"Custom-made" is an expression that crops up in many saddle advertisements. That's why Equinefit chose the less familiar term, "bespoke," to define their concept of making saddles. The difference, notes founder and longtime horseman Rene de Koning, is that bespoke describes a saddle that is made absolutely from scratch, with every element made for a specific horse and rider. Knee-blocks, billets, pommel, cantle: you name it, they are not made until detailed horse and rider measurements are taken and preferences are noted. The resulting saddle is one that allows the rider to fully appreciate their horse's potential.
Rene developed his saddle fit ideas during 20 years as a trainer and competitor himself. At 6'8", he has first hand knowledge of how important proper saddle fit is and how hard it is to find in anything other than a bespoke saddle. He did most of his training in Holland and, as he gravitated to designing his own saddles, he began to work with riders throughout the U.K. When he moved to Texas after marrying his wife, also an equestrian, Rene began designing saddles for U.S. riders and having them made by special craftsmen in England.
Rene de Koning
While working with U.S. riders over the last four years, Rene has noticed a distinct increase in the understanding that the saddle must fit the horse properly. Realizing that rider fit is equally important is next, he says. "Fitting the horse is 50 percent of it, of course, but if it doesn't fit the rider, the horse is still not going to move properly," he explains. A too-small saddle, for example, can push the rider too far forward in the seat, creating a perched position. That and other results of an ill-fitting saddle all negatively impact the rider's ability to balance and thus the horse's ability to balance. If the saddle causes the rider's weight to fall too far back on the horse's back, for example, that makes it hard for the horse to move in a rounded frame.
"It still surprises me that people think you have to work so hard to be balanced in the saddle," Rene observes. "The design of the saddle should make it possible for riders to balance themselves with the least amount of effort."
Saddle tree construction.
The process of ordering an Equinefit saddle begins with Rene visiting the client at their barn. Jumping, dressage and general-purpose saddles are his most frequent requests, but with the Equinefit concept, anything built on an english tree is possible. That includes endurance and polo saddles, and even saddles for a mule. A trace of the horse's back begins the process of crafting an appropriate tree, then horse and rider measurements are taken to determine the design of all the elements that are built onto that tree.
The finished product - dressage saddle.
Eight to 12 weeks later, the saddle is finished and typically for a price that rivals that of saddles bought off the rack. "We can keep our prices low because the saddles are built-to-order so we have no inventory to maintain," Rene explains.
Equinefit saddles are gaining steadily in popularity throughout the country. Texas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Washington and Oregon are particular hot spots. Through it's new sponsorship of young, California-based jumping and dressage competitor Ryan Bell, the company is building its presence in the Golden State. Approached by several riders for sponsorships, Equinefit chose Ryan because he is hard working, earnest, talented, highly motivated and treats clients with respect, Rene reports. "I think he represents the way our company works." Ryan rides for Michael Cintas' Equestrian Centers International in Rancho Mirage.
Equinefit has also signed on as lead saddle sponsor for the 2011 Modern Pentathlon World Cup event to be held in Palm Springs and Rancho Mirage.
To accommodate growing demand, Equinefit is building relationships with carefully screened saddle fitters. "It's much more important for us to have people that are really experts in working with saddles than the best sales people," Rene explains. In fact, Equinefit reps will first work with customers to see if their current saddle can be adjusted effectively. If not, the rep would then suggest a new Equinefit if it seemed appropriate.
Rene visits California frequently already and is prepared to visit more often as the need arises. Equinefit will have a vendor booth at this year's Modern Pentathlon World Cup event being held in Palm Springs, Feb. 24-27.
For more information on an Equinefit saddle, visit www.Equinefit.com or call Rene de Koning at 713-578-0747.