Emily’s Blog – Saddle fitting the Stübben way
Saddles and saddle fitting are such personal things. Everyone is shaped differently, rides differently, and has different priorities for their saddles. On top of that, it is vital that the saddle helps the horse stay comfortable and have maximum freedom in the paces and exercises.
Much has happened in the world of saddles in the past few years, but innovation often comes at the risk of forgetting the traditional techniques and values that have proved successful over time. That is why we choose to work with Stübben. Their recent move toward forward-thinking creativity is combined with the balance and superior fit that made the brand the gold standard for professional riders in days gone by.
With Freya nearing the final push towards Grand Prix in her training, Tom Sexton, UK country manager for Stübben, came out to fit her for a new saddle. Tom’s attention to detail is second to none. We first discussed how her training was going and recent reports from her vet and physiotherapist. Tom had a feel of her back and sides for any sore or reactive areas, and carefully analysed every inch of her for any signs of imbalance.
Once he had taken a look at her, Tom brought out a number of Stübben tree irons to lay on her back to see what is likely to fit best. He took care to explain that the width might look right when she is standing in the stable, but it might not be ideal when she is warmed up and working. Nonetheless, trying them in the stable first gives him a good idea of where to start. Freya was sitting somewhere between a 30 and a 31 so we decided to start her off in a 30 as Tom explained that a lot of horses become more narrow as they engage their core and lift up behind the wither.
Freya has been going really well in the Stübben Aramis II – it is very comfortable for her and gives her noticeably more freedom through the shoulder than other saddles. That said, I was feeling that the knee blocks and seat weren’t quite the ideal shape for me. I didn’t feel I was getting quite the support I wanted, and I was coming forward and off my seat in some of the more advanced work.
Bearing all that in mind, we started off with Stübben’s only monoflap saddle, the Centurion in a 30 width tree. This is a fairly new saddle to the market and one I hadn’t ridden in before. I immediately liked the shape of the seat and the slightly higher thigh blocks that seemed to support my seat without forcing my leg back or putting pressure on the knee. As I am quite long in the thigh, I do feel restricted with blocks that are too large or too low, so this placement worked well. On the demo saddles only, the blocks have interchangeable velcro pads so you can decide what size suits you best.
While I was feeling comfortable and secure, Freya was showing signs of feeling slightly tight and the saddle was slipping forward. Given that we had started off in a 30 width, we decided to see whether she would be happier with something wider. Tom didn’t have a Centurion in a 31 so we put her back in the Aramis II for comparison. She did feel much softer and more responsive, so that gave us our answer! That said, we still had a little bit of a slipping issue, indicating that she needs a bit more firmness through the front of the saddle to keep it in place.
We therefore decided that the ideal combination was the Centurion saddle with a 31 tree and Stübben’s ABS panel, which should keep the saddle sitting well behind her shoulders. The Centurion seat will give me that little bit of extra security that I need, while the width and the panels will give her the comfort she finds in the Aramis II. We had a bit of a debate about the seat size – I have been riding in a 17.5″ by default, but the Centurion can feel a bit bigger. Being short-coupled, Freya is fine with a shorter seat and I am likely to enjoy the extra support, so we decided on a 17″. When it arrives, Tom will come out again to make any adjustments needed for it to fit us both perfectly.
After a fairly intense couple of hours, involving plenty of discussion and analysis, we were more than ready for the fun bit – customisation! I am head over heels for rose gold in general, and particularly love it against Freya’s bright chestnut coat. The Aramis II has rose gold details and stitching, which I have been really enjoying, so I asked if we could have that on the Centurion. Of course we can! We have also incorporated a subtle bit of patent leather to the rear of the flap, as well as the interchangeable Magic Tack strip on the cantle which means I can have whatever colour of crystals I feel like that day. Not being the adventurous type, I might start with black but I’m sure I won’t be able to resist the rose gold for long!! I love that I can have any level of customisation I want – from a classic plain black to super blinged up.
Throughout the whole process, Tom was, as always, calm, professional and thorough. He’s worked with Freya a few times now and she knows and adores him. He listens to the horse and listens to the rider, and truly believes in the Stübben ethos of a saddle that improves performance and comfort for both horse and rider without the need for extra padding. That said, I like that he acknowledges that a Stübben won’t always be the perfect solution for every horse, every rider, and every combination. If he does come to fit a saddle, don’t book in too many things that day. The process is thorough and can be time-consuming, but it is so worth it.
The lead time on Freya’s new saddle is 6-8 weeks, but of course Christmas gets in the way… I will update everyone when it arrives and let you all know how we get on with it.