Friday, August 22, 2014

Shopping for an endurance saddle

I had originally planned to buy an endurance saddle after our first endurance ride, so I had some level of assurance that my investment would be warranted.  However, my first ride was supposed to be in April, but because of weather-related conditioning problems, I opted to volunteer instead of to ride.  It wasn't long after the OD No Frills ride that I decided I really needed to upgrade my saddle.  The Thornhill Germania Klasse dressage saddle that I've been riding in has been working OK, but I feel really insecure on steep downhill grades.  Plus, Nimo's new level of fitness means that the saddle doesn't fit him as well as it used to.

I know there are a lot of different saddles that people use for endurance riding, including even dressage and jumping saddles, but I really wanted to get something that was a fairly typical "endurance" model.  I wanted to make sure that the saddle offered more security for me and would fit Nimo well.  Here are the saddles that made my long list, in no particular order:

Tucker Endurance Saddle - I've talked to a lot of trail riders who love their Tucker saddles and claim they are the most comfortable they've ever ridden in.  I sat in one that I found in a local tack store and found it to be uncomfortable as all hell, but it was a western model, and I thought maybe the endurance model would be better.  The base price on this saddle is $1550, which put it at the lower end of the spectrum.  Tucker also offers a few other models, but based on my research, the newer (Gen II) models don't have as much rock (or arch) in them, so because Nimo's back tends to have more arch than is typical, I wanted to focus on the older style.  The weight of the saddle concerns me a bit, because it comes in at 23 pounds, which is not as much as some western saddles, but probably close to twice as much as my current saddle.  This is a fixed tree saddle (although there are several options to choose from) and as far as I can tell, there is no adjustability for the stirrup position.  Also, I couldn't find a specific saddle trial policy - my guess is that it is the policy of whatever dealer you buy the saddle from, which is most likely going to be that you can return the saddle within a week, but it must be in brand new condition.

Specialized Eurolight - This brand is one I've heard mentioned pretty frequently in endurance circles.  I really like all the options for customization (leather color, stirrup leather type, tooling, hardware, seat leather and color) and the base price of $1595 keeps it in the more affordable range.  The saddle comes in a standard tree width and a wide tree width and you use shims and different width panels to customize the fit to your horse's back.  The shims and panels can be re-adjusted at will if your horse's back changes.  There are three stirrup positions.  The weight on the saddle is 13 pounds, which is pretty comparable to my current saddle.  But the best thing about this saddle is the policy of paying $1250 for a full 10-day, ride-in-it-like-you-really-ride trial.  The downside is that if you end up liking the saddle, you have to wait several weeks to get your new saddle, although it is possible to buy the trial saddle.

Synergist Endurance Saddle - What I really like about this saddle is the EQUImeasure Kit idea.  You basically make a cast out of your horse's back that can then be used to custom fit or custom make a saddle tree for your horse.  This feature definitely bumps up the price of the saddle, though.  The base price for the saddle is $2595.  The weight of the saddle is about 19 pounds and there are quite a few options, including pommel type, cantle height, seat material, skirt type, fender type, and rigging type.  I couldn't tell if there was an option for adjustable stirrup position, but my guess is no because it is a western-type tree.  There obviously isn't a test ride program, because each saddle is custom-made.

Wintec Pro Endurance Saddle - I've had positive experiences with Wintec saddles in the past, so when I discovered that there was an endurance saddle available, I was pretty interested, especially with a price of just over $1000.  I like the adjustable gullet system and the option for wool-flocked or CAIR panels (basically air-filled sacks that either seem to inspire great love or great hatred).  I also really like the non-leather fabric the saddle is made of.  It seems like it would add extra grippiness and handle getting rained on much better than leather.  (It seems like I end up riding in a downpour 2-3 times a month during the summer.)  The saddle has an adjustable girth system as well as 3 different stirrup positions.  While I couldn't find a specific weight for the saddle, my expectation is that it is pretty light because of the synthetic material it is made of.  And, I found that SmartPak offers a test ride program for this saddle.  I couldn't find the length of time you get to ride in the saddle, but it is a true saddle trial where you can actually ride in the saddle and the saddle ships free and has free return shipping as well.

Boz Saddle - I've met a couple of endurance riders who use this saddle.  They seemed to like it with the exception that the stirrups were placed a little too far forward.  If you have the time, you can read through some of the material on the website that explains why the stirrups are placed that far forward (basically it has to do with the fact that Mr. Boz believes the rider should ride as close to the horse's shoulders as possible for maximum efficiency - much like how saddle bronc riders ride).  The saddle has a flexible tree, but it was hard for me to find information about how this tree is supposed to fit my wide horse, except that it flexes. Also, the price was difficult to pin down.  It looks like it ranges up to $3000 plus for some models, but there is a kit option that starts at $1195 where you can assemble the saddle yourself for a discount.  The problem with the kit is that the website reports an 8-12 week wait, although I'm assuming there would be a similar wait for an actual saddle too.  And there doesn't appear to be a saddle trial policy or a return policy if the saddle doesn't fit.

Stonewall Endurance Saddle - I came across the website for these saddles long ago and for some reason, they appealed to me.  The price isn't too bad - about $1630 - although it can go up for custom options.  The tree is custom fit to your horse based on measurements that you send in, but it isn't necessarily easily adjustable from that point on.  The saddle is light, weighing in at about 13 pounds.  The big advantage to this saddle appears to be the ability to adjust the rigging.  But it doesn't look like there is an option for adjustable stirrup positions, and a demo program isn't always available, although the website says there might be something available.  There aren't really any details about how it would work, though.

Reactor Panel Heraldic Lightweight Endurance Saddle - I've been coveting a Reactor Panel saddle for many, many years, but the price always drove me away.  However, I discovered that they have an endurance model that starts at $2500, which is not exactly cheap unless it is compared to the dressage saddles, which can cost over $4000.  The saddle has a ton of customization options, including adjustable stirrup bars, leather type and color, seat leather, hardware, pinstriping, and even beta stirrup leathers.  Plus, the saddle is light at 12 pounds.  The big attraction to this saddle is that the tree is selected based on your horse's measurements, but there is additional adjustability with panels that float below the saddle and are connected with round disks.  The disks are available in different heights and widths and maybe even shapes and allow fitting a horse with asymmetry.  What I most love is the saddle trial policy.  You literally cannot buy a saddle without trying it first.  You basically tell the company exactly what you want, and they ship it to you, often the same day, and YOU DON'T PAY ANYTHING EXCEPT SHIPPING.  That's right, you can order a $4000 brand new saddle to try for free and you get two whole weeks to ride in it.  If you don't like it, you send it back and get a different one or move on to your next saddle brand.  And, in the event funds are limited or you just need the saddle for a short time, there is a lease program for $50/wk or $200/month where the money goes to the purchase of the saddle if you later decide to keep it.

So there you have it.  My list of possible endurance saddle options.  To find out which ones made my short list and which one I actually bought, stay tuned...

5 comments:

  1. Good luck choosing! Saddle shopping is nearly as crazy and stressful as horse shopping.

    Is there a reason that the Orthoflex and Freeform didn't make your list? I hear good things about these saddles, though I've never ridden in either.

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    1. Melissa, the Freeform didn't make my list because it is a treeless saddle, and I'm just not quite ready to make that leap yet:) As for the Orthoflex, I think it was a bit of an oversight - the website doesn't have a lot of information about the saddle and I didn't really understand the flex bar concept until I did more research about Steele saddle trees, which I didn't find out about until I had already committed to a saddle. The Steele company actually sells their own saddles with their trees at: http://steelesaddle.com/ and offers a demo program too. If I had to do it again, I think this line of saddles might have made my short list, but alas, that's how life works!

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    2. I understand about not being ready for treeless - it takes a leap of faith for sure. They also tend to move more than treed.

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  2. Tuckers are amazing to sit in but I've heard bad things about their fit on horses: the channel starts out wide at the front of the saddle over the withers and shoulders but narrows as it reaches the horse's loins, which often pinches them. And RPs...I LOVE their policy for buying their saddles! Didn't know about the payment plan option though. That's awesome! Gracie needed her own saddle that Charles could ride in and I was able to find a used Len Brown Ortho Flex Patriot (one of the original models known for better fit) online with a 14 day return policy and it fits her beautifully.

    Curious about which ones make the short list. You always research your options so well! Best of luck!

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    1. The Tucker is one that I would not recommend. It really does pinch over the loins and makes getting a good fit really hard. Even if your horse is stoic enough to handle the pinch, it can cause issues over time. (I've heard riders rave about the seat, but not have any idea about how it fit the horse.)

      The Specialized is awesome from a customization viewpoint, but after trying one I'm not convinced of the durability. Because it is so customizable, it also feels almost flimsy. I wasn't sold on spending that much on a saddle I wasn't sure would last ten years.

      As far as the Wintec goes, do not get the CAIR system. The panels are filled with square plastic inflatable boxes. In a back sensitive horse, this could cause issues (like rearing and bucking in a horse that does neither.)

      Good luck. Shopping for the right saddle sucks.

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