Luxury Saddle Shopping
When I first decided to treat myself to a new saddle, I was pretty excited. What a blessing it is to be in a place where I can afford to buy what I want and peruse a selection of high end saddles. How lucky was I?
Apparently, not as lucky as I thought.
Call me crazy, but I feel like if I’m prepared to spend thousands of dollars on an item for my hobby, the shopping experience should be nothing short of stellar. After all, what percentage of people can justify such a significant purchase on a non-essential item? It can’t be much, and I figured the ones who can should expect to be treated like royalty.
Let’s paint a picture here. Go to buy a car in America, whether it’s a used car lot or a dealership, with $5,000 cash in your pocket. Tell anyone there, “Hey! I’d like to give you this $5,000 cash towards the purchase of a car.” Guess what? You’re going to walk away with a car. Not only that, but you have reasonable options for that car and some negotiating room in the price. Car shopping, in my experience, tends to follow this formula.
Higher Cost of Car + More Cash in Hand = Better Customer Service + Better Car
Really, isn’t that how it should be? If we keep our car analogy, here’s a few of my experiences with pretty limited saddle shopping.
“I like this type of car, but I think I’d like to test drive the SUV instead of the Crossover.”
“Oh, the SUV is very nice. Lots of people love the SUV.”
“That’s great! Can I drive it now?”
“Well no, we don’t have any at the moment but this is how much it would cost. I can’t tell you how many people love the SUV! Are you ready to purchase?”
Or when it comes to shopping for a less popular kind of car in your area of the nation…
“I’ve heard good things about your cars. Can I try some of them?”
“Absolutely! I’d love to show you all the great things my cars have to offer. There will be a fee for you to test drive the cars, as well as a fee to help cover my car selling operation.”
“Does the fee deduct from the cost of the car if I decide to buy it?”
“No, but you’ll get a really good sales pitch and can ask any questions you like.”
And then sometimes the dealership disappears entirely.
“Okay, I’ve decided! I’m going with your Crossover!”
“Hey sorry, but my company decided not enough people in your area want to buy our cars. So now you’ll need to work with so and so in the next state over.”
I’m not making up these examples – I experienced all of them. Now, comparing cars to saddles isn’t exactly apples to apples. Is it entirely fair? Probably not, but it’s not 100% off base either.
My examples may sound like I’m giving the reps a hard time, but I don’t think they are necessarily 100% at fault here. Working in sales is a hard job, and I can only imagine that working for a saddlery is challenging in different ways. Saddle reps/fitters have to pay their bills just like I do, and they can’t help it if the parent company makes choices that they don’t necessarily agree with or have any control over. Don’t interpret this post as pointing fingers at any of the saddle reps I communicated with. I do think the system as a whole is just really annoying when I’m waving a wad of cash around to buy a luxury item for my hobby and find so many pain points while doing so.
People have asked which saddle I decided on or what step I am in the process, and the answer is “over it.” At first calling up all the reps and looking over saddle options felt exotic and fancy, but quickly it became expensive, time consuming and tedious.
At the end of the day, I realized that I had a really hard time justifying the purchase price of new saddles within the brands I was looking at. It’s painful to spend that much on a saddle when I have an entire house to furnish and upkeep in the near future.
So what did I do? I reached out to the awesome blogger network of course! A quick email to Jen saying “HELP!” resulted into Jen contacting her friend Mary, which turned into a link to Maryland Tack Exchange. Kind of like the scene in 101 Dalmations where all the dogs bark for help… but with horse people.
The day I closed on my house I decided to throw caution to the wind… or rather continue throwing all of my money out of my account as fast as possible. The used saddle Mary sent through Jen was super closer to one I had liked previously with a fair price. I pulled the trigger.
Now please send me all your tips on care for a full calf saddle, and cross your fingers that the panels could work for Simon. I’m prepared to send the new-to-me saddle off to get fitted for him, but it sure would be nice if it just magically happened to work 🙂
44 thoughts on “Luxury Saddle Shopping”
My CWD is full buffalo not calf but I just try to clean it every few rides (I’m an awful person for not doing it more). I conditioned it a lot when it was new but now try to stick to once a week maybe. It just depends on how much I end up in the saddle.
HSLC is my favorite soap and I love my CWD conditioner as it isn’t too oily.
Oh, I need to pick up some CWD conditioner! I actually got a fresh order of HS the other day, so I’m half there.
I feel your pain. When I finally made the decision on my new custom saddle and it arrived, I hated it. Turns out, the company made the saddle wrong. And then the rep had the nerve to tell me my expectations were “just too high”. Ummmm, WHAT? I just gave you over $5000 and I shouldn’t expect to love it? Well, they made things right and I got the correct saddle and love it but I’ll think twice before using that company again.
I mean, for $5k I expect my saddle to give my horse lead changes and keep him sound forever but I’ve been told that’s “unreasonable”…
HAH – at the very least it should come with some sort of blue ribbon guarantee clause…
Buying used is the way to go for me. Hope this one works for you!
Biggest advice for a full calf saddle is to baby it. Full calf is lovely, but needs to be treated like a delicate flower. Jeans will tear it up, so always wear breeches. If it gets sweaty or wet, clean and condition it ASAP. I HIGHLY recommend CWD conditioner. It’s worth the price and lasts forevers.
I never ride in jeans, but otherwise don’t really baby a saddle. I will have to adjust how I treat it! Thanks for the advice.
Love Maryland Tack Exchange. I found my Antares through them and couldn’t be happier. They were great to work with and the process was a breeze. Enjoy your new saddle!
Mine is full calf, and I was TERRIFIED at first of taking care of it. I use HSLC saddle soap (don’t even bother with the CWD soap, it’s useless), and I use CWD’s conditioner on everything, it’s my holy grail. Once you use it (and the fancy applicator mitt), you won’t be able to use anything else.
Mary’s exact care instructions for a full-calf CWD are as follows:
1. Always ride in breeches
2. Clean or at least wipe down after every ride because dust is your enemy
3. Condition once a month
And I will add: I don’t let mine get wet. Yours should come with the the rideable waterproof CWD saddle cover, and if it doesn’t, get one. They are great. They also have a carrying strap which makes toting it home for cleaning/storage much easier.
I’m a year in and mine still looks the same as they day I got it except it got gouged just underneath the pommel on one of those collapsible wooden saddle racks while I was cleaning it. Didn’t realize it was hanging off the edge and rocking with each swipe, tear. I also haven’t cleaned it EVERY ride, but I’ve tried to be good.
Also: AAAAAHHHHH SO EXCITED FOR YOU! And your car shopping analogy was hilarious. Really, saddle shopping is ridiculous.
Silly girl! I told you about Maryland Tack Exchange at the very beginning. I’m glad you found something so beautiful! I’m sure the panels will be perfect. When does it come?
Yes, but without sitting in saddles and seeing what you like it’s impossible to pick something from a sea of options. The shopping process is broken all around in my opinion.
100% AGREE! I was willing to spend $2500 for a new barrel saddle and no one had a “demo” saddle they could send me so I could try it out. They expected me to just purchase the saddle without riding in it and even then hope it would fit right. The saddle buying process is totally broken and needs to be fixed. Saddle companies need demo saddles! They also need to be more willing to work with the people buying their saddles and not make it a one size fits all.
The blogger ‘twilight bark’ is pretty stellar though, right?! Your new saddle looks like it is in gorgeous shape and I hope it nestles right on to the nerd horse like a second skin! I have recently started dipping my toes into this saddle shopping arena for a horse that isn’t even mine…..the mere thought of dealing with reps or trialing saddles found online is terrifying. Despite the many helpful posts people have written on saddle shopping, I still feel like I’m going to have to learn/do this the hard way and screw up a bunch until maybe something works. I agree with you, I feel like if the ‘thousand’ becomes plural, it shouldn’t be this agonizing a process.
Saddle shopping is the worst. How can you spend $5K for something that’s not awesome and perfect? The logic of some saddle fitters/reps really boggles my mind.
I hope you seriously love your new saddle and that it gets you auto changes and keeps Simon sound forever!
Yeah I wish I could just pay someone and they would come and properly fit my saddle to me and my horse the first time…I really envy people who are a common size and have horses that have average backs because I got the double whammy with Stampede. I need to write about my experience now that I think it’s finally come to a conclusion.
My Antares that I sold last year was all calf and I treated it just like I have all my saddles. Ride only in breeches. Clean weekly with HSLC and condition every few months, usually more frequently in the winter. I do loooooove both the Antares and CWD conditioners, you cannot go wrong with either of them.
I hope your new saddle comes and it’s love!
The car analogies are perfect!!! I have often said that only in the horse world can you say ‘I have a pocketful of money – please take it!!’ only to have a the saddle rep/blacksmith/chiropractor/etc. say ‘meh’, not today’. My hubby plays golf and every time we hit a golf store, sales people are tripping over themselves to sell us stuff!
Do. Not. Oil. It. At all. Ever. Oil will breakdown the calfskin faster than you can say “I love french leather.” If it looks dry, condition it. That’s my 2 cents.
Learned this the hard way!! Oops. But I definitely second this. I only condition, and I use a soap that conditions as well.
Oh my. Sad the stories are true, but I guess it makes me feel mildly less bad that new+French will never be in my saddle lexicon anyways. Used to the rescue!
It is so beautiful! The lust is strong over here.
A fee just to TRY a saddle? That whole process does seem unnecessarily frustrating. I just bought my first ever, brand new saddle, & all I had to do was rock up to the tack shop, pick one to try & take it home. Ride in it for a week or so, if it doesn’t feel right take it back & pick another. Once I found a good one, the shop’s saddle fitter came out to adjust it to my horse (for free) & I dropped by the store a few days later to pay simple. Simple!
Great choice! That’s a gorgeous saddle. I have a calf skin Childeric. I have no advice though. I don’t take care of mine as much as I should. Which is very dumb because replacing it is not in the cards (read bank account). Fingers crossed that the fit works out!
Oi, what a headache! Glad you found something in the end though, even if it wasn’t along the original plan! Still super exciting nonetheless 🙂
Oye for the head ache but yay for the saddle!!!
I went and bought a small very soft face brush and I brush the dust off my saddle after every other ride.
I LOVE the Antares conditioner and only use if once every 4-6 weeks depending on the need.
I am sure you will take great care of it 🙂
I love the car shopping analogy. That is so spot on….
I have always gone with used and never really worried about ‘will it fit this horse or that one”? Nope, just buy it and taa-daa! Lucky enough they have all worked out well enough or damn close to it with only minimal padding involved to fix it.
I’m done saddle shopping for a while though. If the kids want to ride, I will buy the leathers and punch holes, but they aren’t getting a saddle until they’ve proven their desire to continue riding and maybe begin competing. If/when that happens, we’ll talk.
I haven’t bought a new saddle in a hundred years. The last time I was looking (a hundred years ago) I was still in college, so I was able to test ride a few different friends’ saddles. Ultimately, I found one online that I thought looked really comfortable. Unfortunately, no one I knew had one. So I found a used one to test ride. LOVED IT! But really wanted a new one. So I returned that one and ordered a brand new one of the same saddle. I still have it and love it more everyday.
Sorry things were annoying and painful but YAY new saddle, congratulations!
Just dust off, clean with recommended product and condition, condition, condition. Of course most importantly, enjoy it!
Well said and congratulations pulling the trigger on a saddle. I’ll cross my fingers for you that it works well.
Your new saddle is gorgeous! I use HSLC as well and very rarely condition it- the previous owner had sent it off to CWD and gotten they had conditioned it so I don’t mess with it.
I’ve never been in a position to buy a custom saddle- but even if I could I’m not sure I would. I managed to find my CWD used and in mint condition for way less than I would have paid otherwise. At one point I was worried about fit on Ellie and the CWD rep told me she would have a tough time selling it for a good price because it was “old.” I laughed in her face- just because it was a 2010? It looked brand new! Take care of it plus repanel as needed and a good saddle will last you forever!
i’m also sorry to hear the process didn’t work out as well as one might expect for the luxury aspect of the whole thing. in a way tho it makes me feel marginally better that my saddle shopping process hasn’t been so shitty just bc i have a crap nonexistent budget…. seriously tho the new saddle is gorgeous – i hope you and Simon LOVE it forever and ever!!!!
Saddle shopping. Ug. Kinda like horse shopping. Or dating. Necessary, but not usually fun. #Stress
Wishing you guys well wear with it and hope it fits you both like a glove!
oh my word I don’t think I could justify spending $5k on a saddle let alone ride in it. I would just stare at it and be afraid I would scratch it. GAH. Congrats!
I’m sorry the process was so terrible for you. I got lucky with County and was able to ride in demos of every saddle I wanted to try. Hopefully this new saddle will be perfect for you!
Uh that makes me so nervous! I hope my saddle lasts forever so I don’t have to go through any of this.
Congrats on the saddle! Care is as everyone before me has posted. Baby it!! Also make sure your leathers are high quality, preferably a calf skin leather as well. If you use a cheaper stirrup leather, it can wear holes in the calf skin flaps. 🙁
What a gorgeous saddle! The leather looks so buttery and soft. We don’t baby our saddles in the western world, unless you got a Harris! So, I’d be terrified to touch that thing, let alone swing a leg over it! lol
My Blue Ribbon cost more than my first car and to say I babied that thing would be the understatement of the year! Not to mention some of the new Harris saddles I saw at Congress this year – I would be terrified to even let it in the barn.
I love my CWD. It’s buffalo but has the calfskin seat and kneepads. For me, the best cleaner and conditioner is the CWD. It just has this luster after I use it. I clean after every ride, but only condition every month or so. I use HS on my other tack, but for the saddle, I use the stuff that came with it.
Congrats! From my brief experience with a calfskin saddle, you will want to invest in calfskin leathers, and never, ever wear jeans while riding. Also, they don’t do well if they get wet. I am kind of enjoying the fact that western saddles are much lower maintenance!
Saddle shopping felt like wedding dress shopping to me. Spending an insane amount of $$ for what is essentially an unnecessary object and you are expected to make the purchase without actually trying the saddle/dress you’ll get. Me not being a perfect sample size I was squeezing into (beautiful) dresses that were literally clipped onto me with what I thought looked like jumper cables. And… uhhh when the chest didn’t fit “oh don’t worry! We’ll order yours differently”. The saddle reps were the same. Imagine this flap, with that seat and voilà! (write the check now please…).
Fingers crossed you found the ONE! I didn’t treat my calf saddle any differently than my grain – except I paid more attention to it. A quick wipe down after each ride will go a long way – and also helps preserve the extra stitching on the calf flaps which can fray and become unstitched if dust/grime/dirt build up and wear away at it…
I also love the CWD conditioner and the HC soap combo. …
Lovely saddle! I always buy used because the price of one of the new high end brands makes me faint. There are so many used saddles available that with some good connections and patience you can usually find what you want. Hope it works for you!
It’s beautiful! I’m obsessed with my calfskin Antares, although these days it just sits in my room and I take the cover off every few weeks to run my hands over it longingly. (Can I be done with being a poor grad student soon, thanks?) I’m not sure I could ever go back to something else.