 'flat' shaped for my pony's back. When I was shopping I didn't even look at anything that didn't have a 'curvy' tree, and because of being selective about the shape and unconcerned with brand, I was able to purchase the first saddle I tried, though it did need some adjustments to really be perfect!

  2. How has it been 8 years already? O.o

  3. Split philosophies here!
    For endurance, I wanted something I could adjust myself, and I was pretty sure I'd be buying it sight-unseen: there are very few used endurance saddles available locally. If I could do some of the fitting myself, that made it less of a gamble.
    For dressage/jumping, I found that Fetti's shape (pony, large shoulders, no withers, slight curve) ruled out so very many saddles, and my price range ruled out so many more, fit for me comes way last. I love that I can ride my synthetic saddle in any conditions without fear, but I don't think it's helping me an awful lot. But if I were to go jump-saddle hunting on a budget? I'd buy another Thorowgood because I know they work well enough for her.

  4. Yep, no brand loyalty here. Whichever brand will fit my mare the best is what I'm going to buy - within a reasonable budget. That being said, I love the Thornhill Germania jump saddle I just bought and when I do need a dressage saddle, I'll probably give the dressage version a try first.

  5. I'm hoping and praying that I'll finally get to buy my pony his own dressage saddle this year. When I do, I'm like you - I don't care about brand, or model, or style, or new or used. I just want something that fits us both, in my budget...and I want it in brown ;)

    That color kinda narrows down my options, but this will be the first saddle I've ever bought for him. I want to LOVE it and and I want to keep it forever. So I figure, if I end up waiting longer in order to find it, that's fine. I'll just drool over pretty tack on pinterest in the meantime.

  6. I would like to have brand loyalty. My old prestige has served me very well. It's over 15 years old and have never needed re-flocking and I've had it looked it. It comfortable and fits me very well and have fit multiple horses over the years. Unfortunately, Nilla has such a weird back that I don't think a prestige would work. I talked to Prestige at Rolex and they think they could cobble something together, but it seems like a lot of money to me for something that will probably not be a great fit in the end.

  7. I'm a lot like you when it comes to saddles. I like it to fit my horses and myself reasonably well and I don't care much about brand. (I mean, I'd love to have one of the really comfortable, really fancy Sommers from work, but they are definitely out of my price range.)

  8. Ugh I just want something that fits the mare and me. I have no brand loyalty, no agenda. And yet it still proves difficult haha

  9. I've never really been a brand person until I fell in love with the Bliss of London saddles. That being said, when I had the fitter out so I could try them, I knew that if they didn't work there was no way I would toss down $3200 just for a name. Luckily, of the three types I tried, the middle-range one fit me absolutely perfectly and since they are custom made for the horse, it came in fitting Fiction perfectly too. I'm now a lifer unless something in their brand changes!

  10. I like my Childeric but I'm not loyal to the brand. If a saddle fits us both and isn't hideous then I'd buy... if I needed one. Thankfully the saddle I have is still good. Although I wouldn't say no to adding a dressage saddle to the family.

  11. I'm not really a brand-snob. If it fits, I sits!


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