Test Ride: Schleese Semi Custom
Since I’ve committed to spending most of the winter working on dressage on Moe, I thought I might as well keep things interesting by checking out a dressage saddle for a test ride.
Schleese is a saddle brand I’ve heard a lot about. The store has several on consignment, and I know a handful of people locally that swear by them. Schleese is advertised as as “the female saddle specialist” and “specialize[s] in saddles that are ergonomically designed and custom fit for women…”
Typically, these female-friendly features include:
- extended stirrup bars prevent swinging lower legs; women typically have a longer femur in comparison to the length of the lower leg
- a wide seat to accommodate the female pelvis
- the patented “crotch comfort” design which relieves pressure and reduces rubbing on the soft tissue of the crotch
This is a fascinating concept to me. Women and men do have differences in their pelvic structures: women have a larger and broader pelvis and the distance between the sitting bones is also much wider in women than in men.
I was extremely curious to try out a Schleese. I selected one in an appropriate seat size and tree width, and off to the barn I went. I’m not sure which model it is; it’s listed as a semi-custom saddle in our inventory. It’s stamped with several numbers and the name “Marion Abell”. (I don’t know what that indicates; the store has a similar Schleese stamped with “Millington McCoy”, so perhaps it’s the name of the person it was made for?) The serial number indicates this saddle is built on a Hennig tree, which makes it at least 10 years old as Schleese stopped using the Hennig tree in the mid-2000s. Since Schleese charges $75 to find information about their saddles, I opted not to email them for more information.
The saddle is beautiful; it’s lovely leather that’s supple and soft. The block is an interesting triangle shape that’s moderate in size. The seat isn’t especially deep, and it looked to me like the pommel was awfully high. It looked a little more even once it was on Moe’s back, but I was still concerned it would put me into a chair seat.
Upon sitting in the saddle, the first thing I noticed was that I could really feel my sitting bones. And not in a good way, either. I’m not talking about the way you can feel them under your gluteus maximus when you’re sitting in a chair or doing yoga; I could feel the front parts of the bones, the ones that are directly under your crotch. I have helpfully circled them in this illustration:
At the walk, this was horrible. With every step Moe took, my pelvis dug into the saddle uncomfortably. At the posting trot, the feeling disappeared. The sitting trot was an improvement on the walk (how often does that happen?), and the canter was tolerable.
The saddle’s balance was better than I’d hoped it would be; I didn’t feel like I was in a chair seat, but it didn’t feel like it pitched me forward, either. The seat of the saddle itself was hard as a rock, reminiscent of an old Stübben or Passier.
My biggest problem with the saddle, however, was the way it made my leg hang. While I felt like I had reasonably good contact with my thighs, my lower legs seemed like they were a foot away from Moe’s sides. I struggled to make contact with my calves or my heels to nudge him into a faster gait. Forget about lateral work- I couldn’t press my leg to his side without serious effort and wiggling.
For his part, Moe seemed fine with the saddle. He didn’t show any signs of discomfort or displeasure, and he tolerated my clumsy leg aids with his usual good nature.
On Sunday, I made Johnny ride in the saddle. He liked the big knee blocks, but complained that it felt like there were cords or bars running the length of the seat. He mentioned he preferred the Sommer; I mentioned it was still available for sale. 😉
Schleese saddles might be a great fit and a popular option for many people, but they definitely aren’t for me!