I need a new saddle, well, both my horse and I need a new saddle. I am currently riding him in a 16 1/2" Stubben Edelweiss with a 29 cm tree. He is outgrowing the tree and the seat is now a bit too small for me. Actually, its killing my back when I ride. So far, my horse is still comfortable, but my saddle fitter thinks he will continue to build muscle and need something else else come spring. She doesn't push any brand and quite frankly, brand new is not in the cards. So I have been scouting Ebay and other used saddle sites to see what is out there and what they are going for moneywise.
The issue that I am having is I really don't know what I would like (okay, I think I know what I want, but liking to ride in it might be another story) and what would possibly fit my horse. I do want a wool flocked saddle so that it can be adjusted for my horse. I am lusting over County saddles (used), but I don't really know how they ride and if I would like it. The plus is sometimes one pops up that has skid-row panels which my saddle fitter did suggest for my horse. Being more realistic, I would really like to stay under $1000 for a new to me saddle, which basically puts used Counties out of my reach. Any suggestions on other brands that come with skid-row panels, a flat seat, and wool flocked? Okay, I also prefer a narrow twist close contact saddle. I used to like my current saddle, so realistically I could just get another that is bigger in the seat and tree, but I don't know if it would still make my back hurt being basically the same saddle.
Now for the observation. Just what is everyone doing with their saddles to cause the various rips, stains, missing billets, and other "imperfections"?! I just can't believe how bad some of these saddles look that I am seeing for sale. I never really thought that I took that good of care of my saddle, but it looks brand new compared to some of these and I ride 4-5 days a week all year round outside.
Any suggestions on other brands that come with skid-row panels, a flat seat, and wool flocked?
Okay, don't have a heart attack until you've read at least THREE paragraphs of this post.
County is the only brand on the market making a skid row panel. They even trademarked the name after the first horse they ever built that sort of custom panel for (a showjumper named Skid Row). Skid row panels a relatively recent innovation in County's lineup--I don't have an exact date, but let's just say I've never seen a 10-year-old County with 'em. ;
Now here's the great news: there are plenty of other brands making panels *that serve the same function* as the County skid row panel. There are also some horses who can get similar benefits from using a sheepskin half pad under the saddle. If you look at it, the shape of a half pad is awfully similar to the skid row panel and its specialty panel cousins. That's not a coincidence. But notice that I said some, not all. Some horses really benefit from having it built into the saddle. It just depends.
You'll find that most of the Walsall-made British brands that compete with County are making some kind of panel, either their standard panel or a specialty/custom panel, that functionally competes with the County Skid Row panel. Black Country has the K panel, Barnsby calls it a "drop" or "dropped" panel, Hastilow calls it the "angular panel" (ironic, really, since the Black Country K panel was named after saddler Kay Hastilow), Albion puts this sort of panel on some of its models like the Kontact Jewell and Kontact Lite, etc. Annoyingly, you will find that many brands just don't call this sort of panel anything special--for example, most of the Frank Baines jump saddles have what one could clearly identify as a competitor to the County skid row panel (for example, look at this panel on the Frank Baines Elan http://www.frankbaines.com/page.asp?...l-Panel-Saddle ). No surprise that the country that first bred the Thoroughbred, which is among the breeds most likely to have big laid-back scapula bone that forms a natural dip behind the wither, was the first country to get really serious about beefed-up-in-the-front wool panels. But you also see them on saddles from other countries; look at the panels on this (German) Passier Precision: http://www.horseclicks.com/beautiful...g/advert/53282
or the panels on the new $2100 (Italian) Prestige Roma: http://equestrianimports.com/shop/ne...prod_1106.html
Granted, there are some horses who truly need the original skid row panel or something that's a dead-ringer for it. These tend to be horses who have very VERY pronounced spines or a serious lack of musculature down both sides of the spine. These beasts are pretty rare, and even they can often get away with a fitting solution other than a true skid row panel.
Now the bad news.
There aren't a lot of saddles that retail under $2000 and come standard with this panel shape, and as a result, you're not going to find a lot of saddles on the sub-$1000 used marked with this panel shape. The ones you do find that retail under $2000 will have made some pretty major compromise in the construction process--for example, the Thorowgood T8 jumper has this panel shape and it's wool-flocked and it's got an adjustable gullet. It's also synthetic. http://www.thorowgood.com/T8-Jump.html
The Collegiate Nobility and Collegiate Convertible Diploma both have a built-up shape in front, but the flocking in these saddles will not be top quality. They're not the worst flocking ever in history, but nobody's going to ooh and ahh over the flocking quality. They're also built to retail around $1200, and while they're not fragile, they're not built to the takes-a-lickin' standard of a Stubben or County either. Again, not knocking these saddles because they are solid offerings for the price, just saying don't expect $2500 of workmanship for $1200.
Before you go on a goose chase looking for these saddles in the sub-$1000 price range--where they tend not to exist, and when they do, other buyers snap them up--then I suggest you talk to your saddle fitter about whether your horse is of the "truly needs it built right into the panel" variety or if you might be able to work with a half pad + lots and lots of other brands. For example, if you really like how a Stubben rides, it'll be plenty possible to find another of those for about $800 and then invest in a shimmable sheepskin half pad to simulate that built-up panel lobe shape in the front.
But if you really want to pursue this panel shape in the lower price ranges, here's some saddles to keep your eyes peeled for:
--Older Albion, Barnsby, County (like the discontinued Pro-Fit model). Granted, they've gotta be pretty old to get into this price range, and not all of them will have drop panel shapes. If in doubt, get a picture of the panels before you buy.
--Some of the more modern Collegiates, like the Nobility and the Convertible Diploma
--Used Dominus or Cobra models, also possibly the Harry Dabbs 911 although I've seen a grand total of three of those in my whole life. The Cobra and the 911 are very rare. The Dominus Showjumping and Bruce Davidson are much more common.
--Some of the Passier close contact saddles--you'll recall a link to the Passier Precision further up in this post, and I've seen occasional used Passier Precisions that go for $700-$900. Again, not all Passiers will have this panel shape, so make sure you confirm.
I am no help finding what you want.
jn4jenny pretty much covered that (I bow to your wisdom, j!)
But, re: damage to older saddles, "stuff" happens.
DH once had to buy a saddle we were considering when his horse peeled a length of leather from the seat as it sat on the rack just outside his stall.
Patch was invisible when a rider was up, but glaringly obvious otherwise.
Fortunately it fit him, fit horse, and I still have it.
A friend once got a Stubben Tristan for free as it had been left to mold in a tack room by a less-than-weekend-rider owner.
*friend of bar.ka*RIP all my lovely boys, gone too soon: Steppin' Out 1988-2004 Hey Vern! 1982-2009 Cash's Bay Threat 1994-2009
If you can stretch your budget to the $1500 - $2000 range, there will be lots of used Counties to consider, so I'd go ahead & book a demo to ride/feel the saddles - try the Sensation even though it's crazy$$ & not much available used yet (for a certain build of horse, County seems to have done something magic here - I'm waiting for jn4jenny's deconstruction on this one ) If you need to stay in the under $1200 range, then you can still find a used County but might have to go black or wait for that amazing deal - haunt the "free" sites rather than those where commissions are going to the sellers.
Be very careful with shipping saddles in - many companies have special rates so you'll only pay $10 - $20 shipping-in fee, but then the return fee (+ insurance) will easily run $50 & up
Use jnj4jenny's list as a base when you talk to independent fitters, make sure they have enough saddles you'd be interested in that will (maybe) fit your horse, before booking appointments.
For your back, you might also try the Thin Line - there are demo pads available or you can buy & utilize the 30 day return policy (Thin line also offers "seconds" at ~ 1/2 retail through their ebay store but sales are usually final - unless product is defective).
Stubben's Biomex seat works for some people, BUT it does rather change the feel of the saddle so make sure you try a biomex demo of the particular model you're considering.
You've been happy with the Stubben, so call & see if there's a rep in your area - they still have a good selection of saddles in their "Used" sale, just be aware of the new non-wool panels on some models.
I have a Collegiate Nobility and for the price, I am quite happy with it. I got mine on clearance for $750 Cdn, then had the tree stretched 1 cm to fit my horse. The flocking is synthetic not real wool, but in a year or so I will just reflock the entire panel with wool anyways.
It has a nice forward flap which accomodates my long femur really well, and the seat is a nice medium half deep and is quite comfortable.
I would definitely recommend looking at one of these saddles if you can find one for a good price. It feels basically broken in from day 1, the leather is quite tacky. My only complaint is that the billet leather is stiff/cheap, but they aren't too costly to replace down the road.
Altogether, I am quite happy with the saddle.
Proud Member of the "Tidy Rabbit Tinfoil Hat Wearers" clique and the "I'm in my 30's and Hope to be a Good Rider Someday" clique
Okay, true confession time. I have a Thin line pad, the shimable, sheepskin one. I don't use it because it's too nice and its really big for my saddle. I really think the issue is my ass got too big for the saddle and it somehow is causing a strain that I didn't use to feel across my mid to low back. That doesn't change the fact that my OTTB is still developing his topline and filling out himself. So, even if I lost the 30 pounds I gained since originally purchasing this saddle, my horse still needs a new saddle.
Thank you to those of you that have responded, especially jn4jenny! That was exactly the type of feedback I was hoping for. I'm kind of in the hinterlands of equestrian sport here in SWPA and don't have a lot of access to the types of saddles that I would like to try. Its very helpful getting ideas of what to try rather than spending a fortune picking saddles at random and having to ship them back.
As an aside to the Stubben fans, I see in the Eventing Forum that Stubben is going to have a one-day sale on Monday, Nov 19. Last one was 2 years ago and had fantastic bargains on selected new saddles--like under $1000.
I used to have a Passier Precision and it was a very nice saddle (before a very bad fitter got ahold of it!). The tree width is truly adjustable by opening up the saddle because it has hinges down the middle, I'm told. I sold it for crazy little $ on eBay because it needed to be stripped and reflocked. They can be had for ~$2k new (Rick's saddle source).
The other posters here certainly know their saddle facts, just wanted to point out that you should be able to find something used in your price range. Or close.
I am wondering where does the "gullet" actually begin? I think I am going to call on a saddle, but need to explain an issue that my horse is having while trotting and I don't know the proper name for the area of the saddle to explain fully what is going on. The very opening of the pommel area, where one measures dee to dee is 6 inches wide. Moving back a couple of inches into the channel, it narrows down into 3 inches. As he trots, the upper right side of his wither gets very, very close to touching the saddle. It actually may while bending to the right, its hard to know for sure. At a standstill and walk, the wither clearance seems fine. Is the area I am referring to actually the "gullet"?