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.

schleese1

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.

schleesestamp

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.

schleeseflap

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:

pelvis

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!

18 Comments

  1. Sarah

    Very interesting. I watched a ton of their videos when I was dressage saddle shopping (which has been put on hold…womp womp) and thought they sounded comfy. Sounds like you’ve reinforced my don’t buy anything without a trial mindset. It’s awesome that your job lets you try them out!

    Reply
    1. Stephanie (Post author)

      If I were limited to a single piece of saddle shopping advice, “take it on a trial!” would be it! I was REALLY surprised at how much I did NOT like riding in this saddle.

      Plus, saddles are such a personal thing. Different people have different preferences. And sometimes, I think people get SO hung up on how it fits the horse that they forget that they’re also supposed to be comfortable!

      I am very glad work encourages me to take saddles out on trial- it’s one of my favorite parts of the job!

      Reply
  2. Megan

    Yah I can’t stand most Schleese’s. They make me feel so uncomfortable and I can’t find a place to sit. I feel very much on top of the horses. Granted, I don’t have the most girlish of figures so I’m not sure how much their womanly saddles apply to me, but still.

    I also have never seen their fitters (though granted, I have had little experience with them- only two horses) actually fit a horse correctly. My client has one now and the tree is WAY too narrow for the horse (the tree is interchangeable so it should be close to perfect!). I’m going to force my way into the next saddle fitting and make some demands.

    Definitely good advice to always try a saddle before buying it!

    Reply
    1. Stephanie (Post author)

      Interesting to hear about their fitters! I haven’t had any firsthand experience with them. I’m always a little suspect of any saddle fitter that’s affiliated with a certain brand, since their ultimate goal is to sell a saddle. I’d be interested to hear how it goes if you’re able to get to the next fitting for your client!

      Reply
  3. Amanda

    They aren’t for me either. I had a pretty similar impression!

    Reply
    1. Stephanie (Post author)

      Maybe we aren’t womanly enough for them LOLZ

      Reply
  4. No hour wasted

    Count me out as well. The horse I’m riding for a friend had one fit for him. It feels like sitting on concrete floor. And the “ride pain free” slogan strikes me as…opportunistic. and the fitter$ seem to make adjustment$ rather frequently. .too often to really be needed for the lower level work I see people doing. Jmo…

    Reply
    1. Stephanie (Post author)

      It’s a bizarre slogan; I’ve never ridden in a saddle (other than this one) that was actively painful!

      I agree completely about the fitters; the one person I personally know with a Schleese seems to have it adjusted every 6 months on an Intro level dressage horse. (Now, I don’t know if it’s her or the fitter requesting it that often…)

      Reply
  5. Kat

    So I’ve toyed with getting a budget friendly dressage saddle (like Wintec cheap) since I’m flatting more and was talking to another trainers WS about them. She swears by her Albion she just happened upon but said she hated Schleese with a passion. She rides in all saddles and on many different horses so I took her opinion seriously. I agree test rides are imperative for getting the right saddle.

    Reply
    1. Stephanie (Post author)

      The dressage barn where I board has a LOT of Wintecs across all ages and levels of riders- everyone seems very pleased with them!

      Reply
  6. Nicole

    I’ve been reading a lot about dressage position lately, and I keep reading things like “you want the triangle of your seat bones and your pubic bone to be flat” or “you want all threat of your “sitting bones” (seat bones and pubic bone) in contact with the saddle.”

    To that I say — in WHAT universe is having your pubic bone touching the saddle a good dressage seat? The diagram of the pelvis you put in this blog CLEARLY shows that the pubic bone is HIGHER than the seat bones, so if that is a flat triangle then you’re either way tipped forward or your back is majorly arched! Likewise, if all three are in contact with the saddle in some different way… well, sounds like exactly what you are describing! And not comfortable, to me.

    It makes for interesting thinking. Now, someone who loves Schleese please speak up and tell me why you love them!!

    Reply
    1. Stephanie (Post author)

      That doesn’t even make sense! Maybe that’s what this saddle IS trying to accomplish; I could certainly feel both sitting bones and the pommel was so high that my pubic bone was making contact with the saddle.

      The saddle didn’t put me in a BAD position, per se, but it was very uncomfortable and I would NOT want to ride in it again.

      I’m interested in hear from Schleese fans, too!

      Reply
  7. emma

    hrm, good to know. doesn’t sound like a super pleasant experience

    Reply
    1. Stephanie (Post author)

      DEFINITELY unpleasant!

      Reply
  8. jenj

    I’ve never sat in one on a horse, only on a block, but I didn’t find it comfortable either. I also found it interesting that a lady doing Intro told me about how a custom Schleese was the best $7000 she’d ever spent on a saddle. !?!?!?!?

    Reply
    1. Stephanie

      YES! The woman I know who has a Schleese also rides at Intro level. What?!

      Reply
  9. Sarah

    Your opinion is one that I have heard frequently about them. I can’t believe what some people are willing to shell out for them!

    Reply
  10. Liz

    Okay. I love my Schleese mono-flap eventing saddle. Granted, I paid less than $1k for it used (I’m not sure that ANY saddle is worth $7K) but it fits me and my horse really well and the balance is great and it’s very comfortable. As a foxhunter, I need a saddle that I can ride cross country for a couple of hours, and stay off my horse’s back for a lot of it. Haven’t ridden in their dressage saddles, so I can’t comment there.

    Reply

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