Saddle shopping trials

Does anyone out there ENJOY saddle shopping? I’m not talking about idly clicking through the gorgeous gleaming images of new saddles, imagining yourself riding oh-so-much-better because now you have the perfect saddle. Of course if I have the saddle of XYZ Olympian I will ride like him or her! I will look like this and my horse will also be transformed:

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Or sometimes my Diva side comes out and I am attracted to the blingy fancy saddles. Oh, I’m not going to buy one, but gosh, they are pretty, aren’t they?

 

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Yeah, I kinda want one, I admit it. But I know my trainer would kill me. Not to mention my husband.

Meanwhile, what to do? Well, the only saddle I own, a wonderful and comfortable Lemke dressage saddle, does not fit my new horse, Starlight. Tragedy! That saddle is so comfortable. So I am riding in a borrowed Ansur dressage saddle, which is a flexible tree so it fits (almost) anything. It’s a  Godsend and my mare really likes it, but she’s wide, so my hips don’t like it on such a wide horse.

I need a saddle wide enough for her, but with a narrow twist for me, and that will require a tree. It’s possible, but it is not easy.

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The Wow Competitor Dressage Saddle

Enter the WOW saddle, a modular saddle which I am explorin. I have just tried their basic model (the Classique), which my horse LOVED but I wanted a different seat. Loved the narrow twist but the seat didn’t quite work for my seat bones (not soft enough). So now I will try a custom assembled WOW with different seat, flaps, knee rolls, etc. Since these are modular saddles, a custom one can be assembled in just a couple of days and shipped to me to try.

If you are interested in information about the WOW, which is really a different concept for a saddle, here is the website:  http://www.wowsaddles.com. I’ll have another review of it after I ride in it more, but my first ride did impress me and my horse and I had an initial “WOW” experience. Unfortunately, they are expensive new and though they’ve been in Britain for years, they are fairly new here so they’re difficult to find used. That’s the bad news.IMG_0124.JPG

Here is Starlight, modeling the WOW Classique. Note the lovely sock protective covers for the stirrup leathers (keeps the leathers from damaging the demo saddle). Star’s coat is improving but is still changing from sun-bleached to black/brown as she sheds her winter coat. One month into our work together, you can see the muscling in her neck and topline beginning to develop, but it takes years to build the muscle needed for dressage so this will be a slow and careful process. This is a wonderful mare and I love working with her.

Our next demo saddle will be the WOW Competitor. Let’s hope it’s “the one” and I can stop spending hours on the computer looking at saddles and researching saddles and wondering if this saddle or that saddle MIGHT work…

 

 

Horses don’t lie

If your horse starts swinging its butt away at the mounting block and fidgeting when you try to mount, could it be telling you something?

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If only we would pay attention…

Or maybe the horse is rushing under saddle, bracing, has an under neck muscle, has difficulty coming onto contact especially through transitions or in lateral movements. Do you think saddle fit MIGHT be the problem?

I’ve only had Starlight a couple of weeks, but I was having all of the above issues and trying to figure out how to solve them. If I’d known her better, I would have diagnosed saddle fit faster, but 10 days into it, I realized it might be the saddle. I borrowed a flex-tree saddle (The Ansur Saddle) from a friend, and what an immediate difference! Happy horse!  Bending, flexing, no problem!

Unfortunately, this can’t be the long term solution for us because Starlight is such a wide backed mare that the Ansur becomes too wide on her for my hips to be comfortable. However, it’s a workable interim solution.

Moral of the story: if the horse is acting weird or giving you a problem, look first for pain. 

Horses are honest and they don’t lie or plot ways to make our lives difficult. They live in the moment and just tell us what they are feeling. We owe it to them to pay attention and do our best to make their working lives comfortable and rewarding.

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Starlight: much happier in the Ansur saddle. Too bad about the ugly water truck in the background. Strange color as she sheds out her bleached winter coat.

Treeless saddle reviews by one who has ridden miles in them

On the trail with a haflinger  - in a treeless saddle, of course.

On the trail with a haflinger – in a treeless saddle, of course.

One thing I’ve discovered: All treeless saddles are not made equal. Some are little more than structured bareback pads, while others have almost as much internal structure as a treed saddle.  It seemed like a good idea to do a followup article sharing what I’ve discovered over the years. If you’d like to add some of your own experience with various treeless saddles and pads, feel free to comment and enrich our discussion!

But first, a few caveats:

1) I am not paid to write these reviews.

2) I currently own three treeless saddle brands but have tried a couple of others

3) I also ride in treed saddles, so I am not a “treeless ONLY!” fanatic. I think they can work really well for some horse and rider combinations; not so well for others.

4) The purpose of this article is to discuss a few specific brands/types of treeless saddles and their pros and cons. It’s not definitive and I will leave most brands out. Until saddle makers want to send me their saddles to try (anyone? anyone?), I have to work with what I have.

And on to the reviews!

ANSUR: My favorite is the Ansur saddle. I resisted buying one for several years, because they are expensive and hard to find used. I didn’t want to shell out for a new one at close to $4K. They are also hard to trial as the company does not send out demos but relies on their distributors to own their own

Ansur Excel Dressage Saddle, $3855

Ansur Excel Dressage Saddle, $3855d

demos. That said, Ansur is a very well made, good quality leather, excellent saddle. Made in America, too! It looks like a normal (treed) saddle, which is a plus for me since I show. You can jump in the Ansur jump saddle (which I also own, having found one used! Yippee!). You don’t have to use a special pad, since most of the Ansur models now come with the trauma system padding built into the saddle. Just use a normal cotton saddle pad to protect the saddle from sweat. Prices for most models run from about $3800 and up. Used ones ($2700-3400 for Excel model) are hard to find, but if you are patient, you will eventually find one on ebay or tacktrader.com. The great thing is: they fit pretty much every horse, and every horse I have tried it on likes it. Not every rider, though. The twist is moderate, the seat could be softer but is softer than many treed saddles, just firmer than most treeless (you can order it extra soft, but that’s a special order). NOTE: The seat runs LARGE! Most of the used ones you see on the market are 17.5 or 18″ because people thought they needed the room and discovered that those seats ride much bigger than that. My Ansur Excel is 16.5″ and I normally ride in a 17″ or even 17.5″ treed saddle. Look 1/2″ smaller than you normally would. http://ansursaddle.com

FREEFORM: This is a very soft, comfortable saddle for the rider. I love this saddle for trail rides, and I can use it for dressage

Freeform Elite Dressage Saddle approx. $1580

Freeform Elite Dressage Saddle approx. $1580

in a pinch. I do find it a bit difficult to keep my position, though, when I’m doing arena work. I have to work at it. Freeform has various models: dressage, trail, etc. I do not think you can jump (more than maybe 2′) in a Freeform saddle. What you can do is ride a long, long way: Freeform saddles have been used by endurance riders in the Tevis Cup! So you know they are comfortable for horse and rider (when used with the appropriate padding and girth). They only weigh about 7 lbs, which is SO nice for both horse and rider. Very nice, soft, Italian calf leather. Stirrup position very adjustable; various seat models can be ordered and velcroed into place, too. You can find the used if you want. Use a special treeless saddle pad. http://freeformusa.com/saddles.html

BLACK FOREST SADDLES: These are American made, inexpensive, and very, very comfortable. I bought this saddle primarily for the occasional trail ride my husband takes. He is a low-intermediate rider and has ALWAYS complained about saddles hurting his scrawny seat. NOT THIS ONE. He loves this saddle and can be in it for two hours without a murmur of complaint. I find the twist a bit wide but I do

Black Forest Aspen Saddle $899

Black Forest Aspen Saddle $899

think it is super soft and comfy, and once in awhile I’ll take it for for a trail ride. Fairly light weight, too, although not as light as the Freeform. The leather is not quite as nice as the Freeform, but it costs about half as much. For the price, it’s a great saddle.   http://blackforestsaddles.com As with most treeless saddles, you must use a special pad to absorb shock and distribute pressure; they recommend and sell the excellent Grandeur pad. Buy it. It’s worth the price. It will last FOREVER and if you get the Grandeur Suspension Plus Pad it really helps stabilize the saddle on a rolypoly horse. SUPER pad. http://blackforestsaddles.com/saddle-pads/

SENSATION SADDLES: I owned one of these for a few months, and then resold it. They are super soft and comfortable and make excellent trail saddles, but I had bought it in hopes of riding dressage in it, and found that it lacked sufficient structure

Sensation-Hybrid Saddle $1450 CAD

Sensation-Hybrid Saddle $1450 CAD

for that. At least I found it difficult to do arena work in. But for the trail, it was wonderful. Soft, light weight (8 lbs?), very nice. One of my Western friends was convinced to buy one after seeing my English version, and since then, the knee pain she used to have while riding has completely disappeared. She’s thrilled, and I think her little Arab is thrilled to be carrying 20 lbs LESS saddle. Use a special treeless pad with this, too. Grandeur Pad is good, or Haf pad. Sensation saddles are made in Canada: https://www.nickerssaddlery.com  Lots of options for customizing your ride with pretty colors, if you are so inclined!

Heather Moffett Saddles (Fhoenix or Vogue SoftTree Saddles): I’m not as familiar with these, having only ridden in one once about 8 years ago, so my review will be brief. They have a good reputation, so if you are looking for a treeless saddle, they are worthy of consideration. That said, I found the stirrup bars oddly placed and upon reading more recent reviews, I read that this was still the case for many riders. So I did not revisit them when recently shopping for saddles. I do remember the saddle being light weight and very, very comfortable, though. Horses go well in them, too. Worth considering. In the USA, you can talk to this dealer, who has years of experience riding in these saddles: http://www.justequus.com/categories/For-Horse/Tack-%26-Saddlery/Soft%252dTree-Saddles/ (By the way, she has a terrific website with lots of fun horse products, so take a look even if you’re not in a saddle shopping mood: http://www.justequus.com)

Happy Trails to you, until we meet again…Edie with haflingers

Why I sometimes ride Treeless

Treeless saddles have their fanatical fans and their equally fanatical enemies. As usual, I try to be the voice of reason and practical experience in the middle. Let’s begin by admitting that:

No one size fits all when it comes to saddles. Horses and riders have a wide range of

Ellie in her Ansur Excel treeless saddle, Dressage schooling show. Nice square halt at G.

Ellie in her Ansur Excel treeless saddle, Dressage schooling show. Nice square halt at G.

conformations and thus we need different types of saddles.

As we think about saddles, a few questions come to mind.

1) Is a solid tree is required to distribute the rider’s weight? Many will cite Dr. Hillary Clayton’s study on pressure, while others will refute it saying that she did not use the right kind of treeless saddles and pads. To quote from Dr. Clayton’s article, “it should also be noted that the (treeless) saddles in our research study were used without pads (italics added), which is a necessary first step in understanding how the rider’s weight is transmitted through the saddle. Because treeless saddles would normally be used with a pad to assist in force dissipation, a logical next step would be to evaluate the performance of different types of pads used in combination with a treeless saddle (italics added).” NOTE: Most treeless saddles REQUIRE that you use a specially designed pad to dissipate the force, so testing treeless saddles without it was pointless. No one rides in a treeless saddle without the right padding – it’s like using a saddle without a girth. Just doesn’t work.

Here is an informative article on pressure from saddles, girths, and pads: http://www.equitationscience.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Science-in-the-saddle-Nov13.pdf

2) Do treeless saddles work for all horses and riders? While I like going treeless because it eliminates the need for saddle fitters and in my experience my horses prefer it, some horses and riders do better with a solid tree. Most treeless companies limit their saddles to 180 lbs or less because the weight of a heavier rider is better distributed by a solid tree. I ride one of my horses treeless, and the other in a treed saddle. Why? While they both like the treeless (Ansur) saddle, my dressage horse’s trot is very bouncy and I found I just couldn’t sit his medium and extended trot without a tree to stabilize me a bit better. In the treeless, I bounced too much. He does occasionally get to go Treeless on the trail.

3) Aren’t treeless saddles unstable? True, they are not as stable as treed saddles, although it does depend on the brand,

your horse’s conformation, and your saddle pad. A treed saddle lightly enfolds the withers – depending on the length of the tree points, some of them “grip” more than others, but a treeless saddle is flexible. This means you CANNOT mount from the

Ellie jumping in her Ansur Elite treeless saddle

Ellie jumping in her Ansur Elite treeless saddle

ground or the saddle will spin. You must use a mounting block (better for your horse’s back anyway!). Similarly, if you lean WAY over (to grab something off the rail, or because you are not a balanced rider) your saddle may slip. Nonslip pads help, of course, but I have had the occasional mishap because my ponies are round and low withered. That said, I’ve ridden in treeless saddles for about 4 years – dressage (shown 3rd level), jumped (3′), all kinds of trails, and only had the saddle turn a handful of times out of hundreds of rides. Since then I’ve added mohair girths for grip, a breastplate when jumping, and I’m more careful about things like leaning waaaaaaaay over to grab my jacket off the rail.

4) Why should I consider a treeless saddle? Comfort. Most of them are so comfortable for you (no sore seat bones!), and comfortable for your horse. My horses move beautifully in the Ansur Excel saddle, very freely through the back and shoulder. They jump beautifully in the Ansur Elite, too. (Full disclosure here: I am technically an Ansur distributor, but I never have actually sold any new saddles since I always end up recommending that people try to find them used to save a little money). I prefer Ansur to any other treeless brand because you can use an ordinary saddle pad. The special weight distributing shock system is built right into the saddle, and it looks like a normal saddle so it’s easy to show in it. I also own a very comfortable Freeform Saddle which I enjoy for trails (winners of the Tevis Cup endurance race have used Freeform), and a Black Forest Aspen (super comfy, but a wide twist), which my husband uses occasionally for a trail ride.

5) Won’t I miss my saddle fitter if I go treeless? I don’t think so, unless you really like spending the money on saddle fittings.  Treeless saddles flex as the horse changes his muscling or weight. No saddle fitter needed.

6) Should everyone go treeless? Nope. Some people feel more secure with a treed saddle. You should be a fairly balanced,

secure rider; not too heavy; and get a trial period to test it out. Your horse will feel different, like changing from dress shoes to tennis shoes.

Happy riding, everyone, whatever saddle you ride in!

Saddle slipping or riding the round barreled horse

Round bellied Ellie

Round bellied Ellie

It wasn’t Ellie, but another round bellied horse. We were having a pleasant hand gallop out on the polo field, and I was just thinking, “oh how nice this is, how lovely this feels”, when there was a rustle in the bushes, and…

 the horse leapt sideways at 90 mph, my saddle slipped, and as my old riding teacher used to say, “he went east, and I went west.”

Darn. It always hurts when I fall off, and I always cry. I just do, from the shock of it. And there was dirt in my mouth, too, because I landed facedown. Yuck.

These days I seem to pick breeds that are, well, low withered and round bellied. The kind that tend to slip saddles unless you stay really, really well balanced in the center of the horse. I usually am fairly well balanced, but sometimes the horse decides to do something unexpected and your weight can pull the saddle over. Once that saddle rolls, you are toast.

How do you keep saddles stable on rotund horses with low or no withers? Since that accident, I’ve spent a lot of time and experimentation figuring it out.

1) Fastening the Girth SUPER tight is NOT the answer – it decreases performance and is very uncomfortable for the horse. http://www.thehorse.com/articles/33540/girth-pressures-impact-on-equine-performance  NOTE: Horses generally have a hollow along their belly right where we tend to put our hand to check the girth tightness, thus giving us a FALSE sense of how loose we think the girth might be. Instead, put your hand underneath the horse, between the fore legs, and check the girth there. We should be able to get 4 fingers snugly under the girth. If you can’t do that – it’s TOO tight. Poor horse. Of course, you can’t do this once you’re ON the horse. At that point, you’ll have to guesstimate.

2) The RIGHT kind of girth makes a big difference. There will be as many opinions as riders on this, but I have a few thoughts and a few cautions.

(a) Avoid fleecy, very padded girths, as they tend to be slippery

(b) Avoid girths with elastic at only one end as they tend to pull the saddle to one side

(c ) Be cautious with any girth with elastic, as it is easy to over tighten them, especially if you tighten it from the saddle. Our leverage is greatly increased when we girth from the saddle. Elastic is fine, just be cautious.

(d) Anatomic Girths, which are contoured so that they have more surface area on the belly (more gripping area) and cut out around the elbows, DO help. Personally, I use the County Logic (available at http://www.countysaddlerystore.com/county-logic-girth/), which comes in dressage or jumping length, or a Mohair girth (http://www.actionridertack.com/p-78-montana-cincha-dressage-girths-natural-mohair.aspx), which grips and absorbs sweat. Note that many endurance riders use mohair it tends to prevent girth galls. I get my mohair girths from http://www.actionridertack.com.

3) Your saddle should fit well so that you do not need a lot of extra padding or shimming. Thick pads will destabilize your saddle and cause more slippage.

4) An anti-slip pad can be helpful. Here’s one you can put under any saddle pad, between the horse and the saddle, and it will help keep things in place. These really do help, I’ve used them! SmartPak Air + Non-Slip Pad $19.95 www.smartpakequine.com. However, they can be pretty sweaty.

(5) A well fitted breastplate can help to stabilize your saddle but it won’t do much if you don’t have the above pieces in place. I’ve had saddles roll seriously even with a breastplate on, so don’t count on your breastplate to save you.

(6) Be grateful for those round bellied horses. They teach us to be better balanced riders. But do get a good anatomic or mohair girth, a well fitted saddle, and maybe a grippy pad of some sort – just in case. The cost of a good girth is nothing compared to a trip to the doctor or emergency room. Just saying.

Ellie - a fat three year old straight from pasture

Ellie – a fat three year old straight from pasture