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FAQ

WHY A TREELESS SADDLE, AND HOW DOES IT WORK?
The only saddle that is really flexible in all directions is a saddle without a stiff tree inside. Under such a saddle the horse can walk relaxed and lift its back, which enables the sideways movement of the thoracic spine. True bend and collection come so much easier if they are not painful! The current Barefoot saddle was developed through many trials and upgrades. It has helped many problem horses to calmly accept a saddle again and go in a relaxed manner.



BUT WON’T I SIT DIRECTLY ON THE HORSE’S SPINE?

Not in ours, you won’t! The padding of saddle and seat protects the horse from pressure points. Starting January ‘07, all Barefoots have additional thick, shock-absorbing panel inserts to the right and left of the spine to create even more spine clearance! These are anatomically shaped to reduce bulk under your leg. These pads form a soft channel or gullet that guarantees spine clearance. In addition, we recommend our saddle pads with shock absorbing inserts, to cushion the spinous processes even more and create a bigger channel for the spine. This is especially important for horses where the ends of the spinous processes are visible. The right pad or underlay, along with the cushioning in the saddle, replaces the atrophied, missing muscle, and cushions the spinous processes gently.

 

 



Also keep in mind that the rider’s seat bones are usually 10 – 15 cm/ 4 – 6 inches apart, and the horses spine lays way down deep inside its back. The bones you can feel sometimes under the skin are the ends of the spinous processes, and they are thin and narrow, so they lay BETWEEN the rider’s seat bones — you never sit ON the spine, there is always muscle on muscle, not bone on bone, so the fabled ‘spine pressure’ is much less of a problem than many people think.
Another point to consider is WHAT is impacting the spine. With a conventional saddle, if something touches the withers or ‘spine’, it is hard wood, plastic, or metal. Ouch, that pinches! With a treeless, even if something sits on the spine, it is a soft pillow of flexible foam. So what? Next time someone warns you about the dangers of treeless saddles, make sure to ask exactly what first-hand experience that person has with them — what make and model, which pad, on what kind of horse, for how long? Usually, the people with no first-hand experience at all are the ones most worried about that mythical spine pressure.
Flexible yet secure? How does it stay on the horse’s back?
A Barefoot saddle can easily be bent in all directions. It isn’t made from hard, smooth leather, but from vegetable-tanned Nubuck or from soft-leather, which is open-pored and pliable, so it fits itself readily to the shape of the horses back (and your backside), just like a well-worn pair of jeans.
The raised pommel and cantle are filled and stabilized with fibreglass in front and high density foam in the back. These can also be removed and stuffed with wool to completely avoid all withers pressure (for horses with extremely high withers), or to get a flatter seat. These pommel and cantle supports, and the rider’s position very close to the horse (not perched on top of a built-up tree) achieve a secure hold on the horse’s back, even on low-withered and round horses.

 


WHY IS THE BAREFOOT SADDLE HORSE-FRIENDLY?
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.

 


WHY ALL THIS FUSS ABOUT THE HORSE’S BACK, ANYWAY?
(“Everything is carried on my back!” Article by Certified equine physiotherapist S. Ullmann, the inventor of the Barefoot saddle)
Good riding technique and thorough training are vital for a horse’s back health, regardless of riding style or discipline. The anatomical and physiological needs of the horse should be the first consideration of all schooling. It follows that the importance of using the correct equipment, especially of choosing a suitable saddle, cannot be over-empathized. The horse’s spine in the thorax region was never designed by nature to carry the weight of a rider! So the goal of basic training and schooling must be to develop the muscles that allow a horse to carry our weight without getting hurt.
A horse only becomes a riding horse once it has learned to lift its back. This curving up, the arching of the thoracic segment of the vertebral column, opens up the joints between the individual vertebrae. This allows increased blood flow to those muscles that are responsible for lateral movement of the chest section of the vertebral column. If this motion sequence is blocked by a wrongly positioned, ill-fitting and rigid saddle, or by a rider that sits too far back, the horse cannot move its back properly.
The Barefoot saddle positions the rider over the horses’ centre of gravity (thoracic vertebrae # 9–13). It leaves the delicate rear part of the thoracic spine free, the section where the spinous processes change directions (thoracic vertebrae # 15–16) and so come very close to each other. This creates optimum conditions for back-saving riding. However, the Barefoot saddle cannot replace correct riding technique!


WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS TO THE RIDER?
Many! Sitting in a Barefoot treeless saddle feels like riding bareback, just more comfortable and secure: The high pommel and cantle cradle and support you, and you have fenders or stirrups for added safety. It is suitable for all kinds of riding.
Even most beginners feel safe, because the saddle provides support and lets the rider sit close to the horse.
The seat is cushioned with fleece, always soft, much warmer in winter, and it develops the right shape just for you.
You will effortlessly feel the horse’s slightest movement and rhythm through the flexible saddle, that makes it much easier to follow the movement and work with the rhythm.
With more movement under you and a balanced position, the Barefoot will, over time, build a better seat.
The slightly rough Nubuck leather helps you to feel steady and secure in the saddle, providing welcome grip. But unlike regular rough-out suede seats, you are not stuck in one place on the horses back — since the saddle instantly shapes to you, it allows you to move with the horse, or to influence it with your body.
Riders with back problems may be able to ride without pain again, because all movement is transferred smoothly, there is a lot of shock absorption built in, so the rider’s spine and disks are not hammered with impacts.
The saddle is very lightweight, not only will your horse appreciate the sudden easing of its burden, but you will be amazed at how easy saddling has become!
Knee trouble may also be helped by the highly flexible saddle and its soft sides. Look at getting different, knee-friendly stirrups, too — EZ-Ride, swivelled or off-set stirrups, or narrow fenders.
You won’t need expensive saddle fitting sessions, because the Barefoot fits nearly everyone and can’t cause saddle sores if you stick to our recommendations. A shock absorbing blanket or pad belongs under every treeless saddle.
And last but not least, it is just SO much more fun to ride a relaxed, happy, pain free and willing horse that isn’t afraid to move!!


WILL MY BAREFOOT SADDLE FIT SEVERAL DIFFERENT HORSES?
Absolutely! Its flexibility is one of the biggest advantages of the Barefoot: It will conform to just about any shape horse or mule, will always fit, and often save you buying saddle after saddle for your herd. If you have very different types of horses (some high-withered, some round-backed), you may have to exchange the pommel arch or fork. This is done by opening two zippers, exchanging fork, closing zippers again (it nestles in there fairly sung), and takes less than 5 minutes. Extreme differences may be accommodated with different blankets/pads.
Most average horses do well with the same, standard, medium-wide fork. Weight changes from summer to winter are not a concern anymore, changes in shape from muscling up during training don’t require a new saddle, blanket or stuffing. If you get a new horse you can start riding right away, with confidence, and don’t have to pay for professional saddle fitting, alterations, a new saddle, or go through weeks of painful trial and error.


CAN I MOUNT FROM THE GROUND?
Yes, you can, but you shouldn’t — in any saddle! Mounting from the ground will put tremendous stress on the horse’s withers. Any good Chiropractor or massage therapist can tell if you mount from the ground, just from the state of the horse’s spine and muscles! It is literally looking ‘a bit wrung at the withers’. The hard parts of the saddle tree are ground into the horses off-side when you hang onto the saddle or stand in one stirrup, and may pull the spine out of alignment. The shorter or heavier you are, the less springy and athletic when mounting, and the taller or wider your horse is, the worse this gets. Also, ground mounting will pull ANY saddle asymmetrical over time, and it requires you to cinch or girth up a lot tighter than you really need to. So try to use a mounting block, a rock, log, truck, fence, ditch, bank, or just a handy slope in the terrain to assist you in mounting — your horse will love you for it! Thankfully, this message is spreading, through magazines, vets and chiropractors. The days where you must prove your worth as a rider by mounting from the ground will soon be over.
That said, on the trail there is sometimes no choice, and you can mount most horses from the ground just fine with the Barefoot saddles. Try to be a little slick about it: Don’t hang on to the horn, grab the opposite side of the saddle and the mane instead, face forward, push up hard and fast with your right leg, and throw the weight in your upper body over to the other side right away. If you have difficulties with ground mounting, choose the Physio pad, its non-slip Sympanova lining makes a huge difference in mounting stability! For desperate short-legged riders of very tall or round horses with no withers, there are mounting aids available from good saddleries, these are straps that go around the opposite foreleg, you put them on, mount, then unclip it from the saddle and park it in its keeper buckle.


DO I NEED TO GET USED TO THE SADDLE?

Probably not. It depends on your old saddle and style of riding. Most likely you’ll just be blown away by the comfortable seat, by the big swing in your horse’s back and gaits, and by how easily your horse seems to read your aids and cues now. On the other hand, if your old saddle had forced you into a chair seat, like many Western saddles do, you will feel a change. The Barefoot puts you into the correct vertical position. Any riding manual, no matter if Western or Dressage, shows that drawing with a line going straight down through the riders ear, shoulder, hip and heel. The Barefoot stirrup attachments and seat are positioned to allow you to sit like that. This may feel weird at first, like your leg is further backward, under you. It will feel to the muscles of your inner thigh like you’re sitting bareback. You’ll learn to appreciate this position really quick, though, as it makes for good balance, easy posting, and allows you to follow the horses movements or influence them. This ideal position also feels very stable. Renown riding coach Mary Wanless always asks, ‘What would happen to you if someone pulled your horse out from under you?’ Well, in the Barefoot you would land perfectly balanced on your feet!
If you had an English saddle before, and have a wide-backed horse, you may feel you’re sitting wider in a treeless. This is because now you feel the width of the horse’s actual back, when before you were sitting on top of a built-up, narrow twist. The muscles around your hip joints or inner thighs may need to adjust to this, if you have become a bit inflexible. Stretching helps, or some warm-up before riding. Any ‘stretched wide’ feeling should disappear after a few rides. If you have bad arthritis in your hip or other chronic hip problems, you can fix this by customizing your saddle: First, get the Physio pad, it has a narrower seat, with the thick layer being butterfly-shaped. Should this still not be narrow enough, rip off the removable seat, and build up the middle of the seat a bit with one or two layers of foam in a narrower shape. Put seat back on with Velcro.


DOES MY HORSE NEED TO GET USED TO THE SADDLE?
No. But you may need to get used to your new horse! Most horses are very happy to be finally able to move freely and without pain. This can lead to some exuberance on your first ride or two — be prepared for a more spirited horse! And any new saddle may feel just plain weird to a horse, plus the Barefoot allows it to feel what you’re doing up there, which may be feel odd the first time, too. Don’t ask too much right away.


IS IT OKAY FOR YOUNG HORSES, TOO?
Absolutely! A Barefoot treeless saddle is eminently suitable for starting and training young horses! It spreads the weight quite different than a treed saddle. The rider sits between the pommel and cantle supports which are fixed to the saddle in their pockets, not ON them, so they are free to move with the horse without disturbing its motion. The saddle can be placed on the shoulder, since the scapula (shoulder blade) is able to move underneath the saddle without bruising the muscles. This type of saddle places the rider in the optimum position, above the centre of gravity, and therefore makes it easy for the young horse to balance itself. The cantle support is soft, and there is space underneath, so no unnecessary weight is transferred to this sensitive area. Thanks to the total flexibility of our saddle, it can adjust itself to the horse’s back even when the horses’ shape changes significantly. A horse undergoing training goes through a pronounced transformation, the muscles get bigger, fat disappears, the back develops. A conventional saddle with a rigid tree is very unlikely to fit throughout these changes, while the Barefoot saddle will ‘grow’ with the horse. Horses are very comfortable under the lightweight Barefoot saddle from the beginning, because it doesn’t impede their movements. And again, a pain free horse is a relaxed horse, and a happy horse is much easier to ride! Especially young horses are often confused or offended that you would cause them pain, they are not as resigned to discomfort as most older horses. Keep them pain free, and you will keep their willingness, and that spark, alive!


IS THERE A BREAK-IN PERIOD FOR MY NEW TREELESS BAREFOOT SADDLE?
No. The saddle is soft, comfy, deep and flexible, and your posterior will feel right at home in it. In fact, it will probably feel like it has died and gone to heaven! The leather won’t squeak, either, and doesn’t need to be conditioned.
However, all those layers of foam and fleece will compress over time, and this may take a month or so, depending on how much you ride. During this time, you need to re-tighten the girth a lot, until everything has compressed and settled a bit. It helps if you have someone tighten your cinch or girth again right after mounting with your weight in the saddle, then do it again after 10 minutes or so after the foam has warmed up, and again before you do any wild galloping. This will gradually get better with every ride, just be careful to always keep the girth snug for the first few weeks. Western riders: The Nevada has a dressage girth, you can usually snug that up right from the saddle, without getting off! Love it!
The natural dyes used for the Nubuck leather may stain for the first little while if they get damp — please wear darker pants for the first few weeks of riding!
If you get a Western model, you may want to pre-bend the fenders just like you do with conventional Western saddles, especially if you have short legs. This avoids knee strain and helps to keep your feet in the stirrups at all times. Support saddle on chair or sawhorse, stick fenders in two buckets with lukewarm water or oil them well, then turn the fenders with the stirrups in riding position, and lock in place with a broomstick through both stirrups, or with rubber bands or string. Not absolutely necessary, but a nice trick — you need to do it only once, and only if you have a problem getting or keeping your feet in the stirrups, or if you have knee pain. The narrow fenders for the Cheyenne will usually not need this treatment.


I HAVE A GAITED HORSE, IS A TREELESS SADDLE SUITABLE FOR ME?
Absolutely! In fact, it is especially well suited for gaited horses: it allows their backs and shoulders the freedom to move that they may need in order to gait. Also, they are often short-backed, so conventional saddles will hurt them by banging the rear ends of the tree into their loins when they bend. The Barefoot is short and soft, so it prevents that problem. It is also very light, which is helpful for smaller or lightly built breeds. Gaited horses seems to have more than their fair share of back trouble, maybe from being started very young, maybe from the rider sitting too far back. In any case, most horses with back problems will benefit greatly from a Barefoot saddle with an appropriate blanket.


WILL THE BAREFOOT SADDLE REMOVE ALL THE PAIN MY HORSE HAS?
That depends. It will certainly prevent the acute pain typically caused by ill-fitting saddles, saddle sores, pressure points, or a hard tree slamming into the horse’s back, shoulders or loins. Most horses will gain immediate relief for their back pain from a Barefoot saddle, but if you suspect there are injuries to its back already, call a vet, or examine and observe your horse: if there is no improvement after a few weeks of regular, back-friendly (lots of ‘long and low’, no sitting trot) riding in a treeless saddle, you may need the services of a vet, qualified equine chiropractor, massage therapist, physiotherapist or body worker, to address the previous damages. Acupuncture has also been highly successful.
If your horse is stabled, it is especially prone to chronic back pain. Its muscles do not get the 24/7 exercise from walking, grazing and play that a horse needs to stay healthy. The stable may have drafts, or the enclosed air is damp, so a wet horse stays wet a long time. Most of all, it has his head UP all the time, to look out over the partition — this hollows the back. Solitary confinement is not a healthy choice for a horse!
Also, the back is not the only source of pain! Your horse may be grumpy, unwilling, lazy, hot or excitable from painful feet or from pain in its mouth. The state of many horses’ hooves is a disgrace, many farriers are untrained or unreliable. A horse that gets sore when you pull his shoes is a lame horse and needs his hooves fixed, not just a new set of shoes to suppress the symptom!
And any bit causes pain and interferes with your horse’s breathing, maybe less pain with perfectly soft hands, but this is just a question of degrees, and who has always perfect hands anyway?


CAN I USE THE HORN FOR ROPING, DRAGGING, OR MOUNTING?

No. It is solid, but contained in a zippered pocket, and the zippers will wear out if you put too much force on the horn. You can use it for stability when riding, or to hang a light horn bag from it, but don’t tie any animals to it, and don’t haul yourself up in the saddle from the ground on it. If you expect to do some roping, a treeless saddle is not for you!


CAN I USE THE BAREFOOT TREELESS SADDLES FOR SHOWS AND COMPETITION?
Yes: With horn and fenders, and a deep seat between the high poll and cantle, both Western saddle models fulfill the requirements, and are legal for Western Pleasure shows. The latigo straps allow you to carry any required gear. There may always be a judge that punishes you for a lack of glitz and bling, but others may appreciate the workman-like simple good looks of the Barefoot.
The London looks conservative enough to be legal in a Dressage show. And remember, you will see an increase in animation, in reach and float in your gaits, there is more swing and bend to your horse, collection is not impeded by a painful hunk of wood jamming into the lifted back, and even light aids can be felt by the horse — this increase in performance should more than offset any funny looks your saddle will get.
For hunter jumpers, a treeless saddle may be legal, but is not the right choice. There is a lot of force coming down onto those stirrup attachments!
Since there are infinite numbers of regulations and organisations involved in horse shows, which also change continually, so we cannot absolutely guarantee that there isn’t some show somewhere that has a rule against treeless saddles. In case of doubt, I recommend just showing your Barefoot saddle to the decision makers, or inviting them for a test ride, rather than ask for a ruling on treeless in general. Not all treeless saddles are created equal! And your Barefoot may even be considered to be a half-tree saddle, since it has a fixed pommel. In the end, you always have to decide what’s more important to you, the horse’s best interest or another ribbon.


CAN I JUMP IN MY BAREFOOT?

Yes, you can, up to about 3′. We recommend the Physio pad, for stability and improved shock absorption. If you are a regular and ambitious jumper, however, treeless saddles are not for you. There is a lot of force jerking on that stirrup attachment on landing, this is better caught by a stiff tree. Barefoot will, however, be launching a Jumping saddle in 2010.


IS THERE A WEIGHT LIMIT?

Yes: Riders much over 92kg/200 lb who ride long hours may be better off with a conventional saddle. Shorter, occasional rides are not a problem, although we really recommend the Physio pad for heavier riders. In case of doubt, it can be further ‘beefed up’ by adding extra rubber foam inserts, especially if you spend a lot of time standing in your stirrups.


ARE THERE ANY OTHER RIDING LIMITATIONS?
Very few: Extremely green and unbalanced riders often rely on the horn to stay in the saddle. Make sure to cinch up good and tight and consider a Physio Pad if you often offer rides to adult beginners. If you get beginners all the time, and often have heavy, un-athletic guests, you may be better off with a conventional Western saddle. (Try at least to get a wide and short one, to minimize the damages to the horses back.) And of course activities like vaulting, trick riding or roping are entirely unsuitable for a treeless saddle.


I’M NOT SURE WHICH SIZE SADDLE TO ORDER.
If you’re in doubt, go with Size Two. Sizing isn’t nearly as critical as with treed, hard saddles, where a too big or ill-fitting seat will mercilessly bruise, chafe or overstretch your tender parts. The Barefoot’s soft, flexible seat will be as comfortable as a pillow for any shape or size of seat, in the bigger size you will just have two inches more wriggle room. Also consider if other people will ever use your saddle, if you share it a lot you may want to stick to the bigger size. If your horse is very short-backed, on the other hand, take the Size One if it fits you. The fit of the seat really isn’t an issue with the Barefoot, it will mould exactly to your individual shape over time, as foam and felt compresses. Only the most delicate of bottoms will ever need a sheepskin seat cover for the Barefoot!


DON’T CONVENTIONAL WESTERN SADDLES SPREAD THE WEIGHT OUT OVER A LARGER AREA?
In theory. But it’s a large area only for as long as it lays flat all over. This would require a perfectly fitted saddle to start with. And as you have seen on the back pictures, as soon as that horse moves just one step, bends, or lifts his head, the back moves away in places from the saddle, which stays stiffly where it was before, so it contacts the back only here and there, in a rocking motion.


WHAT ABOUT SADDLES WITH FLEXIBLE TREES?

If they were really flexible, a good idea. But its buyer beware, most of those trees can be bent only by throwing all the strength and weight of a grown man at them, or they bend just from front to back, not sideways. This means of course if you can’t wiggle and flex it with your hands, such a tree will not follow the shifting of the horse’s back. That flex is just to keep the tree from busting, it won’t help the horse one bit. And then there is the saddle: is the leather too stiff to allow any flex? Is the seat soft? Is the seat swell shaped right? Is the stirrup attachment too far forward? Make sure that the flex tree is not just a marketing gimmick!


BUT SHOULDN’T THE WEIGHT BE SPREAD OUT OVER A BIG AREA?
Yes, but this area is limited by anatomy. Only the four vertebrae right after the withers (# 9–13) can carry weight without risking injury. Behind those, there is a delicate section where the spinous processes almost meet (vertebrae # 15–16), as they change directions, the front ones pointing back, and the rear ones pointing forward. This is where the dreaded ‘kissing spine’ syndrome happens first: the tips of the spinous processes touch and rub, with much pain and inflammation, until they fuse if the back is hollowed out in that region. So the region of the spine that can safely carry weight is just that spot where you sit if you ride bareback, right behind the withers — and that is the spot where the rider should sit in the Barefoot saddle if you have saddled correctly. A big long saddle spreads weight to where you really don’t want any!


WHAT ABOUT GETTING THE SADDLE BACK AND OFF THE SHOULDERS?

Forget it. With a treeless, you don’t need to worry about pinching the shoulders — everything is soft and flexible and will just follow their movements. It can be valuable with a rigid saddle to free up the shoulders, and works well if the saddle is designed for it like the Balance Saddle system, but it can backfire badly if you end up sitting too far back — see above. Plus many saddles don’t have the right shape to rest further back, because they were never meant to, and they end up rocking or slipping or pinching withers etc, or you have to shim.


WHICH PAD AND ACCESSORIES DO I REALLY NEED?
Most important is your saddle blanket or pad. It is an integral part of any treeless saddle system and plays a big role in its performance. The right blanket can make ALL the difference!
With all treeless saddles, you should use a shock absorbing pad with foam or felt inserts!
This distributes weight evenly over a larger area. Should you happen to have a Skito pad already, those are good, and quite similar to our Grandeur ‘Special” pad. If you have any other good pad with inserts or extra shock absorbing properties, check if it has any thick or rough seams right up where it lays over the spine. You don’t want any big holes there, either, because their edges may get pressed into the skin if pulled down. Is it anatomically cut (meaning it rises at the top to follow the curve of the horses‘ spine)? Because if it is all straight, it will pull down over the withers and put pressure on the spine with the front seam. Last, give it the pinch test — can you feel the tip of our finger or nail when you pinch it between thumb and index finger? If all that is fine, try it with your new treeless saddle and do some hard riding. How does the pattern of sweat under the blanket look afterwards?
Even all over, except over the spine: That would be great, the spine is often dry from the air flow in the channel of spine clearance.
All wet: That’s also good, just means your horse sweated a bit more.
Dry spots right under your seat bones, or a bit forward (at stirrup attachment): Not so good. Needs more padding, stiffer inserts, maybe new or additional inserts.
The last consideration is slipping. The material of the underside of your blanket has a big influence on saddle stability. So if your saddle rolls, you may want to upgrade to our Physio pad.


WHAT KIND AND SIZE OF GIRTH OR CINCH DO I NEED?

The Arizona needs a Western cinch, usually 65 to 85 cm. All other models need a short dressage girth, usually around 45cm to 75cm. These are the regular English flat girths with two 2.5cm wide buckles, just shorter than some, because the saddle comes further down.
To figure out which size you will need, measure with a measuring tape from a hand width above the horse’s elbow on one side, down under the belly, to a hand width above the elbow on the other side. Girth lengths are always given from the end of one buckle to the end of the other. This measuring method ensures that buckles lie far enough above the elbows.
For the Western cinch, measure with a tape, from two hand widths above the horse’s elbow on one side, down under the belly, to two hand widths above the elbow on the other side. This measuring method ensures that buckles lie far enough above the points of the elbows.
You don’t need a specific girth for a treeless saddle, but since treeless saddles should be done up snug, elastics are especially important. Your girth should have at least one, better two, elastic inserts, to allow for proper breathing, yet secure girthing up. Two elastics, or self-centering girths are best, because they will not pull the saddle one-sided. Should you prefer a Western cinch for your saddle, or a dressage girth for the Arizona, there are girth converters available at good tack stores. If you have a problem with chafing behind the elbow, you may want to try neoprene or gel-filled girths. Sheep skin girth covers are excellent, too, since they allow the girth to slide back and forth without pulling at the rib muscles. Contoured girth help some horses.


DO I NEED YOUR SAFETY STIRRUPS?

Not necessarily. They are your safest choice, but it won’t make any difference to your horse or the saddle’s performance if you use regular stirrups, or other safety stirrups from your local tack store. Be aware that many conventional English saddles have a hinge on the stirrup attachment affixed to the tree that allows the stirrup to come loose when a rider is dragged (theoretically). This doesn’t work on treeless saddles, that’s why we recommend some sort of safety device on your stirrup instead. The EZ-ride stirrups are also excellent, and you can get them with a safety cage to prevent the foot from slipping through. They are light, wide and padded with soft, slip resistant elastic rubber, some even have extra shock absorption in the top bar. They are an excellent choice for every rider with knee, hip or lower back pain, if you can get past the slightly unconventional look. For Western riders, tapaderos are a safety option, since they prevent the foot from slipping though the stirrup. Still, boots with heels should always be worn for riding.


DO I NEED YOUR STIRRUP LEATHERS?
Not necessarily. If you have old dressage stirrup leathers that buckle at the lower end. You can also pull your regular old stirrup leathers around, so the buckle is at the bottom, then tuck the loose end into a sleeve. Sleeves are available in Neoprene or leather at good tack stores, or you can make your own with Velcro. Do Not use your old stirrup leathers with the buckles right under the saddle flap. They may press through the softer treeless saddle and cause a pressure point there. Once you get rid of that nasty bump under your leg, by having the buckles below, you’ll ask yourself why you didn’t do that a long time ago! No more chafing or bruising, and your leg will lay smooth and long on the horse.


HOW DO I CARE FOR MY NEW TREELESS SADDLE?
Easy: Nubuck leather doesn’t need saddle soap, and don’t use Neats’ foot oil either — it often contains chemical thinners which may weaken and harden leather. All you need to do is maybe once or twice a year dab on a light coat of a nut or seed oil, like almond oil or walnut oil. This also works for the London’s soft-leather. Another option is using commercial leather care products that are specifically made for Nubuck leather. Nubuck will get polished with use to an almost smooth-leather look, still very soft, but shiny, like leather clothing. Don’t fight this natural process, your saddle will develop a fine patina that will tell of many happy hours in the saddle! The natural dyes used produce subtle shades that come out a little bit different with each hide, slight variations in colour, and a soft, washed-out look are a sign of natural beauty!
Barefoot SA has agents throughout the country and Namibia. For more information or questions that you have regarding the Barefoot Saddle System, accessories or even becoming an agent, please contact 072 503 7800 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Shaun and Suskia Harris
Marketing Manager

Barefoot Saddles - SA
PO Box 4312
George-East
6539
044 889 0106 -office
044 889 0211 -fax
072 503 7800 –mobile
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www.barefootsaddle.co.za