Thursday, October 15, 2015

My First Encounter with a Saddler

For those of you have have regular access to saddle fitters and leather repairs and tack stores, this post really isn't for you. Also I hate you a little bit. For the rest of us, here's a basic walk-through of the saddle fitting process.

I live in an area where horse keeping isn't THAT expensive because (fun fact!) we have lots of space and almost no amenities. So that's awesome. I've learned the mechanics of how a saddle should fit through trial, error, and picky horses, but I have never before had access to any sort of saddle-fit professional.
until now
Enter Adrienne Hendricks (using full name with permission and because it's part of her business name). I've seen her name bounce around a few times locally and knew she did minor leather repairs. Then I found out she was interning with a British-trained master saddler and did fittings and flockings and the like. I filed that information away, but since I've never had access to a saddle person, I didn't really know what to do with them.

And then Courage's sweat marks under his dressage saddle started changing. I'd never really liked them, but he wasn't complaining and the saddle seemed to be the holy grail that fit both of us. But they kept changing, which of course correlates with him developing as we do more and better dressage work.

And once you have the holy grail, it's in your best interests to try to keep it.

So I called Adrienne. (Or more like, sent a panicked facebook message, then got cold feet, then scheduled her, then almost canceled, then went ahead with it.) We set up my first-ever full-fledged saddle fitting.

First off: I was super happy with Adrienne--she's personable, she rides, and she was very professional. I hadn't met her before, but she put me at ease pretty quickly. She started by asking some questions about or level of work (low) and our history of saddle maintenance (none). Next. she carefully evaluated how my dressage saddle sat on Courage's back.
(you've all seen my horse with a saddle on before)
Then. Out came the saddle fitting curve! This is something I've read about online a lot, but it seemed a bit more complicated than what I was comfortable with on my own. And yeah, it was. She took three measurements of Courage's back (withers-ish, mid-back, and back back. I'm so technical!). There was a level attached to the curve to make sure all the measurements lined up and she transposed them all on to the same piece of paper.

She also used them to compare with the underside of my saddle, and we came away with this information:
1) Courage is pretty symmetrical in general and exhibits no particular back soreness.
Comment: Huzzah! I was right!
2) The only noticeable variation is that his right hind is clearly his weakest link--there is a bit of a corresponding hollow in his back.
Comment: Less pumped about being right about this.
3) My saddle actually fits him quite well.
4) The flocking in my saddle is a bit like roadkill on a country highway that's been left out for a whole winter. Like, still technically recognizable as a saddle, but hard, lumpy, and way dead.
not gonna lie, this was terrifying. RIP saddle.

We'd initially only planned on the fitting, and minor flocking adjustments, but there was no denying what needed to be done. There was also no denying that my checking account would in no way accommodate my crazy new plan to just DO IT ALL NOW. I have a long, tragic history of beating that poor account with a stick, so we rolled with it. I told Adrienne to take the saddle home and do the full reflock.

She felt really bad about how that was substantially more money than I was planning on spending, tried to talk me out of it because she wasn't trying to take advantage of me, and then offered to throw in a free dye job on the saddle, so it would be beautiful. Not saying no to that.

I also got to go to her workshop and watch some of the work being done, which was fascinating. I'd never seen a deconstructed saddle before. Fun fact:
this is the saddle
these are the panels
They come apart in two totally different pieces. This is also why lots of saddle people think half pads are silly--if your saddle has decent flocking, you basically have the world's best half pad sewn on to the bottom of your saddle.

That's pretty cool.

In a couple of days, I had my saddle back. I could feel the difference in the panels IMMEDIATELY. They're always been hard and lumpy, and now they were squishy and soft and even and comfy. I can definitely see how Courage will be more comfortable with them. The dye job was lovely and even and made the saddle look brand new, and she'd made a couple minor repairs to the stitching and d rings.

I love it.

It's like having a brand new saddle, only without all that buy/sell hassle.
before--greying out everywhere

after--gleaming, beautiful black
 I've had my saddle back for several weeks now, and I really couldn't be happier. It fits great, Courage goes great, it looks great. I can ride with confidence because I know Courage isn't in pain at all. We do have a plan to meet up again in a couple months and re-evaluate the flocking as it settles, which is a normal part of the saddle-maintenance routine.

This may be my first time using a saddle-pro, but it definitely isn't the last. I'm thrilled with the possibilities. Let's face it--instead of the perennial saddle-shopping side show, I got to spend far less money with a much more satisfactory result. (And if you're local, definitely give Adrienne a call. Well worth the money, imho.)

If you're like me and had never been around the process before, this is a little bit of what it looks like. If you've done something similar with your saddle, how does it compare?


  1. How cool. I had no idea you could take apart and put back together a saddle like that.

  2. i'm so glad you had such a positive experience - the saddle looks gorgeous with its new facelift!! i recently had a new fitter come out and she did the same tracings etc... but i don't quite have the same warm fuzzy feelings yet. she's supposed to come back tonight tho so we will see. probably will post tomorrow?

    idk in a way it's kinda nice to just have *one* professional in your area who does a thing. bc now that i'm working with a second, and learning that this one has an entirely different philosophy from the first, i'm kinda feeling like the man with two watches who is never quite sure of the time... ugh lol

    1. It's nice to have one if your horse agrees with the one.

  3. Very cool!! Work has a big saddle repair area (although the saddler is usually on the road with the dressage trailer, not in the store) with lots of saddle parts just sitting around- it's fascinating to dig around back there and see how different parts fit together!

  4. That's really cool. I didn't realize saddle came apart like that. The Dye job looks great. Glad you're happy with it.

  5. Seeing the saddle torn apart was scary. I'd be like, "You can put it back... right?" I didn't know they came apart like that. I would have been a worrywart until I got it back!

    Glad it worked out for you guys! The dye job is beautiful!

    1. Oh, it was terrifying. Point of no return for sure.

  6. Ooo fancy!! I've had saddlefitters out before but never had a saddle completely redone like that, the pictures are so interesting!

  7. Woot so awesome, I cannot wait to do the same for my girls some day. Gotta set some pennies aside first to accommodate though #firstworldproblems

  8. Riding in an Ansur Excel--the dressage model with gullet, etc. No need for fitting. Love it.

    Do have a friend here on the East Coast who is an excellent saddle fitter/flocker, however, She's helped a lot of horses.

    "Back in the day" we never worried about saddle fit for the horse. If it fit us, it was great. Times and understanding have changed for the better. So glad Courage has a wise "mother" who knows how to treat him.

    1. Where on the East Coast? I'm new to central Jersey and may be in need of someone in the near future. I have qualms about choosing a fitter and other "professionals", though, because in the past I've had some negative experiences and all it's done is drain my bank account (like the previous poster, I have often felt like the "man with two watches...")

  9. Thanks for this post! I'm glad your experience was so awesome :) I've been deliberating about having a fitter out. Now that I have a saddle that is worth the money to really keep up, I would like to see if I can get it refitted to Charlie's back...that is, once I finish paying it off lol

  10. Super cool! Love the photos - thanks for sharing!

  11. I should probably have mine reflocked. All of them.

    If getting one saddle done is like taking a steel toed boot and kicking the checkbook in the crotch as hard as you can....

    I have 3- 1 dressage and two close contact. Can I borrow your steel toed boots? Or would you rather do the honors???

    Your saddle is gorgeous BTW

  12. Ha, snap! We recently had our first ever saddle fitting. Like you, periods of panic and "OMG what if she tells me this saddle is crap and I have to get a new one" followed by her telling me the fit is pretty good (phew) but the flocking is hard and lumpy, followed by some minor restuffing and her whacking my saddle with a rubber mallet! This has all been followed by some of the BEST dressage rides we have ever had. I was previously very "meh" about saddle fit (and like you we live in an area where access to a fitter isn't easy) but now I am a convert. I didn't get a free dye job though!

  13. Great post! I've had a saddle fitting and flocking, but not as in depth as yours. Never knew a saddle could be dyed...


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