Eventing Olympic gold medalist Phillip Dutton and Ronald Zabala-Goetschel, who lives in the U.S. but competes internationally in eventing for his native Ecuador, have designed this month?s trial saddle: The Dutton RZ. they've created a different kind of saddle, one that allows air to flow over the horse's back, keeping him cooler and more comfortable.
Called the WisAir airflow system, it places an oval-shaped cut-out in the seat of the saddle and five triangular cut-outs on each flap on the Cross-Country model.
Said Dutton, ?I felt a need for a lightweight saddle that breathes as the horse gallops along. With our saddles, the movement of the horse keeps the air flowing through, and the saddle really moves with the horse since it's not as fixed as a traditional saddle. It fits well to the horse and gives the rider a unique feeling of being one with the horse.?
ADJUSTABLE FIT. They also wanted a saddle that could be adjusted to the back of almost any horse, a growing trend in saddle manufacturing, as riders become increasingly aware of the effects of saddle fit on the horse's performance.
Adjustment can be done by either changing the gullet, a concept similar to the dressage saddles reviewed in December 2012, or, more easily, with an Allen wrench in a keyhole on top of the pommel. (The Toulouse saddle we reviewed in September used a hex tool in a mechanical hole on the bottom of the saddle to change the width of the gullet.)
The Dutton Rotate-To-Fit can be adjusted while the saddle is on the horse. With this system, a twist of the wrench immediately widens or narrows the gullet to fit the horse. It also adds $350 to the saddle?s price.
?When someone invests in a quality saddle, like a Dutton RZ saddle, they shouldn?t have to do it again to fit a new horse,? said Brooke Holloway, Wise Equestrian?s national sales manager. ?And we offer two systems, to allow customers to decide which system meets their needs more closely.?
Our experience of changing the gullet on our brand-new Dutton RZ saddle suggests that the RTF system is probably a worthwhile investment. It took two of us about an hour to accomplish the task, which we?d done numerous times before on other saddles. Removing the gullet was easy, but tightening the nuts to the tree and then closing the leather around it was a seriously frustrating struggle.
Holloway said that it can be a difficult process, because neither the tree nor the gullets bend. ?Changing the gullets can take some strength and getting used to, as the tree only has a little bit of give to allow for the change, but it must be strong enough to withstand everything we put it through while riding and competing,? said Holloway.
LIGHTER IS BETTER.? One of the Dutton RZ features we like best is the saddle?s light weight. We always prefer lighter saddles to heavier ones, as our experience is that a lighter saddle is far easier on horses? backs, especially if your horse isn?t a 17-hand warmblood or draft-cross.
Holloway said that the Dutton RZ Cross-Country saddles are weighed at the factory to be sure they don't exceed 9 lbs., 14 oz. (not including stirrups and girth). ?Our saddles are about 4 pounds lighter than the average jumping/cross-country saddle on the market,? or more than 28 percent lighter, she said.
The Dutton saddle achieves this light weight through the use of a composite (not wood) tree, foam flocking, the seven cut-outs and the monoflap. We accentuated the lightness of the saddle by using composite stirrups, which weigh less than one pound each.
During our trial, riders often asked if we noticed the ?hole in the seat.? We found that for the first few weeks, it did feel a bit odd for the first few minutes after mounting, until starting to work the horse. But after a few weeks we hardly noticed the seat cut-out at all.
FOAM FLOCKING. We were initially disappointed to discover that Wise Equestrian uses foam flocking in its saddles, as both a custom saddle maker and a experienced saddle fitter have advised us against using foam flocking, since it cannot be reshaped to fit a changed or new horse. While saddle fitters can easily remove, add or reshape wool flocking, the only option with foam flocking is to remove it all and completely re-stuff it.
But Holloway disagrees with their assessment. ?The foam is much lighter and sturdier than the wool. It holds its shape better, and, therefore, does not need to be reflocked as often as wool. We have not had someone need that service from us yet,? she said. If you're a diehard wool fan, Dutton RZ saddles can also be ordered with wool flocking, at no additional charge.
We also found that the Dutton?s Argentine leather breaks in easily. This saddle never felt as stiff at first as others we?ve used, and it felt completely broken in after about half a dozen rides and just two or three cleanings and oilings.
BOTTOM LINE. The Dutton RZ saddles are designed to compete for customers with top-notch saddles, like Devoucoux and CWD. The quality that makes saddles like these valuable is the balance they give you on the horse's back, because of their design. We felt that the balance we achieved and maintained while jumping or galloping in the WisAir exceeded similar priced saddles we?ve used.
With cost in mind, we found the most important feature of the Dutton RZ saddle to be the exchangeable gullet system. it's frustrating to pay $4,000 for a saddle, only to purchase a new horse that it doesn't fit or to have the horse you bought it for change shape, rendering your expensive saddle useless, unless a saddle fitter can adjust it.
So, with the excellent balance we found in the WisAir and its interchangeable gullet system, we recommend seriously considering the Dutton RZ saddle when shopping for saddles in this price range.
Cost is $2,600 to $4,350, depending on the options you choose (show jumping and dressage saddles available). www.wise-equestrian.com, 302-235-8241.
Article by Performance Editor John Strassburger.