Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Custom saddles -- are they worth it?

This brown dressage saddle, which I got used,
was custom made for someone.
Hi all, I just published an article for the equestrian consignment site Tackhunter.com. Here it is -- and check out the site and my article!

In the course my equestrian life, I've purchased numerous saddles that were custom fit. A saddle fitter came out, took measurements of me and my horse, asked me my preference for various options, and sent all this information to a company (along with a hefty payment). The theory is that the company w ouldsend back saddle designed to fit me, and my horse, perfectly. 

Well, maybe not!
Custom saddles may work for some folks--but for me, and many, many others I've spoken to -- it does not work that way. 

I've purchased two custom saddles, from reputable fitters and reputable/high-end companies. The saddles just didn't fit. The original fitters may or may not have been at fault -- after all the saddles were constructed with nothing but general measurements. Fitters who took the original measurements were obliging -- they made adjustments and spoke positively about the fit. But when I brought in independent fitters they indicated the saddles were not a good fit.  Ultimately I resold the custom saddles at a significant loss.  

I'm not alone in this experience -- many people have related similar stories. Experienced horse people advise me not to buy a saddle I can't try first.

 Gee, now that I write it, it sounds  kind of obvious doesn't it?

 Others may have had better luck, and I have seen good custom fits. My point is that it is a risk. I have never purchased a Schleese, but their procedure for evaluating a horse's back is sensible and impressive. Whether that translates into a better fitting saddle -- I don't know. 

When is custom a good idea?
There are times when a custom saddle may be the way to go -- if you have the money, and want a brown or orange leather saddle, colored piping or bling on the cantle, custom may be your best option. If you or your horse has unusual conformation, custom saddles can make a difference. It's worth pointing out, though, that you're still putting money up front for a product you haven't tried, and in my experience there are no refunds in the world of custom saddles. 

Here are a few things to think about before you go custom...
  • Expense. Custom saddles are expensive. After all, the saddle is custom, not mass produced. If you get the customizations you want, and the saddle fits your horse, then it may be worth it.
  • No try before you buy. While you can try a demo saddle, the demo is not going to have the same feel as a custom saddle (or why would you go to the expense?). 
  • Returns. Or not. The custom saddle is non-returnable. If it does not turn out to be your dream-saddle well, you'll be reliant on the fitter to help you make it work. 
  • Turnaround on order. Custom saddles from some manufacturers can take as long as six months to a year from the time of order to the time the saddle arrives. This was the case with a custom saddle I bought from Germany. My husband's morbid comment on this wait-time was "your horse could be dead by then." In that length of time, a horse can change shape, too. 
  •  Resale. The flip side of custom may be resale. Unless you happen to have customizations that will appeal to a lot of saddle buyers, your customizations may make it hard to sell.  The saddles with the ultra-long flap for long legs, or the special shoulder gussets for a peculiarly shaped wither, or the brown dressage saddle -- all of these things will narrow the audience of potential buyers.  I saw a used high-end saddle that had a 2" custom "groove" right down the middle of the seat (the original buyer had some kind of tailbone injury). Be thoughtful about customizations if you think you might be selling the saddle at some point.
  • Human error. Sometimes mistakes are made. Not all of them can be fixed.
  • The biggest risk -- your horse. Your horse won't know what you've spent, and won't pretend to like the saddle to spare your feelings. At the end of the day, the horse will have the final say, no matter how much the custom saddle should work. 

Years ago someone interviewed the Nike Corporation CEO. In an moment of candor, he admitted that his company was built on selling high-end shoes to amateurs that don't really need them. While I'm a buyer of high-end shoes, I suspect that this is largely true. Similarly, I think a lot of the marketing talk about saddles is just that -- marketing. We have money burning a hole in our pocket and want to give ourselves an edge -- and also to do the very best for our horses.

I'm not suggesting that custom saddles are never the way to go -- but don't do what I did, and assume that going custom is a sure path to a good fit. It just isn't.


  1. I just want to take a second to mention the Bliss of London saddles. All are custom made to your horse and to you if need be. The Loxely line is very affordable (my custom saddle cost me $3200). I tried a demo saddle and it was fine - gave me the same approximate feel. Took 4 weeks to be made and imported into the USA over HOLIDAY seasons (Christmas). It fit my horse like an absolute glove. Never have I seen a saddle fit him better. And I feel 100% secure and set in the saddle as well. Customer service is fantastic and they are willing to work with you. My 4* Event trainer loved my saddle so much (and was having so many problems with CWD), that she switched to Bliss of London and now has all of her saddles custom made by them (and has never had any problems!). The only thing that you've said here that definitely applies is the re-sale value! But I knew that going in and was willing to take that risk haha.

    I can understand that custom saddles can possibly be difficult, but luckily in my experience everything turned out perfect :)

  2. I personally think that unless you're a millionaire and can risk it, so not worth it. I've found rather nicely fitting saddle for a tenth of the cost of a custom!

  3. This was really interesting to know! Saddles and correct fittings are a maze for me, so this was very helpful. Best wishes.

    Mindfulness with Horses ~

  4. This has always been my take on custom saddles. Nice to hear someone else articulate WHY custom can be so expensive yet not as good.


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