So, there we were. The right saddle and size had been identified and were unavailable. I did what any savvy saddle shopper would do and I got in touch with the dealer for the brand I wanted to buy (Antares). I told him of my predicament and he made me feel a million times better when he told me he could get a Spooner. We were back in business! He did explain that the off-the-rack saddles Antares makes fall to the back of the manufacturing line behind custom orders, but he could get one in my size. I was elated. This was all happening around Christmas and New Years and the French don’t work during the week before and a week after a holiday so he wouldn’t know until the second or third week of January when the saddle might be available. No worries. It had been a few months since the this whole quest had begun so what was a few more weeks? Plus, there was an Antares meeting at the corporate office in the U.S. in January so surely that would offer the best possible scenario to get production news.
It was while I was in NYC for a fun weekend celebrating my horsey bestie’s 30th birthday that I got the text with the good news. Spooners were in production and he expected them to start arriving “in a couple weeks”. Surely I would have my new saddle before February! There were a lot of exclamation points in my texts on this day because I was so excited! There was a light at the end of the tunnel!
A couple weeks went by with no news of Spooners. Then another week went by and some other, more normal sized, Spooners arrived and now there was no prediction of when or if my 18″ would make it into production. To sooth my disappointment I started perusing used saddle websites again. I found one really lovely 18″ used Antares on the CWD used saddle webpage. I even put a deposit on it and had them take it off the website. It was getting closer and closer to the weekend I was going to show in my first “A” rated USEF show and I really wanted to have my new saddle before then. The Antares rep was going to be at said horse show for all four weeks (I only showed one of the four weeks) and he had pretty much his entire saddle inventory with him. I consulted with my trainer and we agreed that it would just be best for me to ride some of the saddles he had to get a more solid idea of what I needed and then I could get more serious about finding the right used saddle without having to kiss a bunch more frogs and send them packing back to their owner when they don’t fit.
I arrived at the show all giddy and nervous about my first “A” show as much as about finding a saddle. My division was fairly early in the morning so I showed in my borrowed saddle. Once my first division was done I went to pick up a saddle to try. It was a brand new Antares. 18″ seat with a 3A flap meaning the flap is longer than normal and more forward. It felt good, but my trainer felt that the forward flap was more forward than I needed. She advised to go back and see if he had an 18″ with either a normal length forward flap or a long but not forward flap. I returned with another brand new 18″ Antares with a 3 (long) flap. Both saddles were significantly more $$$ than I had budgeted so I was working really hard to not fall in love. Saddle #2 was a bingo! Trainer liked it. I liked it. I think Sterling liked it. I even showed in the second division I competed in the second trial saddle. Then, I did what any sane woman with an obsession with riding horses would do. I called my husband. He had all the right answers. Of course I should buy saddle #2. If I don’t buy it I’ll have to try however many more saddles and spend hundreds of dollars shipping them back and forth. Clearly it made sense to buy the saddle that my trainer liked and felt was the right saddle for my horse and me. I’ve never won the lottery, but I can’t imagine it is much better than your husband giving the go ahead to buy a schmancy new saddle.
Here she is in all her glory:
My beautiful brand new Antares saddle. BEAUTIFUL!
What made this saddle “the one”? I mentioned in previous posts that my horse is on the skinny side. Thoroughbreds are notoriously narrow and often have super high withers making them difficult to fit. Thankfully Sterling isn’t on the narrower side, but he’s definitely narrower than a warmblood. He is also not super tall at just 16 hands. I have about a 30″ inseam so when I ride Sterling I ride with a shorter stirrup than I would if my horse had a bigger, rounder barrel. This shorter stirrup pushes my butt back in the saddle. I don’t have extra long femurs, if I had extra long femurs I would have needed the saddle with the long AND forward flap. As it was the long flap is best. The bottom of the flap should hit the rider’s leg in the middle of the calf and the rider’s knee should have room to spare at the front of the flap when the stirrups are the correct length.
Here are some pics to demonstrate this gobble-de-gook:
Saddle fit pictures are kind of humiliating and make one feel like they should stop typing and go do some sit-ups. Anyhow. The flap hits just at the fat part of my calf like it should.
Some squats might help, too. There are a few inches in the back of my derriere to allow plenty of room to sit back before a “big” jump.
The other side. Isn’t it pretty?!
Last, but certainly not least.
I’ve had my new saddle for nearly two months and I still love it. The previous saddles I had ridden left dry spots on Sterling’s back and this one leaves one big uniform sweat spot on all parts where the saddle should be touching him. My leg feels more still. It’s just too bad that the new saddle doesn’t fix all my riding problems like counting strides for me out loud and zapping me when I lean too far forward before a jump. For now I’m just delighted to be done saddle shopping.
So saddle #1 was a fail. We headed to another horse show in November and this time I discussed more fully with my trainer what exactly I was shopping for. We settled on looking for an Antares and a larger seat size than a 17″. They make lovely saddles in France and have a great reputation both for their customer service (even on second-hand purchased saddles) as well as for having a quality product. We ruled out a couple other brands for quality and fit issues and kept a couple as maybes. I have a tendency to get fixated on things, so I was pretty set on getting an Antares. My trainer mentioned the Antares Spooner, which is an off-the-rack saddle that Antares offers, but I mostly blew off that idea (in my head, not out loud) because it was a few hundred dollars more than what I was planning to spend. This would become laughable later.
As I previously posted that show went pretty well (we got 6th in our first ever hunter derby) and we headed home with renewed energy to shop for that new saddle. I shopped. And I shopped. And I shopped some more. THIS IS THE ONE! Wait, no, I don’t think that flap is long enough. I love it, but it is too expensive. I talked Boot City’s ear off about the whole thing. Maybe I should try this one, or maybe this one. I got so in my own head that I didn’t even try another saddle until Christmas. And what a lovely Christmas it was.
Boot City pays a lot more attention to things than I generally give him credit for. He is unbelievably supportive of my obsession with all things horsey and genuinely supports every harebrained idea I get about what I want to do with my horses. So, Christmas morning, this is what was under the tree:
An Antares Spooner trial saddle from SmartPak!
He took it upon himself to order the Spooner trial saddle from SmartPak for me to try. Yes, the saddle that was a few hundred dollars over the budget I had set for myself he just went ahead and got for me to try. I had to sit down for a minute. I HAVE THE BEST HORSEY HUSBAND EVER. The trial saddles from SmartPak generally only come in a 17″ (as previously mentioned, this is the most popular size seat). If you like the saddle you try, you can just keep it. Having discussed the larger seat size with my trainer already I was fairly certain I was going to need a bigger saddle, but with the trial I could make sure it fit my horse and that I generally liked it so I could order the correct size.
How does the saddle need to fit the horse? I’m no expert, but I can explain the basics. You want the gullet, the channel down the middle of the underside of the seat, to be wide enough that it doesn’t put pressure on the horse’s spine. You also want plenty of clearance over the horses’s withers (the hump behind their neck and before their back), but not hitting the top of the withers. Lastly you want the underside of the saddle to touch the horse evenly. The more evenly the panels touch the horse, the more evenly the rider’s weight is spread out. If all the rider’s weight is only supported by a couple spots then the horse is going to have pain in the spots over time. Thankfully my horses are all rather easy to fit. Sterling especially.
The back view. Not the best photo ever taken, but you can see there is plenty of room down the gullet to give his spine plenty of room.
In this shot you can see there are no issues with his withers being pinched or hitting the underside of the saddle. Things are looking good!
All signs were pointing to yes to the Spooner. Yay! Now to ride in it a few times. SmartPak very specifically says to ride in it like you own it already. Often when you try new saddles you have to cover up the stirrup leathers with a sock so as not to damage the leather and you can’t do much in it because the saddle still needs to look brand new if you opt to not keep it. Not the best way to try a saddle. So we spent the five days after Christmas riding in the Spooner as much as possible and sending myriad photos to my trainer to get feedback on fit.
Definitely too small, but leg position is improved. Trainer says shorten the stirrups and send more pics.
Stirrups shortened. Getting better. Trainer requests another pic with stirrups shortened again. Done and done.
Day 4 the-saddle-must-be-mailed-back-tomorrow
Looks good! Trainer says to order the 18″. 18″?!?!?!?! #selfimagesuffering
I’m a female in the United States of America in 2015. Bigger size, means big person, which is generally frowned upon in the culture that worships young and thin. I need an 18″ saddle?!?!?! So, I ask my trainer what any female student would ask, “is my butt really THAT big?” Here I get another lesson in saddle fitting. It isn’t about how big my derriere is, it is how long my legs are and how skinny my horse is. Huh? I have long legs. What?! No one has told me that since I was 17. I thought that I had somehow become average in all aspects of size as an adult, but evidently my legs did NOT get shorter upon entering adulthood. My horse has flat sides and doesn’t have a huge barrel. This combination means I need to ride with a shorter stirrup than I would on a larger barrelled horse which pushes my seat back in the saddle and results in needing a larger seat size to accommodate all this accommodation for my skinny horse. Make sense?
At this point I have a whole new level of respect for saddle fitters and for people with hard to fit body types and horses who are hard to fit. I’m just a little bit out of whack and it made getting just the right saddle that much more complicated. But, I knew now that I needed an 18″ Antares Spooner. I boxed up my beautiful test ride saddle and sent it back to SmartPak and called to order my 18″. Except that they no longer carry the Spooner in the 18″. Wait. What?! Nope. No. Can. Do. I’m quite certain I nearly cried. I guess the bright side at this point was that I knew, for the most part, what size I needed and that I needed the long flap (not the Normal or Short flap, the long one for my long legs. I was pretty excited about having long legs again).
So, next week will be the big saddle shopping finale.
A few years ago at a fox hunt, one of the other members made the comment that my saddle was too small. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was moderately offended. What?! Me?! I know how a saddle should fit and this one fits just fine! Or. Not. Then I went to take a riding/jumping lesson at a very nice barn near my house. I was so proud of my Pessoa A/O saddle and I was absolutely convinced they would take me seriously because I had a nice saddle. Except that I didn’t, but I didn’t know that yet. The head trainer took one look at my 10 year old Pessoa and promptly suggested I ride one of their Antares saddles. Ant-what? I had never heard of the thing. It was like riding in velcro disguised as buttery soft French leather. It was at that moment that I knew I had a has-been saddle.
Pessoas were great saddles when I got mine. In 199ahem. Made in England of durable, quality leather. I probably hadn’t taken the best care of it, but that was mostly due to ignorance rather than laziness or not caring. I was raised by a cowboy who thought it was absolutely ridiculous I cleaned my saddles before EVERY SINGLE HORSE SHOW. Once a year was clearly more than enough. I won’t go into how he started copying me and borrowed my saddle soap and Neatsfoot oil. But its 2015 now and things have changed quite a lot. Technology in all facets of riding equipment seems to have advanced exponentially in just the past 5 years, but some things like proper fit never change.
This is the Pessoa in all it’s glory at a local hunter show in 2013. Now I can totally see why it was too small. More about that later.
Fast forward a few years to having a broke horse worth taking to a few horse shows and the need for an actual saddle that fits became very real. A lovely friend let me borrow her beautiful Hermes Essentielle for nearly a year. She had shown in it as a youth and rode in it in college and then it took up residence in the back of her car when she started working and no longer had time to ride nor a horse to put it on. It was a full inch bigger than my Pessoa so I thought surely it was “my” size. The most common English saddle size is 17″ and they are generally sold in .5″ increments. I’m about 5’8″ tall with more leg than torso. In my head this was “average” size. Not so as I would learn later.
And the lovely Hermes. Who wouldn’t want to own an Hermes! Beautiful and classic. And also, too small.
I went to a few shows and finally asked my trainer what I should do. You should get a new saddle, she says. She hates where the Hermes puts my leg. Ok. Works for me. I need got get my own saddle so off I go on my saddle shopping spree. I was so excited. I set a budget for what I thought would get me a nice, used, French saddle. My initial thought was I’d get a used saddle now and when Coco gets bigger and ready to show (and presumably I have more $$) I would then get a brand spankin’ new FANCY saddle. Maybe even a custom one. Then this used one would get used primarily for fox hunting and riding youngsters. Wishful thinking. I didn’t ask much beyond whether or not I should get a different saddle so went into my search rather blindly.
I follow a few used tack pages on Facebook and lo and behold a lovely, used Hermes Oxer showed up one day. 17″, which I thought was just the right size. The price was right so I contacted the seller and she agreed to do a trial. She’d ship the saddle to me for a 5 day trial. If it fit I’d keep the saddle and she’d keep my money. If it didn’t fit, she’d refund the money and I’d send back the saddle. Easy peasy. The saddle I had been riding was an Essentielle and this was an Oxer, so the where-it-put-my-leg woes shouldn’t be the same. The saddle arrived and it was lovely and in great condition. I convinced my horsey bestie to come over and tell me what she thought as well as take photos to send to our trainer for further advice.
Hermes Oxer 1. There should be at least 4″ between my hiney and the back of the saddle. Not happening here.
The flap should hit my leg in the middle of my calf. Also, not happening here.
Trainer vetoed. The seat was too small and the flap too short. Saddle number 1 = fail. Hey, no worries. There are more saddles out there. We just have to keep kissing some frogs. I was still upbeat and excited about my license to shop for something I “needed”. Keep up the positive energy! Saddle fit Stage 2 will come Thursday. And we haven’t even gotten into the fitting the horse part!