Saddle Shopping: 2014 Edition

I’m back saddle shopping.  It is super depressing but I’ve found it really helpful to look back on the posts I made 2 years ago when I was doing the same thing.  So, for the sake of my future self, I’m going to talk about this go-round too.  (Future self, I hope you never have to look at this.  Saddle shopping sucks.)

For the last 2 years I’ve been riding in a 17.5” Max Benz Grand Prix Spezial.  It’s a lightweight monoflap that I really like, but that I’ve been suspecting has grown too narrow for Poe.  (Or, more accurately, Poe has grown too wide for it.)  A friend gave me some rave reviews on a saddle fitter she’d just had out (Ann from, and since I’ve never had the Max Benz looked at for flocking or fit, I thought it was a good time to do that.

I really liked Ann.  She confirmed that the Max Benz is way too narrow for him.  She said my jumping saddle (17” M Beval Natural) is also too narrow for him, but less bad than the Max Benz.  She shifted some of the flocking around but it’s just really not workable for him, so I have not ridden in it since.  I miss it.

Ann was moving to Virginia the day after my saddle fitting (of course) so didn’t have any demos with her.  A friend at the barn had an 18.5” 33cm (MW-ish?) Thornhill Zurich on trial that she let me try.  Ann liked the fit on Poe, but I felt like I was sitting on a beach ball, and also swimming around in the 18.5” seat.  She recommended trying a 17.5” or 18”.

Later that week I got my hands on a used 18” 31cm to try (weirdly marked a wide at the tack shop, but the stamp was 31, which is M).  It didn’t sit as well on Poe – too narrow, rode up his shoulder – but the seat size was better for me.  I still hated the twist – felt like it was trying to jam my thighbones apart.

Next I started trolling ebay and used saddle sites for MW County saddles, since those had been a good shape for him 2 years ago (he’d taken a M then).  I found an older brown Connection, 18” MW with forward flap and gussets.  (Did I mention it was brown?  I really love brown saddles.)  The forward flap sounded great for me, the gussets possibly good for him to help with his flat back, so I had it shipped to me for a trial.  My mistake at the time was not having a fitter lined up to look at it when it arrived, since I thought I’d be able to reasonably tell how it would fit.  Well, it turned out to have almost no flocking beneath the pommel and panels, and I could not tell at all how it would fit once it was actually flocked correctly.  Total heartbreak because I did ride in it and LOVED it for me.  So much love.  It rode like the old Competitor I tried 2 years ago and also loved.  (Funny because I did not like the brand new Competitor I tried with the County rep 2 years ago.)  I frantically emailed and called 3 (4?) different fitters in the area, but did not hear back from any of them in time.  The trial was only 3 days so I had to send it back.  I’m still pretty bummed and frustrated about this one, as I think it was pretty irresponsible for the tack shop to ship me something that was so wonky without giving me a heads up.  And because I really f’ing loved sitting in that thing but suspect it would have been too narrow for Poe once it had flocking in it.

Next, I took my own tracings and sent them to the much-touted Trumbull Mountain.  Their recommendation is a hoop tree, specifically the Duett Largo.  So they sent me an 18” 34cm Duett Largo to try.  It rocks a little and spit the pad backwards while I was riding, and shifted up onto his shoulder a little.  I felt like it was sitting on a beach ball, and the stirrup buckle was noticeably under my inner thigh, which was annoying.  Looking at the pictures of it now I think the flap is a little too straight for me too, pushing my heel behind my hip.  I have sent pictures to Trumbull Mountain but have not heard back yet, so not sure what their next step recommendation will be.

My trainer brought an Equitation out for me to try.  It was not a great fit for either of us.  It was okay enough that I rode in it for my lesson.  The flap was too short and it also rode up on his shoulder (I think too tight under the stirrup bars for him).  I don’t remember the style/specs but I understand it was custom made for someone before Jane, so I think it’s pretty individualized.

Last Saturday I had Cordia Pearson out to the barn (I contacted her while I had the County Competitor on trial, and she was the only one of the bunch to respond to me).  She’s a general saddle fitter; Thornhill is one of the brands she reps.  She agreed that the Max Benz is way too narrow, and did not like Jane’s Equitation (which fit with our assessment), nor the Duett Largo.  She commented that he is very large and very barrel-shaped but seemed skeptical about the need for a hoop tree?  She did not like how the tree of the Zurich fit him, but thought the Thornhill Danube (18” W) was perfect.  I rode in it and hated it less than the Zurich or Largo, but did not love it like the Connection.  She left it with me so I can ride in it for my lesson with Jane tonight.  I’ve been thinking about it since though and I think it will be a pass; the thigh blocks are really far down on me, so they are functioning as knee blocks, and it also pushes my foot behind my hip when my stirrups are short enough for comfortable posting.  I also don’t feel like I have a spot to sit in it – I kind of shimmy around up there and can’t really sit down into/with him.  This is probably bad riding but I don’t think I should have to suffer through fighting the saddle to improve.

In between all that I’ve set a bunch of other random stuff from the barn on him that has not worked.  I should be writing these down, I know, but I haven’t been.

So, here are my problems: He is wide and barely with a broad, long-sloping wither and big shoulders.  Most saddles ride up on his shoulders throughout a ride.  His back is not super-curvy; historically a lot of what I’ve set on him has rocked.  (Separate problem: I am spending a fortune on shipping and saddle fitters and feel no closer to “the one.”  :(  Also, I have to do this all over again to look at jumping saddles.)

Summary of what we’ve tried this go-round:

Thornhill Zurich 33cm
For Poe: Ann liked the fit; Cordia did not.
For me: Do not like – the twist was way too wide.  Felt like it was trying to put a bend partway down my thighbones.  For seat size, I was swimming around in the 18.5”; 18” seemed more appropriate.

County Competitor 18” MW
For Poe: Could not tell; flocking was a disaster.  Probably would have been too narrow?
For me: Love.  Lots of love.

Duett Largo 18” 34cm
For Poe: Some rocking, spit the pad back.  Moved up his shoulder some?  (I did a bad job with paying attention to that part.)
For me: Too wide in the twist.  Like with the Zurich, I felt like I couldn’t really sit on him.

Thornhill Danube 18” W (33cm? need to check)
For Poe: Cordia liked the fit; this does seem to be the best of the bunch so far for him.
For me: Better in the twist but still couldn’t find a sweet spot. My knees tended to jam up in the thigh block. Flap is probably too straight for my leg, pushing it back under me.  Thigh blocks too low.

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