Once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away, I was a saddle fitter and was a rep for Performance Saddlery, when they sold Albion saddles. I learned tons, how to fit the horse, how to flock saddles, I even learned how to strip flock saddles.
I never did learn how to fit the rider that well and always relied on the rider or the trainer, giving the rider half of the equation the stamp of approval. But, I realized that the travelling was not for me, my son was young, my husband was getting tired of doing all the parenting and farm maintenance, I had horses I wanted to ride, and I also worked a regular job, and all the saddle fitting was done in the evenings and on weekends, which worked very well for customers who worked, but not so much for me having a life.
But, as a result of those years, I have been pretty successful at finding saddles that fit my horses. I mostly had Albions, because they were left from my fitting days, so most are a bit too big for me, but a bit too small for a lot of people.
In January, when I was down at Denny Emerson’s farm, Denny had David Stackhouse come over to measure a friend on her horse. I had spoken to David in 2010 at Rolex, but wasn’t yet ready to take the full-custom plunge, and had not had him come to my farm in Middleburg on one of his trips. But, since he was there in NC and I was there with Bali, and he will measure with no obligation to buy if you are there, I had him measure me, in my dressage saddle. The old 17.5 XW Albion Euro Legend (dressage) that I’d been coming back to over and over because it was the best fit I had for Bali, slightly too wide, but she was very happy in it…I tried the Detente, and it ended up being too narrow, it rocked forward and put me in a chair seat. I was sad, I had high hopes for that and it was the most beautifully flocked saddle I’ve gotten from a factory. I also had tried a Black Country, and that had a defect…it was assembled crooked, which was fixed, but it was always wobbly as it was not the right tree shape, so I had that sold and applied that to the Detente.
After David measured me, he explained why I had a hard time staying over the stirrup bars…the saddle was too big for me, due to the style of the tree. Then, we took the saddle off Bali and he saw my WIDE backed horse. I was still worried, since I’d had that Detente ordered after seeing a model tree on Bali…but he called his partner Lesley and told her to bring all the XW and W trees over. Lesley brought around a dozen trees, and proceeded to figure out which one was the best shape. Bali was between the W and XW, and so Lesley said they would just have the tree customized when it was built!
I was starting to feel a bit better, but not enough to order one yet. I came home, thought about it, rode, took a couple of lessons, and then James said something like “can’t you adjust your saddle? you are just not in the right place”. I suppose I could, but I needed to make sure the saddle still fit both horses. Instead I was constantly trying to bend my knee more to keep my hip/heel alignment.
I thought I had missed the winter ordering window, so I called Lesley to say next time they ordered trees, I was going to go for it. She said they could get it added into the shipment, so I nervously made my deposit.
Why so nervous? Go to any internet bulletin board. Go see how many “custom” saddles don’t work. Heck, that Detente was “custom”, but see, these are usually customized. Albion only had a few trees, a few options, you ordered and they tweaked it, but this isn’t what David Stackhouse does, he builds the saddle to fit the rider he measured, on a tree that he and Leslie select to fit your horse. The fact that he only makes custom saddles made me even more nervous, there was no demo to sit in and try it! If I was a nail biter, I’d have none! But, in all my research on Stackhouse, everyone who had bought one made for them had loved it, a few people bought them used, or one of the limited stock models, and those people were often not as thrilled, but I couldn’t find any complaints, so I calmed myself and waited…