I am looking for a new saddle for foxhunting. I’m considering Stubben, Berney Bros., Albion and Devoucoux. Which do you think is the best’
Horse Journal Response:The short answer to your question is: Whichever saddle you like best. The four saddle brands you’ve mentioned are all top-quality saddles, but between them there is a considerable difference in cut, fit and price.
The most important factor to consider when buying any saddle is fit — to both the horse and to the rider. If the saddle doesn’t fit your horse (no matter how many or what kind of saddle pads you use), then you’ve wasted your money. And it may cost you much more to have a chiropractor or veterinarian fix your horse’s back.
Fit is especially important for hunting, because, if you’re a serious foxhunter, you’ll likely be spending four or five hours each day on your horse’s back following hounds. A saddle that pinches the withers, is too tight on the shoulders, or is pressing on the back muscles would be like you going for a 25-mile hike with shoes that are rubbing your heels or ankles.
The saddle must fit you, too, and allow you to be balanced. If you can’t get your lower legs underneath you or you feel like you’re always riding uphill, then you’re out of balance.
These four saddles are cut rather differently too, because the saddle makers have different priorities. Berney Bros. saddles have a very forward cut, for galloping over cross-country fences. The Devoucoux jumping saddles are also forwardly cut for jumping, and come in mono-flap and dual-flap designs, but they have a more central balance point. Stubbens are like riding in a couch, and Albion is somewhere in between these extremes.
Price is almost always the real decider in saddle purchases, because it’s one of the most expensive items of tack. Devoucoux saddles run $4,000 and up; Albion saddles are several hundred dollars less. Stubben all-purpose saddles and Berney Bros. run about $2,000.
It will be a time-consuming effort, but you should be prepared to try numerous saddles to find the one that fits you and your horse best. And that’s true for any discipline.
Trail-Riding Saddle Pad
I purchased an Arabian mare a year ago and have struggled to find a saddle pad I am happy with. She has fairly high withers. I am riding a flex-tree Abetta saddle that fits her well. I find that most pads rub on her hip bones and seem too long. I do a lot of trail riding and am planning a short (15-mile) ride. Which saddle pads do you recommend’
Horse Journal Response: One of the most important considerations when shopping for a saddle pad is your horse’s conformation. Arabians have been getting taller and longer in recent years, but they are still one rib shorter than other breeds, so a standard 32-inch-long, square Western saddle pad can be too long for some of them, banging them in the hip bones. Saddle pads come in different lengths, so you probably want to look for one no longer than 30 inches.
Measure your saddle’s skirts first, front to back, to be sure that will be long enough to give full coverage. Years ago, saddles made for Arabian horses had round shirts to help with the short back/long saddle conflict. If your saddle has round skirts, there are Western saddle pads (often labeled ”barrel saddle”) made in that shape that should work for you.
If you know your saddle fits your horse (check by trying it on without a pad or blanket and see if it lies evenly down the bars, doesn’t rest on the withers, and can’t be rocked forward and back) then look for a pad that does not offer any sort of ”correction.” Some saddle pads come with various sizes, shapes and thicknesses of inserts (either removable or non-removable) that make up for shortcomings in the way a saddle fits.
The other consideration is how you ride. For long hours on the trail, we’d go with a pad made from a natural fiber, like sheepskin, wool or wool felt.
In your case, a horse with high withers, it’s important that you look for a pad that has ”high wither relief,” meaning it is either cut higher, or cut out, at the area over the withers.