Functional Saddle Design for Children and Ponies
by Cheryl Erpelding and Nicole Varella
Saddle design is both a skill and an art. No one knows this better than Karen Borne, founder of Ruby Roo Saddles, LLC. Karen’s passion is to help young equestrians by designing quality saddles for their ponies. Ensuring that the saddle is a good ergonomic fit for both pony and rider is an especially important concern for growing bodies and the foundation for proper training. Children around the globe ride in Ruby Roo saddles for both recreational enjoyment and competition.
Borne brings twenty-four years of knowledge and experience to the table from her training with the prestigious Society of Master Saddlers, UK, and her time designing saddles for Ruby Roo’s sister company Bornè Saddlery. There, she began collaborating with UK SMS Certified Master Saddler, Andy Sankey, designing highly sought-after bespoke saddles. This experience was an important segue transitioning to the needs of ponies and children. At the peak of her career, Borne decided to launch a children’s line of saddles for ponies, and Ruby Roo Saddles was born.
The principles for fitting ponies and children are essentially the same as fitting horses and adults, with special consideration given to a pony’s typically short back and accessing the seat sizes most appropriate for the children or adults riding them. Ruby Roo saddle options include several tree shapes to accommodate the variety of pony topline conformations and adjustable gullet plates. Children love Ruby Roo’s flair for creativity with colorful velcro cantle options and Unicorn Wing Saddle Pads, among other available choices.
Customer service is what Borne companies are known for and Ruby Roo is no exception. Ruby Roo prides itself on being available to the families that rely on them for correctly fitting saddles, including the ability to answer questions and to address issues as they arise.
Ruby Roo’s Ambassador Program gives children opportunities to own quality saddles on a global scale. Prospective Ambassadors must show strength of character and willingness to work, in addition to parental consent and involvement. The Ambassador program has turned into an international effort and has been largely successful.
One of Ruby Roo’s first Ambassadors is a young British boy named Dylan Ward. When Dylan began his relationship with Ruby Roo, he was a robust child who lived and breathed horses in the footsteps of his mother, Jessica Flack. At the height of Covid lockdowns, young Dylan accompanied his mother in caring for horses and fell in love. He began riding ponies, Inki and Pepper, showing natural agility and skill. Soon Dylan became involved in jumping and thoroughly loved every second of riding. He was thrilled to have the opportunity to start competing, and he effortlessly became a rising star in the equestrian world. Karen immediately supported him, but little did she know the direction Dylan’s journey would take her.
Jessica noticed something was amiss when Dylan began having sporadic pain in his left leg. Not one to complain, Dylan pressed on until the pain suddenly became more than he could bear. One fateful Sunday evening in October 2021, the concerned mother took her son to an emergency room after a Dressage competition where the physician ordered an x-ray revealing nothing out of the ordinary, leaving both mother and son bewildered.
Even in the midst of bouts of pain, Dylan found relief in riding his beloved ponies. Eventually, Dylan developed an unmistakable limp, and once again Jessica sought out care in the hope of a firm diagnosis and treatment. Nine months after his first misdiagnosis, an MRI revealed their worst fears – seven-year-old Dylan had a massive tumor extending from his abdomen to his left hip. The lengthy battle for diagnosis was over; however, the war against the rare Ewing’s Sarcoma had just begun.
Named after Dr. James Ewing, this aggressive cancer accounts for a mere 2% of all childhood cancer diagnoses. The title of “bone cancer” is somewhat misleading, as Ewing’s Sarcoma can affect other kinds of supportive tissue in addition to bone. Its rarity contributed to the deterioration of Dylan’s condition, so Jessica is now passionate about spreading awareness in the hopes of preventing needless suffering for others, especially children who sometimes need persistent and effective advocacy from their caregivers.
Due to the amount of time that it took to accurately diagnose Dylan’s condition, the tumor had grown and spread. Had it been caught sooner, he would likely have been a candidate for surgery to remove the tumor. For a patient to be declared cancer-free via surgery, the doctors must remove not only the tumor but also anything the cancer touches. Dylan’s tumor grew unabated, taking up precious real estate on his hip, pelvis, and even tailbone. Amputation of his left leg was briefly entertained, but ultimately doctors and family both concluded that it would only be a band-aid treatment and therefore it would not be worth putting the boy through the additional trauma and pain. While Dylan’s tumor can be treated, his left leg is permanently damaged, leaving him with a lifelong disability.
At the beginning of treatment, Dylan was a stereotypical childhood cancer patient, needing frequent chemotherapy and radiation treatments at the hospital and losing his hair and, he was able to bounce back quickly after a short bout of sickness for each of his fourteen rounds of chemotherapy. He was advised not to ride; however, Jessica observed her son’s spirit sinking and knew she had to let him back in the saddle despite the risks. Dylan had the advantage of built-in equestrian therapy, going straight from his sometimes traumatic treatment to the barn.
Having kept up with Dylan’s journey and knowing what their Ambassador was facing, Ruby Roo set out to build a saddle that would allow him to ride more securely and comfortably in spite of his condition. Dylan’s mobility in his left leg was steadily declining as the cancer treatment affected his healthy tissue and when he rode, his left leg dangled almost lifelessly. By watching videos of Dylan’s riding, Karen knew that his leg needed more support and stability. She applied her knowledge of designing bespoke saddles and designed a saddle with a supportive rear flap and a substantial block for his upper thigh to brace against. These extra supports were exactly what was missing in other saddles for Dylan. Jessica stated, “The new saddle design made all the difference to Dylan’s stability in the saddle, and I could not be happier.” Despite the complexity of the process, Karen, along with her manufacturing team, was able to complete the task and deliver the customized saddle to Dylan overseas. Karen’s diligence in going above and beyond was a literal game-changer for Dylan’s competitive para-riding.
Dylan’s determination to ride in the face of insurmountable obstacles has been inspirational to so many. Among countless other achievements, Dylan holds the title of National RDA Grade 6 Freestyle Dressage Champion in the UK. His dedication and passion for horses and life are easily visible in the pictures and videos his mom frequently posts on their Instagram page @panaero_and_peppers_adventures. Dylan is a larger-than-life eight-year-old who refuses to allow his disability to slow him down from pursuing his dreams. Karen Borne is both honored and humbled to play such a pivotal role in this young boy’s journey “across the pond,” uniting two countries with one heart.
Borne and Ruby Roo Saddles continue reaching children globally in need of quality saddles from a trustworthy company by establishing *distributorships both domestically and across the globe.
For more information on Ruby Roo Saddles, visit www.rubyroosaddles.com, Ruby Roo Saddles, LLC on Facebook , or Ruby Roo Saddles on Instagram .
*Contact Karen directly at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information on how to become a Ruby Roo Ambassador or Distributor.