Thursday, August 26, 2010

What's In a Name?

Quite a lot, at least in my experience ...

One questions I'm asked quite frequently is, "What's the best saddle?"  And my answer always is, "The one that suits you and your horse the best."  This answer often elicits a blank stare from the questioner, since most people expect me to offer up a particular make of saddle ... and seem to want me to offer up one that will set them back about 4 or 5 mortgage payments.

Sorry, folks, but I'm not a Name Queen.

I run into tons of people who practically pee their pants when they hear "Devoucoux", "Hennig", "Hermes", "Schleese" or "Antares", and I have to confess:  I just don't get it.  It reminds me of the early 1980s, when everyone (male and female) was squealing over Jordache or Gloria Vanderbuilt or Calvin Klein jeans, and I was noodling along quite happily in my Levis and Wranglers.  They fit me better than anything with a designer label, wore like iron, and were less than half the price of the designer jeans.  "But they don't have a name," my friends would moan in despair.  My broke friends.  My broke friends who were always complaining about their uncomfortable designer jeans ...

Saddles are much the same.  Sure, you can pay $6000+ for a custom Hennig, or $4500+ for a custom Schleese (or Stackhouse, or County ...), BUT that doesn't guarantee that the saddle will suit you (or your horse) any better than an off-the-rack or bench-made saddle might.  You and your horse might be perfectly fitted with a Black Country, and Albion, a Frank Baines, or (gods forbid) a Duett or (I'm uttering blasphemy here) a Thorowgood or Wintec ...

Why?  Because most horse and rider combinations do. not. need. a. custom. saddle.  Many can be fit beautifully by an off-the-rack model and a little help from a fitter, and the rest are just dandy in a bench-made saddle.  Given the gazillion different saddle companies out there with a bazillion different models and a googolplex of fitting options, you can find a stock or bench-made model that will fit - there's no real need to go custom. 

But some folks are just incurable Name Queens, and in that sense, they need to be riding in the trendiest, most expensive, sought-after saddle out there.

One of my customers recently spent $3800 on a wide tree used Devoucoux dressage saddle to use for trail riding on her very round little Morab.  When I gave her the bad news (as gently as I could) that the saddle didn't come close to fitting and there was no way it could be made to fit, her response was, "I got a good deal on it though, right?"

The saddle was in lovely shape, and since they sell for well over $4000 new, at least I didn't have to tell her I hoped she'd gotten a kiss and dinner in the bargain.  "Well, yes, but since it doesn't fit ..."

"But it's a Devoucoux," she said.  "And I got a good deal on it."

For her, that was all that mattered.

I see this far more often than my saddle fitting soul would like.  People buy the name, and whether it fits the horse - or them - isn't really considered in the equation.  They have the cachet of saying they ride in a Devoucoux / Hennig / Schleese / Antares / CWD / Tad Coffin, and that's all that matters.  It may be wearing holes in their horse's back and they may have their underware fused to their naughty bits at the end of a ride, but by gods, they're riding in a ____________ (fill in the blank).  The world envies them, so having to wait 20 minutes after a ride before they can walk without screaming is of no consequence.  And if the horse is going belly-down in the dirt when he sees the saddle, well ... just put another pad under it.  Yes, they already use 4 pads with this saddle, but once Das Pferd gets to second level and develops a real topline, the saddle will fit beautifully.

Now, keep in mind that all of the saddles I've listed are absolutely perfect for some horses and riders - they fit well, and the pair performs beautifully in them.  But if they're not, they're worth no more to the individual horse and rider than the most humble old synthetic beater ... except in the mind of the Name Queen.

8 comments:

Cut-N-Jump said...

I have to admit, I am a bit of a saddle snob myself, but I look for great deals on a saddle that is well made and fits me and my horse. The fact that it turns out to be a _____________ is a bonus in my book.

Its ego though. Pure and simple, ego. I have a ___________ breed of horse. I have a ___________ brand trailer. I have a __________ breed of dog, drive a ____________ car or truck and live in the _________ zip code... It goes across the board, without saying. People want to impress everyone else but themselves and their horse.

Thing is, if their saddle fit their horse, they were both comfortable during the ride and got more accomplished- a lot more people around them may actually BE impressed.

Sara Leslie said...

Hi, great post. I was wondering what your take is on trees- flex tree vs more rigid trees.

Thanks, Sara

Rebecca said...

Amen! I admit I do love to find a nice used big name brand saddle on a consignment rack for a great price, but 6 days out of 7, my horse rides wonderfully in my Wintec! When I first appeared at my stable with a *gasp* synthetic saddle, I heard the whispers. But then they see how well my horse moves in it and once they try it out, see how comfortable the seat is and the whispers stopped! You have to find what works for you and your horse, even if it came off the bargain basement floor :)

eventer79 said...

Oh yes, don't I know this phenomenon! But you're right, people just love to name drop. I ride in a Wintec and a Collegiate and *gasp* do so mostly with success.

I had a question though -- after a very long trail ride the other day (in my flocked Wintec Pro dressage) my horse developed two HUGE welts just behind the withers. The saddle was fitted and flocked recently, but it looks like there was an enormous amount of pressure in the vicinity of the gullet points (it was about a five or so hour ride in the mountains). I have NEVER seen this happen before -- they looked like big hives about two inches across, but very hard and swollen. I am horrified (have already gone through three saddle fitters) and wondered if you had any ideas or could do any consultation?

saddlefitter said...

If the saddle was recently flocked, that could be the cause ... or, if your horse isn't used to really long trail rides, that might be the culprit, too. If you'd like to send photos, I'd be happy to take a look, but keep in mind that this sort of thing really needs a hands-on evaluation. Without being able to feel for pressure under the saddle, the best I can do is theorize, but I'm happy to offer whatever help I can.

saddlefitter said...

Sara - I think you've just given me the topic for my next post. Thanks!

Sally said...

so glad i found your blog, fasinating insight into a real craft, loooking forward to following

knutemor said...

haha, yet another post that had my face do that thing that has my six-year-old ask: "Mommy, why do you smile with just half your mouth?" I don't even believe that those FaboulousName saddles are all that custom made. (I'm that Thinker-gal, by the way.)