At last, the long awaited blog about my saddle. My saddle is actually Willi Schultheis' saddle—the Stübben Tristan Extra with a 31 tree and 18” seat. If specifically ordered as a “Schultheis saddle,” it arrives with these dimensions in light brown, full grain cow leather, four short girth straps for use with a long, cord girth and absolutely no knee rolls. A patch of brown suede marks the flap where the knee roll-that-isn't would be constructed on any other saddle.
In my years riding with Schultheis and Zeilinger, we broke these saddles in with several coats of oil to darken the leather into a rich, dark brown color. Before every ride, we sponged a coat of Stübben saddle soap across the seat and flaps to make a nice tacky surface to meet our leather seated riding breeches. A small dab of Stiefelhaft (boot stick) at the top of the boots finished off the perfect mix of sticky-and-be-free that every Schultheis rider strove to achieve.
Now Rita, all this ritual and tradition cannot be spoken about in the past tense in my daily routine. For me, the right saddle has always been Stübben, and I still ride in my “Schultheis” every day. A good friend once offered to eventually pry it out of my cold, dead hands at my funeral, which resulted in an illogical anxiety attack on my part...
In any case, when I met Frank Stübben at the Lyon CDI-W last fall in France, he was happy to hear that I had been riding in the same Stübben saddles for 25 years and that I had no intention of making a change. (I feel the urge to cut anticipated criticism off at the start, Rita. I have TRIED many other saddles and have had several saddle makers try to provide a decent copy in order to get my endorsement, but so far nothing could replace my Schultheis.)
My only complaint to Mr. Stübben was that I had to buy up every used saddle that came on the market for my students since the newest Stübben Tristan Extras never seemed to break in, fit, hold up and ride like the old, original Schultheis saddles. He was sceptical about this, so I took him back to the stable to show him my old saddle and talk about some of the details.
He checked the fit on my horse—which is perfect thanks to the knowledge of my saddle flocker and despite the fact that Cadillac’s saddle was made well before Cadillac was born. We talked about the seat, the tree, the flap and how all those things contributed to what I describe as “the closest contact dressage saddle ever made.”
Mr. Stübben then wrote down the serial number of my saddle so that he could go back to his computer to check the original statistics on its construction. Stübben keeps a record of every saddle ever produced in its three factory locations: Germany, Ireland and Switzerland.
Before leaving the stables that afternoon, he remarked on how dear my saddle is to me and asked me if I took it back to the hotel at night so it couldn’t be stolen. That isn’t necessary. It looks so old and used that I can leave it sitting out in the stable aisle at night, and nobody ever bothers to steal it! This is a well-known joke amongst my fellow riders who think I’m nuts for riding in that old thing. They have offered to pitch in and buy me something new...
Let them make jokes! I feel every move my horse makes under my seat. He feels all of the aids from seat, leg and weight. That saddle turns every horse I ride into an instant response machine. I never have to worry about interference in our communication.
My saddle is also BALANCED. It sits further forward than most modern dressage saddles, and it allows me to position my seat bones toward the horse’s center of gravity. My weight is centered as closely as possible over this point, which is located about 4 inches behind the horse’s elbow and is not pushed backward toward the center of motion which, is located in the horse’s lumbar region.
Many modern dressage saddles place the rider’s knees too far back; tilting the pelvis out of its natural shock-absorbing position and placing the rider’s seat closer to the center of motion, which makes sitting and following the horse’s motion much more difficult. To compensate for this imbalance, these saddles are usually equipped with a lot of extra knee rolls, thigh blocks, and/or too much stuffing in order to secure the rider into a rigid position and dampen the exaggerated movement of the horse’s back, which occurs nearer to the lumbar region.
A saddle that forces the rider into one position can result in joint damage—knee, hip, sacroiliac and/or disc problems. And needless to say, if the rider cannot feel and follow the proper motion of the horse’s back with comfort, his horse will probably suffer too.
Oh Rita, I could go on for hours about this stuff. Long story made short, I have never found another saddle that allows me to sit as freely, comfortably and deeply on a horse as the Stübben Schultheis.
The only problem with this saddle is that you have to actually learn to sit before you can use it. And that takes YEARS, Rita. YEARS. You also need a good instructor and a good longing horse. During the “boot camp” period, you will experience a wide variety of saddle sores and probably complain that the seat is too “hard.” You might even call out for your mother once or twice.
This is of course a problem for Mr. Stübben who likes to sell saddles and doesn’t want contemporary dressage riders to give up on riding altogether before learning to sit in a Schultheis saddle. So Mr. Stübben offered to send me a NEW saddle—based on the specifications of Cadillac’s saddle—made with contemporary materials, design and modifications. Something a little more user friendly.
He hoped I would try this saddle out for him and eventually find it satisfactory. I agreed, but admittedly with a big sigh and some rolling of the eyes. I can be so STUBBORN, Rita!