Saddle Shopping Adventures With Michelle

Saddle Shopping Adventures With Michelle

Reviewed by Michelle Drum

Come with me as we try to find a saddle to fit my broad shouldered home bred horse.

If you’ve read my other blog posts, I probably seem to have it together as an equestrian. I breed and produce my own show horses, I’ve worked as an equine veterinary technician, I now have a successful career managing e-commerce and marketing for The Farm House,  and I’ve got my finger on the pulse of all the newest up-and-coming gear in addition to having nearly every piece of tack and apparel right at my fingertips. But in reality – I’m an amateur just like most of you and struggle with the same amateur issues as everyone else.

I share a lot on social media about my horse Lego and me and our horse show adventures. For context, every other horse I’ve bred and brought up the ranks was a thoroughbred.  To look at them, you would never know. They look like warmbloods. Tall, big-boned, and well-balanced with great brains and a solid set of athletic skills.

When asked what breed my horse is people are often speechless when I respond with JC registered Thoroughbred. We jokingly refer to them as “Drumenburgs” around the farm.  – This goes someplace, I promise –  About 10 years ago, I got a fly in my tail to cross out my retired show hunter thoroughbred mare to a warmblood. After doing my research, I settled on the lovely Hanoverian stallion Escapade. He complimented my mares faults nicely – plus he had a high likely hood of throwing bay. ( Don’t judge. The color was not a top priority but a nice feature. After raising and showing three greys over the years, I was ready for a break!)

The outcome of this cross was Lego. He was dirt-colored (hooray for a bay!) and had all legs when he hit the ground.  We broke him at 4 – he was a late bloomer mentally, and he wasn’t ready for a job at 3, so we let him mature another year. I’m a huge fan of letting the horse tell me what they are ready for. 

We brought him a long slow, and I started jumping and showing him when he was a late 6-year-old. Don’t be fooled, the phrase “shamature” has never been affiliated with my name. I had lots of professional help with both lessons and the occasional month or two of boot camp with my trainer. All through his stages of training and growth, his mother and his half brothers’ Medium Wide Amerigo DJ fit him perfectly.  This was great because when I bought that saddle I swore I would have it buried with me, it was the first brand-new high-end saddle I’d ever had, and it made a world of difference.

Lego and I have worked our way up from local shows to rated shows. We started with the Low Adults, moving up to the Adult Amateur division, and finishing out his 9-year-old year in the 3’3” Amateur-Owner division. It was a lot of work to get there and I won’t pretend it was easy, He was the most different horse I’ve ever brought along that required me to learn a new skill set.  It was also a huge accomplishment for us as a team and a nice confidence boost to finish 2021 in the Amature Owner ring with good ribbons for our efforts.

Late last winter, Lego finally decided to stop growing taller and finally filled out – and boy, did he. The kid looks like someone stuck a straw in his mouth and blew him up like a balloon. My trainer typically winters in Florida, and with my job November – January are super busy pair that with daylight savings and my opportunities to ride pretty much evaporate until February.

  When I started legging him up for show season last February, I noticed he seemed a little crooked to the left when flatting him. One of the few thoroughbred traits he has- he plays ROUGH in the field.  So he tends to get regular adjustments throughout the year when we are competing. My chiro came out, adjusted him, and noticed a few bumps that looked like early rain rot to me. However, she noted how much he had filled out and wanted to see his saddle on him. It was quickly apparent that he’d outgrown the Amerigo, (Insert groan here). The gullet and the channel were clearly too narrow for him. His shoulders had really broadened out since the fall and Lego was going to need something different. 

My Chiro helped me take some tracings so I’d have an idea of what might work for him. I tried my old wide Prestige, a friends-wide Childeric, and another friends-wide CWD. Nothing seemed to fit just right. I work at a tack shop, so this shouldn’t be that hard. I’ll just try a few from work. 

Lego has always been a bit of a diva regarding his gear. On more than one occasion, I’ve gotten off mid-lesson to adjust my gear due to a wrinkle, strap, or flap that’s come loose and is annoying him. I should have known saddle shopping would be more of the same. After going through all the saddles – new and used at the store – including two saddles that were not even available to the public then, they were sample saddles from Europe. After a chat with Vicki, our resident saddle fitter, it became clear Lego needed a custom saddle.

Over the next few weeks, I took a few custom CWD saddles on trial from stores around the country. Our Tryon store manager, Dylan, used to be a CWD fitter so she helped me understand the panel codes. After three months of shopping, nothing was a solid fit on him. I considered having the regional CWD rep come and do a fitting on him until I tried a friend’s Voltaire on him. 

For the first time in a long time he was eager to move out from his shoulder and I found I wasn’t constantly pushing him to stay in front of my leg. I had a lesson in it and he about jumped out of his skin, clearly happy and more comfortable than he had been in a long time.  I wasn’t looking forward to ordering a custom saddle for my horse, but my husband was very supportive about it.

At that point, I was hardly riding since he was uncomfortable, the thought of showing was not even on the radar. I scheduled a fitting with the Voltaire rep. She was knowledgeable, and patient, and answered all of my questions. What really sold me on the Voltaire was that they can adjust the panels if he changes. He’ll always be a wide tree, but having the ability to adjust the panels and the 30-day trial policy made me more confident about making such a large purchase. 

I ordered the saddle in mid-June I went with grain leather and a medium-deep seat with a long forward flap. I was quoted an agonizing 12-week wait and I committed to accepting that he is just in light work until September. It was a long 12 weeks with a lot of flat work, trail rides, and grooming sessions. I’m one of these people who is not a big fan of lunging unless absolutely necessary.

Right on cue in early September I got a tracking number from Voltaire. I was nervous and excited to finally set some goals and start jumping again. But also slightly terrified – what if it doesn’t fit? What if he hates it? What if I hate it? Yeah, the panels can be adjusted and theres a 30 day trial period but STILL what if the wait was for nothing?!

All my fears were shoved aside when the box finally arrived. I ripped into it like a toddler at Christmas and left early from work to have my first ride in it. We did good flat workout, he was perfect, his lead changes were clean, he was happy to stay in front of my leg, didn’t fuss when I asked him for some lateral work. I expected it to be difficult to break in, but it was anything. I had my first lesson in it a few days later, Lego was thrilled to be jumping again and my trainer was super happy to see him in front of my leg without constantly getting after him.

My trainer and I were able to put a plan together for the Fall circuit at TIEC – A week of the Low Adults, and then on to the Adults hoping to finish out the circuit back in the A/O’s.   We don’t show every weekend, but we were champion one weekend and earned enough points the other two weekends that we were just a few points from circuit Champion in the Adults. 

Unfortunately, our last show of the season was to be our move up back to the Amateur Owners at 3’3”. We did the modified 3’3” on Friday with ribbons in both classes giving us both a huge confidence boost. However, the show was light and there were not enough riders to make a combined division for the weekend. Although we didn’t get to move up, my trainer thought it would be a great end to the season to try the National Derby instead.

Insert panic mode – I wonder where my stock tie is, OH WAIT, where is my shadbelly? I haven’t worn that in like 5 years? There was also a part of me that was exited at how far Lego and I have come since the Low Adults and if my trainer thinks team Lego is ready, let’s do it! If you follow us on social you know I’m a huge supporter of keeping it real when it comes to my equestrian endeavors.

No sugar coating it here, mistakes were made, big ones, and lessons were learned. But the light entries worked in my favor and we still managed to make the cut to the handy. We fixed most of our mistakes in the handy, and even moved up a spot and pinned 6th. we even made the cut for the handy round and pinned 6th place.  

As saddle searching goes, it could have been much worse. I would have preferred to have purchased something from work. Simply going up a tree size in the Amerigo would have been so much easier. But that simply was not in the cards for us. Many higher-end saddle brands want to sell direct to riders these days and no longer wish to be sold through tack shops. To me this makes shopping for a new saddle more difficult.

Naturally, a fitter for a specific brand likely works on commission and is going to encourage you to purchase the brand that employs them. Alternatively going through your local tack shop which sells many brands, I feel you are more likely to get a transparent opinion on fit. Luckily for me I have the right resources and the right people at my disposal. Trying so many different saddle brands and styles definitely made a huge difference in helping me determine which was the best for Lego and I. We are looking forward to moving back up in 2023 and maybe trying our hand at a few more National Hunter Derbys.

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1 comment

I am so happy that you found a fit with Voltaire. I just want to outline that there is no 30 day trial… if the saddle doesn’t fit regardless of fault, Voltaire will take the saddle back at a cost of 35%. It is in the contract. I just essentially lost $3K on a saddle due to the inability to size my horse correctly. And mind you-this horse is 18 so no issues with growth. Just want to make sure anyone looking at a custom option with Voltaire-you might get 30
Days but there is a cost….

Sarah Lisinski

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