November 2019 - Forward Seats
Written by by Kim F. Miller
Thursday, 31 October 2019 00:16
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New and/or unusual saddles strive to combine comfort and performance for horse and rider.

by Kim F. Miller

Hunter/jumper trainer Mark Farndale has a frontlines perspective on the evolution of saddle design. “When I started, everybody had one saddle and we rode every horse in the same saddle,” says the 60-year-old. “Over the years, it became evident that, ‘Hey, the horse’s back mattered!’ And there was the recognition that Thoroughbreds and Warmbloods had such different shapes. Some of the things we took for naughty horses back then were just horses in pain.”

Horse and rider conformation and biomechanics have become the driving forces in most saddles’ design. While radical change in the look of english tack is rare, there are several brands that are doing things differently, some in more outwardly obvious ways than others.

Herewith is a round-up of new and unusual saddle designs that have caught our attention of late.

Butet Practice Saddle

Butet Practice Saddle

The Butet Practice Saddle has been around for a few years, but it’s still unusual to see someone using it in competition. “People are a little bit shocked when they see me showing in it,” reports Anna Ishiyama, a young amateur jumper rider who began doing just that in April with her one of her horses, Ninetto, who was especially hard to fit properly.

“He’s a dainty horse with a super narrow back and this fits him perfectly,” she explains. Riding him several months ago in a traditional saddle, the horse was simply not responding to her forward leg aids, even strong ones. Schooling at their home base at Georgy Maskrey’s Whitethorne Stables, Anna experimented with different saddles and bridles.

Under the practice saddle, “He immediately moved off my leg,” she recalls. His jumping form also improved dramatically. “He’s using his shoulder and back so much more now.” It was all too good to go back to a regular saddle when it came time to resume their show ring quest as a U25 rising star representing Japan.

Designed to help riders of all levels achieve the correct position, maintain proper balance and build core strength, the Butet Practice model has only a rectangular-shaped flap of leather where the normal jumping saddle’s flap, knee roll and any blocks are. “It is kind of a weird feeling,” Anna relays, especially at the beginning. Staying put over the jumps is a challenge, especially on landing and especially at the 1.45M-plus heights she’s jumping. Losing a stirrup somewhere on course is a regular occurrence riding in this model, she relays.

Bravely, Anna jumped in it for the first time while riding in a clinic with George Morris. He’s been an advocate for the saddle since its arrival in 2015 and Anna says that he was fully onboard with her using it. “It puts your leg exactly where it should be on the horse.” She now considers it a very comfortable choice for Ninetto, though she rides her other horse in a standard Butet model. And she’s getting used to inquiries from fellow competitors. “They ask me if it’s a kid’s saddle or a racing saddle.” (Leather In Motion owns Butet, Devoucoux and CWD.)

Bua Sport: Cantilevered Tree

Bua Sport: Cantilevered Tree

A cantilevered tree is the most unique feature of this saddle designed in Ireland. Aerospace technology and craftsmanship from the automotive industry contributed to its design that promises comfort for horse and rider, and adjustability for use on a horse with changing conformation or on different horses. It even has components that can be machine washed. Interchangeable side panels allow conversion from a jumping saddle into an endurance or general purpose saddle.

Here’s how the manufacturer describes the benefits of the cantilevered tree: “construction recognizes that the physiology of horse and rider differ. This tree material is incredibly strong and durable, but at the same time flexible enough to cushion and cradle the movements of horse and rider. It is flexible yet incredibly strong, allowing it to conform to the movement of the horse while supporting the rider in a balanced position.” The design also allows for adjustable suspension – for a tighter or softer seat depending on purpose and preference.

Los Angeles area hunter/jumper trainer Mark Farndale “flat out loves this saddle!” A mare with an extra sensitive back got him delving into saddle design and research that led him to the Bua line. He’s been riding in it himself and loaning it to students for a few months now.

“Everybody that I’ve had ride in it rides better and has better balance,” the trainer reports. Horses are responding equally well. “They are freer in their shoulders and round in their back. Horses that have a hard time getting down a jumping line, don’t have that problem when ridden in this saddle.”

One of his students described the feel as like that of riding bareback. “It feels like your thigh and leg are around the horse and that your seat is not digging into their back. It almost makes you a bit lighter and it gives the horse’s spine plenty of room to move underneath you.” Monoflap design, stirrup bar placement and dressage-style billets for girth buckle attachment below the flap are details that contribute to the extremely close contact feel, Mark explains.

The saddle also provides a very secure position, says Mark. The sensitive mare who jump-started this saddle search also has a “nasty little duck out move that comes out of nowhere. Knock wood, she hasn’t gotten me off since I started using this saddle.”

His experience is so positive that he’s become a Bua representative, one of only a few on the West Coast so far. Mark is based at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center and can be reached through

Pegasus Butterfly Design

Pegasus: Like A Lightweight Sneaker

Pegasus says their saddles “are to the horse’s back what a great lightweight sneaker is to your feet.” Inside its Comfort Fit line of saddles are concealed hinges that flex to “fit the horse perfectly at every step,” the company’s literature explains. Even a well-made traditionally-constructed saddle “is like a stiff dress shoe, comfortable but not maximized for athletic performance.” When the horse lifts and tucks to go over a big fence, the horse’s back can move more freely in these saddles. The same principles apply on the flat when the horse lifts its back and lowers its croup to work in impulsion in a round frame.

The effect is made possible by the Pegasus’ “Butterfly” tree design, the company’s website continues. “The flexible hinges on the tree allow the rest of the saddle to mold correctly to the horse’s trapezius muscles. At each step, they allow it to flex as needed on each side. Fitting the horse’s shoulders and allowing more shoulder room when lifting the front end, makes it easier to collect and engage the hind end as well.” The design is especially accommodating for horses with uneven backs and shoulders, short backs, kissing spine and hock or stifle issues.

For the rider, the Pegasus Butterfly design allows the seat to remain quiet, centered and balanced.

The line’s newest addition is the Pegasus Unicorn CX-C Event saddle. It comes with two sets of interchangeable Velcro panels. There is also the option of having the panels filled with “Microbeads” that are “more shock absorbent and easier to adjust,” says designer Ron S. Friedson of All Saddles.

EQ Saddle Science

EQ Saddle Science

“Looks different. Works better” is this California-based company’s motto. These saddles’ most obvious differences are in the flaps, the panel and the round cushioning discs that support the seat. Patented Skinny Flaps® are removable for schooling then replaceable to make the saddle acceptable for all levels of competition. Riding without the panels provides the ultimate in close contact, making the horse more responsive to the lightest of aids and improving rider balance and feel. When it’s time to ride with the flaps for shows, the leather is so thin that it feels barely there and it allows virtually the same level of close contact.

The EQFlex Panel System is the basis of EQ’s weight distribution model. Panels in three shapes and two lengths fit virtually all equine conformation, the company reports. The spaces between the tree and the panel – created by the front pair of cushioning discs – allows for flex with the rotation of each shoulder for maximum range of motion. The rear pair of discs protects the horse’s sensitive loins from the forces generated by the rider’s weight. The only thing that is between the rider’s seat and the horse are thin, flexible panels.

Ample options in each part of the saddle enable endless customization and EQ Saddle Science prides itself on customer service that includes a two-week trial period.

Watsonville-based Grand Prix dressage rider, trainer and judge Anne Howard has supported EQ Saddle Science for many years. She is also a physical therapist with a deep appreciation for the complexities of rider biomechanics and how they affect the horse’s way of going, so the research the company does on horse and rider biomechanics and how that’s incorporated into saddle design are very valuable to her. Of the model she uses for her Grand Prix partner, Rondo, Anne says, “This saddle is much more secure, which was not my expectation. The horse’s back relaxes and swings, and I am happy every ride.”