Saddle shopping: endless, frustrating, overwhelming, expensive … or, fun, informational, affordable, and rewarding?
In brief, I have three saddle shopping tips: 1. do your research, 2. know your budget, and 3. ask for a trial. #1 is the most important to me, and I didn’t heed #3 this time around. The rest of this post is just me reasoning to myself that I did the right thing. Part II will be about saddle fit for Eli and me, and that post will have more pictures.
I’ve been lucky thus far with saddle shopping. I have owned 6 six saddles over the course of riding for *ahem* many years (forget the number, as it is in no way indicative of my level of knowledge–if you knew, you’d think I’d know more by now). The first three were bought new, the second three, used. My first saddle was a Crosby Prix de Nations, if you are trying to figure out how old I am. My 5th saddle has been by far my most favorite, but I failed to take care of it properly for a number of competition-free years and now it needs major work to get it back into good condition. I basically just wanted my saddle, but in better condition, and with knee pads. And maybe a slightly longer flap, but not any more forward.
My 5th saddle is a Bruno Delgrange from 1993-ish that I bought used in 1998. Or rather, my mom bought it for me. Thanks, Mom! I was at a horse show (miss you, A shows) with my horse at the time so I walked him over to the tack trailer, put the saddle on his back, and looked at the tack trailer proprietor for approval. The fit was good, the price was right, the sale was made. Pretty painless saddle shopping at an A show, where options abound, and there is no shortage of knowledgeable people to help you with fit, but my saddle shopping today relies heavily on the internet and the kindness of strangers.
I had narrowed my list of desires to a Bruno Delgrange PJ from the late 90s or early 2000s because I just knew it was what I wanted. I have sat in Antares, CWD, Devoucoux, Butet, and Delgrange, and the Delgrange is by far my favorite. The Delgrange PJs, especially the PJ Lites, have good balance, good channel clearance, trees that seem to fit medium-bodied TBs well, and they are seriously comfortable. With a fairly narrow twist, the Delgrange PJs do not cause my the hips pain I experience especially from the CWD and Antares saddles I have sat in. Squishy and grippy as a saddle may be, if the twist is too wide for me, it’s a deal-breaker. The width of the twist can have major effects on your position in the saddle, especially if your hips and the twist are not compatible, so don’t discount it. The newer PJs are not made by Delgrange, so those I ruled out right away.
Months ago, I started pricing used Delgrange saddles that appeared to be in a condition I found acceptable. I budgeted approximately 2 grand, give or take a few hundred. I started obsessing over 5 or 6 saddles that I found online via used tack dealers and eBay. I found 3 in particular that I was very interested in, two of which were listed with the same dealer and one was listed on the English Tack Trader facebook group and on eBay. I watched for weeks. My first choice went out on trial, and was sold … I started to realize I had better pull the trigger sooner, rather than later. Another saddle I had my eye on disappeared from ETT & eBay in a few weeks of me picking up on it. In some ways, this was good, because that meant the Delgrange saddles were coming available somewhat frequently, but selling quickly, confirming to me their value over a long period of time.
One saddle in particular caught my eye for the price–well below what similar saddles were going for, even in similar condition. In a moment of long-thought-out, well-planned, calculated impulsion, I bought the saddle, a final sale, no trial available. Only because the brand has resale value and this particular saddle was less than that, with no major blemishes, tears, or faults, I felt like I could buy it, try it, and if it absolutely didn’t work, I could sell it for what I paid for it and start all over.
Within days of the purchase, the saddle arrived. But rain and work mean I probably won’t try it on Eli until Saturday. Part II about fit & function is forthcoming, reliant heavily upon the weather and my work schedule, so perhaps late next week.
Last, the used bit I ordered from Redwood Tack also came. Shipping was fast, the bit is in fantastic condition (doesn’t even look used), and the price was beyond competitive. Just browsing through Redwood Tack’s inventory, I found a few other things I wouldn’t mind having! I may have found my new favorite tack shop.