In polo, we have grown accustomed to relatively cheap saddles, compared to other competitive equestrian sports. But, cheap polo saddles may constitute a false economy, eroding both the quality of our polo and our wallets.
One of Glen Gilmore's horses 'dressed' in an Ainsley Polo saddle and bridle
Watching the finals of the Dubai Challenge Cup recently and chatting to Raja, a local player and patron, the conversation turned to polo saddles.
I have been hooked on the Ainsley Polo saddles for the past three years. They are the reason that Performance Polo exists, and they are at the core of what Performance Polo stands for.
Raja is a very competitive player and invests in good horses for his string, developing his own skills, strong pros with whom he plays well, and polo gear that allows him to get the most out of his polo. So, of course, I had to tell him about the Ainsley Polo saddles and why I believe they are the next best thing to buying good horses.
Our saddles are not as expensive as the best saddles in dressage, but they do cost more than most polo saddles.
Raja understood the benefits and naturally wanted to know how we justify the higher cost of our saddles. My long answer goes something like this:
A cheaply made saddle will almost certainly cost you more in the long run than a well-designed, well-made, well-fitting saddle. For the sake of argument, let’s say than an average polo saddle has a useful life of 5 years. You may spend less or more, but to keep it simple, let's say that the fully loaded cost of a polo pony over five years is $100K - purchase, shipping, stabling, grooming, shoeing, vet care, transport, playing etc.. An investment worth protecting and enhancing, isn't it.
If you were to spend the same sum of money on a sports car, would you then put on the cheapest tires available? Probably not, as you would not be able to enjoy fully your new car, and you would increase your risk of having an accident.
Polo saddles are no different. Just like the tires connect your sports car to the road surface, your polo saddle is the key piece of equipment that connects you to your horse. And let’s not forget that we are not talking about leisurely hacking through the forest, but about one of the most demanding equestrian sports there is. Your polo saddle should safeguard your investment AND enable maximum performance.
Why cheap polo saddles are a false economy
It is often said that our horses - the $100K investment - contribute 80% to polo. As players, our task is to contribute the remaining 20%, but just as importantly, to allow or even enable our horses to deliver their 80%. I would argue that a bad saddle can eat into both the 80% and the 20%, eroding your $100K investment. Conversely, a good polo saddle, combined with good riding and playing skills can minimize additional costs like vet bills and maximize your joy of playing polo.
Three factors may either erode or enhance your polo investment:
No polo saddle will fit all horses equally well, and an ill-fitting polo saddle may cause your horse to underperform in many ways, or it may even cause injuries to your horse’s back. I have occasionally seen players padding out an ill-fitting saddle with two saddle pads, which is not only masking the problem, it probably doesn’t even solve it, but it also raises the player’s center of gravity, which is counterproductive to playing well.
Make sure that your polo saddle fits well – try it without any saddle pads. Reject the saddle if it moves around, lifts away from the horse, or sits too high or too low. An ill-fitting saddle is a surefire way of throwing good money (think vet bills) after bad.
A major difference between polo and other equestrian sports is the need to spend more time in the half seat - or polo seat - than seated. Typically, 70-80% of playing time is spent in the half seat because it allows us to balance both ourselves and our ponies while collecting, accelerating, decelerating, turning or hitting. The better your half seat, the better you and your horse perform.
Tom Morley in the half seat in an Ainsley Polo saddle, completing a neck shot
Because a good, strong and balanced half seat relies, biomechanically speaking, mostly on the grip from knee to groin, your polo saddles should, as much as possible, enable and support your half seat by:
Allowing you to pivot into the half seat quickly and with the least amount of effort
Positioning you over your horse’s shoulders, aligning your center of gravity with that of your horse
Providing as much grip along the length of your upper legs as possible
The strange reality is that most polo saddles do none of the above or only to a limited extent! They often put the player too far back, which encourages some players to pull the saddle too far forward onto the horse’s shoulders. Furthermore, many polo saddles have a wide twist and are shaped like a barrel (when viewed from the front), which limit the contact surface where it matters, from knee to groin.
Typical polo saddles that encourage a leg forward position are enormously comfortable, no doubt about it. But considering the biomechanics of polo riding and especially the half seat, this type of saddle is actually counterproductive: when seated, your lower legs are nowhere near where they need to be to engage the hind quarters of your horse, your body needs to travel further to get into the half seat, and once in the half seat the upper leg grip extends only half way up your upper leg.
It is possible to drive a sports car with worn down or cheap tires. But why would I?
This is why I am so hooked on the Ainsley Polo saddles. Designed by professional polo players to give me the best possible half seat, which in turn allows me to get the most out of my horses and to maximize my joy of playing polo.
Quality / durability
This is where “you get what you pay for” is the most obvious. To put it bluntly, a cheap saddle must be made from cheap materials and there is a good chance that it won’t even give you a lifespan of 5 years. Cheap saddle trees are likely to break or change shape over time and will either need to be replaced sooner than expected or the fit on your horses will suffer.
Even polo saddles that are not so cheap suffer other quality problems. Suede wears thin and eventually rips, stirrup leather retainers rip, and panels go soft or lumpy early.
As in so many other aspects of life, quality and durability do come at a price.
To summarize my answer to Raja: the return on his investment, expressed in units of performance or joy, can either be eroded or enhanced by his choice of polo saddles. A bad saddle could put his polo investment seriously in the red, whereas a good saddle can only enhance his return in investment.
For a fraction of the cost of owning a polo pony for five years, our saddles guarantee enhanced performance AND enjoyment on the polo field:
We offer different saddles for different pony types. Our top of the range saddle, the MVP, even comes with exchangeable gullet plates and will fit virtually any polo pony.
Designed by polo professionals to enhance your polo riding and your connection with your horses
Come with a five year guarantee on the saddle tree and are made from extremely durable materials, e.g. the signature rough-out leather used in all Ainsley Polo saddles