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Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Saddle Fitting - What's That?

Here's what I knew about saddle fit for both horse and rider when I bought my current one in 2000: next to nothing. For the horse, I knew it had to have wither and gullet clearance. For the rider, I knew my knee shouldn't hang over the edge of the flap, and I should be able to fit four fingers behind my butt. That's about it! As a life-long lesson student I'm afraid I never really had to think about it. When I went saddle shopping, I focused on the following, in this order:

- Price (< $1,000)
- Quality
- Fit for me
- Appearance

When I was little and riding at Tricorne Farm, I used the saddle that went with the horse or pony I was assigned to that day. I cringe when I see photos of my small self floating around in a ginormous hunk of leather on the back of some patient 16hh plodder. Bet it made my legs stronger, though!

This photo isn't quite as dramatic, as I was more like eight years old than five (my age when I started at Tricorne), but I guarantee you those leathers were wrapped at least once. I can remember them having to be wrapped two or even three times.
This is "Budweiser," a Belgian X schoolie who had to have been even taller than 16hh. I'm modeling the rubber tall boots I wore for a few years. Hot in the summer, FREEZING in the winter - it's a wonder I still have all my toes - and loose enough to go around my chicken legs twice. Have to say they really didn't look that bad, though.
When I was a teenager, I used the "in" brand borrowed from my trainer's daughter for shows. It was a Crosby Prix de Nations, of course - the must-have saddle of the 70s. I don't remember what I rode in for lessons; something that must have fit me and the two lessons horses okay. I always desperately wanted my own saddle as a kid but my parents didn't see the need. I remember watching the price of a PDN go up... and up... over the years in the Millers catalog and lamenting the fact that it was getting further out of reach by the minute (I think it hit a whole $500!). Why we didn't look for a used one, I don't know...  When I finally accumulated some of my own money I wasn't riding anymore (Sr. year of HS - story for another day) and spent it on a trip to Europe.

Now, thanks to the Internet, I am vastly more educated. I don't have my own horse, so I've still never tried to fit a horse exactly, but at least I know more about my own choice. Luckily, it wasn't half-bad: it's a 17" Dover Circuit Elite.
Not mine, but looks just like it.
The Dover catalog states this is their best-selling saddle, and they also have some quotes from trainers saying it fits a wide variety of horses. Neither of the trainers I've ridden with since acquiring the Circuit Elite have complained about it not fitting a lesson mount, thank goodness. I was glad that at my most recent barn all the horses went in a wither-relief pad (either wool or faux sheepskin) and a regular pad, so that helped, too.

I have been very happy with this saddle and it's garnered quite a few compliments. I see that Dover has upgraded the leather since my purchase; a good thing, since it took a lot of elbow grease and Lexol to break in the flaps on this one (and remove a bunch of superfluous dye). Still, I have to tell you it was made a lot better than a low-end model from Beval that I also looked at. I was not impressed with the unmatching leather on that one at all - and they were the exact same price.

When I finally do get my own horse I will be sure to have a saddle fitter out. I would have no problem replacing the Dover if that's best, as I've learned I could use something better for myself anyway (narrower, more forward flap, for starters).

If you noticed, I was talking about my "current" saddle. My first one was none other than a Crosby PDN, purchased well-used in 1988. I still remember how beyond thrilled I was when I saw it for sale on a flyer hanging up after the 4-H show at the Ohio State Fair. I couldn't believe it - my dream saddle, in my size, for $75! The ironic part was I wasn't even riding then, but I didn't care (and I also didn't really have the $75, being right out of college and living on my own). I drove two hours away to pick it up and was so excited that I actually pulled over at a rest stop to hang the thing on a guard rail and sit in it. Lord knows what passing motorists thought I was doing.

Another 11 years went by before I had the opportunity to ride in this saddle. It was now 1999, and you know where this is going... much to my dismay, flat saddles were largely gone from the H/J world. Everyone had padded knee rolls again. My rock-hard, needed-reflocking, slippery PDN was not only not in fashion, it revealed itself to be mighty uncomfortable. I had never noticed when I was a kid but I sure did as an adult! It had to go... hence the search that resulted in the Circuit Elite. I looked for a used saddle to no avail, as I would have liked something already broken in.

The longed-for Crosby is now adorning a display shelf in my bedroom. I know some people still love them, and I'm sure I could sell it to one of them or a person just starting out in English riding, but for now it's merely a decoration:
I have published glimpses of this display shelf before. Coming soon: a post where I explain everything up there! And, I told you the panels need restuffing... ugh.
Of course nowadays the most popular models are nothing less than pillowy mock-couches - I'd love to see some of these Junior riders get around a 3'6" course in that old PDN, wouldn't you? ;-)


  1. Got your comment on my blog! Small world that you know my cousin Lou!! I also had a PDN growing up, they were ALL the rage but I do love my comfy Delgrange these days. Looking forward to following along with your blog.

  2. Yeah, how about that! :-) Lou and I were cracking up. I mean, there are a LOT of us horsey bloggers, so when he told me the name of yours I couldn't believe it was one I actually read.
    Thanks for dropping in here!

    I've written other posts that mention my childhood barn, Tricorne Farm. It sure was wonderful growing up in such horsey country... Nobody out here in the Midwest believes NJ is horsey, but wouldn't I just love to run them out to Hunterdon county, or Gladstone, or Colt's Neck which of course is the center of horse country in Monmouth now. Alas, Tricorne and what was my teenage years barn are both now housing developments. (I'm planning to write about the other barn soon - it's quite a story)

    I'm insanely jealous of your beautiful Tucker, and glad you guys are out there promoting NJ equestrianism!


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