The Unicorn Saddle Search Recap

Let me start this out by saying that I started our whole saddle shopping adventure more than 6 months ago. (May 8th was the official “start date” of this adventure. The goal? Find something that fits my horse REALLY well that I do not hate to ride in.

I tried the following over those 6 months.

  1. Albion K2 Jump (original jump saddle. Sold for around $1,800 used)
  2. Duett Bravo (around $1,500 new)
  3. County Saddle (no idea how much it cost. tried a barn-mates saddle, and it wasn’t even close enough to ride in)
  4. Black Country Solare (around $2,500 used, around $4K new)
  5. Prestige Eventer (about $3K used)
  6. Stubben Roxanne (about $5K new with the modifications I needed)
  7. Black Country Wexford (about $2K)
  8. Stubben Genesis (about $1K used)

 

There was also a wide range of other saddles that I seriously considered:

  1. Amerigo Saddles
    • $5K new?… probably more
    • I never could find a local rep or any used saddles in a wide. That was probably a bad sign.
  2. Patrick Saddles
    • $6K new minimum with nothing to actually try on my horse
    • I was told that they could bring me a medium tree to try… but I would have to ride a different horse. Sorry, but for $$$$, I need May to also agree that she likes it.
  3. Bliss of London Saddles
    • I saw these at Rolex and really liked them. They have a bunch of different tree options and some of them looked promising.
    • Loxley saddles start new at around $2,600, but bad reviews regarding customer kept me on the sidelines
  4. Another Albion
    • I couldn’t find any in the specs I was interested in trying.
    • The local rep was not helpful. She answered my inquiry with an “I can order what you’re looking for if you want to buy it…” Sorry, but I really need to sit in something before buying it.
  5. CWD
    • I took one on trial that claimed to be a wide… and turned out to be a narrow. I at least got my money back (including shipping) on that one.
  6. Fairfax Saddles
    • They literally do not make these saddles larger than a 17.5″
  7. Philippe Fontaine Saddles
    • The reviews on them are mixed, but the price of the one I was looking at was more than comfortable for my budget. I even found one in a wide and in the proper seat size.
    • Unfortunately, (or fortunately) I have gotten very good at looking at pictures of gullets and deciding if they would work. This one was a no. (after waiting 3 weeks for pictures)

Final Verdict!

Does this make my butt look big? 🤣#horsesofinstagram #thelwellpony #fluffypony #may

A post shared by Emily (@may_as_well_event) on

Like my wedding dress, I ended up buying the cheapest saddle I sat in over the course of the entire 6 months. I bought the Stubben Genesis Jump Saddle in an 18″ with a 32cm tree. In fact, I now own 2 Stubben Genesis Saddles in a 32cm tree because it is almost the exact same model as my Dressage saddle, which May loves and no saddle fitter has ever been able to find a flaw with. (the Dressage saddle seat is 0.5″ larger)

I have now owned the saddle for a couple of weeks, and I have a couple of early thoughts. (sorry for this “listy” post)

  1. It is NOT a lot of saddle.
    • My Albion had LARGE front blocks. This Stubben has almost none. It has a very close contact feel, but it does not lock you into place in any sense of the word. After riding in my Dressage saddle for so many months, this is taking some getting used to.
    • might end up swapping the blocks out to the velcro versions and getting the larger blocks as an options.
  2. The act of jumping has not gotten easier.
    • I think this has more to do with my comfort level with this “less than” saddle than anything else. With increased strength and balance, I think it will feel totally normal again.
  3. But jumping May has
    • Jumping May around typically “wakes her up” and she gets a bit rushy and opinionated and stiff. She even used to crow hop after fences in my Albion if we took a huge distance or hadn’t jumped in a while.
    • In the Stubben? She has actually seemed to get MORE relaxed the longer that we jump, even if we haven’t jumped in a while. Another thing to continue to keep an eye on.
  4. I forgot how much my Dressage saddle sucked when I first got it.
    • Stubben wear like iron. They last forever, and I would think most people have probably plunked one on the back of a school horse when they were first learning to ride.
    • That also means that they are TOUGH to break in. My dressage saddle was also only slightly used when I bought it, and it took probably a full year to get it fully broken in. With similar leather and treatment, I hope my “new” jumping saddle takes the same amount of time to break in.

Here’s to celebrating the end of a long search, and to hoping to not have to do it again for a LONG TIME.

through-the-hole

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Saddle Trial 2 – Black Country Solare

A combined series of events put my saddle hunt on hold for a couple of week, but on Friday a Black Country Solare showed up at my door. I knew literally nothing about this saddle other than it might fit my horse and work for me.

It showed up absolutely beautiful. Black with blue piping and blue stitching? Count me in! 

The leather was great quality, and it was well equipped with two pairs of D rings and blocks.

The box was even an improvement!

My only concern was it looked a touch narrow, but I figured it was close enough for a test ride.


Overall, it looked a bit high in front but sat level, and it didn’t seem especially tight around the shoulders. I took it for a few test rides, and they all ended with some variation of the below sweat marks. However, May seemed to like the saddle. She even stood completely still at the mounting block, something we have always struggled with.


For me, the saddle fit my legs great. I felt it helped me keep my ankle in line with my hip, and it helped my leg stay steady over fences. See below for one of the first jumps we have jumped in about 4 months. To me, the greatest compliment I can give a jump saddle is that I don’t think about it when I am jumping, and I didn’t have to with this one. A saddle that holds me in or pushes me out of balance is a big no no. One that makes me feel like I can do what I need to, while supporting me is awesome. ​


However, then I watched this video is slow motion, and I saw the below:


My leg is in a great position, but the saddle is clearly grabbing at May’s shoulders. Damn… If you watch it in even slower motion, you will see the saddle snap back down onto May’s back as she extends her front end forward. Definitely not ideal, and not something I would want to have happening on a regular basis. Our distance to this jump was good, if not a touch long, and I would hate to see what this saddle would do at a tight spot or over uneven ground on cross country. Unfortunately, that means I had to pass on this one too…

Then, I noticed some swelling/irritation around those dry spots, and I decided it really wasn’t wide enough for poor May. (good sport about it though!)

I give this saddle a solid 8/10. Leather and balance was great for me, but I am still not 100% sure a wider tree would be right for May. I’m still debating buying a new one, in the wider tree, but I have a few other things to try first. Next up – a 34cm 18″ Prestige saddle.

As for why May is wearing a fly mask? Well I showed up to the barn a couple of weeks ago to find this:


A nice swollen, dripping eye. She ended up having a small scratch, and I am riding her in the fly mask as a precaution. The vet has seen it twice, and it appears to be fully resolved at this point. Small speed bumps really can slow you down!

Saddle Trial 0 – CWD

Technically, this should have been the 2nd saddle trial, but I will get to why it doesn’t qualify at all in a minute.

I saw a great deal on ebay for a CWD saddle, 18″ on a 5″ tree (aka a wide). Every saddle fitter I have spoken to says that while May has big shoulders, she is not an incredible wide, backed horse. To be honest, I believe them because the wither tracings I have do not show a table-backed horse. The CWD was worn with some cosmetic issues, but I was assured it was in sound, use-able condition, and for the price, I could afford to fix the issues it had. It even came with a 14 day trial! Cool.

First Red Flag – The box showed up and was basically random strips of cardboard taped together with packing tape. No Joke. Check This Out.

I ended up taking pictures of every angle of the box before I opened it too… just in case there was damage to the saddle. 

Second Red Flag – The return address on the UPS label had been completely torn off.

I kept telling myself that I bought from a seller through eBay with PayPal protection and that the ability to return the saddle was clearly written into the terms, but I am not going to say that didn’t make my stomach tie up in knots. I opened up the box, stuck my hand under the pommel to pull the saddle out… and I immediately knew it was too narrow. I didn’t even have to look at it because my hand barely fit between the panels.

How narrow? 4″ dot to dot instead of 5″ dot to dot.

Ha…. ha…. ha….

The difference? Basically my wide saddle just became a narrow… Damn. Other than that, leather was beautiful (despite being miscolored, as expected), and everything seemed sound about it. Unfortunately, that tree was never going to fit on my horse. I let the seller know, and she told me it did measure as a 5″ tree and that I should try it anyway… I emailed her back a few hours later to tell her it didn’t work and that I would like to return it.

White marks are just adhesive from where the tape touched the saddle during shipping. It would’ve come off easily, but you can see the other discoloration here. 


I got a return label quickly and was able to ship the saddle back.

Third Red Flag – The return label was to a different city/state than where the saddle came from.

Oh well. It was provided by eBay from the seller, so that was where the saddle was going. It shipped back quickly, and I received a refund for everything I spent almost as soon as the saddle was returned.

I am not sure how to rate this one. It was a total fail that locked up almost my entire budget for more than a week for a product I couldn’t even sit in. However, the whole return process was easy enough. I am going to give it a 5/10. Disappointing, but luckily not disastrous.

Saddle Trial 1 – Duett Bravo

For me, one of the most important aspects of shopping for any high-priced horse stuff  is customer service. With a restrictive budget for saddle shopping, I know that I can’t go out and buy a $6K saddle. However, when I am spending what is, to me, a lot of money, it is so important that I feel like I am treated fairly, if not well.

In that category, Duett saddle gets a 10/10. Sheri is responsive and accommodating. The whole team works to provide you with the best option possible, and they are still positive and responsive. Even if you choose not to buy, but more on that in a minute. 

The saddle arrived in a timely fashion and in great condition (new but has been used for other demo rides)


The Leather wasn’t buttery calfskin (which of course I wasn’t expecting) but it reminded me a lot of the leather from my old Crosby, made by Miller. The kind of leather that breaks in beautifully and will last you a while. 

The fit on May was even good, even if the saddle sat up above her a bit more than I am used to. Either way, the panels sat flush from front to back. 

 

However, the pommel of the saddle sat a bit low. Hmmm… ok. Well I have often hated saddles for making me feel blocked in front because May had such big shoulders and hoop trees tend to be flat in front unless you get the pommel artificially built up. Not a big deal to me. 

So I put a pad under it, put stirrups on (under the top flap and wrapped to prevent wear) and I swung up. At the walk? No problems. I had heard some people complain about the width of the twists of these saddles, but I often ride May bareback, and it doesn’t get much wider than that. 

We walked for a while then trotted… and I felt like I was going to fall over her shoulder. I played around with the stirrups and couldn’t get a great feel. I really really wanted it to work, but I felt my back and core working overtime to try and keep my shoulders, hips, ankles in line. 


I then tried pulling the stirrups. Maybe the whole saddle is just tipped forward. First of all, my horse is a saint because new saddles and no stirrups and my least sticky breeches meant there was LOTS of slipping and sliding going on. However, I no longer felt out of balance. Hmmmmm 


I had some pictures taken from the side with stirrups and without. And the issue turns out the stirrup bar was just in the wrong place for me. Damn -.-

Ultimate decision – nice saddle especially for the price range if it works for you and your horse. Sheri and the team are wonderful, so I would recommend at least trying them if you have a wide horse and are in the market. In the future, I may try one of their Dressage saddles. 

We did get to take one jump in May! 😂😂😂 as for next steps, the Bravo is heading back to its home. I spoke to a Black Country rep who has something that will probabky work… but it’s out on trial this week. 

In the meantime, I might take something out of the box on trial… like a wide French saddle, since everyone keeps telling me she just has big shoulders and isn’t as wide down her back as I think. 

So Many Things to Buy… so Little Money

A couple of other shopping-related blog posts got me thinking about buying myself a little something. The costs of moving to a new city, planning for a wedding, Christmas, and being unemployed for a month have meant that I really haven’t bought myself anything horsey for a while.

My most recent purchase were winter-weight SmartPak Piper breeches, which I must have gotten on sale because i never pay regular price for them. I bought them because last year all of my winter riding pants died, and they were reasonably priced (as always). While getting new things is nice, this really was a case of just replacing old equipment.

Now that things are on firmer ground financially, I am trying to decide on ONE thing to spend some money on. Unfortunately, the list of things I want is LONG…

  1. A Browband from Dark Jewel Designs – May has a subtly sparkly browband. It was a gift from my fiance, and I really really love it. It is that perfect understated amount of bling that I appreciate in the Dressage ring. But… XC colors. I would love a sparkly browband with navy and silver and pearls… It would even match my wedding colors. Plus Amelia is awesome, so this is on my list. It just might not be a pre-wedding purchase.
  2. A Bonnet from If the Bonnet Fits – May also has a navy & white embroidered bonnet and a black and silver bonnet. Unfortunately, I rarely ever use them because they really don’t fit her big, moose ears, and they are relatively cheapy ones that don’t stay under the bridle very well. Therefore, I need a new one, right? Again, this would be in our XC colors, navy, white, and silver like the one I linked…. Maybe I can get “May as Well” embroidered on the ears. It should really say, “stop pulling” but that’s a story for another time.
  3. An Ogilvy Profile Pad – I have an ecogold non-slip pad for cross country. I love it. It looks great. However, May is the type of horse who (much like her rider) tends to fluctuate in shape throughout a season pretty significantly. I have an ogilvy half-pad that I really like, so it would be great to have another option for when saddle fit isn’t as perfect as I would like it, or for when we are in our cross country gear for a long time (i.e. schoolings and clinics). Plus, they look really sharp and aren’t terribly expensive… although I might need to design myself a logo if i go this route.
  4. A Micklem Bridle – This is more than pocket change and will likely not happen for a while. However, May can be really fussy about contact. She has shown me she like a more stable bit and goes best with a loose, plain noseband. However, sometimes a loose plain noseband means she turns into a runaway train, so I think a more anatomical bridle would be a great idea. Plus, my current jumping bridle is brown and my saddle is black. That makes this a priority… right?
  5. New Riding Pants – Specifically the Romfh Sarafina knee patch breech… although my tailored sportsmans are probably 7 years old and in need of being replaced too. I would say it’s a toss up between them as to which pair I might invest in. Let’s not discuss how these are almost (if not more) than the bridle in the above post.
  6. New Riding Gloves – Let’s be honest. This is probably what I will end up buying. In navy. My old ones are almost worn through at this point.
  7. A New Jumping Bat – Not a fun purchase, but again, my current one is brown and my tack is black.
  8. Breastplate – I have a 5-point breastplate right now. With May’s build, I just really don’t like it. I think it pulls the saddle down in the front. Also, May will never really need a martingale because of the way she’s built. As a result, I would really like a jumper breastplate or a 3-point that attaches to the girth. The 4-point collar by Lund Saddlery would be awesome… but it only comes in brown at the moment.
  9. Eventing Stuff – Seriously. I got away with borrowing so much stuff last year. I really need to invest in my own watch and pinny, at a bare minimum.
  10. Kastel Denmark Sun Shirts – These are so pretty and everyone seems to love them, so I should own one… right? In reality, I might buy another of Dover’s brand (if I am ever in a store again). I got a couple on sale super reasonably, so I am sure I could do that again. However, if I get to my goal weight, this might be my gift to myself (along with the new riding pants).
  11. New Show Jumping Boots for May – Lots of drooling over this one, as her schooling boots are shot. However, the whole set is over $250. As a result, she will be sticking too the old equifits in front, which I don’t love, and the teckna hind boots, which I hate, for shows. Let’s be honest, most of our BN trials will have XC right after SJ anyway.
  12. A Navy Blue One-K or a One K Skull Cap– This is 100% frivolous. My helmet is fine. it is comfortable, looks good, and is safe. However, who doesn’t love options?
  13. Dubarry Boots – What eventer doesn’t want these boots? seriously… even people that already own them want an extra pair in case they ever stop making them.
  14. Saddle Fitting – ok. this one is non-negotiable and happening in the Spring. I have not been super happy with the fit of either of my saddles, but May needs to lose some lbs before I can justify getting them reflocked.

Together, this all equals over $1,000 worth of items. So that gets me to where I don’t buy anything except the essentials because, for that price, I could fund a couple of events, or clinics, or a bunch of lessons. After all, that’s what is really going to make us better… even if I really want the sparkle.

Either way… I am open to more suggestions. 😉