Monday, 25 January 2010

My Saddle

I have always wanted a side saddle ever since I was a little girl in the mid 1980's but it wasn't until January 2007 that I FINALLY was able to realize my dream and buy a RIDEABLE side saddle.

My saddle was found on Ebay and I ended up bidding and winning it within the last few minutes of the auction while my husband was on the phone to his sister: "Oh, Leila seems to have just bought a side saddle." There is nothing like an impulse buy!

After the fiasco with the broken antique side saddle I had bought previously, we ended up driving two hours to collect it just to make sure that the tree wasn't broken!

The saddle dates from the 1910's and is a Champion & Wilton copy. Local saddlers could order the trees from the big name makers and make their own side saddles on the tree. They were still every bit as well made as the "big name makers" (often having a few more luxury extras added to the saddles!) but would have cost less than ordering from the big names.

I'm the saddle's third owner as well! The lady who I bought the saddle from, told me how her father had bought it for her during the late 1960's when she was a teenager from an elderly lady (her husband had been a doctor), who was the original owner.

The seat size is 17 1/2" (measured the UK way from cutback to cantle) or 21 1/2" from the front of the fixed pommel to cantle. The lady who I bought the saddle off of was about my size and height (5'9" and about a UK size 14/ US 12) which leads me to believe that the original owner had been about my size as well in the 1910's as the seat length and the shape, curve and size of the pommels fits me perfectly.

My saddle needed work doing to it as it hadn't been ridden in since the early 1970's and was flocked up narrow. It fit a 14.1hh Arab that I rode at the time and I didn't really have the money to get the restoration work done until last year when I needed to have the saddle altered to fit my 15.3hh Thoroughbred instead!

I decided to have the old narrow panels taken off and a Wykham pad put on instead to make it wider and called Leo Alexander of Leo Wright Saddlery to do the work as he has always done an excellent job with my tack and is an experienced side saddler (that is my Hattie on his website advertising the Wykham pad!). The restoration work has been costly but I think it's been worth it.

Here are some before and after photos of my saddle...

When I first got my saddle, it was a shiny Newmarket tan color and had the original old linen and serge lined panels. The linen had yellowed and was becoming brittle, the serge had some moth holes.

Afterwards with LOTS of saddle soaping and oiling to restore the leather, the saddle has become a lovely mahogany brown color.

Off-side view showing the old yellowed panels,

And looking like a totally new saddle with the new sparkly white Wykham pad,

One of a "luxury extras" a local saddler could have afforded to add to his saddle whereas the "big name makers" would have omitted. It's a balance girth keeper on the over girth to prevent the balance girth from slipping backwards and becoming a bucking strap!

View of the old stained and moth holed panels flocked up to a narrow fitting,

The new Wykham pad made out of best quality felt and covered in English leather and Irish linen making the tree a generous medium/wide fitting now. Most Wykham pads are just made of plain felt but Leo Alexander made my pad to look like a traditional panel by covering it in linen and leather (which also makes it last longer). I still have the original panels incase I ever want them put back on if I get a narrow fitting horse.

Detail showing how the Wykham pad is slotted and strapped onto the saddle. The girth straps have also been replaced with new ones since the photo was taken.

Off side view of the Wykham pad attachments. I also had the over girth elastic flap strap replaced on this side along with the girth straps and balance girth strap.

And now, a saddle which the saddler said should last another 100 years!


  1. Beautiful saddle. I know little about horses and riding so I did not even know you needed a special saddle.

  2. That is neat! Your saddler did a fantastic job! I honestly couldn't tell that it was a wykham pad.

  3. Thanks guys for the comments on my saddle.

    Yup, for side saddle riding you do need those pommels to keep you on. I think the perception that alot people have that side saddle riding is unsafe, is that they think you just ride sideways on a normal saddle (probably because most people these days have never seen a side saddle). I don't think many people (even some horse people!) realize that you do need a special saddle.

    I'm glad I had the work done on my saddle as at the very least, it will be in good condition for the next generation of side saddle riders to use. I always hate to seeing beautiful old saddles rotting away uncared for!

    It would have been alot cheaper if my saddler just made a normal Wykham pad without the covering (so just your basic grey felt) but sometimes in the turnout classes, they mark you down so my saddler said it would be best to make the pad look like normal panels.