Saddle Shopping, Continued

On November 1, Cordia came back out to pick up the Danube and bring some more saddles for me to try, both jumping and dressage. LOTS more saddles. Lots and lots. It was an intimidating delight to see them all lined up along the arena rail and saddle stands. We took over the entire grooming area with saddles. So many saddles!

Cordia set them all on Poe. She nixed the ones she didn’t like and set aside the ones she did. Then I sat in the ones she liked on the saddle stand. A couple we were able to eliminate based on my leg being too freaking long or me feeling like I was in a chair seat. From the remaining, she picked two jump saddles and two dressage saddles for me to actually ride in. So all the below had the nod from Cordia for fit on him while in the cross-ties.

Thornhill Germania Spring – 17.5″ W ($1350)
My first jump saddle contender! I liked it fine. He felt pretty normal going around in it (walk, trot, canter), and he was willing to back up. It’s priced very nicely, wool-flocked, and has a more forward-cut flap (by design; it wasn’t a special forward flap model). I said I wanted to keep it and try a jumping lesson in it. Cordia said wait and try the next one.

Adam Ellis Chloe – 17.5″ W ($2695)
This was the second jump saddle. It’s also wool-flocked, with serge wool panels. In this saddle Poe was like butter. He lifted his back and bent easily to the right (right bend is never easy!) and had this extra loft through his shoulders. He felt powerful and loose. It was crazy time. Very clearly the most he’s ever liked a saddle. Cordia saw the same thing I was feeling. So I said I wanted to keep *this one* for my jumping lesson the next day. It’s twice my budget but daaang. My feet/legs felt appreciably more underneath me than with the Spring or my Beval (which feel about the same). I’ve never felt in a chair seat with either of those, but the stirrup bar seemed back a little in the Chloe. I kept waiting to feel like it was tipping me forward, but it did not.

Adam Ellis Darwood – 18″ W ($2795)
Back to the dressage saddles. Cordia picked the Darwood because it’s built on a similar (the same?) tree as the Chloe. Poe felt just okay in it, and I was pretty neutral on it. The Chloe was a hard number to follow.

Ryder Zara (Custom) – 17.5″ ($3000)
This was Cordia’s personal saddle; she worked with Ryder (an English saddlemaker) to construct the tree and everything. It’s her magic saddle that tons of horses love. It’s quite deep with substantial thigh blocks. The seat was much too small for me — I was pinned in, and posting off the cantle. Despite that, Poe seemed to like this one better than the Darwood, and got back a bit more of the loft and shoulder freedom he’d displayed in the Chloe. At $3k for the custom build, I mentally crossed this one off the list. This one in particular was not up for sale, and I didn’t get a really good feeling for how one that’s big enough for me would ride.

So, I hung onto the Chloe. I decided if I really loved it, I would just postpone the dressage saddle search and do jumping and flatwork in it for the time being. The idea of not having to look at any more dressage saddles was frankly a relief. I also snuck in one more trial saddle I’d picked up from an outside source. I felt weird about having Cordia look at it (I don’t know why — stupid — but I felt strange saying I was still looking outside of her help when she was bringing me SO many possibilities), so I looked at it after she’d left. It was a County Conquest XTR jumping saddle, 17.5″ W. The panels seemed to fit well but the tree sat down on his wither. There was enough clearance that I felt okay riding in it for a couple minutes to get a feel for it, since I’d read so many rave reviews and gone to the trouble of picking it up. I just trotted a bit and cantered a circle — the saddle seemed comfortable and I liked the balance in the canter in particular. Obviously a no go with the wither issue.

On Sunday I got to the barn early, and cleaned and conditioned my Beval until it glowed, then tacked up in the Chloe. Poe had his usual moments of geeking at a few things in the outdoor ring, but those moments just did not feel as dramatic as usual. The seat of the Chloe is much cushier than the Beval, and I felt like it would be kinder on trail rides. (When I do too much walking in the Beval, delicate places can get a little raw.) Jane was an awesome set of eyes on the ground, and gave me some great over-fences exercises to get used to and test the saddle.

The verdict was that the balance was great on him and for me. My leg was beautifully underneath me. I was more relaxed to the fences, and kept my hips moving and shoulder unlocked more than usual. We did one tight rollback turn to a gate with poles set on it in a V (the tips of the poles touching in the center of the jump, and the ends coming out as wings toward the approach on either side), which Poe took from a slightly long spot with a very powerful jump, and though I stayed defensive and upright in my body (which is my go-to when jumping), I actually stayed with him. I pretty regularly get left behind, so it was a really strange and pretty awesome feeling to come in with my usual defense posture and have it actually work and not mess up his jump. I have also been struggling lately to drop my right hip and leg back when cantering to the left, and that monumental struggle was gone (or at least greatly lessened) in the Chloe.

So — I would not say the Chloe fixed all of my jumping problems, certainly, but it made me realize how much easier life could be for me. I was feeling pretty good.

And then, just before I was about to dismount, Jane said, “Oh, how’s the wither clearance?”

As you may guess, knowing that saddle searches cannot be easy, the wither clearance was not good. It wasn’t something I’d checked on any of Cordia’s saddles the day before. But trying to poke my hand between the saddle and Poe’s wither, I couldn’t get my finger past the second knuckle without a struggle. It was close on the sides as well. I even got off him, tried to position the saddle further back, and got back on. Same result. Heartbreak.

So now I’m in a waiting game. Cordia spoke to Adam who thought he could make a custom model that would fix the wither issue. I’m skeptical about taking the gamble. There are no fit guarantees (all custom saddles are final sale), and I just can’t imagine how he could fix the wither clearance without changing the currently perfect balance of the saddle or how it rides for me. I took pictures of Poe to share with him to get a more definitive answer, and am waiting to hear back.

In the mean time, the search continues. (I did find a rack Zara on mega clearance at Dressage Extensions. I was worried it was going to sell out and ordered it before I could hear back from Cordia about her thoughts. While it was on its way to me, she replied to say she’d ruled it out because of the tree shape. When it arrived I discovered this particular one, marketed under Legacy instead of Ryder, is made of a much less nice leather. Neither of us really liked it — it felt way too deep for me, and the balance was too far back. Que sera.)

Current tally: 19 (not including other people’s I’ve set on him but not ridden in)

  • Thornhill Zurich 33cm
  • Trilogy (didn’t write about this one – seat was way too small for me)
  • County Competitor 18″ MW
  • Duett Largo 18″ 34cm
  • Thornhill Danube 18″ W
  • Prestige 2000 17″ 34cm
  • Thornhill Vienna II 18″ 33cm (34cm?)
  • Bates Classic Dressage 18″ W gullet
  • County Competitor 18″ W (newer model)
  • Wintec 500 17.5″ MW gullet
  • Ideal 17.5″ W
  • Passier Optimum 17.5″ W
  • Schleese Jane Savoie 18″ MW
  • Thornhill Germania Spring 17.5″ W
  • Adam Ellis Chloe 17.5″ W
  • Adam Ellis Darwood 18″ W
  • Ryder Zara (custom) 17.5″
  • County Competitor XTR 17.5″ W
  • Ryder Legacy Zara (rack) 18″ W

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