Last year I was desperate. I’d owned my dear QH gelding, Drifter, for nearly seven months and we just couldn’t get it together. I have to work him in the arena in the six months of cold, wet North West weather and in summer, I wanted to trail ride and horse camp. I was a novice at finding and fitting a saddle but I was soon to become quite familiar with the problem.
I owned a beautiful, older, handmade Frontier, perfect for an Arab cross I used to ride, but not wide enough for this large Quarter Horse. And he had other problems. One side of his back is built up. The vet and chiropractor say this is an old injury. Friends graciously let me try their Circle Ys and their Crates. I loved the look of these saddles but they were heavy and I couldn’t see myself lugging them on a trail stuck in a gully trying to saddle. I bought a beautiful lighter-weight old Billy Cook but it flapped around on him like a hat on a circus clown. I’m not singling out these saddle makers, I’m just telling you of my experience and yes, these opinions are my own.
Face it, some riders love to have an array of many saddles and boots; I wanted one saddle only that would be multipurpose. (I still have many boots!) A custom saddle costs, but what if I got one really fantastic saddle that I could use for both trail and Western arena work with ease? I found Synergist, a small family-owned and operated company.
The entire Synergist process is hands-on. Owner CJ Di Pietra calls and walks you through the entire design process. You get an Equimeasure form shipped to you to fit to the curves and spaces of your horse’s back . And then you ship back to them with measurements of yourself. Of course you and your horse blunder through until your saddle is finished! (Also, for a great value, check out the new line of Semi-Custom Synergists).
On my birthday a few weeks later the most exciting box marked “Synergist Saddles” from Wyoming arrived. I carefully opened the box. Smaller than I had envisioned, it had exactly the tooling I ordered and contrasting black and natural leather. The leather was of very high quality, unblemished, and it glowed. I loved the black lacing detailing although I puzzled over the look and weight of the trail/endurance stirrups. I had never had a bona fide trail saddle before. The real custom sheepskin pad matched the fleece of the saddle and had a black suede insert sewn over a layer of instant recovery foam where the saddle would fit on it. I find it makes the correct saddle placement on the pad easy. Slip the billet straps through the “billet keeper” slits cut in the pad to ensure the whole set-up is secure around your horse.
I placed the saddle on my stand and got on. I wanted to see what makes the Synergist so different from the rider’s point of view. The saddle set me up differently. I thought that I might have ordered the seat too small for me (I ordered a 15.5” for a 5’5” 138 pound female) but I was certain that with the dimensions I sent and the discussion on the phone with CJ that this was right. Here is another note on fit: at the barn, I tried a Regular Crates Reiner Saddle and then sat on a Women’s Crates Reiner saddle. You guessed it – the women’s saddle was a better fit. It didn’t “hit” me in the wrong place. Need a comprehensive explanation? Synergist understands gender specific saddle fit. (Yes they make guys’ saddles, too!) Read about women’s’ saddle fit on their site at
Well, you couldn’t get me off that saddle. I rolled the whole thing up to the dinner table and blew out the candles on my cake! The next day I wanted to get to the barn early, to be able to feel Drifter while in the saddle I thought would be heaven. Except for one thing. I did not have a cinch that worked with this saddle; my first with long double billets instead of a latigo.
Did you guess that area tack and feed stores don’t have short cinches? I tried so many. Most tack store people, although helpful, had no idea what I needed, didn’t have it in stock if they did, or had no idea how to measure for the correct size. I started bringing the saddle with me to the store, encountering a lot of raised eyebrows and, “Whoa what is that?” But I kept buying, trying, and returning. I gave up and called CJ. She had one sent in a couple of days. It was time for the first saddling.
I took out the sheepskin pad and let him smell it. I rubbed it on his back. Then when he seemed calm I tossed the pad on his back and walked over to the saddle. I let him see and smell the saddle too. It was new, smelled like a sheep and a cow so he was not too sure he wanted to put it on. My trainer talked to him and I easily placed it over his back. And set to work on securing the new billet buckles. CJ tells you to tighten the saddle up several more times, that’s normal. Ride a little and get off and do it again. The real fleece is new and puffy so you have to do this. And to work the billets as they are new and stiff.
We went around the arena just perfectly .The saddle felt way different than the Circle Y of course and I was sitting in a different posture. Not sure I liked it, not sure I didn’t! It was just different. I learned that the Synergist is designed this way. The saddle sits back of the horse’s shoulder freeing up his movement while you are seated with the proper shoulder, hip and knee alignment. I felt secure and just right after a few rides. No slipping around in the saddle seat – perfectly in position. I could even post the trot if I liked.
Drifter seems to like it too. He is absolutely calm and fearless on the trail. We rode with our barn group up in the National Forest of Mt. Hood last summer. Being the new student at the barn, everyone felt they had to keep an eye on me, pointing out all of the hazards, water, boulders, bees, gopher holes, steep hills and logs. Drifter was fantastic. Heard lots of “No, Tex, go over the rocks” and “Come on, Lady, cross this stream” all around me. The close contact cut-away of the trail saddle gave me such a good ride and I was never scared that I’d come out of my Synergist nor be in an unbalanced position and have an accident. And that’s when someone yelled, “bears!” but that is another story.
A year later I still have only one saddle. I can also fit right in at the arena with my change-out Western Stirrups when not trail riding. (Synergist makes an all-Western saddle, too.) I love my Synergist. Now all the gals at the barn are wanting to try my saddle… Thank you CJ, Dave and John Di Pietra, for letting me and my horse work comfortably toward our true potential. “Happy Trails” all.