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.
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.
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?