Why some of us just can’t get enough of horses

I remember when it started. My parents held my chubby four year old hand and walked down the block and across the street to a nearby field where, Oh Wonder of Wonders! horses grazed, multicolored on the golden brown hill. The late afternoon sun picked highlights from their coats and ears pricked as we called them to the fence. A bay came over and lipped sugar from hands held carefully flat so that fingers would not be mistaken for carrots; snuffling, whiskers tickling, gently removing the treats and nudging me for more.

We regarded each other: large brown eyes in big brown head, bright blue eyes in little freckled face. Our souls communicated silently, and from that day forth, I belonged to horses. Not as a hobby or a sport, but as an integral part of my life. They renew me and connect me to God.

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Many theorize about why some people are strongly drawn to horses. Horses ground us in the moment and expect us to pay attention and be present with them. A closely bonded horse and rider pair communicate invisibly and seamlessly, with small touches and softly murmured words and sounds. My ponies greet me with a throaty nicker – “Hey, it’s you! Got something for me? Let’s go do something together!” and I have a million little touches and nicknames for them, for they are beloved children to me. I have a friend who theorizes that the more nicknames a pet has, the more beloved it is.

Perhaps it’s the freedom of movement, the power, speed, and partnership with a large animal, a feeling of competency, or maybe just a friend who is always there for you.

Horse and human friends

Horse and human friends

Nothing is better than riding and being in harmony with a horse. A wonderful trail ride, a super jump round, or dressage movements flowing harmoniously – when we’re in synch with our horse, we feel completed. And oh the comfort of a horse hug, and the smell of delicious pony breath when you’re having a rough day. I’ve wiped my tears on a horse neck more than once. They’ve stood quietly, and then turned to look at me with a gentle prod of the muzzle (“Hey, sorry about that. Could you feed me now?”). Horses are one of God’s very good gifts to us…

I am Grateful.

Friends

Friends

Instructions for living a life:

Pay attention

Be Astonished

Tell about it.        ~Mary Oliver

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

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

Hair down to there

My haflinger’s tail draws sighs of admiration wherever she goes. How do you keep it so clean? How did you get it so long? So thick? Do you braid it to get those waves? It’s so silky and luxurious and gorgeous. Sigh.

Ellie's tail, with just a little Gleam on it. Hasn't been washed in a couple of weeks, either.

Ellie’s tail, with just a little Gleam on it. Hasn’t been washed in a couple of weeks, either.

As you can see from the picture, it is just like the tail Barbie’s horse would have.

Every girl, young and old, wants to play with it.

Ellie has good Haflinger genes and grows hair at an amazing rate. This is a good thing, because sometimes she rubs her tail and I only have to wait a few weeks and it looks great again. The bad thing is that her mane grows just as fast, necessitating continual pulling if I want to keep it at braiding length.  How we suffer for our art.

When you have this much hair to maintain, there are a couple of products that are de rigueur:

1) the right shampoo. For white hair, I recommend Quiksilver shampoo (widely available, for example: http://www.doversaddlery.com/exhibitor-laboratories®-quic-silver-whitening-shampoo/p/X1-22105/). There are other good products, but this does a nice job of cleaning without over drying, and it whitens and brightens, too. Now I sound like a Tide commercial (“little Ellie’s tail got all splashed with arena mud, but Quiksilver whitened it right up!”) I can also use it to clean my black horse’s tail, so I don’t have to keep two kinds of shampoo. Yep, Quiksilver is not just for white horses.

2) the right detangler. There are many out there and I’ve tried a number of them, and in my experience, NONE works as well as GLEAM. Put about a dime size amount on your palm, rub palms together, and comb through forelock and tail. Maybe a little more if the hair is really tangled. That’s it. Your hands will not be slippery, they will simply smell lovely (rather like Laura Ashley stores used to smell – remember that perfume they had? It smells just like that and takes me right back to London in the 70’s and 80’s). The hair will easily brush through and will continue to brush out easily for about a week. It will have a nice shine and your horse will smell delicious and look fabulous. Available at my local tackstore, online at some retailers, and here at the website: http://equifuse.com/all-products/grooming-products/gleam-moisturizer-shine-serum

3) Finally, remember to use your fingers to detangle, and only go to the brush after you’ve added the Gleam and things are pretty well detangled. We do not want to pull a lot of hair out with that brush! Hold the tail and brush gently below where you are holding it, so that hair is not pulled out. Preserve the tail! And the forelock. Voila: Hair down to there.