Tuesday, 7 September 2010

I'm Back!! Part Three..Search For A New Saddle And A Rare Treasure is Found!

After the Area 12 show, I got to thinking about the judge's comments about how the saddle was pinching Hattie a bit at the withers and shoulders and just general fit issues that I had been having with it.

Although Hattie is a Thoroughbred with decent withers to hold a side saddle in place, she is not such a straightforward fit when it comes to saddles (or bridles for that matter!). She's built slightly downhill, has a wide barrel and a forward girth groove all of which pushes a saddle forward.

I solved this problem with my close contact saddle by finding a brand which has a very forward billet strap placement. Classic Saddlery, the UK manufacturer that makes the Ashland saddles for Northrun Saddlery in the USA, literally has them placed right beside the tree points so this model of saddle suited Hattie as well as having my saddler put a point strap on the ends of the tree points for maximum set. I also find a saddle with flattish panels, also helps to keep the saddle in place rather than the "banana" shaped panels that Bates and Wintec saddles tend to have.

With my side saddle, because it was custom made for a horse nearly 100 years ago, the billet straps on it were placed VERY far back to suit the conformation of that particular horse.

You can see in the photo how far back the billet straps were. Adding the point strap to the off-side did help to keep the saddle in place but the saddle was never a 100% fit for Hattie or me so the difficult decision was made to sell my beloved saddle!

A dealer ended up buying it and then promptly put it on Ebay (I had hoped it would have sold to someone who would have appreciated it!) but at least I now had a good sum of money to put towards a new saddle.

I put off looking for a new saddle until we got back from Canada at the beginning of August as I was unsure of whether to get another antique saddle or go for a new custom one. Finding an antique saddle to fit awkward Hattie AND me would be like finding a needle in a haystack and a custom one would probably be WAY out of my budget. The Side Saddle Association National Show at Addington Manor was going to be on August 6-8 and and thought that would be the perfect place to go saddle shopping and to speak to the various side saddlers to see what they charged to make me a new one.

Armed with money, a credit card and a cheque book, my ever suffering husband drove me the 60 miles to the National Show. Talk about a side saddle shopping dream!

Most of the major side saddlers were there selling everything side saddle related that you could ever want. Laura Dempsey, Susan Slade, Mike Huline-Dickens, Side Saddles, Field and Country Antiques were just some of the side saddler vendors at the show (there were more but they don't have websites unfortunately).

There were some weird and wonderful saddles and lovely habits for sale. There was even a lady from the Netherlands named Charlotte Specken, who specializes in beautiful aprons with matching waistcoats for TALL riders (in all waist sizes from petite to plus sized) along with side saddle accessories like safety stirrups, etc. My favorite was a khaki apron which fitted me perfectly for a reasonable £125 which I would have bought had I not had to save my money for a new saddle! She does not have a website yet (she said that it was in the works) but I have her email address if anyone would like to contact her. When I save up some extra cash, I'm going to order the khaki one as at 5'9", finding an apron that is long enough for me is hard.

Unfortunately, I didn't get to take any photos at the show as I was busy shopping and we kept getting sudden showers!

I had taken a wither tracing of Hattie but there was only a few saddles there that fit Hattie and only two out of those that would have fit me! Both were Owens in a medium/wide fit with forward placed billet straps AND point straps. The first Owen was a 17" seat and strangely, the second one had a 16 1/2" seat (both UK measurements) and that fit me too! Both were VERY comfy but unfortunately both were WAY, WAY out of my price range. I found the second Owen to be a bit overpriced as the tree has spitting at the front under the gullet, the seat was very worn and had repairs (and needed additional repairs!) and all the billet straps needed replacing. The saddler thought the owner priced rather high too but since it was a consignment item, she wasn't able to lower the price to what she would have sold it for herself, taking into account all the repairs it needed (which would have been nearly £1000 worth of repairs). The price the saddler said she would have sold it for, had it been hers, was MUCH MUCH lower than what the owner wanted so I left it.

Then I went to the last saddler on the aisle and bought some hairnets which match my red hair for 20p each(!!), some absorbent hatband liners for £2 for my bowler and my top hat and looked through their double rack of saddles for anything suitable.

They had a Victorian child's pilch side saddle with all fancy stitching on it and a slipper stirrup. The front of the saddle came off as did the leaping head if a boy wanted to ride on it and then it could be turned back into a side saddle for his sister! I wish I had taken a photo but it looked similar to this one here but with a slipper stirrup and a little leaping head:

There was also a very rare Millennium synthetic side saddle for a child there as well, looked like it would fit a wide pony. Millennium side saddles were made in limited numbers by the UK saddle manufacturer Thorowgood. They were supposed to be an affordable alternative to a leather side saddle but Thorowgood stopped production due to manufacturing problems and the high cost involved of making a side saddle!

It was the first time I had seen a Millennium side saddle in person, it was VERY lightweight and seemed to be very well made. It had a normal stirrup bar so a safety iron would have to be used. This photo is the only other example I have seen of the Millennium side saddle:

Then beside the Millennium side saddle, I saw this RARE treasure and nearly fainted!

It was an OFF-SIDE side saddle!!


  1. I feel a bit weird commenting as I know very little about sidesaddles and have never ridden in one. However, having read about how hard it is to find one that fits both my horse and myself I have decided that when I do get a horse that can be ridden sidesaddle, that I will definitely have my saddle custom made. An older one in good condition costs so much, that it is financially viable to have one made.

  2. You can find antique or vintage side saddles that are a reasonable price in a variety of sizes but the problem is if you have an awkward shaped horse. If Hattie had been a gelding with a narrower barrel(she has a typical mare shape with a wide barrel which although fine to accommodate a foal inside her, doesn't help in saddle fit!) or wasn't built slightly downhill, I'd have an easier time finding a saddle to fit.

    If your horse has a "normal" conformation, not extremely wide like a cob and decent withers and your not very, very tall (like say 6' or more), then you'll probably be able to find a vintage saddle to fit.

    I'm 5'9" and there are plenty of saddles out there that are fine for my height and Hattie is a medium to medium/wide fit so not too hard a saddle width to find, but it's mainly the billet strap placement that is the tricky thing. Alot of saddles just don't have them far enough forward for her.

  3. It's been more than twenty years since I had a horse with 'normal' conformation. Even my sprinting bred TB doesn't suit a normal tree. He's now retired and as a confirmed rearer, never was suitable for sidesaddle. I guess that I have taken it for granted that my next horse won't suit a normal tree either. I also live in Australia and a custom made saddle really is about the same price as a good vintage saddle. Strange but true. I wish you luck in finding a saddle and look forward to reading about it.

  4. I heard that good vintage saddles can be hard to find in Australia so then it may be worth getting a custom one then. Here in the UK, it's not so bad as you can get a nice vintage one for less than what you would pay for a custom. Unfortunately, the person who put that Owen on consignment that I liked, was a bit over optimistic about pricing their saddle!