A handmade custom saddle is the Rolls Royce of equestrian riding style, offering the highest level in quality with a price tag to match. A single craftsperson usually creates it from start to finish, although apprentices sometimes take care of the less crucial elements. Everything about your custom saddle, from size to shape to color, reflects your individual needs and tastes. Nothing on it appears accidentally, and there are no standardized components as you’d find on a ready-made saddle.
Before a saddlemaker builds the saddle of your dreams, you must share some of your most personal statistics, including your height, weight, and inseam. You’ll need to discuss how you intend to use the saddle and exactly which features you want. You will also address issues such as tree size, seat size, panel stuffing, gullet width, and stirrup length. There’s a lot to consider when you are designing a saddle, but custom saddlemakers know exactly which questions to ask.
Before you order a custom saddle, you need to educate yourself about all available options and develop a clear idea of what you want and need. It is wise to gain considerable riding experience before committing your money and waiting time to a saddle that may not be right for you. If you cannot appreciate the differences among various saddle parts, types, or activities, you cannot make a fully informed decision.
Extend this learning approach to your choice of a custom saddlemaker. Visit as many shops as you can and talk to the people who design, create, and ride handcrafted saddles. Examine as many saddles as you can and put them to the test when possible. The quality of the materials, the method of construction, and the skill of the saddlemaker will determine how well a saddle performs and how long it lasts, so make sure that all these factors measure up to the highest standards.
Price is a good indication of these attributes. High-quality materials cost more than shoddy ones, and painstaking work performed by a gifted artisan commands a higher price than the clumsier labor of a less experienced person. As saddlemakers pay roughly the same amount for raw materials, the differences in price should reflect the varying levels of talent.
If that talent is in great demand, it will involve a longer wait and fetch a higher price. English saddles generally do not have the ornate tooling and ornamentation characteristic of Western saddles, but it still takes a craftsperson about 25-30 hours to make one. Thanks to waiting lists, you can expect that time to stretch to anywhere from two to twelve months before you receive your saddle, and even longer if you’ve hired one of the best-known and most sought-after saddlemakers.
The fee for a custom saddle likewise depends a good deal on reputation, with the most favored artists charging more than the less prominent ones. Anything that adds to a person’s credentials, such as winning first prize in a Society of Master Saddlers competition, can jack up the cost. Persistence pays off in this regard, as there are many talented people creating beautiful and durable saddles in lesser-known saddle shops. You need to be diligent in checking out all the resources at your disposal.
In today’s economic climate, most custom saddles fall somewhere within the $2500-4000 price range. If someone quotes you a price much lower than that, either the materials or the workmanship is probably questionable.
Expect to pay a non-refundable down payment to cover the cost of the materials, and get as many specifics as possible in writing. Documentation should include such things as a receipt for the down payment, an estimated completion time, and details about the saddle’s features. It’s important to follow this practice, as you cannot return a custom saddle.
A Sound Investment
A custom saddle requires an investment of considerable time and money, but it can outlast many other luxury items. Well-made saddles serve their owners for up to thirty trouble-free years, and that makes the expense well worth it.
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