Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Lopsided, and some thoughts on saddles

Work gets out early on Fridays, so there was still enough daylight to do some riding. I went in with a plan to work on my own balance. Something I never would have done with the unpredictable Otto: bareback arena work.

Obviously I started at the walk. I haven't ridden bareback a whole lot, and it shows in my complete lack of ability to sit a horse. I remember when I got Gazab, way back in Nebraska, my dad rode him bareback around the pasture at a canter. I wouldn't even canter in a saddle at that stage. 

I still can't canter bareback, but after a lot of initial wobbling, I got to be pretty comfortable in the trot on Friday. I felt a real sense of teamwork with Blue. It seemed like he was working just as hard to stay under me as I was working to stay on top of him. 

I have been contemplating getting some sort of deep-seat "Englishy" saddle as an alternative to the Specialized. I feel like swapping periodically might be better for Blue's back and my riding. Part of this contemplation has been looking at Blue's back. Sitting on it bare gave me a better sense of how he's using it now, and what the overall silhouette is. The next step was to stand on something tall behind him and look at symmetry (or the complete lack thereof).

My poor track record of staying in the saddle attracts me to something like this: 
Short of someone turning the horse upside-down and shaking him, I'd pretty much be glued in. The trouble with poleys (i.e., those leg-holder-inners on the front of the saddle) in endurance is pretty obvious: You might end up with bruised legs from posting into them for hours at a time. I also have heard from many people that the fit on Aussie saddles can be iffy at best, and that the good ones cost a fortune. Plus, I really love the dressage-style rigging on my Specialized. I'd hate to go back to a bulky western knot or a fat English buckle under my leg.
So what are my other options?
It seemed like a good idea at the time.
I flirted with the treeless thing for a while with Otto. I bought a very pretty used Torsion to use as a backup saddle. It was so light and cushy… like a leather easy-chair. Unfortunately, it was amazingly slick, and the lack of twist made it feel like I was a living in a Thelwell comic. 
Needless to say, this is not a particularly secure way to sit, especially for Otto's "sideways teleportation" style of movement. 

They make treeless, flex-tree and semi-treed saddles that are meant for a more secure ride.

Like this one, for instance.

I'm intrigued by the Kuda saddle above because it looks like it might offer a bit more security and grip. Maybe even a teeny bit of twist and lift so I don't feel like I'm sitting directly on Blue's spine. On the other hand, they aren't exactly cheap from the dealer, and they are new enough that the secondhand market is almost nonexistent. It would be an expensive experiment.

The other saddles I came across seem almost too good to be true. 
Kind of a dressage/endurance hybrid.

This one doubles as a mattress.

That seat is completely impractical for my needs, but look how pretty!

Imagine, no fenders or leathers under your leg, plus a front grip. And again, all that padding!

This one reminds me of my RL Watson, a saddle that made my butt very happy.

All of the saddle styles above come from the same maker, Sycamore Creek/CTK. And they have dozens more styles. I always check when I'm thinking about a piece of equipment or clothing. Sycamore Creek has no ratings lower than 4 out of 5. That's pretty much unheard of, even for some of the most upmarket commercial saddles. The reviews rave about the customer service, great price-to-quality ratio, super comfy construction… Did I mention the prices? I think the most expensive of the saddles above comes in under $700. You read that right.
The hardest part about Sycamore Creek would be choosing a style. I actually emailed Tony, the U.S. distributor, and asked for his opinion on my situation. I told him the four models that seemed closest to what I was looking for. He said any one of them would probably work for Blue's back conformation, so the choice was more about what worked for me as a rider. They will customize the saddle to fit us both.

What would fit me, dear reader, is a leather saddle with some grip, at least a 5-inch-deep seat, a high cantle, dressage rigging, leathers instead of fenders, and enough rings and straps to contain all my gear. I also need it to cost less than $1000, last forever, and fit my horse perfectly.

Is that so much to ask?! :)


  1. I'm confused about why you'd want to change out of your Specialized (obviously, I love mine); if it's not fitting the changes in Blue's back, you can just change the fitting pads so that it DOES fit. Right?

    Bareback, sigh. My dream is to be a decent bareback rider. Yeah, right. Someday?

    To make your own seat feel more secure, three suggesions:
    * Add a fleece "seat saver" to your saddle. It's easier to feel sticky in that. The drawback to it is that the fleece takes up about 2" of room in the saddle, so if your saddle fits you right now, it might not when you add the extra layer.

    * Treat your (slick) saddle seat with Obenauf's LP, which is a leather protector (beeswax, etc) that is good for the leather AND ALSO makes the leather feel more sticky. I buy it at my feed store, or online: Be sure to use the LP (it's a thick, waxy stuff) and not the oil if you want to make things stickier.

    * Full-seat breeches. Kerrits makes some good ones, and Tropical Rider does too. I don't think it's necessary to get "genuine deerskin" on your breeks unless you're riding a dressage test and need to impress people. The synthetic seat feels sufficiently tacky and is easier to wash in the machine.

  2. Aarene, never fear. The Specialized isn't going anywhere!

    The Englishy saddle would be in addition to the Specialized. I'd like to have something lightweight, close contact and fender-free when I'm in the mood for it. I also suspect that switching between the two will cool off any hotspots of soreness on both of us, since the pressure points will change each time. I'm looking for the middle ground between western and bareback—Does that make any sense?

    Interestingly enough, the Specialized fits him pretty dang well with just the half-inch pads and no shims.

    I've got the full Lady Godiva seat saver and love it. BUT I do feel like it takes me that much farther from Blue's back. And when we got poured on the other day, it became a swamp.

    I was thinking about buying a pair of stickyseat breeches from HAAH since they are retiring. Do you know anyone who has a pair and likes or dislikes them?