August 2018 - Sit Still!
Written by CRM
Friday, 27 July 2018 17:43
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Jennifer Marchand on Floniro R during testing day. Photo: Lynne Glazer Imagery

Dr. Hilary Clayton’s seminal study shows increased rider stability with flapless saddle.

Dressage hotbed Wellington, FL, was chosen as the site to study the revolutionary flapless saddle by EQ Saddle Science. The depth of talent available at the Winter Equestrian Festival made it the ideal location to assemble an international research team, led by the world-renowned Dr. Hilary Clayton.

EQ Saddle Science founder Carmi Weininger, a competitive dressage rider and instructor, created the first flapless saddle as a weight-saving idea. She soon noticed that the saddle had a profoundly positive effect on the horse, the rider, and their connection. She said, “I believe that if an effect is happening consistently, it can be measured. When we noticed that riders in our flapless saddles were sitting more correctly and horses were moving with more freedom and expression, we didn’t know why, exactly, but we knew that it would be possible to find out.”

 

Based on the same dynamic flexing panels as sister brand ReactorPanel Saddle Co., the EQ flapless system delivers an instant increase in rider stability, while riders praise many things: improved connection, ease of sitting trot, freedom for the shoulders, and even higher marks at shows.

Weininger says, “Although riders in our test sessions instantly fell for our saddle design, we were clear that to have an effect on the dressage world, we needed to have proof of the effect, and also support from top professionals. To start, we decided to collect as much data as possible, and engage the best expert we could find to help us determine which results might be statistically significant.”

Enter Dr. Clayton. In a chance encounter between Weininger and Clayton at a meeting of the International Society for Equitation Science in Vancouver, Weininger confided that a saddle she was developing seemed to be making a significant difference for nearly every horse and rider who tried it. Clayton was intrigued, and was willing to help design and conduct a study.

Alexandra Hampson, a presenter at the same conference, was added to the team, bringing her groundbreaking Novell-Pliance computerized pressure measuring system; the only such system to be validated for research. Over the next few months, the location in Florida was selected, and Dr. Meg Sleeper, cardiologist, was engaged to round out the research group.

The study measured a number of aspects of the flapless saddle system; this is only the first paper to draw on this research. Published by Dr. Clayton earlier this month, her manuscript concludes that the flapless saddle results in a marked improvement in rider stability.

“We are thrilled that the study is out, and the full results released,” Weininger continued. To top it off, we are honored to have earned the trust and support of professionals such as Olivia Lagoy-Weltz, Allison Brock, Jennifer Marchand, and Bettina Drummond - among many others - in the process of creating this saddle.”

Photo: Dan Simmons Photography

The Details

The study was performed on five dressage horses: three European Warmbloods, one Thoroughbred-Warmblood cross, and one Lusitano; all in full-time dressage training, working between USEF Fourth and FEI Grand Prix levels. They ranged in age from nine to 16, and height from 15.3 to 18.0 hands. All were ridden by the same professional dressage rider, to reduce variability in the data, avoid bias introduced by using multiple riders, and ensure consistency of the motion patterns. In this case, the rider was Jennifer Marchand, who actively rides and trains up through the Grand Prix level on multiple horses.

Each horse was ridden in its own conventional dressage saddle, current on fitting, and in the EQ Saddle Science prototype flapless saddle adjusted to fit each horse and rider combination. The horses were ridden in the flapless saddle twice during the three days prior to data collection to ensure that both horse and rider were familiar with its feel. The horses’ own saddles plus the rider weighed from 69.8 to 72.2 kg (154-159 pounds). The flapless saddle plus the rider weighed 70.4 kg (155 pounds).

The “order of go” as to which saddle was tested first for each horse was randomized by computer, and each saddle was placed on a Pliance electronic pressure mat with 256 embedded pressure sensors. The pressure sensors recorded how the rider’s weight distribution varied throughout the exercises, transmitted in real time via Bluetooth to a laptop on the side of the arena. Those pressure readings were later analyzed for range of motion both front-to-back and side-to-side.

A 20-meter section of the long side of the arena was marked with stakes one meter apart, and that is the section where data was gathered, to remove variability of turning or bending. Slow-motion videography verified that the horses did not have a significant change in velocity.

Each horse/saddle combination was subjected to this protocol to reduce variability: careful and slow girthing from both sides, mounting using a high block, and warming up for fifteen minutes with each saddle.

After warm-up, each horse performed a pre-determined pattern of movements that included walk, sitting and rising trot, and cantering on both leads around a dressage arena in clockwise and counter-clockwise directions. All gaits were studied in both collected and extended forms. Then all was repeated immediately - from tacking protocol to warm-up - using the other saddle.

Photo: Dan Simmons Photography

Statistically Significant Stability

Range of motion from side to side was significantly smaller in all six gait types (walk/trot/canter in collection and extension) when riding in the flapless saddle. The rider’s range of motion in the front-to-back direction was smaller in all six gait types as well, but with statistical significance in collected trot, extended trot (video of study data), and extended canter, due to there being a noticeable braking force front-to-back each time a trot stride lands, which causes more difficulty in maintaining stability front to back in that gait. A similar difficulty can be felt in extended canter, although more due to the energy and size of the strides rather than braking.

Rider stability is considered a key marker of advanced equitation, whether it be for trail riding, reining competition, show jumping, or dressage. The more the rider “makes it look easy” by sitting in serene balance, the better the rider is considered to be - by both fellow riders, and the horse! It is possible that a more stable rider creates less work for the horse, who can then more easily maintain balance; the same study indicates that horses may have a significantly lower heart rate in the EQ flapless saddle than in their own saddles.


Article provided by EQ Saddle Science. For more information visit www.EQsaddlescience.com.