I've ridden in a custom made saddle by Hook's Saddlery in Kalispell, Montana.
Only a few are made each year, so it will never be a "popular" saddle w/ the
masses. It is made w/ hermann oak leather, & fits us like a glove. It is
well balanced, and has a completely adjustable "swinging" rigging. It is
made to be used w/ an 18" (custom) :( girth which effectively gets it out of
the way of the horse's elbow. Does not interfere w/ shoulder motion at all,
but has needed a breast collar. LOTS of handy hooks, etc. Cost was about
$900 in 1985.
It was made for my last mare, Rosie, who died just before competing in the
Old Dominion this year :( My up & coming boy is SUPRISINGLY similar in the
back now that he is muscling up & loosing weight. I decided not to panic
about a new saddle at first as long as the old one didn't cause serious
problems. I'm glad I waited.
I'm a heavy weight rider. The few times I used a Sport Saddle on Rosie, she
was uncomfortable w/ my weight on her back (she was lightly built & 14.2).
I'm afraid that the lack of a tree did not support my weight well enough to
keep her comfortable. I may try it on "Rocket" to see if there is a
difference. (I hope he lives up to his name!)
I HAVE noted that a fancy pad is no substitute for a well-fitted saddle.
Also, that "old favorite" fancy pad that you spent $100+ for DOES wear out.
You may need to plan on replacing it every so many 1000 miles. (The Wolf
Pad gel pad I use has held up well - about 2500 competitive miles).
See ya on the trail!
Blue Wolf Equestrian Supplies