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.