Some thoughts on custom saddles…
There’s a lot of hype in the horse world about custom-made saddles. Some of us would like to believe that a custom saddle will solve all of our fitting, training and riding issues; some like the status attached to a custom saddle, and some believe the only way to get a high-quality saddle is to go custom. We’ve found that most of the horses we see can be beautifully fit in an “off the rack” saddle with the help of a competent saddle fitter. Here are some common myths about custom saddles, demystified.
MYTH: A custom-made saddle is built to your horse’s measurements, starting with the construction of the tree.
REALITY: Your saddle will indeed be “custom-made” to the measurements that the saddle company gets – but, in many cases, out of stock parts. (There are some craftsmen out there who will build the tree, but they’re the exception to the rule.) Most saddle companies have an existing stock of trees in a variety of shapes and sizes, flaps of assorted lengths, and a stock of thigh blocks, knee rolls and calf blocks. The correct tree for your horse’s shape is chosen, and construction begins. The saddle company will build the panel and flock it according to measurements, and add whatever you want for flap length, padding, knee rolls / thigh blocks.
MYTH: In order for a saddle to be of the highest quality, it has to be custom-made.
REALITY: Any good saddle company will turn out their best possible product – whether it’s custom-made or “off-the-rack”. The custom saddle that you wait and wait (and sometimes WAIT) for won’t necessarily be any better in overall quality than a stock model.
MYTH: A custom-made saddle is guaranteed to fit my horse perfectly.
REALITY: Unless you’re lucky and wealthy enough to have a saddler who will come to your barn at each and every step of the saddle making process, they have to rely on the tracings, templates and perhaps photos of your horse. Remember, these measurements were taken when your horse was standing still … it can become a whole other scenario when you mount and your horse starts moving. If you have to wait weeks for a custom saddle, you’re not just going to suspend your horse’s training, right? Your horse’s back could be muscled quite differently when you actually get that saddle. Most custom saddle companies will offer to fit or re-work the saddle if it doesn’t seem quite right, but if it REALLY doesn’t work, the likelihood is you are stuck with it.
MYTH: A custom-made saddle will solve all my fitting problems forever.
REALITY: Do the pants you wore in high school still fit the way they did then? Probably not. A saddle that’s custom-made for your 4-year-old prospect may be “high school pants” by the time your horse is 8 or 10 or 12. A horse’s back changes radically as it progresses in training, what worked for Training level or trotting cavalettis may be completely unsuitable for a horse that is trained for Prix St. George or 4’6”. Any saddle, whether custom or stock, should be checked at least once a year and adjusted as necessary.
MYTH: A custom-made saddle is worth more money than a stock model.
REALITY: Only to you, and only as long as it fits your horse. If you have to sell it sometime in the future, you probably won’t get any more for it than you would for a stock model and since it was made to one horse and one rider’s specifications, it can be even harder to move than an off-the-rack saddle.
MYTH: The only way I can get special options on a saddle is if I go custom.
REALITY: Most saddle companies can add features such as special billeting systems, custom flap lengths, d-rings, etc to a stock model saddle at a nominal extra charge.
What is the difference between a Saddler/ Master Saddler and a Saddle Fitter?
Saddler / Master Saddler:
– a person who builds saddles. Different countries have different programs for their saddlers. The term ‘Master Saddler’ indicates that person was trained in England, and has gone through a rigorous program and testing before being awarded that title.
– a person concerned with turning out a well-made, high quality product – hopefully with a basic understanding of what fits and what doesn’t.
– aware of what fits and does not fit the individual horse.
– able to correct the fit of a saddle by adjusting the flocking (on a wool or synthetic-flocked saddle) or through the use of corrective pads or shims (on a foam-filled saddle).
For more information on saddlers, saddle fitters, their training and the like, visit the Society of Master Saddlers’ website at http://www.mastersaddlers.co.uk/