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Why is the Barefoot Saddle Horse-Friendly? Print E-mail
Tuesday, 14 August 2007 13:06
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Every horse’s back is different. And it changes its shape often, from age, training, injury, pregnancy or seasonal changes. And during riding the horse’s back is in constant motion. It also changes shape according to bend, flexion, differences in head position, and the degree of collection. The picture below shows just the change caused by lifting or lowering of the head — can you imagine how a back moves at the canter?! . A horse walking on a loose rein with head held high will hollow its back, it has a pronounced downward curve, a dip, in its back, this is simply dictated by anatomy. If the horse is ridden with more contact and correctly(!) collected, this curve flattens upward, the back is lifted, the spine will arc upward with dynamic tension. A similar effect is achieved by riding with the horse’s head close to the ground, neck stretched and relaxed, in the ‘long and low’ position. In this case, the back is lifted without much muscular effort, by the big, strong nuchal and supraspinous ligaments. They go from the poll over the neck, are attached to the back, all the way back to the loin, and so can lift the back up like a cantilevered bridge, with the heavy head as the counterweight. This process can be observed in any horse or pony, it is caused by bio-mechanics of ligaments in conjunction with working the muscle groups of back and abdomen. The difference in back shape caused by this is clearly visible, and any horse can lift its back by about 5cm/2″, often more. A saddle with a rigid tree is not flexible enough to adjust to this difference. The supple Barefoot saddle will mould to the changing back and top line at all times.

Another problem with rigid tree saddles, especially the newer styles of Western Saddles is that they are too long, so the hard ends of the panels will jam into the horse hip or shoulders when it tries to bend. Try this if you have one of those roper-style saddles: saddle up, then put your hand under the saddle at the shoulder, far enough so you’re just under the tree. Now have a helper bring the horse’s head around to your side. Ouch! Pinched your hand, didn’t it? Now you know why your horse doesn’t want to turn on a dime. The same happens at the rear end. A lot of Western horses have learned to hold themselves stiffly, they don’t freely swing their barrel right and left anymore — sad! English riders on the other hand fear the dreaded ‘bridging’, or ‘rocking’ saddles. A treeless saddle takes care of that once and for all.

Photos courtesy of Sabine Kells, author of the book “The secret of happy horses” and several other good books on hoof care and riding.
This is how most custom-made saddles are fitted, with a flexible ruler. You shape it perfectly to the horse’s back, and they make the saddle to match that curve. But watch what happens as soon as the horse moves: When the head is lowered, the saddle bridges, you can see two thin strips of air under the ruler, so the weight is NOT distributed onto the whole saddle area. With the head lifted up, it gets worse, there is pressure at the withers, and the weight is concentrated onto an even smaller area, much of it jamming into the sensitive loins. Also notice the change in postion of the tape markers on ruler and back — the back gets shorter and longer as the horse moves! And this is before the horse even walks off! A stiff tree cannot follow this movement, so some hard part will always jam into the horse’s back here or there.
A conventional, stiff-treed saddle can only distribute weight evenly if it lays flat over a big surface — as you can see, since the back changes so much (and this is just a horse standing still!) it will always rocker and lift in some areas and press deeply into others.