California Riding Magazine • October, 2009

Edward Gal’s world-record breaking dressage ride reflects
County Saddlery’s ability to
bring out the best in horse and rider.

by Kim F. Miller

Edward Gal was almost as speechless as the stunned audience when he and Moorlands Totilas emerged from the dressage court as European Freestyle Champions on Aug. 29. Not only had they broken the world record score they’d set just one week prior, with an 89.40% at Hickstead, their new record, a 90.70%, included 29 perfect 10s.
In front of a packed house of 8,000 at Windsor Castle in Great Britain, Gal moved in perfect harmony with Totilas as the gorgeous black stallion exhibited the elevated gaits, extravagant extensions and lighter-than-air piaffes that had the audience, in person and later on videos that sped through cyberspace, dropping their jaws in amazement. The Championship’s ground jury president Stephen Clarke described it as “the greatest night this sport has ever seen.”
Gal tried to articulate his feelings about the performance with Moorlands Totilas. “He feels so good you cannot describe it. You have to feel it because you cannot put it into words.”

It’s funny that the Dutch Olympian would say that his horse defies description because many of his elite contemporaries, along with less accomplished but equally dedicated riders, have said the same of the saddle he rides in: County Saddlery’s Perfection model.

Edward Gal & Moorlands Totilas
His ride, perfection. His saddle, Perfection.

Typical of County’s line in its hand crafted quality and fit customized equally to horse and rider, the Maryland company’s newest dressage offering also defies description. When the company asked many of the world’s top riders what they felt when they sat in the elegant saddle, “perfect” was the consensus response. Hence, its name. From then on, County’s representatives insisted that riders try the saddle rather than attempt to verbalize how it differed from others. “We realized the feelings are indescribable,” says a company spokesperson. “You have to experience it.“

In a calmer moment long before his world record-breaking rides, however, Gal was happy to describe the Perfection. “I love my County saddle, it’s comfortable for me and my horses,” he explained. “I have freedom in my saddle and my horses have freedom under my saddle.” Appreciation for a saddle that fits both horse and rider is a common theme in the comments of Gal and his contemporaries, including American Olympian Courtney King-Dye, as well as mere mortal riders, including San Diego dressage trainer and Grand Prix competitor Liz (Hopps) McConnell.

Whole Hearted Endorsement

Since finding a used Competitor four years ago, McConnell has become a devotee of County’s saddles and the fitting, flocking and support services provided by its representatives. She wholeheartedly recommends them to her students, three of whom ride in Perfections. “One of my clients is a very tall, slender woman,” McConnell relays. “She looks beautiful on a horse but has always complained that her lower leg swung. The minute she sat in her Perfection, she noticed that her lower leg was still and I noticed that her posture improved hugely.”

McConnell says that some of her clients have tried other custom saddle makers and fitting services with results that made them skeptical of trying that path again. Referring customers to County, however, has become a “no brainer,” she says, thanks to the quality of the product and the service.

Southern California County representative Tina Hoover works with McConnell and her clients. “What I love about Tina is the feeling that she’s always there for us,” McConnell explains. “If we have a problem, she is quick to sort out a solution.” In a recent case, McConnell thought a horse was having a saddle-related problem. The source turned out to be fly bites on the horse’s back, but before that diagnosis was determined, Hoover had a loan saddle delivered to McConnell’s client two days after getting the trainer’s call.

McConnell had similarly positive experiences with County’s Northern California rep Kendra Stuber Cochran, through whom she was
first introduced to the line during a clinic in Northern California.
Watching her customers’ “a-ha!” moments with their new saddles is a big job perk for Cochran, a certified Master Saddle Fitter and a hunter/jumper competitor. “So many amateurs are fighting their saddles, especially the balance and position,” she observes. “As soon as you get it right for them they have these wonderful ‘Oh, my gosh!’ moments and they say they’ve never felt their horse feel this way before. It’s totally an instant gratification job for me.”

The distinct difference is often due to the change to wool flocked panels versus the foam panels used in most jumping saddles, Cochran continues. “A saddle that distributes the rider’s weight really makes a difference. The horse uses its back, shoulders and knees much better and their jump really improves. It can be hard to get people to veer from what they are used to, but once they make the change, they don’t regret it.”

Old Fashioned Craftsmanship

County Saddlery is one of the few manufacturers that still makes its own trees, setting industry standards for design and innovation along the way. With old fashioned hand craftsmanship and saddle fitting expertise guiding every step of a County saddle’s creation, the company has resisted the trend toward cheaper production methods using foam rubber panels and plastic trees. Instead, County saddles continue to be painstakingly handmade on laminated beechwood trees, covered in the world’s finest leather, and flocked with pure wool to maximize the horse’s comfort and fit.

Although their saddles are available in various models, County Saddlery does not mass produce its product. Each saddle is custom fit for the horse and rider, thanks to myriad options on every model.
Gal’s amazing European Championship performance is the hottest testament to County’s ability to bring out the best in their dressage clients, but the company is equally popular with show jumpers and eventers. Top international show jumpers that endorse County’s line range from veterans Eddie Macken and Margie Engle to newcomer Georgina Bloomberg.

Reflecting another common theme in riders’ opinions of their County saddle, Olympic show jumping veteran Margie Engle says, “I never realized how much of a difference a saddle could make until I rode in my first County Innovation. Now, all my Grand Prix horses are in Countys and my husband, veterinarian Steve Engle, can’t believe the difference in our horses’ backs and attitudes.” Irish jumping star Eddie Macken shares a similar disbelief about the extent to which a saddle can positively affect his horses’ performance. “And I’ve never sat in a more comfortable saddle,” he adds.

Hoover acknowledges perceptions that a saddle of County’s quality is mostly a luxury for the rider. “But more people are coming to understand that it can make a huge difference for the horse,” she observes. “I think more riders are realizing that there are things you can compromise on in the horse world, but saddles are not one of them.”

The process of buying a County saddle begins with a barn visit from the sales rep. The County agent arrives with a truckload of different models and sizes for clients to try. With the agent’s advice, the rider chooses their favorite, then the rep takes extensive horse and human specifications. The info is sent off to County’s factory in England and the eight to 12 week process of making that individual saddle begins.
An eventing competitor herself, Hoover rides in a Conquest and an Innovation for the stadium and cross-country phases of her sport, and a Fusion for dressage. When she’s not competing herself, she is out and about at shows in all the English disciplines to meet with clients and answer questions about County’s products. Along with fittings and re-flockings she recommends roughly twice a year, Hoover’s main job is selling County Saddles. “Word of mouth is our biggest marketing tool,” she comments. That and getting prospective clients to take a test ride in County’s offerings. From there, they pretty much sell themselves.

To see Edward Gal’s record-breaking ride
and to learn more about County Saddles, visit
www.saddles.com. To arrange a personal consultation, contact Southern California representative Tina Hoover at 626-422-7382 or tina@countysaddlery.com or Northern California representative Kendra Stuber Cochran at 707-338-7153 or countysaddlery@yahoo.com.