Heather Haase's first ride in a Borné saddle was one she'll never forget. "I've been riding my whole life and I believe I have sat in every saddle that's out there," says the Los Angeles-based amateur dressage rider. "It's by far the best saddle I've ever ridden in," she enthuses. "The comfort is amazing and the fit is incredible." And that goes for both herself and her hard-to-fit homebred Thoroughbred/Warmblood cross.
In 38 years of riding, ordering a Borné was Heather's first experience with a truly custom, or "bespoke" saddle. The test ride saddle she tried during the fitting and measuring process was a great start for Heather and her horse. She tweaked that with her choices in leather and seat material, just a few of the myriad options that address a wide range of fit-related issues and personal preferences. Heather is not sure the "saddle speak"term for this, but what she most loves about the saddle is its balance between providing comfort and security without being too much bulk between her and her horse.
Her horse shares Heather's enthusiasm. "He has a lot more freedom of movement through the shoulder and the back stiffness he used to have is gone."
Karen Borné started the saddlery in 2000 for just the reasons Heather mentions. She had had a long and frustrating road trying to find a good fit for her wide-backed Friesian and realized along the way there was a genuine need for truly custom made saddles. She teamed up with Andrew Sankey, a Master Saddler per the Trade Society of Master Saddlers in the U.K. At his Sankey Saddlery in Scotland, Andrew is one of the few remaining master craftsmen in a changing industry.
"Unlike many modern saddle manufacturers, he still works from a cobbler-type shop filled with leather, saddle trees and all the other material needed to build a saddle from start to the finish," Karen explains. While many saddle makers have gone to using laser cutters and other modern technology, Andrew still uses cutting boards and traditional saddle making hand tools.
Andrew Sankey, Certified Master Saddler
"From his small workshop, Andrew is now exporting all over the world and is in high demand by many professional riders and trainers," Karen continues. "All Borné saddles are handcrafted by Andrew, and his young apprentice Mark Rooney, from start to finish and this has been a major part to the success of his saddles. No stone unturned, his watchful eye insures that quality and attention to detail is of the highest standard."
According to Andrew, the old ways are best when it comes to saddle design, fit and construction. "We make saddles the old way using traditional methods and craftsmanship. It takes a lot longer to make saddles the way we do but the end result is far greater than the way most saddle companies do it these days. We're not a production line only having to learn 10% of the job. We make the saddles from start to finish. So we oversee all the process and keep a watchful eye all the time to make sure the quality is at the highest level."
"XTS Designer" Dressage Saddle
Andrew is a strong believer that horses should be fitted to the tree, rather than to how the saddle looks on the horse.
"I see saddles on horses and know it's the wrong tree for the horse because the shape of the head and rails of the tree do not follow the horse's profile. A wooden spring tree will flex but it is still a solid construction made from wood and resin infused with steel. The panel may follow the horse's profile but a solid construction of the tree will still cause pressure points across the horse's back and seriously restrict the horse's movement and comfort."
Despite cost-cutting trends in the industry, Borné Saddlery has staked its claim on bespoke saddles and they're sticking to it. "Mass production is becoming more prevalent and we are starting to see the old-school craftsmanship dying out in favor of an assembly line way of producing saddles," explains Karen. The result is "inconsistent saddle quality and high labor turnover."
Along with the rise of production line saddles has come confusion over the term "custom" in a saddle-making context. "Ninety–nine percent of saddle companies say 'custom made,' when it is really options which can be changed on a production saddle," says Andy. "Our saddles are 'bespoke' in that they are tailor made for your horse. We custom make the panels and use the correct tree for the horse's back, then design the saddle and leathers to the customer's needs. The result is a perfect fit, a classy design and durable construction."
Although she's been in business for 14 years, Karen sometimes feels like "the new kid on the block." Borné may not have the world's biggest PR budget, but when customers get a chance to speak their piece on the subject it can be hard to get them to stop!
Heather's experience with Borné began with the standard, super extensive fitting and measuring session, done at her home stable. When the saddle arrived, around Christmas time, it came with special holiday packaging and a nice note from Karen. These touches hint at the company's devotion to customer service that rivals the quality of their product. Heather is now in the market for a new Borné saddle for her second horse.
"I wish more people knew about Borné," says Heather. "Every time I sit in my saddle, it fits like a glove. This is my brand for my entire life."
The bottom line, Heather asserts: "You need to try one!
For more information on Borné Saddlery, visit www.bornésaddlery.com.