ridecamp@endurance.net: Saddles


Erika R Achberger (eachberg@sophia.smith.edu)
Mon, 28 Apr 1997 21:48:55 -0400 (EDT)

Hello everyone,
I thought I had unsubscribed today (entering finals here at Smith
College next week), but since I am still on, it seems, and having read
those posts back and forth about the Sports Saddle, i thought it a fitting
time as any to forward this post out to all of you. I wrote in response
to Margaret's question about her A-Betta Cordura Saddle, but this is
something I've wanted to share with all of you at some point anyway and
would like to get your feedback. What I am talking about is as much an
issue, if not more so, for endurance riders than anyone else--
I have been researching about saddles, particularly european ones
of a few centuries gone by, and am experimenting with my own models.
Needless to say, they are wonderful, and I feel much wisdom has been lost
to us US-Americans. As I explain, some saddle makers in Spain and
elsewhere still make amazing (works of art) and function. Please get back
to me on what you feel about this, your gut reaction and anything else
that comes up, related or not. I would like to be in more and continued
conversation with people about this over the and later on in the summer,
when I am home. I am also making hempen reins, girths, breastcollars etc
when I go back as well, as you know, so let me know what you think. I am
in the experimental and information/ opinion gathering state (not phase!),
and hear all of you talking about wanting something more than a bareback
pad--. I hope to be in touch with many of you.

{I have a beautiful grey arab back home in Minnesota (15h) by the
way-- can't wait to be back spending time playing with him again!}

So, here goes (this is a fwd). In advance, pretend I said "as you
(may) know" every second sentence, in case you feel like I am stating the
not-so obvious or obvious and find it insulting. I will save all your
answers (please write me if you don't mind it and find you have an
opinion worth sharing) even if I don't respond right away:

I have been studying types of saddles used in other parts of the
world and at other times, making my own saddle from these and my own
observations. I think it is important to have moving contact with the
horse's back, to spread the weight evenly, to have the center of balance
somewhat back of the withers, not where an english saddle would put it,
but more a french carmargue or vaquero saddle, to have enough stability
for getting on and off easily, and a saddle structure that allows the
rider to move with the horse using her skeletal structure naturally and
without becoming fatigued in any muscles.
The english forward seat saddle was developed by (if I am not
mistaken) the head of the italian cavalry, Caprilli, and puts the rider in
an ideal position to be in balance with the horse in two situations:
going over an obstacle, and on a horse that has very little natural
collection/ carrying most weight on the forehand and has been taught none.
In this way, and with a good natural understanding of horse psychology, he
was able to train his cavalry to be successful in a very short time.
Together with the english invention of posting and the already
lightweight, simple english saddle, the forward seat became very popular.
{Some frech saddles were (are) more like the Spanish and western
(depending on what they were used for), others, for dressage (i.e.
training) varied from nothing more than a blanket with girth, to a very
lightweight, elegant if not fancy, usually cloth seat with raised padding
in front as a fork and in back as cantle, varying to a more english
version and the racing saddles (I know somewhat less about the french,
thought I should put them in though). They seemed ideal for collected
light collected work on the flat using subtle signals (thus the intimate
contact with the horse's back a plus. Take a look at De La Gueriniere's
School of Horsemanship illustrations if you get a chance.}
The western saddle, on the other hand, comes directly from the
spanish conquistadors and their riding practice, as does the round pen and
most everything about western riding. {The machismo is more a product of
the western cultural climate, I would tend to believe, and was less a
Spanish influence, although, I take that back, the Spanish do tend to be a
bit boastful/ flagrant. However, this rough way of handling horses is not
the way it was originally done by the old spanish (at least by the
nobles), who were much gentler and used body language rather than force
(there are still those who teach this in Europe, and those in America who
have refound it in their roots).} So the small horn of the wooden fork
became quite massive as the vaqueros (from vaca, cow) began using this as
an anchor for roping cattle (in Europe it was not done this way),
gradually the fork and cantle became united in a single piece of wood, and
two cinces attached for greater stability. Thus a strong, heavy,
longlasting saddle was borne, but with little consideration for the
horse's back or desire for subtle communication between human and horse,
and which spreads the rider's legs unnecessarily from the horse's body.
Indian rigs varied, depending on the context in which the horse
was obtained or the purpose for which it was to be used. Most often the
horses were stolen without gear, and the native americans, lithe as they
were, quickly became adept at riding in the bareback fashion, making rigs
sometimes with toe loops, but most often two pieces of deerskin sewn
together with a little deer hair padding. The women often rode on high
forked and cantled bare wooden things, beautiful and elegant, most without
girth (from what I understand), using only balance and usually in the
context of a move from camp
to a new location, walking.
The old European saddles, which I find most interesting, were at
one time very similar, and yet each an individual, saddlemakers true
artists. The military saddles later became wooden treed models with a
seat suspended above and laced down tight. These can still be found and
restored and many like them.
In many countries, one can still find ones
made entirely without wood, or only in the fork/ cantle. In the US there
is a company (Connecticut?) that builds them with layer upon layer of
leather. In Italy, Jordanien, Spain and perhaps other countries these
treeless saddles are still made, and the spanish one interests me most.
The old German, Italian and Spanish war saddles of the 14, 15,
even 16th centuries had the same basic horn and high curved cantle that
gave them security in battle and preserved their horse's balance and
backs. They had uniform padding from front to back, more under the
rider's seat and growing less as it went down the sides of the horse's
body/ the rider's legs. This had the effect of raising the rider's seat
(pelvis) an inch or more from the horse's back while leaving the legs
close to the sides of the horse. (I have noticed from my own anatomical
observations that this is one of the main virtues of a saddle as it forces
the rider's legs not to make such a large angle in so short a distance

(this is hard to explain, you know how when you sit on a horse bareback,
your legs have to spread rather far to make it around the horse; the
higher your seat is, the less drastically they have to spread? So by
raising you a little, your legs can make it and hang straight down,
whereas without a little distance, they go forward and your knees bend
So ideally a saddles meets you half way. Your legs are extended
below you, relaxed and slightly bent, and the stirrups are right there.
The padding I was talking about was either animal hair or vegetable matter
in most cases. Animal hair kept its shape and vegetable matter (straw,
grasses) packed down, molding over time. Saddles often had both. The
body of the saddles that I know the most about were packed with a thick
layer of straw, sewn tightly to form a sturdy, indestructible, moving but
weight-distributing body between the horse and rider that only grew better
with age, making the close, form-fitting connection that allowed them to
become one with their horses, (as the natives observed when they arived on
american shores).
They were (and are) hand made, with a wooden fork and
cantle, special overgirth, and stirrups that support the whole foot
and look remarkably like the easycare stirrup of today. (the
primary complaint of the Greek cavalry a few thousand years ago, who rode
on a simple animal skin, was that their legs would become sore and swollen
after many days on horseback without pressure on the feet to send the
fluid back up through the body.)

SO, having made a long story short and a short answer long, I'd
like to just indicate to you how the current trends are dictated by the
choices people made throughout history. The endurance riders have a need
for something more balanced and natural than the english forward seat
saddle and more light-weight and flexible than a cattleman's rig. (Barrel
Racers, I hear are also enjoying a saddle type with separate fork and
The book I most enjoyed is call MAN ON HORSEBACK and chronicles
the evolution of riding and riding equipment through the ages. Look it up
if you're interested. The copy I borrowed from my library was a paperback
from five, ten or even fifteen years ago. Probably out of print by now.
It's really good though!!

(I'll leave this on incase you're curious,)
Afer re-reading your post (it follows) I will add that yes,
Arabians and Thoroughbreds tend to have higher withers, but I do not know
whether this is one of the significant differences in saddle design where
they are called such. It may be that they are simply shorter backed.
Also, Marciante may be a good saddle maker, I like his leaflet, the
saddles are not too expensive (although they are leather) and seem to be
of good design and make. I believe the SS has no tree? My one concern
with the idea of this saddle is that if I understand correctly, the weight
of the rider in the stirrups is placed on a small area of the shoulders
and wither, as they are attached to the fork and not the body of the
saddle, like the "Natural Ride." Don't know if I got this right though.
Send me an email and tell me their number so I can ask for a catalog too.
The spanish saddle I describe costs around $1500, I believe. They
have the same balance and seat structure as old western types, the modern
westerns seem too far forward and have other strange aspects I don't know
well enough to speculate on. If you're wondering about hemp, the canvas I
use is much like cordura but natural, not sythetic, just as strong and can
be dyed any color. It does not mildew but does get dirty (thus dye a dark
color), I have gotten a small amount of chestnut colored waterproofed
(oilskin like) canvas to work with. The webbing I use for girth,
breastcollar, reins, haltar is wonderful, a nice olive-tan color and hoses
That's all for now. Let me know when you've waded through all the
info. I'd be happy to hear your feedback, I can't know all the concerns
and ideas on my own! Erika

Erika R Achberger& Kashan Smith College Box 6004
505 Highland Ave. 98 Green Street
Northfield, MN 55057 Northampton, MA 01063-0100
Tel: 507.645.7937 Tel: 413.585.6543

On Wed, 23 Apr 1997 Equinestar@aol.com wrote:

> I just bought an Abetta Cordura Plus endurance saddle from State Line Tack.
> I am not sure I will keep it. I sat on it for a minute with just a towel
> under it to keep it clean. Right away I thought I felt my seat bones on the
> saddle and it seemed hard. It is supposed to be a softee. If the tree will
> spread, it will not fit my horse, who is a normal to high withered
> standardbred. If it won't spread, it may be OK. Perhaps I should order one
> for an arab??? Is an arab more high withered?
> Has anyone had any experience with this saddle? Would you keep it if you
> were me? Please help with with your collective wisdom.
> I have read the Ride Camp endurance FAQ and info on saddles, but this one
> was not mentioned. It seem that the sports saddle is the one of choice for
> endurance riding.. I ordered a catalog tonight.
> If you could only buy one and that one was a light synthetic saddle, what
> would you recommend for around under $800. ??? I prefer to ride a western
> type saddle.
> Please help! Email me privately, as I have trouble keeping up with the
> digests right now.
> Equinestar@aol.com

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