We are less than 12 weeks away from the holidays, and as your friends and family know, only eventing gear is on your wishlist. You have gone through catalogs and circled very specific items, included sizes (human and horse), tagged them on Instagram/Pinterest/Facebook items, and even shared the ever-so-popular meme that you “wear a size 250 x 150 indoor arena.” The truth is, if you have one item on your holiday wish list, it should be a saddle from Devoucoux.
In my quarter century of riding hunter/jumpers and eventers, I’ve ridden in dozens of brands of saddles. I’ve always been a bargain hunter, a frugal penny-pinching miser like Scrooge himself. But when one of my trainers, Chrissy Hall (who was a trainer of four-star event rider Jimmie Schramm), made the comment to me one day that “you will never win a fight against a poor fitting saddle,” I knew I had to do something.
I practice hours and hours, week upon week upon week, and yet my dressage just did not seem to be improving at all. I have a massive OTTB with a huge wither, an even bigger shoulder, and an even larger stride. When I would attempt a sitting trot I felt like a 5 year old learning how to trot for the first time on that Appy lesson pony I grew up with. On cross country I never really felt secure in my jump saddle. I felt loose as the jumps and drops grew in size, and my horse became more agitated on the landing side of every fence. As I moved up the levels, it became more apparent that practice would NOT make perfect. I needed to make a change in my equipment to get where I wanted to be and my horse to be comfortable to perform at his best.
My regional Devoucoux rep Kristin Heinkel from Area IV was here in a flash with samples of saddles to try on my horses. It sounds silly I know, but literally my horse chose the saddle. We tried a handful of monoflap eventing saddles, but when I rode around in the Chiberta Lab, my big grey OTTB instantly relaxed. It was less than five minutes. It’s not that he had warmed up differently. It was not that all of sudden we did an easier movement or anything changed. It was like when you try on that one pair of comfortable shoes that just fits you perfectly. He was relaxed and happy.
“Which one is this, and what is the price?” I sheepishly asked.
“The most expensive one,” she replied, laughing. Of course it was. The Scrooge in me was about to say, sorry buddy, I can’t. I just can’t. But the professional in me knew how important this was. If you have ever done a cross country course walk in pair of shoes that fit just OK … for walking around the stabling area … but then you finish a two-mile course walk and your feet ache, you know what your horse is going through. You’re sore. You don’t want to walk properly, and your footfalls change as you try to protect the parts of your feet that just don’t feel right. This must be how my horse felt by the end of a dressage test, and by the last few fences of cross country. Getting this saddle had to be done.
Of course for me as the rider, the difference of riding in a Devoucoux saddle was night and day. I could actually sit my trot in the dressage saddle! On cross country when we took the flier over that huge trakehner, I never once felt like I was loose in the tack. For long fox hunting trips and trail rides it was like a three-hour ride on a pillow wrapped in a cloud. Even my working student, who rides in a high-end saddle, squealed like a little girl at Christmas when she cooled out my upper level event horse one day in my Devoucoux dressage saddle. She couldn’t believe the comfort.
The best part about a Devoucoux saddle is the detail that goes into making it. Every saddle is custom. You can read all the technical jargon on their website, which is fascinating. But I can tell you when I decided to pull the trigger, my Team Green rep went to work on exact measurements and the layout of my horse’s body to ensure a great fit. As I have multiple horses competing without a trust-fund budget, we fitted to my upper level guy with his extreme body type, and then worked on a series of pads and shims to make it suitable for my greener horse as she continues to grow.
What was amazing to me was when Jean-Michel Devoucoux himself wanted to double-check the measurements. Apparently in his words to my rep — “We have never had to make a saddle this way before.” My OTTB has “the hugest scapula I have ever seen” according to my rep, and as his rider I know how absolutely fussy he is on the landing side of a Prelim table when a saddle slips forward onto his shoulders. Mr. Devoucoux had her drive back to my farm in Central Illinois to mark my horse’s shoulders, withers and ribcage in chalk, take photos and send them to him for final approval. He agreed with her assessment, and the billets on his saddle were moved specifically to allow for additional shoulder clearance on top of the brushing already in place!
The difference is in the details. I’ll admit, I was skeptical at first. But after going through the process, and seeing how my horse and my riding has changed, I cannot believe I didn’t do this sooner. If you have one thing on your wishlist this holiday season, make it a Devoucoux. Your rounds will never be the same.
3…2…1…have a Team Green ride.