Whether to ship an old/ancient saddle (x-posted)

Good morning COTH! A few questions/short novella about saddles.

I’ve been getting back into riding by taking lessons. Am planning to lease a horse this year. I’ve not put any thought into getting a saddle because, well, no permanent or semi-permanent horse at the moment.

There is now a potential lease horse in the mix, and it was mentioned to me this weekend that I might want my own tack. Yay! Shopping!

This is where things get interesting. I’m not particularly interested in dropping thousands of dollars on either a very nice saddle that may not fit horses beyond the lease horse. Also don’t love the idea of spending still significant money on a placeholder saddle (though likely where I will end up).

Across the country, in my mother’s attic, is the Courbette that I rode in as a teenager. I bought it used. It’s probably 30 years old. My butt has not sat in it for 20 years. My mom will need some help to get it down from attic, but she did crawl up there this morning to look at it for me. I asked for pictures and she sent a video (because, moms and cell phones). It looks to be in okay shape. I didn’t ask her to take any measurements. I have no idea if it fits (let’s just say my butt has grown some in the past 20 years). Here are my questions:

  • Any experience shipping saddles? Cost? Tips for packaging?

  • Risks of riding in a 30 year-old saddle? I’ll replace the stirrup leathers. Should I check billets? Have it reflocked (if possible?)?

  • Should I just have mom put the damn thing on Ebay and buy a new one? Looking to eventually ride in the jumper/eq ring, hopefully. If I buy something, I’d like quality and some flexibility in fit but I don’t need luxury/fancy. I’ve been riding in everything from Butets to old Stubbens in lessons and have no preference.

Thank you in advance for your thoughts!

You’re looking at $20-50+ for shipping. There’s no guarantee that it fits either you (anymore) or the lease horse. Or it could be fine. If it needs new billets, reflocking, etc, you may spend just as much as you would for another used saddle already in good shape. If you have tack shops with used/consignment saddles nearby, you can probably get something decent for a few hundred dollars (especially if you don’t care about having the hot brands of the moment) and resell it later if you need something different. You may also be able to take it on trial to check fit. You could also possibly try some of the lesson saddles that you like on lease horse to see if any fit well, then look for the same saddle to buy used.

There is a wide range of options in between dropping thousands for a new saddle and being stuck with your old one.

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Growing up it was common to have a personal saddle and use it on whatever horse I rode. Our understanding of saddle fit has come so far in recent years that I do not think it is prudent to identify a saddle before a leased horse. My fitter does a lot of work on older saddles and more than half of the ones she opens up have degraded foam panels, compacted wool panels, and twisted trees or popped rivets is a daily occurrence. A saddle that has been stored in a space that isn’t temperature controlled for 20 years is likely very compromised and most suitable as a decor item. I wouldn’t sell it to an unsuspecting rider in Ebay. People use them but using them and doing what is best for a horse are often two very different things. Much like many things in life, a piece of equipment used and maintained regularly for 20 years ends up in different condition than one stored without any care for the same amount of time.

For around $600-800 you should be able to find a well used saddle that is purchased to fit the specific horse you are leasing that was a $2-3k saddle at one point. You get the quality of workmanship and attention to detail without the initial sticker shock. The advantage of well used is that they tend to hold the value and you can typically sell it for around what you have paid. The odds of this specific saddle fitting a leased horse are really slim.

If you do choose to ship it, I would budget $200 for a strip reflocking, $100 for new billets, and ensure the saddle worker checks the integrity of the tree before doing any work.

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@GraceLikeRain thank you for this advice. Those are the types of considerations that I was trying to weigh, but not sure about. I appreciate your input!

Just shipped a County Dressage saddle 3/4 of the way across country this week. Cost a little over $70. UPS.

Purely an aside, but it was liking leaving a child at the classroom door the first day of kindergarten, had to fight the urge to run back in the store and snatch it off the counter and run back home with it. But as I have said many times before, I am ridiculous.

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In my experience my old Stubben I bought new in 1981 fit a wide variety of horses, unlike any saddle I have owned since. I deeply regret selling it a few years ago.

I would at least have your mom measure the seat size and check the gullet width to see if it will be close to what you or the horse need and go from there.

New leathers, billets and reflocked is a real definite possibility but if it fits you both you will be ahead in the end.

I would at least look into the cost of doing that.

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Thanks @candyappy. Also excellent advice. I have fond memories of riding in this particular saddle. And I used it at a time in my life when I did a lot of catch riding.

I’ve decided to have my mom ship it. I’ll measure and find a saddle fitter in my horsey area who can at least give me an estimate on possible repairs needed to make it comfortable for the lease horse. Then take a view on whether I should make those repairs, or buy something new-to-me and retire (for good) this one.

My very favourate make of saddle. I have two, actually. One I bought new in 1978, and one I rescued from a bad situation a few years ago, for $50. I’ve had billets replaced on both, it was cheap to do this locally (and apparently very easy). These saddles were built to last, not to fall apart, wear out or break in 10 years. Whether or not it still fits you, or the horse you are riding, is always a question that you will have to find out. My “rescued” saddle is a narrow fitting, fits my narrow mare just perfectly. It took some work with some saddle soap and oil to rejuvenate it, but it is lovely now. The one I’ve had since 1978 fits medium, and fits many medium width horses that I’ve had over the years well. I ride TB and TBX, and these saddles were made for TB conformation. If you love the old style true close contact saddles (not the fake ones they advertise these days), this is the only option, an old one. Both of mine are Stylist 1 s. They are the most secure and comfortable saddle ever. If they are “out of fashion” in the hunter ring, that is not my concern, nor would I care… a “follower of fashion” I am not. If you want to sell yours, I’ll give you $50 for it anytime LOL!

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I honestly think that a saddle that has sat that long in an attic is unlikely to have survived unscathed. Unless you really conditioned before storing it, stored it in a bag, it hasn’t been subjected to extremes of hot and cold, the attic doesn’t have squirrels, etc.

It’s worth asking your parent to take the saddle down, measure the seat and maybe take some photos for you. Or perhaps they can livestream (on a Zoom call) the saddle and you can ask them to position the saddle in various ways so you can see its condition before paying to have it shipped. (And if you do opt to have it shipped, you should send your parents a nice gift for going to the trouble!).

If the saddle is foam-flocked, the foam has probably degraded and/or compressed enough that you should consider having it re-stuffed before putting it on a horse’s back. If it’s wool-flocked, it may be fine, although it would be worth having a fitter look at it on the leased horse’s back.

Do you know what saddle the owner of the horse currently uses? That might give you some idea of whether the Courbette might fit.

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Hope the saddle works for you and the horse. It’s worth a try.
People often recommend buying used saddles and if you have time to look and try multiple saddles it is the best way to go. But we have not had any luck finding the sizes and style we need used. I’ve been looking for 6 months, tried multiple saddles, had the saddle fitter out multiple times (which is a pain to schedule). We ended up buying something more affordable new. Not what I wanted to do but I don’t have the time or energy to keep looking for what we need used. Sometimes you get lucky and we have in the past but not recently.

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Thanks @NancyM! I’ll let you know if I’m looking for a buyer. :wink: Your perspective is certainly helpful - thank you. I’ve found some estimates online for billet replacement and reflocking. It seems like a good possible choice, if the saddle fits me/the horse.

Since you’re having it shipped, a couple of things to keep in mind:

I’ve shipped several saddles. The tighter you can roll the flaps, the smaller the box you can fit it into, and the less the cost to ship it. I sent a dressage saddle out to have work done; when it was shipped back to me, the saddler was able to wrap the flaps so tight he fit it into a vacuum cleaner box! Make sure it’s wrapped up in bubble wrap and newspaper is good for wodging it in the box so it doesn’t shift.

It’s still going to be uber expensive to ship. At least $35, probably more like $50 - or more - with insurance.

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Yesterday, I mentioned this potential saddle to my instructor. She seemed open to it/intrigued, but she mentioned a possible downside that we’ve not discussed. She said they finished the leather differently when this saddle was made, so it might be very slick. There are sprays, etc., to help with this, but just thought I’d point out that consideration.

I recently purchased an ancient Passier from ebay; shipping was $60. It arrived in a huge box.

The saddle was a bargain, only $325 plus the shipping. Reflocking, replacing and moving billets will cost about $900. Still, it will be a custom fit for both me and my hard to fit pony for under $1500.

I find it amazing that saddles are supposed to be “sticky” in order for a rider to be secure. Really??? No, this is not an issue that I’ve ever found to be a problem with old saddles. Your leg and seat keeps you secure, not a sticky surface on the leather of your saddle. Someone who is hoping to glue themselves onto the saddle rather than work to develop their seat and leg isn’t a rider (IMO). The other thing that keeps you so secure in these saddles is how close to the horse you are, no padding, no knee rolls, no “blocks”, nothing that holds your leg or seat further away from the horse’s side than necessary. The closer you are, the less torque comes onto your body when the horse moves underneath you. This is not just my opinion, it is the laws of physics, the action of forces on levers. The more saddle and padding you have between you and the horse, the longer the lever that is created when the horse moves quickly beneath you (creating a force), and the more force is put on your body as a result. The closer you are to the surface of the horse’s body, the shorter that lever is, thus the security. If you were a secure rider when you last used this saddle, you will be equally secure in it now… though it may take a few rides to get accustomed to it again.

@NancyM I don’t disagree with any of that. I’ve been surprised, since I’ve returned to riding, of hearing people talk about “sticky” saddles. Surely the “stickiness” only helps at the very far margins if you’re trying to ride through some behavior or getting jumped out of the tack. And you’re right, how the saddle is constructed will impact the position, but it cannot give you a tight seat.

But instructor is very knowledgeable, and no one else had made the point, so I thought I’d share for COTH posterity. For what it’s worth, trainer and I had the conversation right before a lunge lesson where I rode w/o stirrups or reins. That’s really the only way I know how to feel more secure in the saddle, but I’m no expert.

One other issue with an older design is that they tended to be much flatter in the seat. If you’re in two-point a lot, that doesn’t really matter, and in fact a flatter seat is less likely to get in the way. But for flat work you may notice that the flat saddle doesn’t give your position much help.

And finally one other point: 20 to 30 years ago, everybody rode in a 16.5 to 17 inch seat. (Just like every horse supposedly could be fit with a medium tree). But it might be that you find that that seat size really doesn’t fit you that well.