The Custom Saddle Racket
Philadelphia, 2018. Picture this: a girl gets a horse. The horse is a sensitive potato. The girl buys her horse (and herself) a dream custom saddle. They all live happily ever after. Right?
|... it's pretty long|
How many times have you heard this story? Someone gets a custom saddle. The custom saddle 'doesn't suit'. Then it's back to the drawing board. The reason you get a custom saddle is because you want something that fits both you and the horse, right? After buying and selling 'almost' right used saddles my entire life, I did the thing. I got the saddle. When the box arrived I cracked it open like the Lost Ark. It smelled like fresh beautiful leather and dreams.
|Your dreams don't smell like leather goods?|
Guess we can't be friends.
It didn't magically fix everything, which isn't completely surprising; we had a lot of issues besides an unhappy back to work through. I did feel like the balance was different from when I tried it. The fitter came out a few times and adjusted the flocking. After months of retraining, Spicy had improved somewhat but was still acting like a sensitive spud. What was I missing?
After throwing a bunch of other shit at the wall to figure out what else could be wrong (including the most negative Lymes test, ever. Literally, the vet commented on it) a bunch of clues pointed to the saddle still being an issue. I had a second independent fitter out. You know, for science.
Within minutes of poking the saddle and looking at it on Spicy's back she turns to me and goes "Does he have trouble coming through his back? And picking up the right lead?"
|And a glass of whisky|
She's a big believer in education, and she explained everything she was seeing and kept making suspiciously spot on comments about the issues she imagined we were having. Either new fitter is psychic, my emails have been hacked (#itwasrussia) OR...
My saddle didn't fit.
The 'good' news about saddle fit is if the issue is the saddle, and you fix it, you'll know almost immediately. Horses don't have a placebo effect. So I held my tongue (ish) and waited until I got on to test the saddle.
As soon as I settled into the seat I could feel the difference. It had that magic balance point that I fell in love with. The real test was, after a brief trot, I attempted a right lead canter. I haven't cantered Spicy on the right lead under saddle in over a year. Usually there's a lot of misfires and bucking as he tries to sort it out. I'll give you three guesses as to what happened, and the first two don't count.
So, let me get this straight: I've been struggling with the canter for a year. I basically restarted my horse, got him chiropractor, acupunctures, lymes tests, riding exercises, shamans, and checking for an auspicious moon to ride under and the whole time it was my custom made saddle that's been seen by a professional fitter every six months for it's entire life? It was the saddle?
The more I talk to people, and read, and talked to the fitter that was able to fix my saddle (thank goodness) the more angry I get. Despite how it looks, I'm not trying to dump on my old fitter. I'd like to think she genuinely didn't know what the issue was and how to fix it. I'm not even trying to dump specifically on County, as this is not an issue exclusive to them. A cursory Facebook search will prove that to you: how many brand new saddles of all brands have you seen for sale at a huge loss? The ads say things like "I bought it for my horse and it doesn't work. Never been ridden in. New without the wait time!". I'm sorry, what? I drop $6K on a saddle and it doesn't fit and then what, I just fuck off and die?
At some point, saddle makers lost all accountability for the most important part of a custom saddle: it actually fitting. The majority of big name saddles do not care if the saddle fits your horse at the end of the day. Why should they? They already have your money. When it doesn't fit they throw their hands up - the horse's back changed in our incredibly long lead time! Oh well. If they cared, they'd do everything in their power to make it right. If they cared, they'd train their saddle fitters for months on every possible aspect of fit, not a week to make sure they know all their models and the types of upgraded leather available. When people apply to be saddle fitters at big name companies they don't get asked about their experience or horse background, they get asked how many saddles they think they can sell in a month.
I'm lucky my saddle could be fixed. What if it couldn't be fixed though? Maybe I want to... I dunno... canter on the right lead without bucking some day. I'd have to fight the saddle company, a battle I'd likely lose, or sell the saddle at a four figure loss. Most saddle shoppers are not rife with cash. They're amateurs like me. They put it on a credit card or saved up for months to finally get a saddle that fit both them and their horse. When that box of possibility shows up and turns out to be a dud, instead of the saddle company standing by their product you get to eat the loss. I bet they even convince you it's your fault so you won't express your frustration and poison their market. The wheel cycles on. The whole thing is a racket.
I want to live in a world where dropping custom money on a custom saddle means I'll be happy at the end. I want saddle companies to spend the price of the saddle on building the best saddle possible, not on marketing. I don't want to be the biggest weenie at the weenie roast. If you go custom, find a company that will stand by their product and give you the custom saddle of your dreams no matter what.
I lived this exact experience. I purchased the saddle got it and discovered my horse absolutely hated it. I was lucky because I had absolutely insisted that the contract be edited to reflect my ability to return the saddle based on my opinion (not on if the fitter deemed it fit). I ended up being out the cost of shipping which was much better than taking the hit on trying to sell the saddle. After that I ended up going with the wow saddles because any part can be changed and they do make sure their fitters can fit saddles appropriately (which is one of the reasons they are few and far between).ReplyDelete
i think if more people knew they had the option to edit the contract they might... you're lucky you were smart enough to request that!!Delete
I know so many people who have had this experience, and it's really mind-blowing that saddle fitters don't make it right. I'm glad you were able to get it fixed.ReplyDelete
it's really a shame, and I count myself lucky i was able to GET it fixed.Delete
Yeaaaaah I feel like of all the people I know who have bought brand new custom saddles, the vast majority have had issues. And that's across many different brands. It's bonkers.ReplyDelete
what really pisses me off is the fact that it's across ALL brands. like where am I supposed to get a saddle then hey??Delete
I continue to posit based on the internets collective experience that I got shit ass lucky with my saddle and I shudder to think of the day I may need to replace it. I think as time has worn on the custom saddle game has gotten worse and worse and a lot of the older companies, really rest on decades old laurels.ReplyDelete
I think your last point is exactly right - for awhile they did a good job, and that's all they need anymore.Delete
I'm continually confused and disappointed that saddle companies don't adequately train their fitters.ReplyDelete
My employer sells new saddles, and our fitter adjusts them when they arrive and throughout the life of the saddle. He trained for two years, including a year working directly with the manufacturer in Germany. I think all saddle companies would benefit from investing in employees this way- consumers certainly would!
Ugh I WISH everyone would put that much time into training fitters. But time is money. and they'd rather keep their money, I guess.Delete
Ugh. This is so frustrating. I had a somewhat similar experience. But it was my coach. She sold me her old saddle, told me she knew how to fit and it was perfect. I spent two fucking years taking lessons from her and believing I sucked aa a rider because I couldn’t get my position right. I went to a clinic and the clinician said right away it was my saddle. It didn’t fit me or my horse. I got a new saddle and it turns out i didn’t suck as much as I thought.ReplyDelete
I am so sad to see this. I think this happens a lot too, where its a passable fit on the horse but it's negatively impacting the rider and they just get discouraged.Delete
I see a lot of photos of people riding and I wonder how they'd look in a different saddle. I wish it was a question I didn't have to ask!!
That's just atrocious. I'm finding more and more "professionals" who will yap you into thinking they know what they're talking about only to damage the horse in the long run. The lack of common knowledge about saddle fit just makes it easier for them to get away with this crap.ReplyDelete
"The lack of common knowledge about saddle fit just makes it easier for them to get away with this crap." - EXACTLY THISDelete
which is why the 2nd fitter is so adamant about explaining exactly what's going on. it's kind of the same thing I went through with trying to hire a farrier; I don't know enough to know if theyre wrong or not. I want to believe them - I'm paying them for their opinion!!! what do I know?!
You know my feelings on this. PREACH!ReplyDelete
yeah well, you put the legwork in thats for sure!!!Delete
I know several people who have had this specific issue with County (they're all in central/south Jersey, happened in the last few years, so I wonder if it's the same fitter. Neither here nor there just a random thought) and I know a bunch more people who got custom saddles with other brands with the same nightmare. So glad this worked out for you that you could keep your saddle AND discover the elusive right lead canter!ReplyDelete
It proooobably was the same fitter. I didn't want to SPECIFICALLY throw anyone under the bus, mostly because I dont think this is specific to county. But I really wish there was a bit more reliability in getting a custom saddle, because 5-8k is such a huge amount to waste.Delete
I've seen a few other posts that are actually startlingly similar to yours. It's actually so frustrating and shocking to me that there are so many "saddle fitters" out there who will sell you 5K saddles, and then in the end disappear when things don't work out. I am very lucky to have a saddle fitter who is brutally honest, educated, and works hard to make things work for her clients. It's sad to me that there are not more like her.ReplyDelete
hold on to her forever. send her christmas gifts and never let her retire!!!Delete
okay i am glad your saddle got fitted but this is why i never ever have bought a new saddle. Also i had to smile through every GIF. GOLDEN GIRLS FOR THE WIN OMG :) THANK YOU I NEEDED THAT ON THIS FUCKWAD MONDAY THNK YOU :)ReplyDelete
I will always be here for you with golden girls, michelle <3333Delete
I honestly don't believe in custom saddles. I don't think they actually, truly make them to fit the horse. I have zero plans to ever buy a custom saddle. A new saddle? Sure! But custom? Nope. I also hope to make one saddle work for more than one horse (assuming they're somewhat similar in shape, I'm not a monster). I do think saddles can cause problems. But I also think you can shim to make things work (most of the time... not always of course, depends what the problem is). So for me, I'll get something "off the rack" and figure out how to make it work for my horse. So far, in my 32 years of horsing, that has worked.ReplyDelete
I totally agree with this. In fact, Spicy is the first horse I havent been able to 'make the saddle work'. Which is why I went through this whole clusterfuck in the first place. Normally I chuck a half pad on and shim and we're good, but if the saddle feels strange to him he bucks - A LOT.Delete
But believe me, for over a decade I had a butet and everyone wore it and everyone was fine. I was very old school I had a huge thick piece of foam I put under it lololol.
Sounds like a fellow boarder at my barn. She bought a new dressage saddle from the newish trainer, still had tags on it. Turned out it wasn't as adjustable as was told and ended up selling it at a huge loss. Bought a new "custom" dressage saddle from a local rep after riding in her test saddle, that one isn't a great fit either and she probably paid close to 4,000 for it.ReplyDelete
I've had more luck, have a used county close contact that works well for my girl and have gotten really lucky and fell into borrowing a used dressage saddle (that actually has the 3 billet straps) that is a good fit and makes my mare happy, it's a different feel for me, but I'm getting more comfortable with it. I don't think I could ever go brand new custom with some of the stories I've heard.
which is a shame, because in some cases its hard to find exactly what you need for both horse and rider used. for me personally, I have a really long femur but actually quite short legs. And spicy has a VERY pointy back. So what, I just have to hang out and wait until the stars align?? it's such a load.Delete
You know now I feel about all of this! Saddle fitting is such a shitshow. I desperately need a new dressage saddle and I don’t even know where to start. But I DO know that it will not be custom or new. -AliReplyDelete