Saturday, 29 June 2019

What helped me to choose a Voltaire Design dressage saddle


I think it’s every dressage rider’s dream to have a beautifully designed saddle, that correctly supports the rider while also providing optimum comfort for the horse.

There are literally hundreds of dressage saddles on the market - made to measure, custom design, brand new off the shelf, second hands. And while this makes it fantastic for having a wide variety to test & try, it also makes it a nightmare to whittle down and figure out which one is best for you, which is best for the horse and which you can afford!

Recently, while at Bramham horse trials, I met up with an old friend who is also a grassroots competitive amateur, having a go at a bit of eventing and dressage. She had recently purchased a Voltaire Design saddle for her previous horse post-kissing spine surgery. Unfortunately she has now lost the horse, but when I asked her about the saddle, the information that poured from her was very innovative. Coincidentally, Voltaire had a stand at Bramham, so I headed over, with my friend, to find out more.

I was interested in how the saddle was made, as Louie is very sensitive, and has a HUGE set of shoulders. There I met Laura & Bonnie, two of the fitting specialists. They took time out to explain the wider than average gullet to avoid sitting on the nerve and bone structures running along the back, as well as a fairly revolutionary way of building the panels underneath.

How are Voltaire Design saddles made and fit to you horse?

The saddles come in just two sizes, and each one is built up to fit your horse with a 3-layered foam system. I can’t remember what it’s called but it’s a little like a tough memory foam - when you push your thumb into it, it moulds around it, but springs back to shape when you release it.

The panels underneath a saddle are typically built in two sections - front to mid seat & mid seat to back. Voltaire break that down into four, meaning it’s much more adjustable and customisable for the fit of your horse & you. There is the panel above the knee roll, another under the skirt, another across the seat and the forth supports the back.


For anyone dubious about foam panels and their longevity, on a saddle used on one horse for about 45mins 5-6 times a week, they will probably last 7-10 years. A complete new set of foam panelling is £400 so very much in line with the combined cost of flocking top up throughout the same period. I write this sitting with my previous horse’s dressage saddle sat with a permanent listing on every sale site going. It looks brand new, not a mark on it, and I’ll probably be losing £500-600 on it after just a handful of times. It was last used five years ago...

This situation doesn’t really exist with Voltaire. If it was a Voltaire saddle, I’d be able to send it away and have a full panel refit to enable it to fit Louie and best of all, I’d have been able to ride in a dressage saddle for the last four years!

So long as your change of horse doesn’t go from something very narrow to very wide, or vice versa, the panelling can be redone.

Pricing

While chatting to Laura & Bonnie, I asked the dreaded question of price...I’d already seen something of the saddles and knew they were at the upper end of the market. So while I sat there in a dressage saddle on their show stand horse, I nearly lost my breath when I heard that the buffalo leather saddle was £4,700...

BUT PLEASE READ ON!

All of the fitting after care is completely free! So if like me, you like to have a fitter look at your saddle every 6 months, at and average cost of £80 (before any flocking work), you’ll be getting that for free. However, in reality, I probably look at Louie about four times a year thinking he’s changed shape and I need it looking at (that’s usually what triggers my call for the next booking!).

Now, let’s look at a quarterly saddle check at key points of the year. February when they are at their slimmest, May when the spring grass makes them a bit tubby, August when they should be quite fit after a summer of competition & enjoying cantering in fields, and finally November as they come into the winter and you anticipate a shape change.

Each one of those is £80. So in one year that’s £320. Louie’s 8, so let’s say we hopefully have a good 5 years, at least, ahead of us. So £320 x 5 years = £1,600

If you multiply it up to the estimate life of the foam panels, that turns into £2,240.

Take that cost off the price of the saddle I was sat in, suddenly the cost is between £2,460-3,100, which lands it smack in the middle of your standard brand new saddles. Voltaire did NOT point this out to me - I came to this conclusion for myself when I was at home that night weighing up whether to take the plunge or not.

It made a lot of sense to me as over the last year, Louie had one saddle fitting. He went off the boil in February and it took me until May to figure out it was the saddle. Why did I leave it so long? Because there was always something else that demanded my £80... A winter vets MOT, a physio session, a new rug, stabling for overnight shows, dentist checks, bitting consultation... We all know this, there’s always something else to pay for.

Well not anymore as it’s FOC with Voltaire.

Conformation fitting for you Voltaire saddle

After paying a FULLY REFUNDABLE deposit at Bramham (I literally bought nothing else there...maybe a few small bits!), I arranged a conformation fitting consultation with Bonnie, my area’s specialist, for two weeks later & that was only because I was away with work.

Saturday afternoon I was so excited for Bonnie coming out. Louie was bathed, mane pulled, tail tidied and made to look as smart as a dart. I was pretty impressed with Andrew & mine’s efforts!


Louie is a wide in Voltaire, Bonnie instantly saw that. I chatted about how sensitive he is if anything becomes too tight on his shoulders, and that anything that swings around on his back will create a nice neat buck. She worked away putting a demo saddle on and popped underneath the second panel a 10mm extra foam panel. She also took into account that as he hadn’t been in full work due to having no saddle, that he was a little tubbier than he would be normally!

Then the time came to ride in it. I literally couldn’t wait!! I put my stirrups right down and hopped onboard & realised I needed more length! It felt so strange riding this long, but the position it helped to put me in felt fantastic and it was clearly helping me to be more influential with Louie as we instantly sharpened up our walk to canter transitions!


In the canter, I felt like my leg was pushing forward and pushing me back in the seat, so we dropped my stirrups another hole which made a massive difference for the better. I was a bit unbalanced in trot just from not being used to riding like that but once my saddle arrives & I can get going, I’ll soon get used to it again! We also agreed to add some more length to the knee block to ensure that it came to the top of my knee, as well as bringing the block forward to give my thigh bone enough length from hip to knee.


Louie felt AMAZING - he was fluid, loose, and really working all the way through. I couldn’t believe how much difference a saddle could make! And this is all with an unbalanced rider sitting on top!


Bonnie has now put the order in for the fully customised version of our saddle, with Voltaire turquoise gullet, added turquoise stirrup leather holders and I’ve treated myself to a black Swarovski crystal Voltaire logo on each side at the back of the main flap!!

It will take 10-12 weeks for the saddle to arrive and you pay before dispatch when it is ready. Unlike most self-employed saddle fitters, Voltaire offer two financing options.
  1. Four equal payments of the remaining balance after deposit so you’ll have pretty much paid most of it off by the time it arrives
  2. Using their finance partner to set up a credit agreement to pay it over a series of instalments
I’ve actually chosen to pay in full with a 0% interest rate credit card as their credit provider option did have interest in the agreement. With a credit card, I’m in control and if I choose to pay lower payments, I can do so, simply transferring my balance to another 0% interest credit card if I still have a balance when it expires.

Voltaire offer free, no obligation confirmation fittings, and my recommendation would be to book one! I would never normally go into a saddle stand at a show, ever! But listening to the technology, the innovation, the history, and especially the passion of each specialist, really turned my head. Whereas previously I just had an opinion of them being beautifully fancy overpriced saddles for the "rich & famous", I left the stand full of information about why they warrant the price tag they do and why they could be a good option for Louie.

So while every month I’ll miss some extra pony party pennies, each time I sit in my beautiful new dressage saddle, I’ll remember what a lucky girl I really am!