Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Side Saddles!!

I got to test out my new acquisitions on Sunday and hacked out in my Whippy on Monday and today.

All in all, I am pleased with both saddles but both of them need some tweaking and fixing to make them perfect.

Let's start with the Whippy...

A REALLY nice looking saddle in show condition that looks like a Mayhew but not a Mayhew (thank goodness as Mayhew trees are totally the wrong shape for Hattie)!

I rode with the leaping head on the lower hole on Sunday and Monday as I could not budge it. It was comfortable but I find with the pommels spread so far apart, that I could not get my right leg back enough so that I ended up with my right leg nearly on Hattie's shoulder.

Ignore the poor photograph as my new camera takes blurry out of focus photos. My butt wasn't really hanging off the end of the saddle that much even with Hattie standing halfway up a hill! I don't know what was up with that photo with my bum but you can see I was unable to get my right leg back.

So armed with a screw driver, a butter knife and a pair of big pliers, I got that leaping head off and put it onto the top hole. MUCH more comfier with the leaping head set higher and I was able to get my seat more forward onto the saddle and bring my right leg back easily. When I rode out in it today, we had a canter along the grass verge, trotted through the 3' deep ford river and had a good time in it!

The saddle sits a little up hill as it was HEAVILY flocked up to fit a medium width horse but it does have a nice wide gullet channel between the panels which suits modern horses. The panels are completely covered in linen which is handy for cleaning. The flocking is completely lump free so I think it must have been recently reflocked before whoever decided to sell it.

I'm going to need some of the flocking taken out at the front to set it down a little bit. Not too much though as when I'm on the saddle, I can just get two fingers width between Hattie's withers and the saddle. The gullet is very wide though and measures 6" across the top. You can also see in the photo how far apart the arms of the tree are. No wonder it was so heavily flocked up to fit a medium horse but is good news for medium/wide Hattie though!

The saddle fits nice and level with a slight tilt to the right. I do not feel like the saddle is rolling at all when I ride in it and I feel very secure. When Hattie trots, I do not move at all in it even when she is doing her "race for home" trot when we are heading back. Josie laughed at me yesterday when we were trotting home as she said that she could see Hattie's speedy legs moving along but I was sitting there motionless!

The forward billets on the Whippy suit Hattie's conformation too and there is a handy off-side point strap too. The overgirth (which I generally find annoying), doesn't annoy me so much as it's set further forward than usual which suits Hattie. It also has a longer strap than normal which also suits her as since the buckle comes up higher than her shoulder, it does not rub so no need for a fiddly fleece girth cover.

I'll have to get the billets and the balance strap replaced for safety however.

So things that need doing to the Whippy:
1) Replace all billet straps and the balance strap.
2) Remove excess flocking.
3) Replace stretched out elastic on the convenience tab.
4) Have a hook cover sleeve made for the stirrup leather.

I only rode in my Swain on Sunday as it needs a bit more doing to it than the Whippy (despite it being a brand new saddle!) but is SO comfortable! The leather feels like butter and it feels like you are sitting in butter as the saddle was starting to mould to the shape of my legs and bum.

These photos were taken of the Swain after I rode around in the field in it, trotting and cantering on both reins. You can see the how on the flap, it was starting to mould to Hattie's and my shape. I LOVE the wide sweepy seat and how close the pommels are together, perfect in comfiness for me. It was like sitting in a big easy chair. I could get my right leg back easily as well.

The Whippy made me sit proper in a show ring seat but the sweepy seat vintage tree that the Swain was built on, was built for long distance comfort riding. I think my body was made for Victorian saddles.

I had to use my new thick red fleece numnah with the Swain as it is a wide fit tree and it came down onto Hattie's withers when I was riding in it. Before I got on, I could get two fingers between Hattie's withers and the saddle but after, I could not get any in. I also tried it on my friend's 15hh chunky Shire cross cob type horse who takes the red wide gullet in Wintec saddles and this fit him perfectly. The actual gullet width is about the same as the Whippy so I reckon with proper flocking up, we can get it to a medium/wide. Josie suggested that I get it fitted when Hattie is at her fattest time of year from June to early November and save it as her "fat" saddle. This wise 13 year old said that with Hattie's conformation, I may need "seasonal tack".

Although the tree is a vintage one from c. 1900 which was salvaged and refurbished by Barry Swain, the actual saddle had never been ridden in prior to me riding in it on Sunday so the flocking is all new inside as well (the panels are serge with no linen covering). Because it is essentially a new saddle and was never fitted to a particular horse, the flocking packed down quick when I was riding in it. The left side dropped down a bit and will need building up.

Although it is a Swain saddle, it was not made entirely by Barry Swain but by one of his employees. He did tell me which one of his employees made it but the name escapes me now. All I know it was a male name! I wonder if it was made as a apprentice piece or as a display saddle for trade shows, etc which would explain the peculiar little short billet straps it has.

I REALLY do not like these little billets as they only have 3 holes on each strap and because they are so short, with my arthritic hands, I cannot get enough leverage to do them up. They are too short for my three buckle Owen girth and too long for my Rob Jenkins girth. In the end, I had to use some girth extenders with my three buckle girth but didn't have a third extender for the last buckle.

The overgirth is also too short for Hattie and Josie could barely do it up on the first hole when I was mounted.

I love the Swain but the things that need doing to it are:
1) New longer billet straps.
2) Longer over girth strap (my saddler may be able to splice a matching extension onto the buckle end).
3) Needs to be flocked up.

We'll get there in the end!!


  1. The couple Swaines I've seen all have short billets, but more than 3 holes! Wonder why this one is so little.

    Still trying to decide if the feeling of riding in butter is good. :)

  2. There are 4 on the nearside billets but the 4th ones are up to high that I can't buckle the girth onto them. On the off-side ones, they are actually stitched over the 4th holes. The offside panel is tiny though underneath the flap so maybe they did the billets to match the length of the panel.

    Butter is lovely, especially for my hip, lol!

  3. My (Jeannie's) Swain has short billets, and they are also difficult to fasten. That saddle of yours really does have quite a sweepy seat. Of course, this means you need to get a new black dressage bridle, black girths, etc...MORE shopping!

  4. LOL, I know!! The annoying thing is that I used to have a black three fold girth too. It was a beautiful Jeffries one but I sold it last year as I thought that I'd never have a side saddle to match it!!

  5. I am coveting that black saddle! I think I need multiple saddles. I'm addicted!

    All of us are finding it necessary to defend our bums! LOL! I am launching a theory that the important point is where your seat bones land, and I'm campaigning to have all existing texts changed to that effect.

  6. LOl, I know Brita!! As long as your seat bones don't come off the back of the saddle then who cares if blubber does. I'm a big supporter of that theory.

  7. As one who is also self padded, I like the theory that it just serves to better distribute the weight on the horse's back!

  8. I would give several vital body parts to have the resources to obtain side saddles with such ease. No one around here has even SEEN one, much less ridden in one. If you go into a tack shop and ask, they look at you like you are nuts.