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Saddle Innovations

I've been musing about what significant innovations I have seen
in saddle design over the 35 or so years I've been actively
involved with horses.

Here's what I've come up with:

The Adjustable Stirrup Bar

 Several people lay claim to this innovation, but one very clear
 line of descent is saddleseat equitation trainer Helen Crabtree,
 who observed that most of the problems her students had with
 obtaining a proper balanced position over their feet was the
 fact that the stirrup bars on their saddles were way, way too far

 Adjustable stirrup bars, with from 1.5 to 3 inches of range
 depending on design, are available as a standard feature on
 most saddleseat cutbacks for an additional $200 or so.  Oddly, this
 important feature doesn't seem to have caught on in any other
 discipline, not even dressage.

 Some saddle makers (e.g., Sportsaddle) now let you specify that the
 saddle be made with the stirrup mount further back.  Once constructed,
 however, it is not adjustable.  Some saddle makers (e.g., Synergist)
 simply put the stirrups further back as a matter of standard design.

 Some Ortho-flexes (like my Versatile) do have multiple position
 stirrup bars.

Synthetic Materials

 Such as the Wintec.  Why assume that wood, steel, and leather are
 the best materials for a saddle?  Nevertheless, I find I still
 harbor the prejudice that a synthetic saddle is somehow a "cheap"

The Two-Piece Tree

 Such as the Sport Saddle.  One approach to making the saddle
 move with the horse.  Do any other makers use this idea?

The Flexible Panel

 The other main approach to making the saddle move with the horse.

 Invented by Ortho-flex.  Ortho-flex uses a system that mounts
 the panels on front and rear pivot points.  The Reactor Panel
 is a derivative design that uses the flexible panel idea
 without using the pivot points.  Instead, the panels just
 attach to the underside of the saddle with velcro.

 I believe that several European manufacturers are also offering
 variations on the flexible panel design, but cannot name any
 specific maker.

The Adjustable Tree

 There are two variations on this.  One is an allen-wrench
 screw-adjustable affair that allows you to actually crank the
 points further apart with a play of from 1/2 to 1".  This is
 available on some hunt seat saddles and one saddleseat cutback
 that I know of, but doesn't seem to be in widespread use.
 (Ortho-flex now offers an adjustable version of their mounting
 points for an extra $300 per pair.)

 The other variation is the "replaceable gullet" system used on
 some Wintecs.

Y-Mounted Billets

 This may be an old western "rigging" design rediscovered.  Y mounted
 billets are supposed to more evenly distribute the pressure of the
 girth across the entire saddle.  The one company I know that offers
 this as standard on many models is the Arabian Saddle Company.
 Ortho-flexes claim to have a modified Y mounting, although
 the billets don't show it.  I'm not sure who else uses this.

The Raised, Slung Seat

 All English saddles support the rider with a sling of webbing in
 the tree covered with padding.  This is a more extreme version
 where the tree is deliberately raised to take the rider out of
 direct contact with the horse's back.  The idea is that the
 rider's weight is more evently distributed, and air can circulate
 to cool the back. This is the design found on the Tucker saddles.
 I have also seen it used on one Italian endurance saddle I saw
 at the 1998 ROC.  Ortho-flexes are also a version of this idea by
 virtue of their design.

Shock Absorbing Stirrups

 Everything from the EZ Ride to the Trail Tech.

That's what I've been able to call to mind.

Linda B. Merims
Masschusetts, USA

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