Just like how a race car’s driver seat is the place where a driver may get his head in the game and his eyes on the road, the saddle is the seat where an equestrian sits just moments before the start of an arduous practice session, or a perfectly executed show jump. This equestrian “throne” is typically custom-made for each horse. In fact, custom-made saddles rule the equestrian world, where sizing and fitting are top priority. Made to precise measurements with the highest craftsmanship, saddle makers and fitters build with the utmost comfort, durability and performance in mind so riders can excel in every movement. And, so horses can be most comfortable while winning all those ribbons!
Because horses put in significant work while they prepare for competition, their backs need to be protected. While mounting blocks help combat poor mounting techniques and curb physical injury to the horse, saddles are paramount in securing comfort for both horse and rider to ensure peak performance in the ring. Soft and supple, saddles are now made with high-quality leather that doesn’t require the rider to dedicate time and energy to break them in. Unlike a pair of stiff leather shoes that might take days or even weeks before you look forward to wearing them, a great saddle feels like you’ve owned it for years.
But what goes into making a great saddle? Describing the ins and outs of successful saddle making, Debbie Witty, Society of Master Saddlers of England Qualified Saddle Fitter and Owner of Trilogy Saddles, explains how saddle making is a precise and labor-intensive process. They start by using a topographical map of the horse in question and build a wellshaped “tree,” the skeleton of a saddle, to fit the horse. A well-fitted tree should sit close to a horse’s body and offer riders maximum balance, comfort and support. Patterns for each saddle’s parts are cut out, with each piece providing a template for consistency. The sections of the saddle, including the cantle, billets and stirrup straps are made by machine, and are then assembled and stitched by hand. The panels, which are designed to provide a cushion between the rider’s weight and horse’s back, are stitched to the saddle’s seat by hand.
Even after the best materials have been chosen, riders sometimes need a little extra care for their saddle. That’s where saddle fitters come in. Saddle fitters can manipulate saddles to a rider’s preference. They watch equestrians in action and listen to their feedback in order to perform bespoke adjustments that can make all the difference for both rider and horse. Of course, Trilogy Saddles has their own effective strategy for when it comes to their saddles, including designing a “well cushioned seat to lessen fatigue” for riders. They even provide stylistic add-ons like two-toned leather and colored piping.
All this work and effort comes at a cost though, as a first-rate saddle and all of its accessories might sell for around $5,000. But the investment is a lucrative one, ensuring that a rider’s time is devoted to focusing on the intricacies and fun of their practice, as opposed to dealing with the repercussions of an ill-fitting piece.
From novice riders to expert competitors, most horse lovers can agree that there is a subtle and classic beauty that is woven into the fabric of every custom saddle, seen through soft colors, patent finished inserts and the overall effort that goes into creating these equestrian works of art.
—By Lauren Teneriello