Friday, October 29, 2010

Serge and Durability

Good saddles aren't cheap.  All of the new saddles we sell cost more than my first horse - and to be perfectly honest, they all cost more than my first car (which was a used 1973 Chevy Vega of dubious mechanical health).  So when you're buying something that's going to cost you a few weeks' (or more) worth of paychecks, you want it to last.  So what's the expected life span of a $3500 saddle with cloth panels?!

That's often the concern voiced by our customers when they see a saddle with serge panels.  Back in the day, English saddles had serge panels; at some point (and I'm still researching to find out why), leather became the material of choice.  And while leather panels are still the norm, serge is gaining in popularity, and with good reason.  Serge has a lot of benefits:  it breaks in more quickly, it helps wick sweat and dissipate heat, it's lighter weight, it helps keep the pad from slipping, it dries quickly, it can be a big help with a sensitive or "cold-backed" horse ... and it wears very, very well.

How well?  Ok - remember the "Black Country Rocks Customer Service" post I did a couple months ago?  (Click here if you need a refresher.)  Remember Jenny Kimberly's Black Country Equinox - the 4 and a half year old saddle that's been ridden (by a conservative estimate) more than 6800 miles? Take a look at these photos, and you can see for yourself how well serge panels hold up, even under some pretty extreme conditions.





 


Six thousand, eight hundred miles down, and a LOT more miles left in it.  That's a pretty convincing case for the durability of a serge panel!

EPILOGUE

For those of you who were wondering, Jenny did get her saddle back in plenty of time to use it in the VT 100 Mile Competitive Trail Ride.  A job well done by Nikki Newcombe, Rob Cullen, John Hartley, the staff at Black Country Saddlery, and Patty Barnett of East Crow Saddlery, who did the actual re-treeing work!

9 comments:

Sydney_bitless said...

Wow. I have an older saddle with serge pannels. I love it though it does not fit any of my horses/myself anymore.

kippen64 said...

The Australian Stock saddles I used to ride in (the real thing and not copies for trail riders) all had serge linings and those saddle are used hard for many years, even decades. When new, the real thing has a price that will make you cringe.

Kaede said...

Back when I was learning to ride (in the '1960's) most stables had a side saddle or two hanging around. Which makes sense if you think about it. Back in the '30 women still rode aside with moderate frequency. A 30 year old well made and well cared for saddle still has plenty of life in it.

Anyhow, every sidesaddle I ever saw had cloth panels. I think they were made from heavy linen. Anyhow the material was heavy and cream colored.

Jonathan Hopkins said...

I believe they began to use leather panel lining as times changed and people grew lazy. They just wanted something they could wipe over and give a quick soap after a day's hunting, rather than something needing to be carefully dried, then brushed and maybe even scrubbed at with soapy water and a nail brush to get the stubborn stuff off. Serge rots if you don't look after it - it's wool, after all. Once horses became hobbies and people didn't employ grooms, leather was the thing. Shame, really.

saddlefitter said...

Nikki from Black Country Saddles says, "Great article as always. I believe leather panels became more favourable with the introduction of saddle pads, as these could be washed more easily in modern times replacing the cushioning effect. However I guess the true benefits of serge weren't appreciated at the time and it has taken until now
for this to come back full circle."

Amber said...

Have you ever had saddles that instead of having wool flocking, have wood shavings? I tested a no-brand-name dressage saddle and found that it's panels sounded "crunchy" like it had wood shavings in the pannels. I thought it was pretty wierd and didn't end up buying it...

saddlefitter said...

Amber, I've heard horror stories of the various materials used in the panels of some of the low-end saddles coming out of India / Pakistan: newspaper, bloody rags and old bras, to name a few - so wood shavings wouldn't surprise me much. Some of the older German-made saddles were stuffed with remnant wool from the upholstery and garment trade, and I've also run into yarn and nylon fibers. "Animal hair" (with or without a felt lining) used to be quite common flocking material, too.

Patti Hallock said...

I'm about to order a BC GPX for my TB-type appendix gelding that broke his withers. He is pretty symmetrical but sunk down in the center of his shoulders where the withers used to be. The saddle slips forward a little bit on the right side. Would serge panels be a good choice for a horse like this?

saddlefitter said...

Hi Patti -

Congrats on the new saddle. Serge might help stabilize the saddle, and it's very kind to a horse's back. I would urge you to have a fitter take a look and see if shims, flocking or perhaps a modified billet system would help correct the issue. Any other questions, feel free to e-mail.