This weekend I was back in Calgary to scribe at another gold show (post forthcoming) and I decided to put a couple of your recommendations into action and start taking steps towards saddle shopping.
Plan A - talk to a saddle fitter. I learned more about a saddle fitter in the Calgary area. She is a rep for a few saddle brands, but it's not just one brand and I heard good reviews so I decided to call her. My plan was to either book an appointment for me to haul up Kachina to Calgary for a fitting, or to bring up my existing saddle and see if we could start looking at some options sans horse. This plan didn't quite pan out as it turns out that she was busy on the weekend and is now traveling for a couple weeks but we will talk again when she gets back.
Plan B - go to The Tack Collector (a used tack consignment store) in Calgary. I didn't really know where to start so I figured I would just go and at the very least see how many options they had or ask how the saddle trial process worked. After scribing at the show, I got there just half an hour before closing, so I didn't expect too much.
Well, my expectations were smashed. The folks at The Tack Collector were super super helpful. They were able to look at some pictures of Kachina on my phone and immediately know what type of tree may or may not work for her (she apparently needs a curvy tree). They took down about a dozen saddles to let me sit on them. They listened carefully to my thoughts about each saddle, but also gave me helpful feedback on what they could see about how the saddle fit me (saddle flap too long etc.). They also stayed well after their regular closing time to help me.
I had come in just wanting a preliminary look, but soon enough I was seriously thinking about taking a saddle on trial. They seemed pretty comfortable knowing which saddles were the best bet for Kachina so I was willing to give it a try. Also, the normal trial period is one week, but they were willing to give me two weeks (I'll be back up in Calgary in two weeks anyways for a dragonboat festival).
Now I just had to decide which saddle to go with. I sat in a lot of different saddles. Some had a tendency to tip me forward (the problem with my current saddle). Some had blocks or flaps that didn't work for my leg. There were 3 main contenders that I liked. #1 was a 17.5" Stubben Maestoso. #2 was a 18.5" Stubben Aramis Biomex. #3 was a 18.5" Schleese Wave.
|#1 - 17.5" Stubben Maestoso|
I don't know if it's because my old all-purpose English saddle that I rode in for years was a Stubben, but I really liked the feel of both Stubbens. They both had quite open seats and I felt like they gave me room to get into the right position. #1, the Stubben Maestoso had a smaller seat (same size as my current Jag), but the flatter cantle made it seem bigger. It had very minimal knee blocks and a traditional leather seat. #2, the Stubben Aramis, had blocks similar to my Jag, was a larger seat, and had a fancy biomex padded seat. The Aramis was a bit better fit for me, but it was a LOT more expensive (because newer, and biomex). Also, Kachina has a fairly short back and so the Maestoso had a better chance of not going back too far onto her loins.
|#2 - 18.5" Stubben Aramis|
#3, the Schleese, was probably the best fit for me (which was interesting, because I visited the Schleese tent at a horse show during the summer and I didn't love the couple I sat in then). It really allowed me to sit back and relax my lower back. It didn't have a super curvy tree though and the saddle was quite long, so it was more of a risk of not fitting Kachina. Schleese does have lots of custom options that can solve those issues, but while this particular used Schleese was a good price, a custom designed one would obviously be much more $$$.
|#3 - 18.5" Schleese Wave|
Ultimately, I went for the trial on #1. I figured that even if it wasn't perfect, at the very least it would give me more information on what works/doesn't work for Kachina and I so we can use that to make more informed decisions about future trials.
I feel like I've now opened Pandora's box and this saddle hunt is going to happen whether I like it or not! =-P