Readers of my blog know that I have a pretty full-blown saddle addiction, but the one thing I’ve always resisted is ordering a custom saddle. Well, not quite. I have a saddle that was made to measure for me — a Roosli Pilatus dressage saddle. Not technically “custom” it was assembled to fit my measurements and built on their standard wide tree. I’d tried a demo saddle on my horse and I knew that it fit him, plus my trainer at the time knew Fredy Roosli and she was able to offer her students the dealer discount, which made it a very attractive package. This was especially true for me as I need a longer, more forward flap than was standard on dressage saddles at the time, and was having a hard time finding one that worked for me. And yes, I owned a Stackhouse cross country saddle that had been custom made for somebody else.
These days, a “custom” saddle is on many people’s Christmas list. Partly it’s because the saddle manufacturers have done a terrific job at selling the necessity of going custom (my saddle fitter’s opinion was that very few horses cannot be fit off the shelf); partly it’s because the marketing behind these saddles is phenomenal: the are guaranteed to fit a wide variety of horses and make you look like a million dollars; partly it’s because they are very comfortable to ride in; and partly because of the prestige associated with owning one. Keep in mind that in some barns, the trainer may be a “sponsored” rider, and will get a commission for every saddle his or her students buy. This make me appreciate Renate Lansburgh even more. Not only did she not take a commission, she passed along the savings because she wanted her students to have great saddles.
But the dirty secret behind the custom saddles is not their expense, it’s that despite the fancy packaging and the exquisite leather, many of them simply do not fit — not the horse they were “made” for and not the rider.
Why is the failure rate for custom saddles so high? There are a couple of reasons:
- Most saddles are not truly custom. The manufacturers buy standard trees and then assemble the saddle based on the measurements of the fitter, creating a customized saddle based on your preferences. Some horses are not suited to the type of trees sold by certain brands, so they will never fit.
- The fit is only as good as the fitter and many reps simply aren’t that good at the technical side of their job. If you don’t start with the right measurements, the saddle won’t fit.
- Your custom saddle may not fit the same as the demo saddle. Personally, I will never buy a saddle again that I can’t ride in first. There is always going to be some variation in the manufacture of saddles and IMHO, you are much better off buying a saddle you know you like.
- The French saddles typically use foam panels. Now, lots of people like foam as it is supposed to create a custom feel for each horse. Here’s where my preference for English and German saddles will show itself, so keep that in mind. Foam panels are thinner, providing a very close contact feel, but they aren’t as adjustable and some horses prefer more padding between their backs and their humans. Sure, the foam panels will compensate for some differences in your horse, or allow you to use the saddle on horses with very similar backs, but you can “tweak” the fit more with a wool flocked panel. If your horse changes so much that your foam panels no longer fit, your only option is to have new panels made. As you can imagine, that’s a lot more expensive than have the wool flocking adjusted. This is actually what happened with my Stackhouse saddle. My horse’s back changed just enough that it no longer fit him. I opted to sell it on and buy something that worked for how he’d changed.
If you are one of the unlucky customers who find their custom saddle isn’t working for them (usually after waiting for weeks, if not months for the saddle to be made), getting satisfaction — your money back or a saddle that fits — can be quite a process. I’ve read many tales of woe, but the link to the post below happened to one of my fellow bloggers, who lived through this experience first hand. She is kind enough in her post not to identify the brand of saddle that she purchased, so although I know it, I will keep the secret.
Have you ever sprung for a custom made saddle? What was your experience? Good or bad?