Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Saddle Shopping.. (redux)

While I theoretically enjoy the process of hunting for, evaluating, and lusting after new tack.  Somehow when that process is turned toward saddles, it becomes some fresh new hell. 

Maybe it's because the price tag is so much larger than with other items. 

Maybe it's because there's more marketing around them than discount mattress stores (sleep on a cloud for free! no interest! fancy space foam will make you feel 20 years younger!).

Maybe it's because most of us sorta need saddles that fit our horses so when we don't have one it's a thorn in our side every... single... ride.

My adventures with saddles have been varied.  I loved my fancy Prestige I ordered for Pia, but it was never perfect for her, and it felt like something off the shelf not the "custom" fit I was sold.

That saddle didn't fit Pair for crap, so we tried again. I stuck with the same fitter (not sure why) but got a Hastilow that really did fit her (and me) exceptionally well. 

When jumping became a real thing for us, I finally coughed up the $$ and got a CWD.  That was an unfortunate process as the saddle didn't fit Prair (or me) at all when it arrived. 

They fixed it (sorta), but when I had it looked at again down at Thermal, I was told it still didn't fit my horse, or me all that well and that the initial measurements were taken completely wrong. 

To CWD's credit, they took my saddle back no questions asked, and ordered me a completely new one and even upgraded the leather to calfskin for my troubles.

The new saddle did actually fit Pair very well and put me in a better balance as well.

But, it's built very specifically for Pair and has never really fit any other horse I've put it on. 

By the time I pad it up so that it's in a decent balance for a horse with a normal back, I'm so far away from everything, I might as well be sitting on one of those Elephant Saddle/basket things that's rigged 4' up in the air

On top of this, about the time CWD was fixed my saddle, our barn seemed to migrate over to Voltaire.  I tend to have a knee jerk reaction away from things I perceive to be trendy, so I wasn't super interested in switching saddles just to switch saddles.  (and have a pretty blue cover..)

But, I've been riding in my trainer's saddle more and more, both on Windsor and some of the horses I was catching lessons on, and I do really like the tack.

It's hard for me to compare apples to apples, since I never rode a Voltaire on Prair so I can't compare how different saddles would feel on the same horse.. but in general, they are pretty easy to sit.

Voltaire's "calling card" seems to be all about minimizing the structure of the saddle.  It reminds me of high end supercars that minimize weight however they can (thinner glass in the windows.. carbon fiber wherever possible, etc). 

Voltaire looks to minimize bulk however possible.  One specific example of this is that the top flap of their saddle is all one piece of leather.  The knee rolls is the same piece of hide as the flap.. just with stitching to differentiate it.  So there is no overlapping seam or extra bulk. 

That mindset is applied to all aspects of construction, and the result is noticeable.  I am not sure I would have noticed it on Prair, since I'm sure they would have had to build up the panels quite a bit in order to fit her back. 

But, on Windsor, who seems to be shaped like a normal horse, it results in a super close contact both in the seat and leg. 

We played with a few different seat options for me, but settled on their "palm beach" which is their half deep seat (comparable to the CWD SE01).  Then we focused on the panel construction for Windsor.  He's got a decently high wither, and we ended up adding a tad of foam to the very front, and very rear of the panels. 

What surprised me is that even though this seemed like an even "raising" of both ends of the saddle, when I was riding with the shims, the impact was obvious.  I'm not sure how to explain it except that life was easier.  The twist was comfortable, I could sit easily, post easily.. it was just... easy.

oooohhh, ahhhhhh
The rep was super knowledgeable and polite.  She explained their philosophy, construction process and answered any and all questions I had about what we could/should/would do about fit and what are my options for changing said fit if we ever need to (answer, build new panels).

Initially, I had intended to just get info from the Voltaire rep, then let CWD come out as well and compare my options, but I ended up just pulling the trigger on the Voltaire.

I know that impulse decision will surprise exactly none of you.. but here's why I did it:

1) it is always easier to use things that your trainer loves.  This applies to horses, tack, trailers, whatever.  My trainer is great at working with "others" whether it's horses she didn't specifically pick (Prairie) or tack she doesn't use herself.. but there is a certain ease in being in alignment. 

2) they were able to offer me a really, really good deal on my CWD.  Since my saddle was remade, it's technically a 2014, which made it pretty valuable on their trade in chart (chart was based on year and manufacture, not model, seat size, leather, or anything else).  Basically they paid me $400 less than I had paid for my saddle new. 

That brought the "purchase price" of the new saddle down to $1,700.  Not free by any means (lol), but I did opt for Calfskin again.. if I had stuck with Grain leather it would have been only $1,100.. That seems like a pretty good deal for a fancy new French saddle! In fact, I think I *almost* made money! (almost).

I'll be sure to write more when I actually have my saddle and can decide if it's worth the time and money to get it.  But for now I feel good about the decision.

Honestly, I was very happy with my CWD once it was (finally) the correct saddle.  However, even though they really made an effort to correct the issue, they weren't the friendliest to deal with.  I'm sensitive to holding a whole company accountable for the mood or personality of a few employees, but I was sort of dreading my meeting with them to talk about fitting Windsor.  It's hard to nail down why exactly, but I always felt like I was in trouble at school when I was talking with them..  Not a great feeling when you are talking about your favorite piece of tack, and spending a crap-ton of money.

In contrast, the Voltaire rep in our area is really nice, and I never felt like I was being scolded.  This was the first time I had worked with her myself, but in watching the service level my Trainer has gotten over the last couple years, I've been impressed. 

For sure some of that excellent service is due to their efforts to steal market share.

And I'm sure they are authorized to offer a bit more to customers right now than CWD... and while that's not the CWD rep's fault - it does impact my overall experience and satisfaction.

So, stay tuned.  The darn thing isn't really supposed to be delivered until MARCH but maybe the days will tick by faster now that I'm back to a regular riding routine and not just stalking everyone on Insta...


  1. Overall the prices of the Voltaire must be more pricey I am assuming based on your calcs?

    I have been contemplating what I will do when Annie is a little older and I am thinking I would love to have Voltaire out as that is what my new trainer rides in. I loved my friends but it didint fit Annie at all.

    If I could get an actual rep out I would be into it but additionally with a young horse im kind of afraid to bite the bullet and then have the saddle not fit in 6 months :/

    Can't wait to hear about your experience once you have the saddle.

    1. They are... it seems like if you are buying new out of the box, most of their saddles start around $4,800-$5,000 which makes even my quick-to-spend eyeballs bug out of their head

  2. I'm really interested to hear more about your Voltaire when you get it! Everyone I know has either a CWD or Antares, so I haven't had the chance to sit in one, but I'd love to try them out. I like my Antares (never a huge fan of the balance in the CWDs), but I'm a true tack ho and always looking for something better. Thanks for the write up!

  3. Lovely! I have a friend who's had some bad experiences with CWD. She opted to purchase elsewhere as well.

  4. So our local Voltaire rep was a rather snooty French guy. So when my trainer had him show me their line when I bought Holly, it wasn't the most fun experience. I will say whatever their most expensive one was felt amazing, I literally hopped on her and started doing changes because I felt so secure and we were just learning them then.

    1. LOL, omg he was hysterical indeed! Ran into him at alllll the horseshows!

    2. Yeah his customer service skills were different lol!

    3. It is amazing how much influence a rep has (both good and bad).. makes me *really* glad I'm not in the business of hiring people to sell saddles for me! ha.

      But I agree--- they are the closest contact I have ever really felt.

  5. A good friend just got a custom Voltaire and loves it!

  6. This sounds amaze! I am super jelly, despite living so near to France i have never had the luxury to sit in any of their fancy butt needs that dream cloud experience *sigh*
    Maybe someday ;-)

    I'm so glad they gave you such a great deal on the CWD, stops me lusting after it for Nancy as i could never have afforded to ship it to Lux, let alone actually buy it from you lolz. Second hand or no *blush*

    1. It is slightly insane how expensive it all is...

  7. Exciting!!! Being able to trade in at a great price can certainly help that decision!!! Can't wait to see!

  8. New saddles are exciting and frustrating! I hate saddle shopping, but I have never been lucky enough to own a horse with a normal or average back.

    1. Lol I feel your pain. I e always had fairly easy to fit horses, but my current one is a 3.5 year old purebred round and wide for an Albion XW! Technically we will need custom, but I, not willing or able to justify that at this point!:/

  9. I love, love, love, LOVE my voltaire. The reps have been great (some stitching came undone in my stirrup leathers -minor cosmetic damage- and they got me a new set of leathers no questions asked. I haven't ridden in a CWD, so I can't compare, but EVERYtime I swing my leg over, my tushy does a little happy dance.

    1. Yay! Always happy to hear about another excited customer..

  10. Ive always been intrigued by Voltaire!

  11. gawwwwd I have been lusting after Voltaire's for years...YEARS. I spoke with a rep last year and they were so friendly! I'm sure you'll love it!


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