Maureen and I own three "Don West custom" saddles the only thing making them custom are some of the bell and whistles like basket weave or silver conchos. They are all built on the same "Don West" tree. Two of the saddles were bought used on E-Bay and one Maureen ordered new from Don West. We have ridden these saddles for almost four years with no problems except a dry spot issue Maureen had with Vida and fixed with a Clinton Anderson PRS pad. It was more of a quest for Maureen then a problem with the horse. But I must admit the PRS pad is a hell of a pad well worth the money.
Don West is no longer building a custom saddle, only a horned or hornless production saddle model built on the same tree. I have seen these saddles sell on E-Bay NEW between $500 and $800 so if you consider one shop wisely. There was a used custom on E-bay last week "hornless" for sale in Texas looks like a great buy.
We love the saddles and what Don West calls the "sit down equitation"
Naturally gaited, and short backed horses need an especially short-barred, close fitting saddle tree that doesn't bridge, and makes even contact with the horse’s back, effectively spreading the rider’s weight over the largest area without riding on or interfering with the horse's shoulder action. For best equitation, a rider’s weight change should be transmitted immediately and accurately to the horse, without causing pain or discomfort. Devices like spring-panels, that dull the communications between rider and horse, are neither required or desired. This Short-barred tree, and the forward hung, free swinging stirrup leathers puts the rider in the correct position for training, trail riding, and naturally gaited horse “sit-down equitation". The bulk-less rigging enhances closeness.
Don West also has a book that has helped me. "Paca Paca A Sure Cure For The Trots" a great short read, he is a great writer and poet.
I also like Steele Saddles, Imus saddles (which are made on a Steele tree) and Tucker is making a Aussie hybrid saddle with centerfire rigging I would'nt mind trying.
As for the Clinton Anderson "Patience Poll" I think thats the way to go. You can get a copy of his building plans for this pole on his web site. I plan on building a pair for our filly's this spring. Also his blocker pull back ring is the greatest thing since sliced bread. They work great and I use them on the horse trailer and trees at the farm.
The gal we bought Sassafras and Vida from said "the only formal training she gave them before their first ride was to tie them to a tree or pole, walk up, stick a finger in their ear until they didn't move, then put a saddle on them and let her little sister ride them.
All I know is it must have worked
we still have all our own teeth and very few scars