I've tried many, many saddles on my dear Ben. I could probably try many, many more, if I had the time, money, and energy.
Alas, back in March, after the last bout of failed saddle fittery, I cracked. Having purchased a new, slimmer designed flocked Wintec Isabell for my ArabX gelding, I started using that on Ben instead. While it kinda works and he doesn't protest, it still isn't a great fit for either of us. And seriously, while they did a decent job of slimming down the twist, the seat is rock hard. Rock hard seat on bouncy horse is NOT fun.
So I started looking around. I believe I even wrote a post about looking at some different saddles locally and through online saddlery's that offer generous trials. I ended up not doing the trials because it dawned on me that, to spend $120 per saddle to trial added up quickly - and why was I going to do try saddles that cost $3800 - 4500+ new? Sure, i could find the exact saddle I wanted but would have to wait for a used one to pop up, because honestly, my budget does not allow for such an expense at this time, especially not with 2 horses in training.
So I trialed some saddles locally instead, as well as sending off for some treeless saddles just to see if they made any bit of difference.
And in the meantime, I ordered Ben a custom saddle from Heritage Bespoke Saddlery (http://www.heritagesaddlery.co.uk/). During all of my searching, I vetted this out every which way to Sunday - and could not find a negative response from anyone in terms of quality, fit, etc. So I started to email with the owner, Matt, who was very helpful.
So on the last week of March 2013, I broke down and ordered a fully custom Olympia Monoflap LS: http://www.heritagesaddlery.co.uk/content/yin-yang-olympia-monosingle-flap-close-contact-dressage-saddle-olympia-lsd-large-shouldered-
How much was said custom saddle? All told, $1750.00 USD- WITH shipping included.
That's right folks, under $2k for a custom saddle.
The downside? A custom saddle is not returnable. A custom saddle requires you to take proper tracings and pictures. Success depends on your ability to describe what it is you want, in a way your saddler can understand.
There are no trials. There is no one on the ground helping you.
And yet, I
It was fine. Not only just fine, remarkably beautiful. The quality of leather is outstanding. Strong, soft, and yummily grippy. The seat is so, so soft. I could sit on that thing all day long.
Of course, I had to take it out to the barn to try it immediately. I was hoping beyond hope that this would work for Ben. On looks alone, it looked to be a fair match- had I seen it at the tack store you can bet I would've taken it on trial.
So out it went. I cleaned Ben up as quickly as possible, and set it on his back. All I can say is WOW. Mr. Marlow had done it. While perhaps not 100% fit, more like 97% - this saddle looked like a part of Ben. Surely, with some break in and settling, we'd hit 100% - and quickly too.
So I mounted up and...did nothing. Ben just stood there. Hmm, this saddle is not as comfortable on the horse as it was on my stand...it feels like something is hitting my thighs, and wait- is that the stirrup bar I feel? Are my stirrups too long? Is this flap too far forward? I coaxed him forward, and he obligingly went. Until I asked him to trot, and he said NO WAY. I said YES WAY, and he finally went. Sort of- blip blopping around- bouncy as heck, rooting his head and dodging the footing. What the heck is going on?
We went on this way for several more minutes until I decided- this sucks. He's not having fun, I'm struggling, the footing blows- I have no idea if he hates the saddle or the footing or the humid air.
Back to the barn we went, and I realized the saddle pad had almost slid out. The saddle had settled with my weight and was too wide for him. That was a first, but also expected, as I had requested the saddle be built a bit more generously to allow for a sheepskin pad (only the best for Ben, you know). I was tempted to quickly stuff one under there and try again - but remembered the crap footing and decided to push my plans to the next day.
Day 2: The sun was shining and footing appeared to be better. Still uneven and mucky in spots, but avoidable spots. Armed with my shimmed up thinline pad, I went out and attempted to ride once again in my new saddle. This time, we barely were able to trot. I felt like I had a crick in by back and was hunched over, and Ben looked and felt dead lame at the trot. GAAAH. So it wasn't footing. Or the saddle. Maybe he has a bruise or abscess brewing?
Back to the barn...no heat anywhere on his leg, hoof or anything. All the same, we take precautions and into his stall he goes. Saddle trying will just have to wait.
Day 3: Barn manager turned Ben out on mistake. I show up to find a beautiful bay standardbred galloping up and down hills, cavorting around with his wee Arabian friend/brother. Didn't appear that there were any lame horses in that field. Huh. If he's sound enough to be doing that, he's sound enough for me to try this saddle again.
This time I decided to try my sheepskin pad, thinking that perhaps the Thinline with shims was TOO much. This might be a good time to mention that a couple of Ben's tell tale signs of "I hate this saddle" have been mysteriously missing - tooth grinding, and fussing while girthing.
Up I get, and off we go. This time the footing is PERFECT. No excuses there. The saddle, on day 3, is feeling much more comfortable for me. I ask him for a trot, and after a few false/lazy starts, his trot feels pretty darn good. Like, everything is normal and fine good. Okay- a bit more trotting and now it is time for canter. NO WAY says Ben- I am NOT cantering. Uhh, yes you are buddy. After a few moments I finally got a canter out of him- but it was not pretty, or comfortable.
Okay- I had to get to the bottom of this. We marched right back to the barn. Off came the new saddle and on went the old Isabell. God I really dont like the fit. Back to the arena we went. I got on and YOUCH - seriously how have I been riding all this time in this thing? HAHA - funny how things change so quickly!
Asked Ben to trot - got the same, equal trot as in the new saddle. Asked him to canter - at first i got protests- but this time I pushed him - his canter came back. Not 100%, but like 80. And he wasn't being a snark-boy about it.
So here we are, Day 4. I've been emailing with the saddler. I really can't figure out what could possibly be going wrong. This saddle looks great on him. I guess looks aren't everything, though.
One thought is that maybe the girthing is not quite right - maybe he needs a different shaped girth with this saddle. The other is that maybe it is truly too wide. Or maybe he doesn't like how I sit in it. Or maybe it is just that the thing feels so unlike anything else he's ever been ridden in. Who knows.
I'm going to keep futzing with it, and we'll see where it leads us.
I've been asked if I'm sorry I made the decision to purchase this saddle. No, not at all. It is a beautiful saddle, and I think with a little adjusting, it may work well. If this thing cost $5-6k as custom saddles often do, then yes, I'd be crying in my beer. But then again, I probably would not have purchased a $5k saddle sight unseen, or in person... lol