It’s that time again – the time when I discover that somehow neither of my saddles fit any longer, and I have to sell them and buy new ones. Oooh, shopping for lovely, glossy new tack… Surely a good thing?
No. It’s not like that for me, and if it is like that for you, then this story is simply not for you.
When I was a horsey kid growing up in the 80s, you just rode in whatever saddle you had. My first pony had a poorly-fitted show saddle with a seat like a tea tray and no leg rolls to speak off, and that’s what I learned to ride and – heaven forbid – jump in. Even when I progressed to horses, I still used whichever saddle vaguely fitted, with one GP saddle deemed fine for all disciplines.
I was nearly 20 when I got my first dressage saddle, and it was several years later that I got one that I actually loved, albeit one that was second hand and slightly older. This is what it was meant to feel like all along, I thought, basking in its sofa-like comfort, feeling my horse instantly improve underneath me.
The horse that saddle was bought for later retired, and needless to say it didn’t fit either of my subsequent Thoroughbreds, and had to be sold. By the time I got my next horse, I’d come to the realisation that making do with whatever saddle you had to hand was no longer enough. I needed a jump saddle and a dressage saddle (okay, I wanted them rather than needed them, but believe me when it comes to my riding, I need all the help I can get), and they both had to be properly fitted by a saddler to ensure they were right for both me and my horse.
That started an endless chain where I would buy some saddles from a saddler – second hand, because I’m not made of money you know – and they would be great for oh, at least six months. Then I’d get a saddler out to check them, sometimes the same saddler, sometimes not, and they’d immediately declare that NEITHER of my saddles fitted, and that did I want to buy a brand-new custom-made perfectly-fitted saddle or two instead?
And I would say, no, not this month, while crying into the black abyss of my bank account, and ask them what second hand saddles they had. Invariably, the only saddles to fit would be way out my planned budget, then I’d have that distressing financial gap having paid out for new saddles before selling the old ones. My horse is quite nicely put together, but she is a pain to fit (and when it comes to saddles, pain is one thing to be avoided at all cost), and she seems to completely change shape every two to three weeks.
I try to use saddle fitters who have come with a personal recommendation, but even so I’ve my share of issues, like the one who pocketed my money from the sale of a saddle and had to be chased for two years before he coughed up, or the sales lady from a fashionable European brand who came out to my yard armed with dozens of saddles before convincing me to keep one on trial, but the next day I very quickly realised it did not fit in the slightest. I still wonder, was she hoping I wouldn’t notice?
Still, at least it’s not as bad as the story I heard about an owner who called out a saddle fitter and was promptly told their saddle was unusable, that it didn’t fit at all and must be replaced. The saddle fitter brought a dozen saddles with them and tried them all on to no avail, then grabbed the owner’s own saddle, the one they’d deemed appalling, and declared it to be a perfect fit.
A custom-made saddle remains out of my league, but maybe I would be better to avoid this nightmare cycle of buying and selling, and just save up for one that is designed to fit. But you know, I’m sure if I did save up enough to buy the perfect saddle, two weeks later my mare will have changed shape and the cycle of saddle buying and selling would start all over again.