The New Saddle Saga…Or Which ReactorPanel Saddle Will be JUUST Right

Looking for a new saddle, after years of riding in the same saddle, gives one the feeling of being, well, just a bit unfaithful. After all, what was so wrong with my saddle of the past 20 years? Why now, after all this time together, am I thinking about something different to cradle my rear end? I had come to pretty good agreement with my old saddle – no pinching or rubbing, just keep my feet and seat comfortable, and it had done a good job. For my part, I kept the saddle fairly clean and oiled as needed and it traveled all over the world with me.

So what caused the split? Well, I got a new horse. I was doing more training for the flat and needed a saddle that did not pitch me forward. The tiny hiney, well, not so tiny as it used to be.

When I first started endurance the choice was English or Western. Steubben or Passier? The choices were few. Today we have so many endurance saddles it is hard to know where to start. But I had an idea of what I wanted. My friend Heather Reynolds had a horse in training that seemed to have hind end “issues” that no one could put a finger on. Finally she tried a ReactorPanel saddle and all the issues went away. Based on this information, my partner Judith, who was having similar problem, got a ReactorPanel saddle. Her horse Mia loved it and they finished Tevis in great shape this year.

Now it’s my turn. I have been working with Carmi Weininger to find just the right saddle. Since my new horse has been known to buck a bit, I crave security. Since I have a tendency to ride too far forward, I want a dressage seat that sits me flat and allows me to stay vertical, but has enough pommel and cantle to keep me feeling safe. Carmi has been tackling this problem like a true detective.

Working with ReactorPanel is great because you have the option to try out a saddle for a couple of weeks to see if it fits. Since I really wanted a dressage saddle (in case I decided to “dabble” a bit in dressage), we started with the Tribute. I loved it the minute I sat in it. It felt like coming home. Take it and try it, Carmi said. So I did. What I discovered, while riding from the Overlook to No Hands Bridge and back, in Auburn CA, was the seat was too narrow for my seat bones and it pressed on the sciatic nerve. Normally, if I am experiencing some sciatic pain, riding makes it go away. This was an interesting finding and reinforced the value of trying out the saddle, no matter how good it feels on the saddle stand! Reluctantly, I traded in the Tribute. I so wanted it to work.

Judith rides in a Baker Alexsandra dressage saddle. I have ridden in it and it is OK, although if the buck came I might be hard pressed to stay in the seat. Carmi had a used saddle that was similar for me to try. Much better on the seat bones, nicely broken in (I think they should charge extra for saddles that have been broken in). Basically comfortable, not quite as secure as I would like.

Carmi and I met again in Watsonville for another saddle tryst. Carmi has the patience of a saint. She just laughs and says, don’t worry, we’ll get it figured out. She had a brand new model, custom ordered, and the lady who ordered it was willing to let me try it first (free breaking in of the saddle – smart lady). It had pink leather piping (eat your heart out, Heather Reynolds). I am so NOT a pink girl, but figured a magic marker would solve the problem, should I decide to take the saddle.

This saddle had thigh blocks, I loved them. Felt nice and safe. Upon reflection, I realized that both my other saddles – flat and hill have thigh blocks and it is really hard to be unseated. Carmi warned me I might not like the seat. It is a trail saddle designed for hills so the seat did pitch me forward. It was plenty wide however. Nothing to do but try it out.

My horse obliged by giving a couple of minor bucks while cantering uphill. No problem. Rather than coming unseated or off balance, I was able to communicate to him that bucking was unacceptable behavior. Sweet. The seat was too forward for me, however. I had to compensate by taking my leg further forward and when I tried to maintain a vertical position, my lower back began to hurt.

So we have the saddle flap figured out. Now we need the seat. I will be swapping with Carmi this weekend to try an endurance model. At least there will be no desecration of the lovely pink piping. In the meantime, my horse has liked every saddle we have put on him. He is moving freely, sweat pattern even, no ruffled hair.

The saga continues, hopefully, so will Carmi’s patience with me!

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