The best rider and horse in the world will not amount to much together if the connection between them isn’t right. In most disciplines, that connection is the saddle and this is especially true in the fine art of dressage. Understanding this, Performance Saddlery has built a loyal following for its Trilogy line of saddles, which includes the Debbie McDonald Special. The fit, feel and performance of these saddles has enabled the company’s representatives, including Northern California’s Peggy McGaw and Southern California’s Terry Zambrana, to get a lot more than a paycheck out of their profession.
The morning of our interview, Terry had just come from a fitting at which the client asked, “Where have you been all my life?” Terry recounts. “She said, ‘I can finally get my leg on my horse. Now I know what my trainer has been talking about all these years!’”
Such comments are the familiar soundtrack for Terry and Peggy as they deliver any of the Trilogy line’s three dressage saddles: the Debbie McDonald, the Amadeo and the Verago. The line also includes a jumping saddle, the Talisman.
As its name implies, the Debbie McDonald Special is designed with input from the famously petite (5’1”) dressage star and for riders of a similar build. The Verago and the Amadeo accommodate different rider anatomies: The Verago has a deep seat with a narrow twist and a well-supported seatbone area; The Amadeo has a more moderate depth of seat and twist with a generous seatbone position. The standard Debbie McDonald features a flatter, more open seat, narrow twist and straighter leg; and, the Debbie McDonald Special, based upon the standard model, has its own original patterns developed specifically for the petite rider. “This saddle is the equivalent of having petite sizes available in women’s clothing,” Terry explains. “The whole design is scaled down.” All three models share the mission of enabling the rider’s femur bone to hang down from the pelvis in as straight and comfortable a line as possible.
Debbie McDonald’s relationship with Performance Saddlery dates back seven years. Debbie was seeking a relationship with a saddle company that could accommodate her needs as a petite rider as well as providing specialized service that fully involved the horse and rider. She began working with Performance Saddlery’s owner Debbie Witty, a Qualified Saddle Fitter for the Society of Master Saddlers in England. The Trilogy line evolved from the recognition that the needs of many riders and their horses were not being met by the saddle designs within the industry at that time. Trilogy saddles were in full production as of 2005.
In keeping with Performance Saddlery’s dedication to using extensively trained saddle fitters, the first step in ordering a Trilogy saddle begins with a barn call. Before the barn call, actually, is usually a phone call; sometimes a lengthy one, Terry admits. “I like to interview the client, getting as much information as I can. I want to know the horse’s breed and body type, current saddle and issues with it, who their trainer is, etc. I want to have as full a picture as possible about the client’s situation.”
Ideally the barn call takes place when the client’s trainer can be involved. An examination of the horse’s body and the current saddle situation kick things off, then the client is asked to sit in all three models, in various tree sizes, on a stationery stand that mimics the horse’s back. When the best model is determined, the next step is assessing the tree and fit for the horse’s body, followed by a test ride.
Once the order is placed, Trilogy saddles often arrive in just a three or four weeks and Terry and Peggy have the happy task of delivering the end result. As trained saddle fitters, they make flocking adjustments on the spot and observe the horse and rider at work.
Dressage riders themselves, Terry and Peggy travel their territories extensively for barn calls and show visits. The sales aspect of their job, however, isn’t too taxing. “It’s common for our clients to describe their love of their saddles as ‘beyond words,’” Terry relays. “Instead they tell their friends, ‘You just have to ride in this saddle.’ A lot of times, that’s where our sales come from.”
Maintaining the saddle with regular flocking adjustments is as important as buying the right saddle in the first place. The average rider should schedule at least one flocking per year, Terry says, although some of her clients prefer an every three to four months schedule. “Every horse and every rider is stronger on one side than the other, to some extent,” Peggy points out. “Unless you maintain the flocking, the wool in the saddle will absorb that crookedness and become uneven itself.”
Being part of a process that enables many riders to make a major breakthrough is a big perk for Terry and Peggy. “I was a customer of Trilogy before I became a fitter and a representative,” Peggy notes. “The saddle enabled me to break through a plateau I had been stuck at forever. What I find enormously rewarding is watching the light and grin on my customers’ faces when they finally realize what riding is supposed to feel like when they are sitting in balance on their horse.”
Terry echoes that sentiment and adds, “Everything a rider does either helps or hurts. To be part of a rider’s success with their horse is very rewarding. My favorite calls are from customers saying, ‘My horse has never gone better.’”
For more information on the Trilogy line of Performance Saddlery saddles, call Peggy McGaw at 916-230-4013 (Northern California) or Terry Zambrana (Southern California) at 323-679-3840 or visit www.performancesaddlery.com.