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May 25, 2010

About the Saddle: It's Always Been Stübben

Catherine with her Stübben saddles, old and new. Photo by Julia Wentscher.

Dear Rita,

At last, the long awaited blog about my saddle. My saddle is actually Willi Schultheis' saddle—the Stübben Tristan Extra with a 31 tree and 18” seat. If specifically ordered as a “Schultheis saddle,” it arrives with these dimensions in light brown, full grain cow leather, four short girth straps for use with a long, cord girth and absolutely no knee rolls. A patch of brown suede marks the flap where the knee roll-that-isn't would be constructed on any other saddle.

In my years riding with Schultheis and Zeilinger, we broke these saddles in with several coats of oil to darken the leather into a rich, dark brown color. Before every ride, we sponged a coat of Stübben saddle soap across the seat and flaps to make a nice tacky surface to meet our leather seated riding breeches. A small dab of Stiefelhaft (boot stick) at the top of the boots finished off the perfect mix of sticky-and-be-free that every Schultheis rider strove to achieve.

Now Rita, all this ritual and tradition cannot be spoken about in the past tense in my daily routine. For me, the right saddle has always been Stübben, and I still ride in my “Schultheis” every day. A good friend once offered to eventually pry it out of my cold, dead hands at my funeral, which resulted in an illogical anxiety attack on my part...

In any case, when I met Frank Stübben at the Lyon CDI-W last fall in France, he was happy to hear that I had been riding in the same Stübben saddles for 25 years and that I had no intention of making a change. (I feel the urge to cut anticipated criticism off at the start, Rita. I have TRIED many other saddles and have had several saddle makers try to provide a decent copy in order to get my endorsement, but so far nothing could replace my Schultheis.)

My only complaint to Mr. Stübben was that I had to buy up every used saddle that came on the market for my students since the newest Stübben Tristan Extras never seemed to break in, fit, hold up and ride like the old, original Schultheis saddles. He was sceptical about this, so I took him back to the stable to show him my old saddle and talk about some of the details.

He checked the fit on my horse—which is perfect thanks to the knowledge of my saddle flocker and despite the fact that Cadillac’s saddle was made well before Cadillac was born. We talked about the seat, the tree, the flap and how all those things contributed to what I describe as “the closest contact dressage saddle ever made.”

Mr. Stübben then wrote down the serial number of my saddle so that he could go back to his computer to check the original statistics on its construction. Stübben keeps a record of every saddle ever produced in its three factory locations: Germany, Ireland and Switzerland.

Before leaving the stables that afternoon, he remarked on how dear my saddle is to me and asked me if I took it back to the hotel at night so it couldn’t be stolen. That isn’t necessary. It looks so old and used that I can leave it sitting out in the stable aisle at night, and nobody ever bothers to steal it! This is a well-known joke amongst my fellow riders who think I’m nuts for riding in that old thing. They have offered to pitch in and buy me something new...

Let them make jokes! I feel every move my horse makes under my seat. He feels all of the aids from seat, leg and weight. That saddle turns every horse I ride into an instant response machine. I never have to worry about interference in our communication.

My saddle is also BALANCED. It sits further forward than most modern dressage saddles, and it allows me to position my seat bones toward the horse’s center of gravity. My weight is centered as closely as possible over this point, which is located about 4 inches behind the horse’s elbow and is not pushed backward toward the center of motion which, is located in the horse’s lumbar region.

Many modern dressage saddles place the rider’s knees too far back; tilting the pelvis out of its natural shock-absorbing position and placing the rider’s seat closer to the center of motion, which makes sitting and following the horse’s motion much more difficult. To compensate for this imbalance, these saddles are usually equipped with a lot of extra knee rolls, thigh blocks, and/or too much stuffing in order to secure the rider into a rigid position and dampen the exaggerated movement of the horse’s back, which occurs nearer to the lumbar region.

A saddle that forces the rider into one position can result in joint damage—knee, hip, sacroiliac and/or disc problems. And needless to say, if the rider cannot feel and follow the proper motion of the horse’s back with comfort, his horse will probably suffer too.

Oh Rita, I could go on for hours about this stuff. Long story made short, I have never found another saddle that allows me to sit as freely, comfortably and deeply on a horse as the Stübben Schultheis.

The only problem with this saddle is that you have to actually learn to sit before you can use it. And that takes YEARS, Rita. YEARS. You also need a good instructor and a good longing horse. During the “boot camp” period, you will experience a wide variety of saddle sores and probably complain that the seat is too “hard.” You might even call out for your mother once or twice.

This is of course a problem for Mr. Stübben who likes to sell saddles and doesn’t want contemporary dressage riders to give up on riding altogether before learning to sit in a Schultheis saddle. So Mr. Stübben offered to send me a NEW saddle—based on the specifications of Cadillac’s saddle—made with contemporary materials, design and modifications. Something a little more user friendly.

He hoped I would try this saddle out for him and eventually find it satisfactory. I agreed, but admittedly with a big sigh and some rolling of the eyes. I can be so STUBBORN, Rita!

I’m sure by now that y’all think you know where this leading—another new design, another test ride, another brand new saddle collecting dust in my tack room. Who would Catherine Haddad be without her Schultheis saddle????

Well, I’ve got news for you, Rita. Even old dogs can be convinced to upgrade the technology now and then. I got the new saddle last January, and it is not only extremely comfortable, it is also balanced, close contact and identical to my Schultheis in communication capabilities. It has a revolutionary modification to the seat which optimizes rider comfort in a biomechanically correct way.

There is only one small modification left to make, and then I am fairly certain that Stübben will launch a new product with my blessing. That pretty much solves the problem of trying to buy every ancient Schultheis saddle that appears on eBay...

Hang in there, Rita, the top secret new design will be launched soon!

I’m Catherine Haddad, and I’m sayin it like it is from Vechta, Germany.

Training Tip of the Day: Position your knees as forward as possible on your saddle when riding. Simply bend your knees to create the correct leg position—do not pull your leg backward from the hip as this position results in a locked pelvis, which cannot follow the horse’s motion.



















5 years 37 weeks ago
stubben tristen extra
Hello all, I grew up in the Chicago area and remember watching Bodo Hagen show his horse "Absolutely Positive". What a beautiful rider and the horse was full of joy. I remember watching Bodo playing... Read More
6 years 33 weeks ago
old saddles
...and probably complain that the seat is too “hard.” It's funny because my first riding instructor (over 20 years ago, great, I feel old) had 2 dressage saddles, a Stubben (Tristan I think- it ... Read More


6 years 33 weeks ago

So your the one!

I was wondering why I haven't been able to find another Schulthies on ebay!  I have been riding in my stubben tristan extra for about 10 years(LOVE IT,can't live without it), and I have been looking everywhere for another one with a wider tree for my young horse. Hurry Stubben, bring them back. I can't wait to feel this horse's back.


6 years 33 weeks ago

I love Stubben!

When I saw the photo that was attached to your blog about Hamburg, I thought "Hmm, that saddle is brown and very flat looking." And then BAM! next post is about your old Stubben Tristan. My first trainer to whom I credit all my knowledge about dressage was at one time a student of Bodo Hagen and I learned to sit and feel a horse in her Tristan. I could never get her to sell it to me and even offered my County and Passier for a trade. No dice. Flash forward 10 years and a student of mine who has decided to explore other interests called me first to offer me her Tristan that I helped her pick out a few years ago. I'm picking it up tomorrow and I am SO excited.

6 years 33 weeks ago

old saddles

...and probably complain that the seat is too “hard.”

It's funny because my first riding instructor (over 20 years ago, great, I feel old) had 2 dressage saddles, a Stubben (Tristan I think- it was brown with the short billets and tan panels) and a Kieffer, and we always begged to ride in the Stuben rather than the Kieffer because the seat was softer!  :)

I sort of shudder to think what it would be like for me to try and ride in those saddles now though- I do think I would probably complain and call for my mother, though the new stubben does sound interesting, because I remember being quite enamored of my friend's. 

5 years 37 weeks ago

stubben tristen extra

Hello all, I grew up in the Chicago area and remember watching Bodo Hagen show his horse "Absolutely Positive". What a beautiful rider and the horse was full of joy. I remember watching Bodo playing with his horse on foot in the arena and the horse obviously loved his owner. Other competitors were constantly drilling their horses over and over again with spurs and whips, horses with ears back and tails lashing. What a difference!

The saddle my mom bought me was a stubben tristen "extra". At the time (1976) dressage saddles were havana brown with short billets. My stubben is the type described in this blog post that gives the rider maximum contact and a perfect position. My instuctor had me sit the trot for 4 years. Seriously, I'm not kidding, I practiced sitting the working trot and extented trot for 4 years, from age 14 to age 18. I never learned a lot of more advanced dressage work, but I sure learned how to sit a horse like a dancer, and to use my legs completely independently of my seat. I attribute this a lot to the calibre of saddle I was using, my stubben tristen extra with its perfectly balanced seat and no knee roll. I never found the saddle hard, even when it was brand new. The saddle and instructor taught me to let each seat bone move independently forwards and upwards with the horses movement, and this allowed me to ride with complete comfort.

I also later used my stubben to ride endurance training rides where we trotted 12 miles straight. I did get my weight up out of the saddle for these rides, but my stubben was wonderful.

I still own this saddle 35 years later and it looks about the same as when I bought it. I just can't say enough good things about this saddle. I am considering selling it because I don't ride much anymore due to neck injuries (non-equestrian related)....but I keep postponing putting it up for sale because I know I'll never be able to get another one.

Ann H.