Being the least trendy equestrian blogger means that I don’t get to do a whole lot of reviews on here. I also admit to mostly skipping over review posts since I don’t think I’ve ever read one that had anything negative to say and the skeptic in me just doesn’t buy into that
All that being said, be prepared for a very honest, not paid for, and mostly positive review of the Bates Elevation Deep Seat Jump Saddle which I purchased for around $2400 with a free upgrade to the luxe leather in early December. Since having it, I have done flat work, jumping and trail riding adventures. This was saddle number 14 to grace his fluffy orange back with saddles ranging in price from $6,000 all the way down to $200 and with leather from Germany, England, North America, and South America. My own tush has ridden in French leather as well as synthetics and a synthetic/leather mix.
I’ll skip the fluff and get straight to the point to begin with in case anyone wants to stop reading here: I love this saddle. H’Appy loves this saddle. It works for us and I’d recommend it for anyone who wants a saddle to fit a similar shaped beast and wants to perform similar activities. I’d also highly recommend the luxe leather upgrade even when not given away for free.
Now for the details.
My Orange Beast has a very wide, flat back with long and low withers, a big shoulder and a girth groove that sits farther back due to those long withers. He required a wide or extra wide gullet on a regular tree (not a hoop tree), a soft flap to allow his shoulder to move under without impingement, and a full four finger spine channel that extended the entire length of the saddle. This saddle fit the bill in all those regards.
The only issue with the fit was the billet alignment. Since the saddle has a changeable gullet (a feature I recently swore I’d never buy again, thanks Universe for proving me wrong), it is impossible to add a point billet. I solved this fit issue with an anatomic girth and the saddle has yet to budge, but beware of this if you need a more forward billet placement for your own beast.
Speaking of the changeable gullet, it is simple enough to change it, but not quick and not something I would want to do between horses if I was riding multiple in a day and trying to use the same saddle. It works well for him and is a nice option in case he gets even fatter or decides to shed a few pounds and I need to alter the gullet for him, but was not a main selling feature for me. It also has the ability to add shims to the saddle panels themselves versus needing to get a pad with shims. I like the theory behind this, but he doesn’t need it so I can’t speak about the practice of doing it. You do need to basically take the entire thing apart to add shims, so again if it is a one off thing, fine but I don’t imagine doing it between horses on a daily basis.
For myself, I’m 5’4″ and 135 lbs with a regular leg length. I jump 2′ sticks and neither wanted nor needed a more forward flap. The flap on this is not AP straight, but it also isn’t cross country forward either which works out to be just perfect for me. I can jump with shorter stirrups one day and then have longer stirrups for pretend dressage the next. I have no idea if you can order a more forward flap or not, but if you are someone who really needs/wants a +2 forward flap, you may not want this particular model.
The knee blocks are velcro and are huge, which was a major selling point for me. I’ve played around with the placement and currently have them pretty high and far back to act more like thigh blocks. They are present and function for when I need them, but when H’Appy is motoring along compliant with his life, they stay enough out of my way that I don’t feel claustrophobic. There are also two smaller, fixed calf blocks as well. The seat is deeper, but I’ve had no issues getting my tush out of the tack to practice two point and to go over fences and I’ve not felt the cantle hit me (a problem I’ve read about some of the deeper seats on the market). I’m used to my very spacious endurance saddle and like the ability to move around and this saddle gives me a good balance between feeling secure yet not locked in.
Really, it functions super well for the purpose I bought it for.
As for quality, with the leather upgrade it feels more akin to the French leather saddles I sat in than the under $3000 price tag would lead you to believe and way nicer than the German leather saddles I tried at more than double the price. It is grippy, soft and makes me happy to touch it. Now, this is not in fact a $6000 French saddle, so there are some areas of the saddle where the leather isn’t quite as nice, namely the underside of the flaps and the flap against the horse (this is not a monoflap saddle by the way) which have a more utilitarian grade leather.
There are some additional features I didn’t see in other brands I tried that I really like as well. The first is that they recessed the stirrup bar. One thing I hated about my Thorowgood was that I could feel the lump from the leathers under my thigh and I made note of this in the other brands I trialed. The Bates was the only one that recessed the bar making it a all but disappear under your leg. The second is that they didn’t put in a flimsy little leather loop to hold the stirrup leather. Instead they created a channel to hold the leather (again reducing bulk) and added a reinforced hole through the flap so that the excess goes under the flap and is not only hidden from view, but also can’t catch on anything.
I have cleaned the saddle with the included leather balm once and have stored it covered in my tack room which is not humidity or temperature controlled. I’m not babying the thing, but I’m also not abusing it either and it still looks brand new after multiple rides in the mud and muck.
What else? Oh! The panels. So….this saddle has CAIR and there is a lot of debate out there about air in a saddle versus traditional wool or more modern foam flocking. I was a little nervous buying a saddle with CAIR to be honest and I did a lot of research, read reviews, watched videos and hemmed and hawed a bit. Here is the deal, for me anyway.
First, I think wool is the best way to go IF you are willing/able to put the maintenance into getting the saddle checked and re flocked every 6 months. I am not. I’ve owned wool flocked saddles for the majority of my riding career and never once had a saddle re flocked after 6 months of use. In my opinion, having balled up, shifted or rock hard wool is worse for your horse than air or foam.
Second, I hate foam. I could get all nerdy on you all about foam, but this is long enough as it is. I treat diabetic feet and pressure ulcerations with an entire room in my office dedicated to the manufacturing of offloading devices. I hate memory foam in every incarnation and while the CWD I rode in was glorious, I do not think foam against my horse is the way to go.
Last, we come to air. Dusty rode Pete for nearly a decade in an original CAIR Wintec and both boys loved it. The issues I read were: it bounced like a ball under you, it could pop, it got rock hard in cold weather. We lived in WI and it doesn’t get a whole lot colder than a high of -25F and that saddle never felt any different, so I am calling BS on that claim. Neither myself nor Dusty have ever felt any bouncing either, so I don’t know. I suppose it could pop if punctured, but I’m not sure how likely this one is. Anyway. For me, I feel no difference in my seat, security or comfort, for better or worse, in the air panels versus wool. It is slightly firmer than foam and softer than wool. My horse loves this saddle, so I’m going with it. The panels can be taken apart and changed to wool by a fitter for around $300-500, if someone feels strongly that is better, but for now we are both happy with the way the saddle is constructed as is.
So this is way longer than I anticipated. The bottom line: for this price point, my horse’s anatomy, my own anatomy, and the activities I perform under saddle, this saddle was, well the only saddle out of 14 different ones that we both really liked. If you find yourself in a similar position, I’d highly recommend taking a look at this saddle and giving it a shot. It has been a lot of fun to ride in, my horse is pain free and moving well, and my confidence has soared knowing I have a good base of support without being constricted by the saddle.