(Photos courtesy of A Bit on the Side Saddle)
I was very impressed with the nearside Melody that Sarah Parry's company offers after sitting in it at last year's Nationals and seeing the quality of workmanship and materials, the affordable price and the fact that her trees are based on a Mayhew design rather than the Alton & Butler draft size proportioned Owen-style tree which doesn't suit or fit Hattie at all, I decided to take the plunge and order the off-side Megan.
Well, I am SO GLAD that I did as the saddle is beautiful and more importantly, it fits Hattie and she loves it.
This is the first English-style off-side side saddle that has been made in a VERY long time, probably since the Golden Age of side saddles during the first part of the 20th century. There are new off-side Western side saddles available made by Steele in the USA and Tattersalls Side Saddles in Canada as well as Lillian Chaudhary in the USA, who has made a new offside western saddle on a antique off-side Western tree, but there are no makers of English style side saddles in the world who have made an off-side side saddle in modern times (child reversible pilches excluded). Sarah was able to do this as she is an experienced designer of equestrian products and has worked for many of the big name companies, rides side saddle so understands why and what needs to be done and has a tree maker who is keen to make them!
I am very privileged to own the first 21th century made English-style off-side side saddle.
I was so scared when I first put it on her back that it wouldn't fit and then saw it did- perfectly. Then I thought that it was too good to be true and so was scared that she would hate it when I got on and would start bucking at the trot like she usually does when she hates something- and then she didn't. Then I REALLY thought it was too good to be true became scared that it should shoot forward the canter- it didn't.
I have never ridden in a saddle before that has allowed her to use her back so much except for one dressage saddle, the Albion SLK. I wanted a wide gullet channel in my saddle and panels with a wide surface bearing area, just like the expensive dressage saddles. Her trot was A LOT more active and bouncier and her canter transitions bang on and quick off the mark. I'm going to have to learn correctly all over again as her action was more active across the back and bouncier!!! Her canter was more uphill and rolling, I could feel her back underneath the saddle and I liked it- so did she! As soon as I twitched my bum cheek and lifted the inside rein, she was off at a canter. The saddle didn't slip forward and cleared her spine and also the bump on her withers created by the Manorgrove saddle I used to own. I am looking VERY forward to showing and jumping, even hunting in my new saddle!
Here I am just letting Hattie go, not trying to work in an outline or anything but just seeing how she is reacting to the saddle. She was going for it down the long side of the school and if there hadn't been a fence and a brick wall, she would have kept on going.
Sarah riding more sensibly in my saddle. She had not ridden Hattie since last January and that was just at a walk on my nearside Whippy as she was going to get a knee operation. You can see how well Hattie is schooling- not behind the bit, using her back and a nice active trot.
Oh, and have you noticed the little handkerchief pocket? It fits my Blackberry perfectly ;-)
The flocking started to bed down as it's proper real wool so I called my saddler today and he is coming out next Monday to adjust the flocking but I just couldn't believe all these years with battling with saddles, how Hattie went in her new Megan. When I told Roger how she went in the saddle, he sounded very pleased as he's been through all the saddle fit problems with us!
The tree fits her conformation perfectly too, no bridging, nice and wide at the head to clear the fatness of her withers and it was made narrow enough at the shoulders for her. The tree size that Sarah sized her for was a Medium BUT also created to template due to Hattie's particular fit issues. 3-D tracings were done of her back so that her tree maker could fit her fat high withers and flare down for her narrow shoulders.
My saddler also made some suggestions to Sarah on what Hattie needs on a saddle and I even got point straps on my saddle. The wide triangular doeskin covered pommels were perfect for my legs (I have the leaping head on the bottom socket, I've not had a chance to try the top socket yet) and I had the seat made "sweepy" as I'm not keen on a perfectly flat seat. I find that a sweepy seat gives me more purchase with my thigh and gives somewhere for my "ample" bum to go. I've found with flat-as-a-pancake seats, that it feels like I'm constantly having to "reach" with my thigh to keep my position on the saddle.
The panels are made from English made serge, no linen yet as the flocking needs about a year to bed down properly in any new side saddle but I am not sure that I will ever get linen put on as Hattie has always preferred serge on her back. It's warmer and softer as well as offering more grip on the back. Handy for horses whose saddles slide forward like you-know-who! I also like how slim fit and streamlined the panels are. I wanted them wide and flared for weight distribution but they are not bulky and bloated like my Manorgove was and how a lot of saddles are. With these slim panels, I can really feel Hattie's movement and the wideness of the panels, does not create any pressure points. It's kind of like how a wykham distributes the weight of the rider of a larger surface area which explains why Hattie has always seemed to prefer a wykham type pad.
Because it's an off-side, Sarah had to have special off-side opening Mayhew safety stirrup bars cast and she does sell these separately for people who have old roller bar saddles that they want to convert. You just use a normal Mayhew leather with them which I also ordered from Sarah so that it would match my saddle and the fact that I no longer had my old Mayhew stirrup leather. I also got a brand spanking new off-side cover as well as my other saddles had hogged all the covers.
The leather is exquisite- high quality leather is sourced from tanneries in Europe and smells and feels just like those expensive European jumping and dressage saddles! It is NOT made from that horrible stiff "cardboard" leather that kind of smells like wee and it feels smooth like butter. I'll never own one of those saddles but it tickles me pink to have a side saddle made from the same type of lovely smelling leather!! I can't stop sniffing my saddle!!!
For fun, I put my 2014 saddle with my antique 1860's saddle, Long Tall Sally. The same, yet different.