I’m starting to think that it would be easier to just make it a requirement that all of my horses are shaped exactly the same so that I never have to buy or fit saddles ever again. Isn’t saddle shopping everyone’s nightmare? On the surface it seems like it should be fun… shopping for a fancy nice horse item. But it’s not. It’s not at all. It’s $$$$$$ and a pain in the ass and there’s a lot of pressure to get it very right. So much anxiety. And then horses change shape and you have to do it again. Or you get another horse that doesn’t fit the same saddle. My palms get clammy just thinking about it.
All this to say that, naturally, Henry’s jump saddle does not fit Gemma or Presto. This isn’t news – Henry’s jump saddle has never come remotely close to fitting Presto. Henry is a curvaceous, shapely boy, and Presto is narrow and much flatter-backed with a higher wither. They’re polar opposites. That saddle has always rocked like crazy on him, it’s way too curvy and too wide. Even if you shim it as much as humanly possible, it’s so bad you can feel it moving when you post. Not workable in the least.
The good news is that Presto and Gemma are built much more similarly. They can definitely get away with sharing a saddle. Of course, that means Henry’s saddle doesn’t even come remotely close to fitting Gemma either. And aside from the fact that it doesn’t fit either of them, it’s also too big for me. Forty pounds ago it wasn’t so bad, but now there’s so much extra seat that I get pulled further back than I want to be so I feel like I’m constantly fighting to scoot forward and get my leg underneath me. On Henry it’s not so bad, he’s like riding a barrel so your leg just falls in one spot and that’s where it’s gonna be no matter what. On the others though… it’s awful. I legit can’t even sit the canter on either of them in it, I just slide right to the back and out goes my leg into the front. Part of that is how it fits the horses, part of it is the seat being way too big (I can legit fit almost two hands behind me), and part of it is that it’s 10 year old calf leather that is slick as snot.
Hillary really saved my ass (literally) by leaving her Voltaire here for me to borrow in the short term. Hers isn’t exactly the right fit for me but it’s lightyears better, and I can actually ride Gemma and Presto in it without being on the big time struggle bus. It fits both of them significantly better too – no rocking. But, ya know, she’s gonna need her saddle back at some point, so I knew this summer I’d have to figure something out, preferably sooner rather than later. I feel like a butthole putting miles on her saddle, even if she was nice enough (so freaking nice) to let me use it.
My original plan was to keep an eye out for one similar to Hillary’s but with a more forward cut flap. I’m kind of borderline between forward and extra forward, but if I shorten my stirrup much more at all, I end up with my knee on the block. At Kentucky I was able to sit in one that had the more forward flap and confirm that yep, that was the spec I needed. I got the contact number for the local Voltaire rep and was going to get in touch with them when I got settled here in Florida to see if they could find me a used one.
And then we saw the Arion saddles at Kentucky too. I’d been curious about them for a while, having first seen them on Instagram (whoever came up with this particular marketing strategy, give them a raise):
I’d been curious about Arion too because I’d heard that Jean Luc Devoucoux was designing and making them, and I loved Devoucoux before it was part of the CWD conglomerate.
Anyway, as I mentioned in the Kentucky recap, I was really impressed by the Arion saddles there. To me they kind of looked like a mix between the Devoucoux and the Voltaire, as far as the structure of the XC saddle went. The leather was nicer than I had expected (it’s definitely French) and the price point was a bit lower than the other comparable brands. They’re newer to the market, still trying to expand and compete with the big dogs… sometimes that’s a good thing, sometimes it’s not. I liked the saddles enough to ask for the contact info of the Florida rep, because I really wanted to ride in one.
Don’t get me wrong, I like the Voltaire a lot. Do I think it’s perfect for me? No. There are some things I don’t love. I like it enough to buy a used one for sure, and they definitely aren’t that difficult to find used, which is a bonus. But also, I just wanted to try the dang Arion. Curiosity killed the cat, and if I’m gonna be spending bank on a saddle then I want to buy the one I like most. When I went home and did some Googling and talked to people about the brand a lot of people had positive feedback.
When I looked up the rep, Luca, on facebook I saw that we had some mutual friends, and one in particular. I messaged her to ask about him (my general distrust of saddle reps runs DEEP) and she had nothing but good things to say about him. She and I have similar taste in people, so her opinion holds a lot of sway. I talked to him on the phone and texted back and forth with him a bit, and we set up a time for him to drive up from West Palm Beach with some saddles for me to try.
Of course while he was here I was so focused on what I was doing and our conversation that I completely forgot to ask Luca to take any video or pics when I was riding. Massive fail. He snapped one right as I was about to get off. This one was an 18 extra forward, and we both agreed that extra forward was right, but 17.5 would be better. I did sit in a 17 in another model but felt like it was just a wee bit too small. I want to be sat in the right balance point, but I don’t need a cantle up my butt, and especially on XC I want to have a little bit of room to move.
I did like the saddle a lot. It had a lot of the features I liked about my Devoucoux in the first place, but with the security I feel in the Voltaire. I do think it rides like kind of a mix of the two. Fit-wise it’s a lot more like the Voltaire, so it sat considerably better on my horses than the Devoucoux. The panel with a bit of extra shoulder room worked best for both. The demo was calf leather and I definitely did miss the buffalo of the Voltaire on Presto… he’s just got a lot of motion in his ocean and the buffalo definitely helps. I liked the balance of it a lot though, and something about the pommel/twist/seat was more comfortable for me than the Voltaire (which, TMI, for some reason makes my crotch go numb when I go on long hacks). I felt like I could sit in it, I felt like I could get up out of it and gallop, and I felt balanced. At one point I cantered over a cavaletti and Mina ran right in front of it, causing Presto to leap over it awkwardly sideways, and I still felt like I was easily able to stay in the middle of him.
So ya know, then we started talking price and options. Cue the sweating.
I got the quote, and then took the rest of the week to think about it. This is a big deal, I wanted to really consider all my options and not make a rash decision.
In the end though, Arion won out. I like Luca and so far the brand has given me nothing but a good impression. Ultimately we settled on the XC model in buffalo, regular length extra forward flap, a bit of a shoulder cut out on the panel, and dark blue piping. They were able to work with me a bit to help with the price. It’s still a lot, for sure. Especially to me. I have never ever in my entire life purchased a brand new saddle. Ever. Not in all my almost 39 years. Especially not a nice one. It makes my heart skip a few beats. But it would also be really nice to have something that actually fits my horses and myself and doesn’t have someone else’s use and abuse and damage, that could potentially last me a long time. Plus by the time all was said and done it ended up being not much more money than a used Voltaire would have been, so… here we are.
They said it’s taking about 5 weeks right now for custom, which seems impossibly fast to me, but I guess we’ll see. Perk of a smaller newer brand I suppose. Fingers crossed it goes uneventfully and it’s perfect and I love it. Until then if you need me I’ll be sweating a bunch of saddle-shaped bullets.