Where it all began – Horse One

Lots of years ago I had a ‘typical’ Off the Track Thoroughbred with the highest ‘shark-fin’ wither I’ve seen.
Having struggled to find even a narrow gullet that gave the ‘4 fingers’ clearance without resembling a ski ramp I invested in a Balance International Saddle Demo. Without the funds needed to invest in one of the saddles I had to improvise.
The changes were dramatic! My horse went from Narrow to a Medium Wide gullet in 2 weeks! He moved a lot better, was more willing to work and had stopped shying at every ‘gremlin’ hiding in the bushes. Physically the horse developed a topline and started to get ‘mistaken’ for a warmblood. But then I made a mistake – I listened to people who told me that there was no way my horse could be that size. I hesitated and stopped allowing my horse to grow.

This brings me to my saddle fitting philosophy – “Never fit to a horses current shape but to what they should be”

“Never fit to a horses current shape but to what they should be”

“Never fit to a horses current shape but to what they should be”

How does this work? Do I buy the widest saddle I can find?

In a short answer “No”.

The long answer:
I can think of a lot of reasons why this doesn’t work – but the main reason is that the tree shape has to suit the horse.
Saddles are built around a tree.
I prefer the Laminated Beechwood spring tree over the others. They have a certain amount of ‘give’ but not too much.
The main differences in trees (other than what they are made of) are the profile (shape front to back), width and pommel shape.
The Profile of the tree should suit your horse. Some horses are flat backed, some are curvy and some are ‘normal’
Whilst a panel can be reflocked to suit a back type the flocking likes to align itself with the tree shape – so attempting to change a flat panel to a curvy backed horse has limited success, especially in the long-term (beyond 6 months).
Width has to do with the angle of the tree points. But to complicate things remember that sizing across different brands is not uniform so fitting a wide in one brand doesn’t mean your horse will fit a wide in another. It would be nice if there was a standard where width between the tree points was measured in degrees rather than some of the methods used. Again though – going armed with the ‘degrees’ to suit your horse doesn’t guarantee success either.
Pommel Shape
This plays a bigger part than a lot of people think.
Pommel shape can be determined in 2 different ways.
First – front on. Most saddles resemble an upside down V, some resemble an upside down U – the U (or hoop tree) is more open at the top. The other consideration is height. High pommel allows for wither clearance for high withered horses. Where people are tempted to narrow the gullet down for wither clearance – this isn’t correct and can lead to muscle atrophy.

Anyway – more on muscle atrophy and saddle width soon….

Choosing Saddles to Sell

How do we choose what brands to sell?

A lot is done by word of mouth and recommendations.  I also saw a lot of saddles both fitting and the innards when I was in the UK.

So – what happens when a brand is selected?

This is the bit that icks my husband out a bit – especially the first time I took a saddle apart and was silly enough to do it in the living room.  Picture me in the middle of the floor surrounded by chunks of flocking, bits of saddle and some serious looking needles to sew it back together (one needle is 25cm long).  He couldn’t fathom why I’d buy a perfectly good saddle and pull it to bits.

But I like to see how the saddle is made.  I can check the tree, tree points, how the girth straps are attached and generally the workmanship (or love) that went into making it.

I also try to ride in each saddle.  I figure that if I’m happy riding my horse in it then it has to be a contender.

Here is a photo of the Ryder Saddle *undone* – It is actually completely nudey with no flocking (I was going to put Flair air panels in it but changed my mind).




Saddle Flocking

Saddle Flocking

The sad thing about saddle fitting is there is no clear cut solution to anything.
In the near 20 years I have been saddle fitting I’ve discovered the more I know is really showing me the less I know.
For example – with saddle flocking did you know that there are countless different materials used for saddle flocking?  Before we get caught up in the air vs foam vs wool debate lets focus on wool.

Wool Flocking 

Just when you thought you were restricted by Synthetic vs the ‘real stuff’ (from those real sheep) you have to factor in that sheep come in a variety of types.

Sheep Wool Flocking – Here is a brief run down on wool.  All wool has a staple length (this is the length of the fleece at shearing time, some of you may recall the story of Shrek the infamous Merino sheep in NZ that eluded shearers for several years – his length of fleece was amazing when he was finally caught).

The next factor for grading sheep wool is the micron – this is the thickness of the wool. Merino is known as a very fine wool.  It sells to Italy for huge money due to the fineness.

Finally the properties of the wool fibre need investigation.  Wool is a hollow fibre – like a toilet roll tube.  This allows for the breathability and ‘bounce’ factor (when crushed it wants to return to tube shape, though it does lose resilience after time).

So what do we look for in wool for flocking saddles?

Firstly we want something with a good staple length – this means that long fibres are less likely to clump and form lumps.  When reflocking long staple wool is a lot easier to get a nice panel out of.  If you imagine your saddle upside down flocking laid like spaghetti down your panel is a lot better than baked beans.

Secondly we look for a micron level that is not too coarse but also is thick enough to offer a good resilience for a decent amount of time (lessening the need to constantly reflock the saddle).  We do not recommend merino as it isn’t ‘rugged’ enough for the purpose.  Its a ‘fine’ clothing wool not a wool for supporting a rider.  It will try but never be a superior as its crossbred cousins.

Synthetic vs Real Wool – This is the constant debate.  Keep in mind that synthetic wools also come in a variety of grades from what can be bought at Spotlight for toy stuffing to wool that is specifically manufacturered for a purpose.

This leads me to touch on what is in the saddles that we service and sell.

Duett Saddles – these saddles come flocked with Synthetic Wool.  They also have a layer of foam on the outer side (closest to horse) to cushion any inconsistancies in flocking.  We have been running of pool of demo Duett Saddles and here are my observations on the flocking.  I’ve had several brilliant saddles that have run for years on the same flocking.  One saddle was out constantly (travelling Cairns to Perth and everywhere in between) and that flocking just kept going and going.  Finally, after 2.5 years it gave out and in a very short space of time (so you must keep vigilant about checking!).  I’ve also had one demo saddle that need reflocking very soon after arrival, but given this was unusual for my demo saddles I put it down to coming ex- factory without a huge quota of flocking.

UK made saddles (that we sell)- these saddles come with real wool flocking.  The English saddlers that I have worked with have refined their wool specifications to get maximum performance with maximum time between reflockings. To date I’ve seen no sign of abnormally quick failure in flocking.

Remember to that saddles ex-factory come flocked to the ‘genetic horse’  your horse may not be this outline so may need adjustment prior to riding off into the sunset with your new saddle.  Also, horses are constantly changing shape – especially if growing, have been injured or coming into work. – All good saddle fitters should take this into account when assessing your horse.

Also – the tree shape vs your horses profile can seriously impact flocking.  If your horse is curvy backed and your saddle has a flat tree/panel profile you will have to reflock a lot more than if you have a saddle tree that matches your horses back profile.  Flocking naturally congregates to follow the tree profile.

Finally – what do we use? 

This entirely depends on the situation – also on rider preference and what you want to pay.

We do not like ‘topping’ up saddles that we have not done a complete reflock on.  Why? We have opened saddles and found several different flocks in there.  This can seriously affect the panel resistance on the saddle and allow for unlevelness due to different flocking having different bounce.  We will top up but it comes with the caveat that the desired result may not be the optimum one.

The cost of complete reflock (removing the flocking and total replacement) depends on what the replacement flocking is. The price can range from $120 to $200 (plus freight costs).  Contact us for more details.

Timing – Complete reflocks can not be done in a day. Why not? Because the flocking needs to settle for at least 24 hours as, even the most experienced saddlers have have found, sometime wool will settle and create holes.  We prefer that the wool settles at our place for easy correction than you discovering the problem and being disappointed with us.

On Site Top ups – If this is a small job it will be included in the saddle fit/assessment cost. If more work is needed the cost will be discussed prior to work commencing. Normally the cost is around $20.

Please note: I try to carry a variety of flock but can not always have the exact match to what is in your saddle. I will discuss this with you if this is the case. Most other saddle fitters will not.

Pimp your saddle!

Pimp your Saddle!

Several of our Walsall UK based Saddlemakers give you the opportunity to add patent leather and crystals to  your saddle to give a trully personalised saddle*

You can customise the colour of the half moon on the cantle, the welt (piping) around the seat with colours such as red and blue and patent leather is available.

Below is the Demo Saddle Ryder Legacy with Blue panel, Halfmoon and piping around the seat.

Flashy Flash it with Patent leather halfmoon for the ultimate bling.

More photos to come shortly!Ryder Saddle Halfmoon and Panel