Thursday, July 5, 2018

The Hulsebos Zadel Re-Fit Experience

I feel like within the horse world there exists little pockets or pools of riders who all use similar gear or tack. Like social media aficionados who have flocked to PS of Sweden and Lund. Or for instance, at my farm there's like a mini-cult of us who all ride in Hulsebos dressage saddles.

Personally, I blame my trainer P haha. She has been buying custom Hulsebos saddles for years now (fun fact: the saddle I bought from her this past winter was her first ever) and has sold a few of them to other riders at the barn. Likewise, her trainer is also a big Hulsebos fan and has also sold a few saddles to other riders at my barn too. So now there are a lotta us riding around in them haha.

the saddlery recently opened up a US-based branch and now has this neat little van for tooling all around town haha. i'm not totally sure where this van normally lives tho, bc they're only in maryland like.... once a year
So anyway. The saddlery is based in the Netherlands, with third generation owner Jan Hulsebos spending most of his time actually in France. He comes to the US reasonably often, I believe. And seems to come to our farm annually. At which point everyone who owns one of his saddles gets on the schedule for fittings.

lots of horses and riders getting evaluated!
He spends a lot of time with each horse and rider - like 45min to an hour. Many hours, in my case. He watches the rider take the horse through his paces, mostly silently unless there's something specific he wants to see. Then commences a process of problem solving and troubleshooting what might be causing any imbalances.

In my case with Charlie, it actually almost felt more like a riding clinic than a saddle fitting. He seemed more preoccupied with my bio mechanics in the saddle and Charlie's overall frame and carriage than with whether the saddle was a Yes/No fit for Charlie (bc hint: it's a Yes haha).

different saddle that i tried. not the right fit for me - but i guess it was the half blocks that he wanted to see in action?
Specifically, he accurately diagnosed my most fundamental positional flaw: I tip my pelvis forward and pinch with my knees, pushing my seat out the back of the saddle and upsetting my overall balance.

Jan said that this, combined with the saddle's slightly downhill balance, meant that Charlie's shoulders were restricted and that he couldn't truly come through over his back. So he wanted to see me and Charlie go in a different saddle. At first I didn't really understand his objectives here. I'm not in the market for a new saddle and the one he chose was clearly not a great fit for me (like hip pain almost immediately).

commencing saddle surgery lol
After talking more later tho, I understood that he wanted to see how I went with a different block configuration, and wanted to see if changing the saddle improved Charlie's way of going and allowed him to carry himself in a better frame. Which, ya know, seems reasonable haha.

cutting open the seams to expose the foam block
After watching me go for what felt like forever in the heat, Jan settled on his plan of action for my saddle. The mission, should I choose to accept it, was to completely remodel the knee blocks, cutting off the bottom half to turn them into half blocks - to the tune of ~$125.

exposing the foam block completely
His idea here being: if he took away the bottom half of the blocks, I wouldn't be able to jam my knees into them. And thus wouldn't be pushing my seat back up against the cantle of the saddle. This would allow my seat to come more forward in the saddle, and my leg to hang longer down through the thigh.

In turn, Charlie could be better connected over his back to translate his engagement behind into more freedom in his shoulders up front. And thus a better frame.

cutting through the foam to remove the bottom half of the block
I was on board with the plan, so after Jan finished the next rider's session (during which time I gave poor sweaty Charlie his second bath of the day, parked him in front of his stall fan, and retreated to my own air conditioned car....), he commenced a full on operation of my dearly beloved dressage saddle.

contouring the foam
It's always kinda shocking to see these saddles get taken apart, ya know? Like our tack is so treasured, so valuable, we're all usually really careful in handling them and storing them. Meanwhile to actually work on a saddle like this takes a fair amount of brute force lol. Leather is some tough stuff!

using a cheese-grater type tool to give the foam more shape
I was excited to watch tho bc I find this stuff fascinating. Like, c'mon tell me I'm not the only one who has browsed all through youtube looking for saddle making videos, right?? And he seemed happy to explain what he was doing, and what the process was, and why it's advantageous to do this right here and now vs shipping it away for the work.

(Hint: the advantage is that we could put it back on Charlie and ride again so he could assess the work and tweak if needed).

lots and lots of cheese grater action haha
Basically what he did was: carefully cut the seams where the leather covering the foam blocks met the sweat flap. He cut the entire way down the block (leaving the front edge at the face of the saddle intact), exposing the entire foam piece.

the flaps of removed leather that previously covered the bottom portion of the blocks. he said these would be my "lucky leather pieces" lol
This piece was then cut in half with a razor, then shaped with a cheese grater type tool. Once the block was contoured to Jan's satisfaction, he trimmed the excess leather covering and hand stitched it back into place on the flap.

hand stitching the leather up around the newly remodeled half blocks
Then repeated the process on the other side, using the first cut piece of foam as a measurement to ensure both blocks were the same size.

more stitching, lots of careful, deliberate stitching
And just like that, in the space of about an hour or so, my saddle had "new" blocks.

assessing the flocking
Next he moved on to the more standard part of the re-fitting process: adjusting the wool flocking in the panels to improve overall balance and fit for horse and rider.

moving the flocking around
For me and Charlie, this meant changing the front-to-back balance of the saddle. It currently has a bit of a tendency to sit a little downhill on the horse. And since the horse himself can sometimes be a little downhill, and since my habit already is to tip forward in my pelvis, we end up with kinda a snowballing bio mechanical disaster lol.

adding more wool
So his plan was to take down the back of the saddle a little bit, and lift the front. Seems like a simple change, but hopefully this combined with the new block configuration should give me basically a whole new feel in the saddle.

Oh, and also combined with longer stirrups. Jan was a BIG FAN of lengthening basically everyone's stirrups lol.

ta da! fresh remodeled half blocks!
Once that was done, another rider had their session and I went on back down to the barn to retrieve Charlie again. Poor guy, he was not really super happy to be going for another ride in the heat lol.

tools of the trade - surprisingly compact little tool box too
Esp considering we had to walk up past the big July 4 party preparations and Charlie was pretty sure they were roasting his pony friends on the grill and that maybe he was next. At least his "spook" habit of just stopping and staring happens to make him look mighty handsome ;)

nothing left to do but retrieve the pony for more testing! meanwhile charlie went full-blown DEFCON MAJESTIC walking past the house as they were setting up tents and grills for the impending July 4th mega party haha, after which he spent the rest of the walk whinnying pitifully. perhaps he thought that was one of his friends on the spit??
Anyway we finally made it back up to the dressage ring and got Charlie saddled back up again in the newly fixed up saddle.

new fit with adjusted balance front-to-back, and new half blocks
I got back on for another ride and definitely felt a difference in my knees - esp in not bracing. Tho I ended up shortening my stirrups again bc yea I just don't love the feeling of reaching for the irons, and need that stability in the saddle to be effective in my own weird pretzel way.

Still tho, it was a pretty big difference. And especially with the added lift up front in the saddle, I was quiiite pleased with that feeling. Anything that helps me feel less like Charlie's about to drill a hole to China with his front end is much appreciated lol.

you can see where the blocks used to extend, and the old lines from the original machine stitching. pretty cool, huh?
So overall I'm pretty excited about the changes. Will need more time in the saddle to really see the results. Like, will this be the magic fix I've been looking for?? Ha, probably not. Like, probably I still need to modify my own position to really be more correct. But this should help.

Also helpful is the bottle of Hulsebos conditioner I picked up from Jan too lol. This saddle is kinda old and spent a few years sitting in a closet and... you can tell lol. So hopefully I can get it some new TLC post face lift!

All said, it was an unusual saddle fitting experience for me - I definitely didn't expect the all out reconstruction process that happened. But it was pretty cool. Jan liked my horse too, and right away acknowledged what a good, kind boy he was. Always nice to hear ;) Also nice was the fact that Charlie was more or less his normal level of soundness for the appt. Small wins, y'all.

I'm sure I'll have more to write about later as I spend more time in the adjusted saddle (and esp after I can get some pics of what we look like now to compare to older pics). For now tho I just wanted to get this all recorded for the sake of remembering everything.

Have you ever had a similar fitting experience? Or made any major adjustments or modifications to your saddle? Have you ever had a fitter that basically just took the thing apart right in front of your eyes? Do you like seeing how these saddles are built too? I'm always super fascinated by this stuff lol and would love to hear what all work other folks have had done.

65 comments:

  1. Yes I have had all of that! I have to look away when she cuts in! My current saddle has pre-cut holes for adjusting the stuffing which is awesome. Rachael spends as much time on rider fit as fitting the saddle to the horse. It has to fit both or it won’t work.

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    1. That’s cool that you have a fitter you like so much. I’ve worked with a number of fitters now and am solidly skeptical about the practice lol. And actually only one has watched me ride before during the fitting. This guy definitely went above and beyond tho, possibly bc he is the actually saddle maker too. He says they’re very dedicated to ensuring their saddles work for the riders, and apparently they have a buy back program too if you need a new fit.

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    2. I am very lucky- she's a master saddle maker (not sure of the full title) from the U.K. So she gets saddles from the inside out. She also owns andalusian's so understands what they need for saddles (broad, flat back, little whither).

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    3. see that's so perfect. i feel like so much with horses is about experience and niche expertise - like maybe it's not that all saddle fitters i've worked with before were actually bad, per se, but that they didn't necessarily specialize in the type of horse i had. or something. idk. but it's like once you find a pro that works for you, you should never ever (ever) let them go haha!

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  2. How cool!! I didn't realize the blocks could be modified like that on the spot! My dressage saddle is scheduled to get a full re-flock at the end of the month, and I'm both excited and nervous to go through the process!

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    1. Yea I had no idea about the blocks either. Like conceptually it makes sense and once I saw the process it didn’t look like a big deal, but never in a million years would I have thought of it myself lol. Hopefully your upcoming fitting goes really well!!

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  3. That's really cool! The only positive saddle fitting experience I had was this year, and there was very little saddle adjustment actually done lol. I am having mine rechecked in a couple of months and am curious to see how it goes. How cool though that he could do such an extensive adjustment right there ringside though?!

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    1. It was very very cool, and very unexpected lol. But yea so many saddle fitters have been questionable imo so I’m glad you found one that worked for you!! Always reassuring to have a trusted professional in that corner...

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  4. very cool post thanks for sharing. I had no idea they just ripped into them like that I might have a heart attack if they had to do that with my stubben HA! But cool that for that amount of money you essentially got a new configuration to try!! LOL at Charlie and his pony friends being bbq'd :) Oh Charlie :)

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    1. Honesty I was shocked at the price tag. When he first told me the dollar amount I assumed it was just for the blocks, not including the normal fixed rate refit appt. And,... it was going to be too much (the refit appt itself is not cheap for sure). But then he was like “no that’s the total cost for everything” and my jaw just about hit the floor! I guess it’s a lot more cost effective not to have to ship the saddle around too....

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  5. The changes look really nice. That is really neat that he could do all of that right there. I had no idea they could do more than flocking changes at the barn. I've had some not so good saddle fitting experiences that make me very skeptical of the profession in general, so it is nice to hear a good experience.

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    1. Honestly I have no idea if the normal saddle fitter would even do this kind of stuff. This guy was the actual saddle maker so he’s got all the skills and experience, so I guess to him it was nbd. But yea I’ve never seen another fitter actually get into the guts of the saddle. And like you I’m generally pretty skeptical overall too. Bc I’ve worked with like... a few now and had the whole spectrum of experiences with them. But this time seems to have worked out. Hopefully I’ll love the new changes!

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  6. This is SO cool. I'm so impressed he could do it all right then and there and in such a short amount of time. I've hand-stitched leather a time or two and motherfucker is it not easy. Can't wait to hear how this will work for y'all long-term!

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    1. Omg. Yea the leather is tough stuff. For the stitching it looked like he had some sort of awl for punching his holes first, and then used a curved needle for threading it all through. Even the thread itself was really thick and actually looked kinda waxed. All very heavy duty haha. He made it look easy tho - spent more time folding all the pieces together and lining everything up thank he did actually stitching it, it was very cool to watch!

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  7. This is really amazing! I had no idea how much they could do right there... Saddle surgery. That's really what this is, isn't it? Charlie's expression in the bbq photo is priceless!

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    1. lol definitely surgery!! i had no idea that was even a feasible option either - it was kinda surprising! and yea charlie had oh so many feelings about that bbq... poor soul!

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  8. This process is so cool! Thanks for documenting it and sharing

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    1. it was seriously fascinating! i've never seen saddle work like that up close and in person - and even then i was just a tad too shy to really get much more close than what you see in the pics lol

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  9. THIS IS SO COOL. I can't wait to see what you think of the half blocks after some more rides.

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    1. honestly i'm pretty psyched ;) my trial ride post block remodeling was not really the best bc i was fighting too much with the too-long stirrups and charlie and i were already pretty fatigued from the heat, but it was still a really interesting change in my seat. so i'm eager to pay more attention in better circumstances lol

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  10. It's really impressive how much he was able to get done in the field.

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    1. right?!? i was pretty surprised, but in a good way!! esp considering what a relatively small tool box he used! very impressive!

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  11. Whoa that's amazing he could do all of that! I've watched my fitter do flocking on my County but never more than that!

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    1. seriously tho? idk what i was expecting the first time i witnessed a fitter adjust flocking, but it wasn't... that. haha. like, just that whole process was really kinda crazy to me, so this obvi totally blew me out of the water!

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  12. That's some serious service right there! Hope it ends up helping!

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    1. ha for real. i guess he figured it was easier to do it this way than deal with shipping the saddle back and forth to a work shop, then not being able to check his work against the actual horse in person

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  13. Very cool! Sounds like the fix will work well for you and Charlie. I ride western and had to have the fenders of a western saddle shortened because they wouldn't go short enough for me! The guy that did the work is older and makes custom western saddles in his shop. When I picked up my saddle, I asked for a tour of his shop - all of the tools and machines to cut/thin the leather are neat. I think he was a bit surprised I was that interested. lol

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    1. ya know i've always actually wondered about that with western saddle fenders bc i've been in a few that didn't go quite short enough for me too. makes total sense tho that a they could be adjusted by a pro. good for you too for asking for the tour - i'm always so interested in that stuff but often too shy to ask. i bet he was super flattered too. Jan during this fitting at first seemed kinda surprised that i was sticking around for his work, but then once he realized i was actually pretty into it, he started telling me all about it, and telling me about the business and what he looks for and what he thinks about horses in sport in general. i imagine these professionals like being able to share their passion and expertise with everyone else

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    2. some western fenders can be cut to make them shorter - or youth sized - as I've been advised my size is. lol If I had a really expensive saddle, I would get it semi-custom and have them put on youth fenders, so it wouldn't wreck the design. Chances of needing to worry about that are slim tho... hahaha

      It is neat to sit with someone like that and see what goes in to the work they do. I enjoyed it, for sure.

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  14. Glad that it seemed to be a simple (enough) and cheap fix to make the saddle a more custom to you. I look forward to reading more about how the changes help you guys in the future!

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    1. hopefully i'll have a lot of interesting insights to share! and yea, omg i was so relieved that the price was relatively reasonable. esp in this particular summer where i'm having to budget pretty carefully (thanks, moving!) it wasn't an expected expense but was doable. hopefully that's it for now tho!

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  15. I really like my Stubben rep, but getting to work with the maker himself is super cool! My dressage saddle has velcro blocks, so changes would be very easy.

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    1. as far as i can tell, when it comes to fitters it really matters that you like them lol. bc as soon as i start questioning my fitter, apparently i start questioning everything lol. and yea my bates jump saddle is fitted for velcro blocks but after i kept losing them cross country i abandoned them altogether.

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  16. This is a super cool post. A lot do dressage people in the DFW area ride in Hulsebos as well, I've sat in some and they are wonderful. I would FREAK to see my saddle dismantled like that, but sounds like he definitely knew what he was doing! Incredibly interesting. I cannot wait to hear an update once you've ridden in it some. Really great post!!

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    1. oh that's so interesting that there's a bunch of hulsebos down by you too! i get the feeling like since it's a pretty small saddlery you only see little pockets of them here and there. and apparently it's pretty rare to see them on the used market. i really like mine tho, and actually never really felt like the fit was bad for me, even tho i knew i kinda pressed my knees into the block. so i'm excited to see how things go now that the block is remodeled!

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  17. I too am fascinated by saddle fitting (and wish we had bit fitters like saddle fitters!! But I digress...LOL). How cool that the actual saddle maker could work on your saddle. Make sure you update on how it feels once you ride in it more. No excuses now in dressage, Charlie tee hee! ;-)

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    1. Funnily enough, we actually do have bit fitters down here in Australia, so I doubt it will be too long before you get them.

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    2. oh wow, really??? bit fitting sounds fascinating too haha, we have plenty of people around here who will do like "workshops" or whatever, but i've never heard of an actual fitter. hopefully you're right about them coming this way soon tho!

      and Liz yea, i'm definitely telling charlie that now that i've literally had my saddle chopped into pieces, that he best chop to it in his work!! ;)

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    3. Having access to a bit fitter would be AMAZING! Let's hope that happens in the US someday!!

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  18. This is so cool!!! Will you be able to post pics of you in the saddle before and after so we can see the difference?

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    1. lol will dyed in the wool media junky 'fraidy cat eventing post pictures of action shots in the saddle.... hahahaha, what a question!!! ;)

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  19. That's actually such a cool thing, that the saddle maker will come out and customise the build of the whole thing on the spot with you after watching you and your horse.

    This guy sounds like a legend.

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    1. he really was very cool!! i really had no expectations going into the day at all, and yet was still totally surprised by what all went down. partly bc i didn't really understand why he was having me do certain things at first, and then what his plans were for the saddle. like, for one very disappointing moment i actually thought he was trying to tell me the saddle wouldn't work and that i needed a new one. luckily that was not the case - and in fact instead he had much different thoughts in mind lol. but yea i definitely didn't expect to see the saddle cut open at all. apparently it's no big deal tho!

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  20. How interesting! I like how he really took the time to make it PERFECT, and really customise the saddle for you.

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    1. i really liked that too! it wasn't totally clear at first what his objective was, but once i understood i really liked it!

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  21. I would love to see a pro doing this kind of work! How lucky for you he could do the work right there instead of shipping it. When I made my own adjustments to my saddle (crazyglue and Velcro=not a pro) after a few weeks the leather flap started molding to the block quite nicely and as that happens you will probably see even more benefit as that leather is no longer standing out independently. I'm so behind on reading everyone's posts. Look forward to catching up now!

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    1. i mean, under the right circumstances i'm about 97% positive crazy glue and velcro could save the world ;)

      srsly tho i'm hopeful my flaps etc conform like you say they will! i'm certainly slathering them in conditioner!

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  22. Those pics are fantastic! I love seeing him at work. You're so right- we act like our saddles are delicate and then a saddle fitter comes along and we see that they can take quite a bit of...manipulating!

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    1. right??? it's kinda crazy lol... like almost blasphemous to see the saddles so abused and tossed about, that is, until we remember the ppl being so "rough" with them are the same ppl who built the saddle in the first place!

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  23. I've always thought those saddles look super comfy without being too much.

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    1. i have very limited experience, but i quite like my dressage saddle!

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  24. this is sooo interesting about the half blocks, my saddle has half blocks and i CANNOT ride with full blocks

    i wont lie i got a little OMG at the pictures of him WITH THE KNIFE AND THE SADDLE AND PIECES COMING OFF

    GASP

    but glad its working!

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    1. it was seriously crazy to realize he was gonna cut the thing open! but yea apparently the entire hulsebos sadddlery has made the shift from full blocks to half blocks, and very few saddles coming out of the shop will have full blocks. so i guess i shouldn't be so surprised he took half my blocks away!

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  25. The saddle fitter at work will watch new clients ride (or clients with new horses- basically any horse/rider pair he doesn't know super well), and he's talked about how helpful it can be to see how the horse goes with a rider in the irons versus how a saddle sits on a stationary horse.

    I was fascinated when I saw him add flocking to a saddle for the first time. Like, whoa, what are you doing with that giant metal stick?!

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    1. lol right??? watching a saddle get flocked was CRAZY to me the first time. like obvi i had no idea what i was expecting, but it certainly wasn't *that* lol

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  26. No joke, I have anxiety just looking at your saddle being taken apart! Obviously he's a pro, but it would be so nerve wracking.

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    1. yea for sure i felt nervous!! luckily tho i also knew he's more than a pro: he's the guy that built the saddle in the first place!

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  27. I absolutely love Hulsebos saddles! I had the opportunity to ride in one for a little bit with the TB I was leasing and it was like riding in a couch. His mom has two saddles by them, fitted to each of her horses, and matching bridles. The leatherwork is nothing but impressive and beautiful.

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    1. oh that's so cool! i had never heard of the saddlery before i moved to this barn and eventually bought my own!

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  28. I've never heard of that brand, but that is SO cool the maker came out to give you a custom fit like that! It will be interesting to see how it improves your riding as you get used to it!

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    1. i'm definitely pretty excited about it! esp getting that super custom fit! hopefully it helps lol

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  29. So cool! That just sounds fantastic. The stubben I used to ride Penn in needed a little help when my fitter went to reflock it... she cut some extra holes in it to help get flocking where it belonged. It's so unnerving to see someone just pull and tug and cut and slice something riders treasure and handle with "kid gloves"! I hope you find the new balance of your saddle helpful!

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    1. oh man yea it's so nerve wracking when they pull out the sharp edges lol.... but i keep trying to reassure myself that they know what's up, and that their extra little nips and tucks are all in the spirit of a better fit!!

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  30. Oh this is super cool. Thanks for sharing! One of the reasons I ended up with the stubben Dressage saddle is because the blocks have a joint in them, so they conform around her roundness, instead of sticking straight out. Getting both saddles refitted is definitely on my list.

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    1. oh that's super cool about the flexible blocks - it's crazy to me how far saddle technology has gone while still somehow seeming so traditional and archaic!!

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