Fancy Saddle Shopping – County

Fancy Saddle Shopping – County

Last Friday evening I had a rep from County Saddlery come out to fit myself and Simon for a new saddle. The previous company I had out was CWD, and I don’t think you can get two saddles that are more polar opposites than County & CWD. My high level overview of comparing the two sales pitches would be:

CWD – It’s technology! It’s French! It’s super kewl! Did I mention it’s French?

County – This is a saddle. It is made much like they have been made for hundreds of years, and it’s made very well. Did I mention it will always fit your horse forever and ever?

Anyway, let me go on to tell you a more detailed version of the events.

I was extremely impressed with the time the rep took measuring and analyzing Simon. She had tools to do several different tracings, and also palpated his back and generally took a lot of time looking him over before plopping a saddle on his back. She told me that he measures as a narrow tree, which I found interesting since I had been told (by online help) to buy a Medium Wide for my Prestige. She pointed out that although Simon’s shoulder is wide, the saddle tree actually needs to sit behind the shoulder and that he was quite narrow in that region.

A narrow tree on Simon. This is also their base leather (not a fan)
A narrow tree on Simon. This is also their base leather (not a fan)

She brought out a few narrow trees to sit on him, and showed me one with a shoulder gusset. That extra bit of flocking will fill in the narrow gap by his withers and therefore push the saddle up even more to give him proper wither clearance. I was happy with how the narrow w/gusset looked on him.

Closeup of the Shoulder Gusset
Closeup of the Shoulder Gusset

I asked about maintenance, because a big difference between CWD and County is that County Saddles are wool flocked. CWD brags about never having to change or maintain your saddle’s memory foam, while County says that wool flocking allows the saddle to always be custom fit to your horse. I asked the rep what she would recommend for an average adult amateur rider, and she said flocking the saddle every 6 months to a year. I automatically pushed this back to a year, and asked the price. She said the fitting + flocking costs $150 (plus her travel), so if I bought a County I’d have to think about around $200 minimum per year to keep my saddle fitted well to Simon.

After she spent a lot of time fitting him, she brought out models for me to try. Unlike CWD, the County rep came with a trailer full of saddles. She had every model in the 18″ seat I needed, and brought her own pads and shims to fit Simon for his test ride.

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Innovation

First I sat in the Solution, which is a medium deep seat. The model I sat in also had a forward flap, which I adored. While I liked the Solution, I felt like every now and then I would pitch forward and then get kind of “stuck” tipped in a bad balance point.

Pointing out balance points of different saddles
Pointing out balance points of different saddles

Next we switched to an Innovation, and the fitter added extra shims to accommodate for the wide tree on Simon. This saddle also had a medium deep seat, but a different balance point. At first when I started trotting I felt a bit strange in the saddle, but when I started cantering and jumping everything felt really nice. We got a super awkward distance to a jump, but the entire time I felt perfectly balance. Sitting the canter in it was a dream.

To get another comparison, I tried a Stabilizer next. This is the “hunter” County model, and is extremely flat. I only trotted halfway around the ring before I said, “No way.” It felt like there was no cantle to this saddle and I was extremely insecure.

Finally, she wanted me to try the Solution again with an extra shim added to help the width. When a saddle is too wide, it will push forward and change the balance point. Although I felt better with the extra shim, I still preferred the Innovation at the end of the day.

Solution left and Innovation right. The Innovation is the Chestnut Bull hide, which was my favorite color/leather combo
Solution left and Innovation right. The Innovation is the Chestnut Bull hide, which was my favorite color/leather combo

We discussed leather options, and my favorite was the bull hide… which I believe is their middle leather. The downgrade (cheaper) leather looked and felt like plastic to me, but I loved how the bull looked and felt. Plus like I’ve said before, I’m not the kind of person who is likely to upgrade to full calf or what not. The rep said that County saddles come in a wide variety of colors, and don’t require oiling to darken like some brands. I liked this aspect, because I’m pretty minimalist on saddle oiling and care. I prefer to only need to clean it a few times a month and call it good. My favorite was the “Chestnut”, mostly because it matched my Dy’On bridle perfectly.

At the end of the day, I felt like buying a saddle from County would pretty much be a sure bet as far as fitting Simon. I also liked the saddle quite a lot, but am not sure I was in total love. My total love is still the CWD 2gs, but I have doubts about the fitting and long term back health for CWD and Simon.

Decisions, decisions! I’m not done shopping yet, but since some reps cost $$ to come out and of course it’s time consuming looking around – I won’t be having everyone in the world come see him. There’s at least one more person that I want to try, but then it will be time to narrow down my choices a bit.

29 thoughts on “Fancy Saddle Shopping – County

  1. It’s interesting to me to read your posts as I felt similar to you when I purchased my county… Then Houston was always sore and the rep changed her tune from annual checks to every 3 months and who the heck has money to pay $200 plus 4 times a year?! Not to mention the time…

    I would just caution you not to feel like you are gauranteed to always have a saddle that fits because they told me that and then I had to get a new saddle when my vet essentially told me that the saddle was ruining my horse. No matter how many times I had the rep adjust it we still had issues. I can’t tell you how many other people that I know that were equally scammed (most with 2 saddles bc Eventing…) and I would hate to see that happen to you.

    Either way good luck!

    1. Yeah, doing a $200 flocking 4 times a year would NOT be something I could swing. Definitely good to know about your experience. It seems that no matter what the brand is, everyone has had at least one horror story. Little nerve wracking when you’re going to put down a lot of money for a saddle!

      1. I wouldn’t buy a memory foam saddle, based on my research. One of the things to consider is how memory foam works. It moves away from pressure, which means it can “pile up” at the edges of the pressure points, causing uneven contact with the bottom of the saddle. They can get brick hard in the winter, the foam can break down with sweat and use and they are impossible to correct, unless you want to use a shim pad. Or pay to have the foam taken out and replaced with wool. That is my two cents worth on memory foam and horses.

        It also sounds like the wither clearance/freedom was better in the County.

        Something to think about: you don’t have to the use the company rep to reflock your saddle, and from my research, saddle fitting once a year is recommended. If Simon is in regular work, you are doing the same type of riding (versus trying endurance or some other ride discipline that forces him to change how he is using his body), you could even push it to two years. The biggest issue with wool panels is that eventually the wool breaks down, packs down and needs to be refluffed. This happens due to sweat. And the quality of wool used in the panels.

        Good luck.

  2. Just thought I would put my vote in for county, I’ve had several jumping and dressage saddles from them, and would not hesitate to get another! Their reps are super knowledgeable and once you have a well flocked wool saddle it’s hard to go back…it is easy to accommodate seasonal changes or muscular changes. It’s nice to know when it’s just not feeling perfect you have the support of the reps to come out and make it right again.

  3. I wanted to chime in with what Hillary said above. When I bought Boca, I wanted to do ‘THE RIGHT THING’ for his back. I bought a wool-flocked Black Country Quantum, had it partially re-flocked with virgin wool, and fitted to him by a reputable professional saddle fitter. I then had the saddle adjusted to fit him twice more. This is all in less than 9 months. He ended up with an extremely sore back and needed back injections.

    All I can say is — don’t believe the hype. Buy what you like and what you’re reasonably sure fits him. I think it’s kind of a crapshoot.

  4. Putting my vote in for County! I have the solution in the bull leather. Not only is the bull leather very grippy, but it is low maintenance and wears like iron. (I fox hunt with mine)

    I am now 1.5 years since my last re-flocking and going strong, so it really depends on if your horse’s back changes etc how often you will need re-flocking.

    I have the shoulder gusset as well, which helps with my high withered TB.

  5. I’m biased against County because of our rep. She sold a high schooler I ride with/her parents two brand new custom fit County saddles, a jump and a Dressage saddle, and when they got here neither one of them were even close to fitting her horse. The rep wouldn’t take them back or help them re-sell them because they were “used”, so they were stuck with them. The rep also responded to my request to have her reflock my County Competitor with (paraphrased) “Not worth it, here look at these shiny new Counties you could own instead!” When I wasn’t even close to being able to afford that and told her so in my original email. Not saying all reps are like that, I’m sure they are good saddles, but man, I could not deal with ours.

    1. This is exactly why equestrians should have the option of a saddle fitter that does not rep for a company. Reps are so much more interested in selling a saddle than they are in fitting one.

      1. I’ve lucked out and have access to a FABULOUS saddle fitter in the mid south area who, while she does rep for Custom and Bliss and would love to sell you one, is also realistic and has many, many consignment saddles available to try, and if she doesn’t have something that works for you, she either goes on her Facebook network and asks around or will tell you great leads on where to find used stuff! She’s most concerned with helping find something that works for you and your horse and fits your budget.

  6. I used to event in a County Stabilizer and man, that thing was like glue. It’s funny that you had exactly the opposite experience!

  7. Any saddle is only as good as its rep when it comes to reps working for one brand. It sounds like you had a good County rep, who took her time and also understood the mechanics of fitting. I also think a lot of problems happen when people try and fit square pegs into round holes I.e. Are so fixated on a certain brand that they don’t even realize it just won’t work for their horse. Like my horse fit very well into the curvy tree French saddles. She naturally had an a shaped back so their banana shaped trees that tend towards being narrower fit her great. However my current horse has a much flatter back with very little wither. An English made saddle that tends to have a flatter tree would probably fit him a lot better but let’s be real-I ain’t buying another custom saddle right now!

  8. I also tried a County Innovation when I was saddle shopping, but it was used and not the right size for Miles… but I LOVED it. At the time, County didn’t have a rep in my area, otherwise I probably would have ended up with one.

  9. I have a wool flocked Loxley and previously owned a wool flocked Black Country. Both are equatable brands to a County which I wouldn’t hesitate to own. County are notorious for running large in the tree, so it didn’t surprise me when you were offered a smaller tree County – though it’s usually only 1 size down. A horse can outgrown the treesize if you add/remove muscle as did mine with the BC… but also they CAN outgrown the panels/flock is a saddle is max flocked and still doesn’t work. My horse was in really low level w/t work for few years then legit work like now. I bought my Loxely 2 Christmases ago, brand new demo (like literally 1 other horse wore it). I’ve only needed to reflock it once in that time as the original has packed down. The quantity of time you are in the saddle +/- the flock life. The advantage of wool is it fits one horse, and perfectly. The foam is great if you use your saddle on multiple horses since the wool conforms to the back with warmth and would likely fit the horse you ride most or really, none at all. As with all things, not every saddle will work for every horse. My DK Flair worked great on my mare, but was evil on my current horse. As far as reps selling their brand… I bet 99% of the time they sell their brand is because they believe in it. I would sell you a Loxley to the moon and back because I love mine so much. A good rep will say, don’t buy my brand if there’s no viable solution for your horse in the line. But other then that, why would they sell you some other brand – they work for X company for a reason!

  10. Be careful with memory foam! My friend with CWD has it and her saddle panels actually freeze in the winter. She has to keep her saddle at home in the winter so this doesn’t happen. Have you tried contacting Voltaire? I’m a bit biased since I have one (lol), but I really do love their saddles.

  11. You never showed us the undersides of these saddles, which to me is a very critical part. For decades we have ridden our horses in saddles that have narrow gullets, and so many saddles are still made this way. Even the very expensive ones do this, and there is not enough clearance for the spine.

    If you haven’t seen the saddle fit videos on youtube by Schleese Saddlery I would recommend watching them because they are very committed to the ongoing science of saddle fit. You want to make sure the saddles have good spine clearance and stay off of the wither triangle and within the best weight bearing zone of the horse’s back. Also for me personally, I would be very wary of narrow saddle trees. I suspect more often than not they are being recommended for horse’s who are missing muscles, rather than are actually narrowly built. My horse is reminiscent of Simon and has a MW tree.

    My current saddle is a Schleese jumping saddle with their air filled Flair panels. I bought it online used and have never had it fitted by them (never opened up my checkbook to the company). Before that I had a Beval which had decent (but not as good) spine clearance and started me on the path to getting a good fit in 2015, rather than what we thought was good back in the 90’s. Which is to say, “Does it look level? No? Let’s put a wedge pad on then.”

    See also: “The Horse’s Pain Free Back and Saddle Fit Book”

    1. Oh, your point about gullets is a great one. I switched from a Stubben to a CWD and the difference in the size of the gullet was amazing. And definitely made a difference.

    2. I second the sentiments here. I was about to write the same comment.

      I understand that there are some horses out there who may need a narrow tree, but I suspect that they are few and far between. Plus the width of the channel is so important, as is the length of the saddle. The saddle must not extend beyond the last rib. The channel must be wide enough to give the spine clearance all the down the back of the horse. Narrow trees also scare me because of the muscling issue mentioned in the previous comment.

      My quarter horse is “narrow” by many standards, but fits beautifully in a medium wide Albion, which by the way I have never had reflocked. The channel is at least four fingers wide all the way down the saddle.

      If the saddle pitches you forward at all, that extra pressure is resting right on the tree points. If the angle of the narrow tree points is not parallel to your horses conformation then OUCH. The angle of the tree points is as important as the tree width and wither clearance. Do not forget about the panels and the back of the saddle.

      I would be leary of a fitter that reaches for so many shims. Shims are a temporary fix. Most horses can be fitted without shims. Take it from a girl who had to shim everything to keep my horse happy (and then just ride bareback) until we found the right saddle (a used model selected and tested for a week before purchase with knowledgeable help, it did not break the bank). I did not purchase from a saddle maker or work with a rep. I think they are too biased.

  12. very interesting!! and promising that so far you seem to have found a couple options that look likely to work for both of you! i’m not really sure if this info is useful to you in any way – but the fitter i worked with who had my horse in a too-narrow tree had previously been a county rep, so idk if that’s just how they are trained to fit horses (ie, too narrow is better than too wide) or what, but it really did not work for my mare. that said tho, i understand that county trees tend to run wider than other brands, so a narrow county might be more like a medium in anything else? idk really… just tossing it out there. good luck!

  13. Put me firmly in the County column.

    I’ve dealt with a less than stellar County rep, so it’s the luck of the draw on whether they are more into quick sales than developing customers long term. Agree with the above advice that you can get more objective fitting info from a third party. Also – the Schleese youtube series on saddle fitting is a great preparation for saddle shopping.

    All I know is, I rode for years in an (ancient) County Competitor that fit all the thoroughbreds in my trainer’s barn. It was close contact, not cushy and it allowed you to find (not forced you into) great position naturally.
    I’ve been searching for a saddle like that for ten years. In the meantime, I bought a Beval – decent quality for the price but a bad fit, and a Neidersuss Symphony – great saddle but still didn’t get the shoulder fit right.

    Yesterday, my new (to me) County Warmblood arrived from ebay-land. To my (slightly-better-educated) eyes, the fit is perfect. Felt great to me too. It’s in excellent shape and was priced reasonably. So there can be happy endings to saddle shopping sagas. Good luck and take your time!

  14. So interesting to read everyone’s comments/experiences with these two brands and how they differ from one person/horse to another. I am on my 2nd County dressage saddle – I only changed because Riva went from a Wide to and Extra Wide. Love my new one, loved my ‘old’ one. I really like my County rep and feel she takes her time with me and Riva to make sure the saddle fits us both. No experience with CWD – happy shopping!

  15. I totally agree that the reps should be a 3rd party… So hard to make the right decision and know what people are telling the truth!!

    All that to say I love my Antares 🙂 lol

  16. I really don’t have anything constructive to add. Thankfully I’ve never had to go through the process. So happy to hear that you had a good experience with a well prepared rep. Also I thought about you when I was walking around the Royal Winter Fair last week shoppingnotshopping at all the saddle booths. Continued luck with your search!

  17. I love the darker colored one! I have seen the bull hide in person and it was very nice and grippy. Overall I really like County saddles (though I have never ridden in a CWD).

  18. I have an Innovation and after having it about 6 months, just had the wool reflocked. It’s dreamy. My previous saddle was the Stabilizer. Also love. It feels like a finely crafted work of art compared to some of the saddles made in a more modern way. I will write a post with my Innovation review soon!

  19. I just found your blog and I found it fun to read and I can definitely empathize with your quest for a saddle. First, saddles are such a personal choice. I have both a CWD Classic and a CWD Hunter 2Gs. I LOVE my CWD and the horse I bought the saddle for LOVES the 2Gs. He moves so well with the 2Gs compared to the Classic. I feel better riding the 2Gs. Again…it is a personal choice. People at my barn ride in everything from Butet, Devacoux, Amerigo, Delgrange, and Voltaire. Before I purchased my 2Gs I did contact Devacoux but it took the rep 4 weeks to contact me. The rep was located out of state. I know my other horse is going to need a new saddle by the end of the year…I am thinking I will look at Voltaire. Saddles are such a personal choice and budget has so much to do with decisions. I didn’t set out to spend the money I spent on a 2Gs but I wanted the saddle that was the best for my horse and me.

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