Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Conquest of the Saddle Hunt

You know I love a good price... but a good price isn't necessarily a bargain unless whatever the item is will work for you and is what you want.  And so while a new Duett Presto is only 1/3 the price of a new County Conquest, I have decided that it is not, for me, a good deal.

So I started bargain hunting online for a used XW County.  It's a lot easier to find used County dressage saddles in an XW than jumping saddles, that's for sure.  Prior to the fitting in Georgia, I had a lead on a 17"W County Symmetry, but after the fitting, I realized it just wasn't going to work.  That same seller, however also happened to have a 17 1/2" XW Conquest available.  But I still wasn't convinced that the Conquest was the right saddle for me... it has a round cantle for Pete's sake!  I searched high and low for a Symmetry and I did token searches for a Conquest, but nothing quite right came up.  Except for the Conquest listed by the person who also had the Symmetry.  After many emails between the County Rep and me, and after consulting Honorary Big Sister Jen, I decided that maybe I could deal with the round cantle, and I inquired about the Conquest.

It turned out that the Symmetry seller had listed the Conquest for a friend, so it took a little while before I heard back.  The pictures looked good, the price was good (half of what a new Conquest would cost), and based on the serial number, the County Rep thought it would probably work.  The seller agreed to a trial, and I feverishly worked to get everyone lined up to have the saddle checked in my absence.

It took a bit of work to make sure everyone necessary was available to execute the saddle trial/assessment for me, but I managed to coordinate all involved parties.  Everything was looking good... but the day of the trial was nearly a disaster.  I was expecting the saddle the day before the trial... and it didn't show up.  The day of the trial, there was still no saddle in the morning.  And no saddle at noon.  And no saddle at 2:30PM.  This wasn't looking good.  Just as I was about to give up hope and call the County Rep to cancel (after she had already rescheduled someone else to accommodate me!), I got a phone call that the saddle had arrived!  Seriously, it was just in the nick of time.

The County Rep came and assessed the condition and fit of the saddle for my horses, Lovely Rider rode my horses in the saddle, and my wonderful Former Roommate did everything to get the horses ready.

The verdict?  I have a new saddle!  Everyone tells me it's lovely.  

Friday, September 20, 2013

Crowne-ing Glory

Twelve years ago, Ariat introduced a beautiful new field boot; the creme-de-la-creme of their line of boots, made in Italy.  They called it the Crowne.  The Crowne was an improvement over the Champion, their original field boot (also made in Italy), by creating a more streamlined sole (removing the exterior lateral stability component found on pretty much every Ariat boot previous), adding an extra eyelet to allow for easier on-off, and adding a Spanish top to create the illusion of a longer leg.  They were beautiful.  And far too expensive for me, at $500 (nearly $700 in 2013 dollars when adjusted for inflation).  But I was in love.  Maybe someday...  *sigh* At that same time, Ariat also introduced its first zipper boot, the Challenge.  The Crowne was not available with zippers until the introduction of the Crowne Pro in 2004, which coincided with a shift in production to China and a lessening in the quality of materials - along with a price increase and the discontinuation of the lovely Italian-made Crownes.  I was shattered when I saw the inferiority of the Crowne Pro.  And I began a mission to find a pair of original Crownes that I could afford, even if used.

It took me several years (2008 or so), but I finally found a pair of Crownes for about $200 or so, lightly used, on eBay.  It was a stretch for my budget at the time, but these were the boots for which I'd been searching.  And then the post office lost them.  *angry face*  The seller was kind enough to refund my money.

A couple years passed, and I found on eBay a very used pair of boots that *might* be Crownes.  These ones cost about $100.  Easier on the budget, but they were very used.  And the post office lost those ones, too (they also managed to once lose a saddle I had purchased).  *angry face*  What was, I'm pretty sure, months later, the boots did show up (the saddle was also found, for those wondering).  And they were very, very used.  But they were Crownes.

I wore the Crownes sparingly; they polished up well enough for shows, but they weren't going to last if I wore them beyond that.  Sadly, however, it turned out that this particular boot ran large in the footbed.  I wear a size 8 all day long in an Ariat boot.  I've had at least 6 pairs, and they've all been 8s.  In the Crowne, I needed a 7 1/2.  I made it work... but I still searched eBay every so often for a 7 1/2.  As a long-discontinued item, however, I knew the chances were slim.

A couple weeks ago, I went to Horseman's Outlet for the first time.  Horseman's Outlet is kind of a big deal as far as tack stores go.  And apparently they have a great consignment section.  I have a (big) soft spot for consignment, so I made sure to check it out.  As I toured the consignment section, I realize that it's not only consignment - it is also closeouts and clearance.  And I notice a pair of boots that look stunningly like the original Italian Crownes, new with tags, at half the original price.  Indeed, they were Crownes, but they were not my size.  

But I slowly realize that there is a veritable sea of tall boots, some used, some new, and mostly zipperless.  I slowly prowled through the boots, looking at the size of anything that might be a remote possibility.  And then I found them: original, made-in-Italy Ariat Crownes, size 7 1/2, and new with tags!  Could it really be?

Jealously guarding my treasure, I went out the main store to try them on.  I had to ask for a pair of boot pulls, because you really can't buy non-zip boots off the shelf any longer.  The fact that I was choosing to try on pull-on boots impressed the employees and earned me some respect.  I was almost afraid; what if they didn't fit?  What if my calf had gotten too big?  I would be devastated.

I hooked in the boot pulls and started to pull on the boots.  And then they stuck.  Sh*t!!  Panic began to set in... and then I realized that I had forgotten to loosen the laces.  Having put elastic laces in my own boots had negated my need to loosen the laces, so I just didn't even think about needing to do so for this new-found treasure.  I paused for a moment, gathered my bearings, loosened the laces, and proceeded to again try the boots.

And they fit!  Absolutely beautifully, perfectly, like a glove!  And they were brand new with tags!  Could it be any better?

At 50% off the original price, I felt they were a bit overpriced considering how long that particular boot has been discontinued.  But as I thought about it, anymore you are hard-pressed to find a decent boot at that price, let alone THE boots.  I also knew that the next-best option for me in terms of fit would be a $900 pair of Sergio Grassos; next-best to that would be a $900 pair of Ariat Monacos.  And I just can't stomach $900 for *non*-custom boots.

So I bought them.  And they are beautiful.  And I love them.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

We're Back to Saddles - Yes, Again.

Oren and I have started talking (seriously) about a time frame within which to bring one of my ponies up to the NY/NJ area.  I've been riding at an amazing barn (more on that in a later post), and the plan is to bring the pony there, at least initially.  The other pony will obviously be staying in Georgia.

Clearly, this means that I need a second saddle.  I mean, I have to have something to ride in both in NY/NJ and in Atlanta!  So, I started looking at saddles again.

My first thought was to just pick up another "Band-Aid" saddle - another Collegiate Convertible Diploma.  Then I started thinking that perhaps I should look to get a slightly nicer "Band-Aid", and try to find a reasonable price on a Bates Caprilli that was either already wool-flocked, or convert it from CAIR panels to wool flocking.  But there were some issues with that idea... it would definitely be stretching the budget to go the Bates-and-reflock route, and at the end of the day, it would still be a saddle that didn't fit my horses, didn't really fit me, and would eventually need to be replaced.  Maybe not the best investment.

I decided to explore the idea of stretching the budget (made possible through the eBay sales of many items I no longer need), partially prompted by reading that some Prestige saddles can be a good fit for wide horses when they are adjusted very wide and seeing some *very* reasonable prices on used Prestiges.  And I had been meaning to try Duett saddles for quite some time (which, used, can be had for a song).  And if I was doing all that, I might as well look at a used County, as they can also be had in the same price range as some of the Prestiges I was finding.  Smith-Worthington was another possibility, as well.

So I started making plans to try saddles during my next trip to Georgia.  I talked to Nancy at Duett, I emailed VTO Saddlery about Prestige, and I contacted the Georgia County Saddlery rep, Cindy.  Cindy assured me she could get "stupid-wide" and Nancy agreed to send me some Duetts in 38cm and 40cm trees.  I ended up not pursuing Prestige and Smith-Worthington due to time constraints (though I did check the local tack stores for anything suitably wide in either brand - no dice).

At 5:00PM on the day I landed in Georgia, I met with County Rep Cindy.  She had with her a Stabilizer and a Conquest, both in an XW.  With the initial placement of each saddle on each horse, they looked good, with nice, even contact under the panels, the deepest part of the seat parallel to the ground, and the stirrup leathers were hanging perpendicular to the seat - I hadn't seen that before on any other saddle that was on one of my horses.

We went up to the arena, and I rode Star around in the Conquest for a little bit.  She was very, very good - nice, even pace at the trot and canter, a swinging (something else new!) back at the walk, and a few very nice jumps with no taking-off-rushingness.  Hmmm...  Next, we tried the Stabilizer.  Really, I did not like it as well from the moment I sat in it - I just didn't feel as balanced.  And I'm not sure whether Star picked up on this, but she definitely expressed that her distinct preference was for the Conquest, as demonstrated by her putting me on the ground!*  D'oh!  We put the Conquest back on, and she was happy again.  So the mare had spoken... now we just had to see if the gelding agreed.  Well, considering that as I rode him, he gave me what I think was probably the best jump he's ever given me, I would say he agreed.  Extra-bonus: the sweat/dust marks left under the saddle were *literally* textbook-perfect on each horse!  Another new thing!  Hot damn!

The good news was that I'd found a saddle that would work.  The other good news was that it was not the most expensive saddle County sells.  The bad news is that there were no demo saddles available for sale (County was running their 20% off demos sale).  The other bad news was that the saddle was $3400.  I explained to County Rep Cindy that I would have to talk it over with my husband and that I had a few more saddles to try.  But I did love the ride in the Conquest.

The next day, I had a big box of 2 Duett saddles to take out the barn and try.  I was supposed to be getting a Bravo in a 40cm tree and a Presto in a 38cm tree.  I opened the box to find 2 Prestos - one 38cm and one 40cm.  Well... okay.  Not what I was expecting, but no big deal.  Sparky got to be the first guinea pig.

First I tried the 38cm.  It just didn't look right.  So I tried the 40cm, which looked better... but I wouldn't know until I rode in them.  I started out in the 38cm, and I just didn't love it.  I hopped off and switched it out for the 40cm, got back on and rode around a bit more.  The 40cm was MUCH better than the 38cm.  Hurray!  But it just wasn't getting the same amount of love from me that the Conquest did.  But it was 1/3 the price - even less if I could find one used...

I rode in the Presto again the next day.  It was still only 1/3 the price of the Conquest.  But I just still didn't love it.  And it still just didn't seem quite right - I felt I had to be sure to stay very centered, as there was some rolling side-to-side.  And there was a gap under the panel where there should have been contact with the shoulder.  And the back panels seemed to not be flat enough.  But it was a brand-new saddle and hadn't settled.  And would that gap fill in with work (ie, was the gap due to atrophy or conformation)?  And it was 1/3 the price of the Conquest...

Ultimately, the only decision made that weekend was that I will probably end up buying two new saddles.  Oops... not the intended outcome.  But after having ridden each of my horses in saddles that were truly wide enough, it's just not fair for either of them to be stuck with the always-has-been-too-narrow-but-was-still-wider-than-any-other-saddle-they've-had Collegiate.  And so the saddle hunting begins again.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Very Sad Right Now

I know this is stupid, but I am very sad right now because I have no idea where Sparky's Very Pretty Dressage Bridle is.  Truth be had, I'm really more sad because Sparky's Very Pretty Dressage Bridle had a Very Pretty Blingy Browband that was 100% One Of A Kind, and the missing-ness of the Very Pretty Bridle means the missing-ness of the Very Pretty Blingy Browband.  Of course, I should have realized much longer ago that I didn't know where it was, but that's another story.

I was in Georgia a couple weeks ago (more on that in a later post), where is has rained pretty much all summer.  All my bridles were therefore icky and moldy, so my wonderful former roommate/Kellie's owner, Debbie, took them home to clean them for me.  As I gathered up bridles to take back to the barn (so I could, you know, ride), I realized that Sparky's Very Pretty Dressage Bridle was not among them.  So I looked around the barn for it... didn't seem to be there, either.  So I looked around Debbie's house for it.  No dice.  So I assumed that I had brought it to New York with me, as I did most of my other nicer bridles.  Well, I can't find it here, either.

So I am very sad.