PHS Review: Bates Caprilli Close Contact Saddle (Updated)
Before I get into this post, I want to address one thing. I never disliked the Bates brand and I still don't. This is not a post to hate on their saddles. I understand that there are good things and bad things with anything. Nothing is perfect. So I don't write off a product or a company just because of one thing. Sometimes you just get a little unlucky. So with that disclaimer out of the way, I'll share my experience with my saddle.
A few years ago, I bought a Bates Caprilli Close Contact saddle in the standard leather. I was always drawn to its design, its havana brown colour and its CAIR system. Since I don't have my own horse, it seemed like the best option because I could modify it to whatever horse I'd be riding. This meant that I could then keep it for a long time. It seemed like a smart investment. And I will say that, for a good chunk of time, I was really happy with my purchase. The leather stayed the same colour and it was pretty comfortable to ride in. I didn't have any major problems with colour transfer on my breeches either. It was only until back in late April/ early May that things began to change.
I waited until now to write about my experiences because I wanted everything to be dealt with before I sat down and shared this post with all of you.
So what happened?
Well, long story short, the leather peeled on the saddle flaps right behind the Bates stirrup leathers. Not just on one side, but on both. It happened during the same ride too weirdly enough. The leathers must have been rubbing the saddle over time and it finally peeled. Also, keep in mind that I only rode one to two times a week for an hour at a time and I did clean it regularly. So I contacted the tack shop where I bought the saddle and told them that this had happened. Luckily, the saddle was still under warranty.
I'm not going to lie, there was quite a long waiting period before I was able to bring in my saddle to the tack shop so that they could fix it. Now I'm not going to point any fingers at Bates or at the store as I'm not aware of that side of the story. For all I know, it might actually be a complicated process to get all of the paperwork done and have everything organised. Bates was also launching their campaign for their new Advanta saddle around that same time. So that also might have played a role.
In any case, closer to the end of June, I was made aware that the arrangements to send a new top half for my saddle was on its way to the store so that the repairs could be done. While I waited for my saddle to be fixed, the store kindly lent me a loaner so that I could still ride in something I was familiar with. Thank goodness too because the replacement part for the saddle didn't arrive when they thought it would and I repairs took longer than expected.
Finally, in July, my saddle was "fixed" and shipped back to me. Only it wasn't in the new condition that was promised to me. The top wasn't aligning with the bottom properly and there was a knife mark by one of the stirrup leather keepers. It looked as though whoever was cutting the hole for the keeper had slipped and kept cutting the leather further than they needed to. Needless to say, after all that waiting. I was disappointed. So I contacted the tack shop again and sent it back to them.
The saddle fitter who did the repair contacted me and said that the top must have shifted during the delivery and that he didn't know how that cut happened. Now again, I don't know the whole story of what might of happened with my saddle. All I know is what I've been told and what I saw. So whether the damages were done back at Bates before it was sent to the tack shop or whether it was done while the saddle was being repaired and they hoped that I wouldn't notice it or whether it was something else entirely, it wasn't in the like new condition that it should have been in.
The store gave me a few options on how to move forward. I could a) keep the saddle as it was and have store credit to balance out its value, b) get a whole new saddle in the same leather, c) get a new saddle in the heritage leather or d) upgrade to a higher quality leather and pay the difference. I knew I didn't want to keep my original saddle in the condition that it was in. I also didn't want to risk the same thing happening with another saddle in the same leather regardless of how much I loved the look of it. So I had to decide whether to go for the heritage leather or spend the extra cash and upgrade.
In the end, I upgraded. Personally, I'm not a huge fan of the look of the heritage leather (to each their own) and I wanted a saddle that I would really enjoy after everything that had happened.
I now have the Caprilli Close Contact + saddle in the luxe leather. It's a darker brown than the havana and it's much softer. There's a lot more grip to it too. It definitely feels of much higher quality. And I have to say, I love the stitching details on the flaps.
It did take a while to get my new saddle in the mail because they're a special order item. The Bates' website does say to expect up to a 12 week delay before you get your saddle. So after all of that waiting, I had to wait some more. My saddle only arrived at my door near the end of August. I've ridden with it for 6 rides now and I'm really enjoying it. I also love how the soft leather feels like it's pretty much already broken in. Like the original leather, I haven't had any major colour transfers either.
Now as for the care of the the luxe saddle. Bates recommends that you use a glycerin soap and that you condition it with their balsam or their cream regularly. They also don't recommend oiling any of their leathers which I had never done with my old saddle and I don't plan on doing with my new saddle.
Overall, the whole situation with the saddle was a bit disappointing. On the bright side, it did allow me to share with you my experience with these saddles.
I don't blame Bates or dislike the company. Sometimes you just get a lemon. I'm still very happy with my new saddle. I still get to keep my customizability just in a nicer design and higher quality leather. The customer service was also great with the people I spoke to at the tack shop. They stayed professional, kind and patient. I didn't have to fight with them at all throughout the whole process. Even when I had to send my original saddle back after it was repaired. Though I didn't get the chance to speak to the Bates representative or the company directly, I do also appreciate their efforts to fix the problem and stand by their product.
If you're thinking of purchasing a Bates, I would definitely recommend upgrading to the luxe leather. It's not just an option for the Caprilli, but many of their other saddles too. It is a bit of a shame that you can't actually feel the leather before you order it though. Having a demo luxe leather saddle or even a leather swatch at the store might make all the difference in educating customers and showcasing the different options they have before buying a Bates. I know that I didn't know that the luxe leather was an option until I went through this whole process and went on their website. If I did, I might have just upgraded to the luxe originally. (If you're reading this and you carry Bates saddles at your tack shop or work for the Bates company, this might be something to look into moving forward).
Saddles aren't cheap. You want to make sure that you're getting a good product and that your hard earned money is going towards something of good value. Now, that's not to say that their original leather isn't any good or that what happened to me will happen to you. Like I said in the beginning I loved that saddle and I still do. What happened with the peeling might have been a freak incident that has never happened with their other saddles.
The purpose of this post is to share my experience so that you're also aware of what could happen. So that you're not left surprised or disappointed. Nothing is perfect and there's always a bit of risk with anything you purchase. The strategy for us, as the consumer, is to educate ourselves before we make that step in buying something. What's the best value you can get for what your money can buy? Do your research and make an educated decision from there.
I'd love to know if this has ever happened to you whether it is with Bates or another company. How did you handle it? Share your experiences in the comments below. I'd love to read them.
Until next time, happy riding!