I may have jumped the gun just a little bit, but I bought a saddle!
Since our first few weeks at the new barn, Nautica and I spent about a month trying on different saddles we borrowed from various friends. From Countys to Circuits, Custom Saddlery to Stubbens, nothing seemed 100% quite right during the test rides. I had been riding Nautica in my Thoroughbred, Lacy’s HDR for our weekly lessons, which surprisingly for a “cheaper” saddle fit Lacy the best out of any brand. Nautica, not so much.
I learned a few things during my saddle test rides:
- Nautica is not nearly as narrow as he appears. And despite how he looks, he is DEEP through the chest. He already takes a 28″ girth! Lacy’s fat self only takes a 22″.
- Dressage trainers, or at least the ones I’ve encountered, like their horses nice and fat! Nautica was a decent weight to begin with, but would be liable to change in width over the next few months as his topline grows.
- For a 5’7 person, my femurs are ridiculously long. Finding a saddle with knee blocks in the right position and length would be a more difficult process than I had previously thought.
Knowing these things, I resolved to waiting until I had the funds available to custom-fit a saddle. That’s when we were encouraged to try a… wait for it… Wintec. Yes, I cringed too. It was a reluctant trial ride.
I will be the first to say I have never found a Wintec that I actually liked. The Wintec Isabell changed my mind. It was an older model Isabell but it did unfortunately include the CAIR panel system. I was just certain that Nautica–Nautica with the previously broken vertebra–would curl up and die under any saddle that claimed to be relying on air bags to support the weight of the rider. He didn’t. Nautica actually went better than he had in the expensive saddles. Not quite round (we are very far from even thinking about any concept of true roundness) but much more willing and fluid in his motion than any of the other saddle fits. It was strange to say the least.
Being the leather snob I am, my first thought was: Does this model come in a leather option? Fortunately, the Bates brand does carry the same exact model in various leather types. Unfortunately, it was nearly three times the price. Double unfortunate, since early the 2010s the Isabell model is only offered in the CAIR panel system. I was torn. After riding in a CAIR saddle, I don’t believe I would turn it down, however, if a flocked option did exist I would jump on that just for the ability to further customize the panel fit. I began my search for a nice, used Bates.
My current job is as a working student for an event barn and that does not leave much wiggle room for anything other than trying not to starve to death each month. It definitely does not support the idea of going into debt over a saddle. With the little savings fund I had, I went online to search for my “unicorn saddle”. I figured it would be a bit of long process due to my very specific list of requirements and sad, sad budget. I decided I would give myself around a month or two to find something I could settle on.
About a week in to my search I found it: THE saddle. It was newly listed on a consignment tack store website; a 2011, 17″ Bates Isabell in excellent condition and only mildly threatening to my budget. The best part: wool flocking! I thoroughly vetted the website, their trial conditions and return policy–I’m basically the FBI of used tack purchases–and snatched the saddle up.
Of course when it arrived the box looked like FedEx had beaten the hell out of it, but upon unpacking I found it was expertly packaged in layers of foam, more boxes and bubble wrap. The tree was 100% sound and the leather was as beautiful as shown in the pictures on the website! The test ride went fantastic, and I love that the gullet system and both sets of knee blocks were included (one less thing to worry about getting.)
I’ve already been riding in the saddle for about a week and love everything about it. It came with the medium-size gullet installed and, according to the fitting gauge, Nautica is currently a medium on the verge of going up to a medium-wide. I can’t believe my previously narrow, “string bean” horse is finally starting to fill out at age 12.
We are having a saddle fitter come out in the next month to look at the panel fit and see about possibly reflocking it. For some reason it seems like buying a saddle makes this whole Nautica-career-change thing “for real.” Here’s to one more step in the right direction for continuing Nautica’s education and making him an overall more versatile and more comfortable American Saddlebred horse.