hands exchanging dollars

Do fitters “Just want to sell saddles”?

Occasionally when I tell someone that their saddle doesn’t fit I get accused of “just saying that so I can sell them a saddle.” The truth is that I really don’t like telling people that their saddles don’t fit. I’d much rather make your saddle work for you and your horse and save you the time, money, and hassle of replacing it.

It would also generally be a lot better deal for me financially if I pretend your saddle fits, even if it doesn’t.

Here’s why:

hands exchanging dollars
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If your saddle is an irredeemably bad fit then I can generally spot it as soon as it’s placed on your horse, or even before. We don’t even make it as far as the ridden evaluation before I tell you it’s hopeless. Since the usual fee for a saddle fit evaluation includes a ridden evaluation, I don’t even get to charge you for the full saddle evaluation. My fee is $50.

If your saddle fits acceptably well, I can at least finish the evaluation, but most saddles are not a perfect fit when I first see them. There is generally some improvement that I can make by adjusting the flocking, though sometimes a tree adjustment is needed, or billets need to be replaced, or some other modification will make it work even better for either you or your horse or both. That boosts your bill to about $200, or more.

If I was just in it for the money, I would definitely say, “your saddle almost fits but I can make it better!”

“But,” you say, “wouldn’t you make even more money if I buy a new saddle?” Not necessarily. While the amount of your invoice would bee much higher, my profit may not be. Keep in mind that I have to pay for that saddle too! And I deduct my consultation fee from your price so I don’t get paid for

  • the hours I spend advising you on the purchase
  • the time spent working with the saddle makers on your behalf
  • the time spent calling and emailing the customs agent when your saddle gets flagged by the US Department of Agriculture because they thought the saddle tree was an actual live tree and so they are holding it at the border (true story)
  • the time spent with FedEx because whatever the reason of the day is
  • the time spent delivering the saddle to you
  • time or materials custom flocking the saddle on delivery
  • 0r for topping off the flocking 6 weeks later when it has settled

because all of that is included in the purchase price.

By the time you subtract my expenses and then divide the remainder by the time I invest, my hourly income is almost certainly less than if I fixed the saddle you have.

“But wait!” you say, “at least you know you will have all those hours of work to do, rather than having to attract business from other sources.” Nope, sorry, that doesn’t hold up either. I have consistently had more requests for appointments than I can possibly find time to grant. If your saddle fits and I can move on the next person then I can make more people and horses happy rather than spending hours sourcing a new saddle for you.

If you calculate in the amount of money I’ve had to invest in demo saddles so we can figure out which one suits you and your horse best, the time I have to spend managing that inventory, the expense of housing it, etc., a potentially losing situation for me becomes even worse. Just think for a minute about how much leather I have to condition…

There is also a mental/emotional cost to me. When I accept a saddle order for you, I feel an obligation to make sure I have done everything in my power to make sure that it’s the saddle of your dreams. I spend a lot of time analyzing options when you are not even around. By trying to make your buying experience as stress-fee as possible for you, I take on the stress myself, and then some.

So why do I tell people that their saddles don’t fit?

Because I have integrity so I tell the truth, because I’m not just in it for the money, because I have a conscience, and most of all because I need to be able to sleep at night. If I’ve approved for use a saddle that causes your horse pain, I would not be able to sleep at night. The reason I’m writing this essay now is that I’ve had too many people recently hear me say (in no uncertain terms and with detailed explanations), “your saddle doesn’t fit” and decide to use it anyway. THEIR horses are keeping me up at night. Those horses, and all horses, deserve better than to be ridden in a saddle that causes them pain, which, frankly, is abusive. Riding is NOT your right as a horse owner, but saving your horses needless pain IS your responsibility. Saddle fit is a welfare issue.

Why do I even sell saddles if it’s such a hassle for me?

Because I know that as awful as it is to hear that your saddle doesn’t fit, it’s worse if you are then left not knowing what to do about the situation. There are so many different kinds of saddles in the world, how are you to know which one, in which size, with which options is best for you? I can’t, in good conscience, leave you in that lurch. I want to help.

Last question for now:

What would make a saddle a hopeless fit?

One of the more heartbreaking things I encounter is when someone is just past the window of time when they could have returned their saddle, but they didn’t worry about having it checked sooner because “it’s an adjustable tree and it’s wool flocked so it can be made to fit any horse!” because, no, it absolutely cannot. If it’s too long for your horse it can’t be made shorter, if it’s too curvy or too straight, or the channel is too narrow are just a few of the possible scenarios that can make a saddle a hopeless fit for your horse. Please make your saddle fitting appointment before you buy the saddle, even if you are not planning to buy from me. I’ll be more than happy to advise you!

silhouette of person riding horse on body of water under yellow sunset
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Scooby Doo’s custom saddle

I’ve been far too busy working on your saddles to keep you updated on Scooby’s progress, but it’s been remarkable, and so much fun! It’s also been remarkable how many saddles he’s gone through. Why? Well, out of shape horses, and horses learning a new job in a new discipline often change a great deal as they develop. Scooby had the added challenge of having been malnourished in a previous home. The person I got him from in late 2019 had rescued him from a neglectful situation in which he was fed so little that his body condition was given a score of 2 on a 10 point scale, emaciated. When he came to live with me his body condition score was still only about a 3 and while his previous owner had fed him and attended to his feet, teeth, and all his medical needs, she did not work him and he was turned out in a flat field and so he didn’t gain muscle. His neck was thin, his hindquarters were actually concave where they should have been round, and he couldn’t even keep himself warm on a cold day! He had a lot of weight to put on and a lot of muscles to grow.

The above pictures were taken 6 months apart in 2020. His back is still swayed, and I expect it will always be, but everything else is so much rounder!

During his development he wore a Harry Dabbs Avant XL dressage saddle, then a Frank Baines Omni dressage, then a Harry Dabbs Pro jump, then a Harry Dabbs DJ jump, then an Omni again, then a Harry Dabbs Extra dressage, and then an Omni again! Depending on his stage of development he was in a medium, medium-wide, or even wide saddle (he wore Omnis in all 3 sizes)! Now, a full year later, Scooby is close to normal in terms of weight and muscle mass. And he’s outgrown his saddle again. This time, I don’t have anything in my collection that is quite right for him. This is the same situation that many of my clients find themselves in – needing to order a custom saddle.  So what did we do?

The Frank Baines Rococco was the closest to fitting him, and he works the most comfortably in it, however we need to make some changes. The demo saddle has a front gusset which pushes against his shoulder (pushing the saddle back), and a point billet which is great to prevent a saddle from sliding foward but we have the opposite problem. Scooby’s saddle tends to slide backward, therefore Scooby’s saddle will not have a front gusset or a point billet. For me, the Rococco is extremely comfortable, balanced, and secure, but the thigh block is at the wrong angle. It will be repositioned to match the angle of my thigh, and the flap will be made a bit longer. 

Since we are making a whole new saddle just for us, we may as well make it stand out, right? Frank Baines has so many decorative options it would be a shame not to at least entertain some possibilities… Scooby likes green, and he looks so handsome in it! I wouldn’t have considered a green saddle, but as I was leafing through the options, the one that jumped out at me was Krypton green. It’s shimmery like (depending on who you ask) Peacock feathers, mermaid scales, or dragon scales! I couldn’t resist. So we ordered Krypton green cantle insert with bottle green welting and back facing and deep green stitching (the very bottom one in the thread sample shown, the one that doesn’t even look green). The pictures don’t do it justice

Now I just have to hope that he won’t change too much before we have a chance to enjoy it! Scooby is still very much a work in progress and is just learning to engage his hindquarters and lift through his back and base of his neck so realistically this saddle will be available for someone else to enjoy before too long.