Hunting for a used French saddle that fits can be a daunting task. Understanding the ‘stamp’ on a saddle can simplify this effort enormously.
All French saddles have a stamp which functions much like a VIN number in a car. It is a unique identifier that provides the owner with information about the saddle. It is usually found on the inside of the sweat flap, but some saddlers stamp the underside of the sweat flap. The stamp tells you the model, seat size, flap length and style, year of manufacture, unique serial number, tree and paneling configuration. Some also will indicate seat style or depth, and block size. However, the fun part is that each manufacturer is unique in their nomenclature.
First let’s look at the serial number. In all saddles there is a 2 digit number either preceding or following a longer series of digits. This is the last 2 numbers in the year of manufacture and saddle number. For example, in a CWD the serial number starts with the year while in Voltaire it ends with the year.
In the first picture, a CWD stamp, the serial number is on the bottom line. This is the 52,441 saddle made in 2017. On the first line, as with most saddles, we find information about the model, seat size, and flap. This is a SE02 model, with a 17.5” seat and a 3C flap.
In the second picture, a Voltaire stamp, on the second line we see that this is the 3,494 saddle made in 2017. The first line tells us this a Palm Beach model, while the third line tells us this is a 17.5” seat with a 2A flap.
Now let’s look at seat configuration stamping in more detail. The seat measurement indicates the length of the saddle from the ‘button’ on the saddle skirt to the center of the cantle. The model tells you the seat depth and shape. The model is important because not all saddles of a particular brand feel the same. A shallower 17” will feel roomier than a deeper seated 17”. Most manufacturers have very good information on the various saddle models on their websites. So if you tell your used saddle expert that you are looking for a CWD, or Antares, because you rode in your friend’s saddle and ‘loved it’, be prepared to tell them which one!
Flap configuration is generally composed of a number, and a letter or fraction. For example, looking at pictures one and two, the 3 on the CWD and the 2 on the Voltaire, tell you the length of the flap, while the lettering indicates the shape (or width)bof the flap. In a CWD flaps are commonly L or C, with the C shape being wider and rounder (considered the CWD forward flap). In Voltaire, Antares, and Devoucoux, a lettering system is used with N being normal, A being somewhat forward, AA more forward and so on. Butet uses a decimal numbering system or a fraction (depending on the year) to indicate forwardness, with .25 being somewhat forward, .5 medium, and .75 extra forward. Getting the right flap for you means you will be better balanced in the saddle and can get your leg on your horse in the right spot.
The third picture is an example of an Antares stamp. On the first line we see it is the Antares Contact model. Below we see the serial number. It is the 2,491 saddle made in 2012. The third line tells us the flap, a longer (3), normal (N) shaped flap. The fourth line tells us the seat size, a 17.5”, and the seat width, L. Antares has 3 seat widths with E being narrow, L and XL begin the widest.
Now we’ve sorted out the seat and flap sizing, model, and age, we come to the fun part! Will it fit my horse? All the manufactures put information about the paneling on their stamp. Some put information about the tree, however most French saddles are made on medium wide trees and they don’t bother to stamp the tree unless it is a wide tree, in which case you will see the notation AO or Arcade Ouverte.
Looking again at the CWD stamp the second line begins with PA. Numbers and letters following the PA describe the paneling on this particular saddle. In this case, this saddle has standard panels (ST) with a sculpted out area on the front panels to allow room for the scapula to rotate back (RT). You will frequently see a series of numbers after PA such as 705 305 205. The first digit in each group of numbers refers to the area of the paneling on the saddle, and the second two digits refer to how much additional thickness has been added to that area, in millimeters. If we look at the Voltaire stamp, the fourth and fifth lines tell us the paneling. In this case it is PRO panels with extra thickness in the B and D areas. Looking at the Antares stamp, the tree and paneling information is stamped on the billet guard. It is a T1 tree with M20 panels. If thickness had been added or taken away, it would be indicated by an RAR or RAG followed by a number and plus or minus. Seems complicated? It can be! Just remember, the higher the numbers, the more thickness that has been added or taken away in different areas ,and therefore the saddle has been made with a more customized fit. Also remember, 5 or 10 mm is not much more than a half pad.
The best way to shop for a fine used French saddle that fits? Ride in as many as possible, take pictures of the stamps and then talk with your used saddle retailer who will help you match the features as closely as possible. If you don’t have access to some saddles you can borrow to try, and are looking to upgrade, ask for a recommendation. Be prepared to with your height, body proportions, and breeches size to assess size and flap for you, and some pictures of your horse’s naked back to assess fit for them. Look for a retailer that offers trials, free shipping and no restocking fee to keep costs down! Finally don’t be afraid ask questions! Happy saddle shopping!