Just over a year ago I was pining for a horse to ride. The result of my subsequent search was the entry of Roxie into our family. This was, unfortunately, followed immediately by the longest and wettest rainy season in more than twenty years. So, it was not until late this spring that I discovered a small problem – I did not have a saddle that would fit her!
I’ve been lucky, over the years, to have horses with rather generic sizes and shapes. I’ve also collected enough saddles that I can manage slight variations in width and wither height. Although saddle fit has become something of an obsession in the horse world, I have never gotten into the “custom fit” craze. My generic horses and saddles have done just fine. Most back issues I’ve observed seem more connected to riding style than saddle fit. That said, there are those horses outside of the generic range – and there is no doubt that too narrow or too wide a tree can be a serious issue.
Roxie is most certainly outside of any generic size. Low withers, and arguably wide enough for a horse at least a hand taller – I might was well be fitting a saddle on a Thelwell pony!
I knew that I would need to eventually buy a saddle just for Roxie; but I wanted to get some riding in before that. It is difficult to know if a saddle will work out if you cannot ride in it. So, I took what I thought was a safe bet, and borrowed a saddle from a friend who had shown her Quarter Horses in English classes.
The saddle, a Stubben Siegfried, was an extra wide – which apparently equates to a 32cm tree. Fitting it on Roxie was a bit like putting a size 2 bikini on a size 10 body! Not only did it sit way too high, but the slightest shift of weight caused the saddle to rapidly slide around her broad barrel. Just walking around the arena was a balancing act! So, I began the search for a saddle to fit my broad backed girl.
Knowing this would be a one horse saddle, and not being made of money, I began searching for something used. I started with the local saddle shop, picking the broadest saddle they had – not even close! So, on to the internet. Google searches and tips from Facebook friends helped me to start a list of potential models. First take away – Europeans apparently have to deal with this far more than Americans. Fjords, Cobs, Gypsy Vanners – all popular breeds in European countries, and all share the same fitting challenges as my Roxie.
My initial searches yielded two perfect matches in seat (18″) and tree size (36cm) – but both inquiries came too late. Both saddles were on trial and expected to sell. Subsequent searches fell short – either fitting my seat, but too narrow for Roxie; or vice versa. In the mean time, I was riding very lightly in the Stubben, each time just hoping one of the cats didn’t go leaping into a nearby tree. A simple leap aside would certainly be enough to find me sliding sideways like some hapless Thelwell character.
As my searches kept coming up short, I began to engage some of the dealers to explore new saddle options. The first dealer, known for working with fitting broad backed horses, recommended a synthetic model. I rode for years in a synthetic saddle, and it was fine – but they just don’t have the same lifespan of a leather saddle. Call me old fashioned, but I prefer leather. If this was going to be Roxie’s saddle, it might as well last her lifetime. So, I reached out to other dealers – one no longer sold any of the broad backed models, and the other was non-responsive.
In desperation, I went back to the first dealer to ask about the leather models they carried. He would not recommend any others for Roxie’s body type – but he did reveal that the make he’d recommended came in a comparable leather model (same maker, different label). Bingo! Okay, it would cost more than I’d wanted to spend, but at last I had hope. So, I asked for a quote … only to have him learn that the model was no longer being made! Maybe I should just start polishing my bareback riding skills …
On to plan C. The make I’d seen most recommended was the Duett saddle. The first dealer said that it lacked gusseted panels, which would provide more support for downhill horses. But I’d read numerous positive Duett reviews from riders of horses built very much like Roxie; and his recommended model was not available in leather, so I decided to take a chance. Besides, she’s not that downhill!
In the absence of finding a responsive dealer, I contacted Duett directly. They couldn’t have been nicer or more responsive! I sent photos, they asked questions – it felt like a collaborative effort to find a solution. One particular model was their foremost recommendation for our needs – the Foxhunter. They happened to have one in stock that was the right size for both me and Roxie. I felt like a kid before Christmas waiting for that box to arrive! And last Wednesday it finally did!
Friday was the first chance to actually girth up and start to work with the saddle. I sent photos to Duett, to get their evaluation of fit – but all signs were good. I’ll be spending more than I’d hoped, but it’s a handsome, comfortable saddle – and it only rolls if I stand in one stirrup. (With a barrel as round as Roxie’s, I think it’s too much to expect that there wouldn’t be some risk of rolling!) So, now I have both the horse I pined for and a saddle to fit her. Let the real work begin!
Before I leave this topic, I have to share the irony that is so typical of my life. The very day that I received the new Foxhunter, eBay notified me that a used Duett in the exact same seat/tree size combination was for sale. Starting bid was half what I’ll be spending! However, the bidding ends one day after I have to either buy or return the saddle I have in hand. To pile irony upon irony, the very next day another one went on sale on eBay – also ending after my trial period. This after weeks of fruitless searches!
Going on the “bird in the hand” theory, we’ve decided to stick with the saddle we have – additional cost and all. The folks at Duett couldn’t have been nicer and more helpful – and that has to be worth something! (You can tell I’ll never be rich!) I’m just happy to be back in a saddle that fits my girl!
Be good to your horses!