Test Ride: Barnsby Omega All Purpose

It’s not often we have all purpose or jumping saddles come in on consignment at work; we’re primarily known as a dressage tack shop. Our big trailer travels to dressage shows exclusively, and we sponsor lots of dressage shows both locally and nationally. It’s easy to understand why most saddles consigned here are dressage saddles.

We have a small selection of used all purpose/jumping saddles. They’re almost all 16″-17″saddles that kids have outgrown or discarded. You can imagine my excitement when I unearthed a 17.5″ Barnsby Omega all purpose. Here’s something I can conceivably squeeze my ass into, I thought to myself.
This Barnsby has obviously been well-used, but it’s in good condition. The leather is supple, but not exceptionally soft. The reddish color is ugly, and there appears to be some staining from boot polish on the flap. However, the stitching is tight everywhere and the flocking felt nice and firm. This is a saddle that’s held up well to lots and lots of use.
The tree on this saddle looked a little too wide for Gina, so I opted to try it on Semper Fi, the cute replacement bay I rode while Gina was mysteriously lame for a couple of days. He’s a QH/Hanoverian cross with a medium-wide build and very average withers. They’re neither high nor low. The Barnsby fit him pretty well- no additional shimming or padding needed.
My initial test ride didn’t go that well- Semper Fi spent the whole ride pitching a fit, so I couldn’t get a great feel for the saddle. I held onto it and stuck it on Gina a couple weeks later. As I suspected, it was a little wide for her, but it wasn’t anything a borrowed half pad couldn’t fix.
I really liked this saddle on the flat. The knee rolls weren’t obtrusive and I felt like my leg stayed in place. The seat made me feel secure without confining me too much; it was easy to go into 2-point and stay there. I didn’t notice any changes in Gina’s behavior or way of going.
There were some small crossrails set up in the arena; I put Gina to them and chaos ensued. The stability I’d felt on the flat disappeared, leaving me with a wildly swinging lower leg. It didn’t matter if I jumped from the trot or canter, or if I changed my stirrup length: I pinched with my knee at every jump, my lower leg swung back, and I had a lot of difficulty sitting up quickly after the jump.
Gina got increasingly agitated with my terrible riding, so I pulled her up after a handful of relatively quiet jumps.
I can’t put my finger on what it was that made the Barnsby Omega such a poor fit for me over fences. It could be as simple as this saddle being vastly different from my normal jumping saddle (a very forward flap Ainsley XC Pro National). But it reminded me of a quote from Jim Wofford’s Training The Three Day Event Horse And Rider: “That’s why some saddles marketed as “all-purpose” are actually “no-purpose.”

Test Ride: Hennig Classic

One of my first projects at the tack store was updating the descriptions of consignment saddles on the store’s website. I remember finding a saddle labeled “Hennig Sofa” and snickering; what kind of name is Sofa? Turns out it isn’t actually a Hennig Sofa- it’s a Hennig Classic. Either way, it looked kind of awesome.

The saddle’s been on my checkout list since. A couple of weeks ago I took it for a test ride. (I incorrectly identified it as a ‘Princess’ in a previous post- we have a Princess in the store, but I definitely checked out the Classic.)

Hennig Classic, with Gina’s butt in the background.

Hennigs are German-made saddles. They’re all custom-made to fit horse and rider perfectly; the trees can be adjusted to accommodate a horse that grows or changes, though. Hennig saddles are very well-made from good quality leather and are touted as having trees that allow for a lot of freedom of movement through the back and shoulder.

Large thigh blocks

The Hennig Classic has large thigh blocks; like the Sommer FlextraEQ, the thigh blocks are much larger than those on my King’s Sandringham. The seat is moderately deep and fairly wide. The whole thing give the impression of being large. I’m not sure it it’s the wide panels, or the seat, or the thigh blocks, but this is a big, heavy saddle.

Although this is an older saddle, the leather has aged well. It’s soft and supple. It’s comfortable and isn’t slippery. The saddle I checked out is a medium-narrow tree, which fit Gina very well. The pommel is cut back to allow for high withers like those found on so many Thoroughbreds.
Cutback head

I had to lower my stirrups one hole from where they normally hang when I ride in my saddle. At all gaits, I felt like the Hennig helped me maintain a good position; I was able to stay balanced and really sit on my seat bones. The thigh blocks weren’t obnoxious or uncomfortable, and they didn’t interfere with my riding. I didn’t feel like this saddle forced me into a certain position; I really felt like it subtly helped me maintain and improve my usual riding.

Gina moved well with this saddle, though I didn’t notice a marked improvement in her gaits. She was forward and pleasant, as she is any time her tack fits and she isn’t being forced to do something she finds unpleasant.

The Hennig Classic is Gina-approved.
I’ll mention that the Hennig Classic has a wide twist: I like saddles with a wide twist, but if you’re more comfortable in a narrower saddle, this may be uncomfortable for you.

Three other people tried the Hennig on Gina at varying gaits: all agreed it was an extremely nice saddle. Richal claimed she’d heard someone describe Hennigs as the “Cadillac of dressage saddles” and also stated she preferred the last saddle I’d checked out- the Sommer- over this one. One person said she enjoyed the wide twist, but liked her own County better.
It’s perfectly broken in.
Personally, I liked the Hennig a lot. If its owner wasn’t asking an obscene amount for it, I’d sell the King’s in a heartbeat. As it is, I’d have to sell the King’s and a kidney to afford this thing.
Unrelated to the saddle, I thought I’d mention that my saddle pad is Schockemoehle Coach Plus pad. I like it a lot because it stays put (for the most part) and looks super snazzy. And Schockemoehle is kind of fun to say. I get a lot of compliments on it, and a couple of people have asked what it is. Go get yourself one! (They also come in all-purpose.)

Test Ride: Sommer Savoy FlextraEQ

My tack store has a lot of saddles, both in the store and on our mobile unit. I figure it’s part of my job to be knowledgeable about these saddles, so I periodically check them out on a 10 day trial to assess them.

Our best-selling saddles are, without a doubt, Sommers. They’re German made saddles that are fully customizable- in fact, we have a saddle coming in next week that’s adorned with purple crystals at the customer’s request. We sell their dressage saddles most frequently- the Savoy and Spezial are the most popular.
Last week, I checked out a used Sommer Savoy FlextraEQ.
A little background info on the Sommer FlextraEQ: it has a straight tree, which is purportedly designed to fit on the straight-backed modern warmblood. The straight tree means less deep panels, which puts the rider in closer contact with the horse. The panels are independent of each other and are designed to spread slightly when weight is in the saddle; this means the rider’s weight is distributed more evenly over a wider area. The tree is flexible throughout- not just in the saddle’s twist- which means the saddle follows the horse’s movement more closely.
Sommer’s designed the saddle to be comfortable for the rider, too. The saddle’s tree design supposedly makes riders follow the motion instead of being put slightly behind it, as many dressage saddles seem to do. The saddle claims to open up the rider’s hip flexors, length the leg, and align the spine. The monoflap design seeks to reduce the amount of pressure from the rider’s aids.
The saddle has a very deep, wide seat and large, prominent thigh blocks. It’s very different from my dressage saddle, which is a somewhat minimalist King’s Sandringham.
Sommer Savory FlextraEQ
The leather on the saddle is very nice: it’s butter soft and supple, shows little wear, and isn’t slippery. The saddle I checked out had a medium tree which was slightly big on Gina, who is a typically built, somewhat narrow Thoroughbred. (For reference, both of my saddles- the Ainsley and the King’s- have medium trees and fit her well.) It’s surprisingly light for such a large saddle- the monoflap seems to take a lot of weight off!
The Sommer is a joy to sit in. It’s ridiculously comfortable. It felt like sitting on a pillow, it was so padded and soft. I felt as if I was really sitting on my seat bones without a lot of wiggling or adjusting. I’d taken my stirrups directly from my dressage saddle and put them on this one without shortening or lengthening them, but once in the Sommer, I found I had to lengthen them by two holes. (I probably could have lengthened them another hole or two.)
At all gaits, I felt I had a good connection with Gina and could feel her moving underneath me. At the trot, the gigantic thigh block was a nuisance; my leg was rammed into the block regardless if I was rising or sitting. I’d guess this was because my stirrups were too short- the problem was alleviated slightly when I dropped my stirrups.
The Savoy really impressed me at the canter. I have a hard time keeping my seat quiet when Gina canters. She’s a very “up” mover with a lovely canter which is a lot more comfortable in two-point! In this saddle, I felt super secure (as opposed to slithering uncomfortably all over the place), and I didn’t have to struggle to maintain my position. I didn’t have to think about it at all. Because my position was better, Gina was lighter in the bridle and more willing to really step underneath herself and use her back.
Richal riding Princess Pony
I made Richal try the Savoy, because she’s a professional dressage person. She thought it was a great saddle and commented on how much she liked the thigh blocks. She also mentioned that the stirrups felt short to her- and she’s about 3-4″ shorter than I am!
Gina didn’t appear to have any major differences in her performance with this saddle. The King’s fits her well and she’s generally easy to ride and well behaved, so I wasn’t really expecting any miracles. She’s better when I’m better, so I wasn’t surprised that when the saddle corrected some of my problems, Gina improved.
“Of course I’m better when you stop riding like a sack of potatoes.”
Overall, the Savoy is a really, really nice saddle. It’s well-constructed of high quality materials. It’s lightweight. It does most of the things it claims to do. I don’t think it will suddenly transform anyone into a Grand Prix rider (although I think some people believe that…) or cause your horse to have an epiphany regarding canter pirouettes, but it may certainly help you improve your position or make your horse more comfortable.
This particular saddle is for sale for $3200, so it will not be staying with me! But if I had the money? I’d totally get one. With purple crystals.