Friday, April 4, 2014

Philippe Fontaine Royan: Review

So I bought a new saddle. That brings the total up to four, and I have a feeling they will become my kryptonite. I am crazy about saddle fit the same way I am crazy about shoes - not because I love shoes, but because a well fitting pair of shoes makes life livable.

The Royan was bought to replace my beloved Courbette Baron Von Trenk, which I plan on keeping as  A) I love it and B) Most people would not see the value in a short billeted, hard, flat dressage saddle. It may not fit either of my girls again, but I don't want to give it up just yet.

The Royan came onto my radar after I googled "E-motion tree" in a frantic attempt to find a used Courbette dressage saddle with the same flex tree as Foxie's Courbette Magic AP.


Let's just say, one of these things looks awfully like the other. 

I haven't ever ridden in a Courbette Magic Dressage, but the AP looked - and ended up riding - similarly enough that I feel like my gut instinct (and the fact that they have almost exactly the same description) was true - the Royan is pretty much a Courbette flex tree saddle in a pretty calfskin wrapper. The Philippe Fontaine saddles are distributed by Stubben and I've ridden in it 3 or 4 times now

The Royan is intensely, gloriously soft. The leather is soft grippy and looks to be calf skin, though I haven't confirmed that. I'm using calf skin leathers on it from Smartpak and would be cautious using anything but the softest leathers you can afford on it. 

The panel is "Memoryflex foam" which is also nicely soft and squishy. The panel on my Magic is foam as well, but is much harder - not sure if that is how the material ages or if this is a change Stubben made. 

The billets were super stiff leather that was very different from the other materials - I used copious amounts of Ledersoft and Neatsfoot oil on them and they are now willing to tuck into the girth keepers, but are still a work in progress. I didn't even bother oiling or conditioning the rest, as I'm still figuring out how to care for the calfskin. 

(Edit: Due to lots of squeaking, I got brave and got out the Passier Ledserbalsam and gave it a light coating, and stuffed Effax Ledersoft on any of the exposed non-calf parts, including the underside of the jockeys covering the stirrup bar and under the flap. Squeaking has been resolved, and the calf seems quite happy from it's coating of balsam.)

Stitching is even, but on close scrutiny/peering up under the flaps I do see some staples where on my older traditionally made dressage saddle I see stitching. The Royan has a single, subtle stitching detail on the flap and features (rather large, for my taste) buttons with a fleur de lis on either side of the pommel.

The saddle is very light because, I am guessing, the composite tree and foam panels. As a warning, the stirrup bars are composite, as well. This is different from my magic, but they feel secure and I have no reason to doubt them at this time. They are the moving parts type with the end that flips up to secure the leather. As someone who has gotten dragged, I never engage this and am perfectly happy to have the slide on type without the safety, as well. 


I tend to classify the E-motion flex trees as "Medium Wide" and that seems to be pretty accurate in this case. The tag and marketing call it a Medium for reference. Compared to my Courbette Magic, the tree may be a bit wider set but seems to flex less than the Magic, which tends to sit a little high in front until you get in the tack - then it settles and you have to pull the girth up. I haven't noticed that need while riding in the Royan thus far, however I have a feeling that the fit will be pretty forgiving. I will get some measurements together of all of my saddle trees and panels in another post as I think they may be helpful to others on the internet. 

The panel is soft but doesn't appear to bottom out and sit too low. The channel is HUGE and accommodates 4 fingers + my thumb throughout. The  saddle has a point billet and a back with a keeper. I am not using the keeper but it seems to be placed logically for a horse that doesn't have the problematic conformation that Bailey does. The billets are sewn onto soft nylon under the flap, which makes them easily replaceable if need  be - and the nylon allows me to pull the billets where I need them to hold the saddle secure. 

Pardon the recent oiling in this picture >

As I said, the Royan is super sticky to ride in and with the higher pommel/cantle, feel very secure to ride in, just like my Magic. The flap is slightly forward, which makes the ride for me, as I have a long femur and tend to struggle to fit into saddles smaller than 18". I am still riding with the feeling that my stirrup length isn't quite right, but that's a work in progress. I feel very secure riding in this saddle even with the feeling that my stirrups are too long - this is a great saddle for the occasional spooky moment or would be great for trail riding if you're in need of security. 

This seems like a very decent affordable saddle. It doesn't seem to have any inconsistencies in it's construction and when fit correctly gives a secure and balanced ride. It is proving to be comfortable to my horse and she seems happy wearing it and moves more freely though her shoulders. I do have some concerns that the leather will not hold up to heavy use, but for an eventer, rider starting out or riding several different horses, this saddle would be a great investment. I feel that the purchase would be "worth it' to me even if I pass it along or it begins to look scruffy after a few years because it was an affordable answer to my needs for fit. 

The flex tree also may be a draw for folks with young horses or horses who aren't a standard fit. I can't argue with the tree - I now own two horses who go happily in the E-motion flex tree more so  than a standard fixed tree and the saddles and trees both appear to be holding up at the time of this review. 

Update: August 2014

I have owned the Royan for some time now, and felt it was time to update the review itself and update everyone on how the saddle has been. So far, with minimal care and conservative use of conditioner (Passier Lederbalsam) the saddle has been holding up famously. I am seeing a touch of wear (read - lack of shine) where my seatbones hit, but under the leathers and other wear spots are not nearly as worn as I had been expecting - just areas where the leather is less shiny and the grain seems less well defined. The saddle also seems less susceptible to scratches and water as I would have guessed, as well.
BB rocking the Royan at Roebke's Run HT a few weeks ago

My trainer, a 2** rider who rides in real expensive french saddles has ridden in it and liked the balance and simplicity of the saddle, and had nothing bad to say about it at all, which was a relief. I ride with a Thinline pad with front shims and a crescent shaped girth, and have also taken to crossing the billets on both sides. This leaves me with a saddle that doesn't seem keep to slip around, which is a blessing as everything was slipping forward for the longest time. I do find that the 17.5 is a bit lacking in the seat, but I have strength to gain and thus don't have my stirrups as long as they could be. I like the minimal knee roll, which is just enough to offer good support through Bailey's enormous canter. It still feels very safe, and everyone always comments that it looks like the dressage equivalent of a couch - which is pretty true! I loved the close contact feel of my old saddle, but didn't love the lack of support it offered, and also didn't love the way my leg tended to fall asleep or get pins and needles if I wasn't perfect with my position. 

The verdict as of August 2014? I like this saddle. A lot. The tree is quite flexible, making it problematic if I forget my thinline pad, but Bailey did not react any differently to it when I did ride without the riser. I am still wishing for an 18 or 18.5, but hope that by gaining strength I can lower my stirrups a hole or two so I'm less impacted by the smaller seat.