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.
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.