Your Horse Wants Sneakers
Your friend calls to invite you to go jogging to practice for the fund raiser marathon to be held next month in your town.
“Sure”, you say, “I’ll meet you in an hour”, and you head off to get ready. You put on your comfortable undergarments, and favorite T-shirt and shorts, and then grab your running shoes, a pair of “big name” designer hard-soled loafers. HUH???? You mean that you wouldn’t run in loafers? Why not? You paid good money for them. They are so comfortable to wear to your job where you sit at your office. They are made of beautiful soft leather and fit like a glove. Why wouldn’t you wear these? No…for your run, you’ll wear a pair of “athletic shoes”, a good pair of running shoes, often referred to as sneakers. Nice flexible soled sneakers with great support for your feet. Yes…that’s what you would use. Right? You bet.
But, later in the day, you decide to go ride your horse, and work on those canter transitions for awhile. Good physical exercise. You get your tack including your saddle…. a well known brand that you purchased through a saddle fitter who custom-fitted it, so you know it’s going to be perfectly comfortable for your horse. Your beautiful saddle sits on your horse and looks just perfect. The saddle fitter showed you how the panels should fit along your horse’s shoulders, and she explained that you may need to have her return from time to time, maybe one or twice a year to have the saddle adjusted to keep that great fit. After all, your horse’s shape will change with work routine, right?
BUT, the question is, why would you, when YOU are running, only wear comfortable equipment…such as your sneakers (and not your loafers….you perfectly fitting loafers), but you would subject your horse to the rigidity of a “fixed tree” saddle? Can’t you imagine that your horse might prefer “sneakers” for his back instead of the “loafers”? Loafers are fine for when we are standing still, or taking a casual walk, but you wouldn’t run in them.
Believe it or not, your horse feels the same way about your treed saddle. Do you want to know how I know? Because over 30 horses in my barn have told me so, and horses don’t lie. I want to share my story of ten years of successful experience with “flexible treed” saddles, in particular, how they have helped my lesson program. I am talking about the ANSUR SADDLE.
I have to start with a little story first. I think that many of you can relate to this situation – I get so busy with helping everyone else with their riding, that I was not doing any riding for myself. “The cobbler’s children have no shoes.” Well, back in February of 2002, I made a commitment to myself to ride one of my own horses every single day. Even if I only got on bareback, with a halter, and cruise around the arena just one lap, this would count as a “ride” for that day. My preferred “ride”, at that time, was on my big AQHA “do it all” horse, “Skippy”. I purchased Skip the year before from a boarder who was getting out of horses. He was just super except when it came to jumping. He rushed his fences and sometimes, after landing on the other side, he would buck. I had to retire one of my helmets as the result of one of those bucks.
Well, one day, during that period of “gonna ride every day”, when I was having a bit of extra bravado, I was riding Skippy bareback, and decided to take him over some jumps. I was prepared for the “rush”, but it didn’t happen. He just cantered up, jumped smoothly, and cantered….you might even say, he loped off. Huh? It didn’t take long in the days to follow to figure out that Skippy was happy when I jumped him bareback, and when I put my beautiful treed, well-fitted spring-treed saddle (that will remain nameless) back on him, the “rush” returned. Hmmmmm.
A year before, a boarder who rode dressage was telling me about a company that was manufacturing flex-tree saddles. The horse was supposed to be more comfortable in these saddles. She had a brochure, and thankfully, I kept that brochure. Long story short, I ended up ordering my first “treeless” saddle, which was made by Ansür Saddle. These saddles have a “Flexible Core” construction, so they are not “treeless” but made up of a cushioned tree system instead of a wooden or fiberglass solid tree.
Of course, I was skeptical of what I was getting into. I remember, so well, the day that my new “experimental saddle” arrived. It was a Tuesday, in March, and I couldn’t wait to try out the saddle. I put the saddle on Skippy, and it was immediately obvious….and I mean IMMEDIATELY obvious, that this saddle was the answer to Skip’s issues with jumping.
A year later, I added two more of these flexable-core saddles to my collection of tack and Skippy now could be used in my lesson program to teach beginners how to jump. He never rushed a fence again. We did several hunter paces and events and had a blast. I was having so much fun on this great horse and my flexcore saddle.
Let me tell you about “Phelan”, an OTTB that for six years, I tried every combination of training, saddle fit, saddle pad, bridle, and bit to make this horse cooperative for canter departs. This successful race horse would take right lead canter without any problems, but ask him to take the left lead, and he would throw his head, take off, or buck, or stick his tongue out, or a combination of all of the antics. I think there was a retired helmet or two, along the way there too. It was impossible to get him to canter left lead. Well, I tried the Ansur saddle out on Phelan. After our usual warm up, and after cantering to the right with no issues, I reversed directions and asked for the left lead. He picked up the canter, left lead with no complaints or issues. I never had problems with Phelan’s left lead again. I was hooked on the flexible core/treeless saddles. I went on to show him in some small combined training events with success.
Duncan, Maguire and Impress are horses that I purchased with the thought that their issues with their previous owners may be corrected with using the flex-core saddle. I was right and they are good lesson horses for me now. My existing lesson squad of 15 horses consists of horses as old as 34 years old, still moving comfortably with the flexible core saddles. Oh, I still have rigid treed saddles too in my program; however it’s obvious to me that when I have to switch back to a treed saddle, the horses simply do not go as well, especially at canter. They have restricted movement, stifled gaits, and often won’t canter or lope at all with their rider with a treed saddle.
I have many other success stories with the Ansur Saddles. I could go on and on. So, why do I think these saddles work? There are two features of these saddles that my horses seem to prefer. One, the side-to-side flexibility is comfortable. As the horse’s scapula moves up and down and back and forth under the panels of the saddles, the saddles allow freedom of this movement. Compare the comfort and ease of bending your foot in a sneaker to bending your foot in the hard soled loafer. It is the lack of the “points of the fixed treed saddle” that made a difference for Skippy. I believe that his issue was that he didn’t like the treed saddle jamming down into his shoulders during the landing phase of the jump, which explained the buck after the jump. The flex-core Ansur saddle did not have the pressure points that my good old treed saddle had.
The second feature of these sneaker saddles is the flexibility from front to back. As the horse canters and his spine moves up and down like an ocean wave, a treed saddle rocks, giving space and then landing back on the horse. At my barn, we watched two saddle fitters try to eliminate the “rocking” of their treed saddles that occurred on a client’s horse at canter. They couldn’t get rid of it, no matter how they adjusted the tree, or added or took away “flocking”. Many fixed treed saddles rock but you can’t see it because it is camouflaged by saddles pads, but the horses feel it and some simply don’t like it. The flex core saddles “undulate” along with the horse’s back. This feature is what I believe has made my lesson horses comfortable. This feature is what I believe that has allowed my Friesian mare to get out of third level dressage and now perform Grand Prix movements such as piaffe, passage and awesome canter pirouettes and half-passes. Until we moved her into a “Flexible Core” saddle, we were not able to get out of Third Level. She, without question lifts and uses her back more in her treeless saddle.
Now, I have nine English “flexible treed” saddles in my lesson program – of various sizes from the “piglet” to the “medium” and these are the sizes for the human…. I can use any of the saddles on any of the horses with no worry about fit. So this is when this type saddle is great for my lesson program. One saddle, say at the 17 inch size, will fit any horse in my program, from my wither-less 13 hand pinto pony, “Patches”, to my nearly 17 hand Friesian, “Amos”….from my normal- backed 15.3 hand Appaloosa gelding, “Duncan”, to my high-withered 16.2 hand OTTB, “Maguire”.
I have about 50 riding student clients, and several of them have come to me from the world of treed saddles, some having their own horses. Without exception, these students have found the flexible structure of my Ansur saddles to be more comfortable than anything that they have ridden in. Nearly every one of my boarders has switched to a flex- core saddle. They have had the opportunity to study their horse’s performance by comparing their rides using their treed saddle and then one of my Ansur saddles, finding out for themselves that their horses do go better without the restriction of the traditional treed saddle….and a couple of my boarders have had the best of the best of treed saddles with the saddle fitters coming here to fit their horses. They now ride in their own treeless saddles.
For my lesson program, it doesn’t matter which horse I use…they all fit comfortably on all the horses’ backs no matter what size horse it is. I just have to fit the riders. So, having the flexible core system helps to properly fit my lesson horses, provide a comfortable situation for my horses, and provide good comfortable equipment for my students. Students DO appreciate tack that doesn’t hurt their butts or legs.
Is there a time and place for treed saddles? Of course. Any heavy work such as roping should use a saddle with the heavy tree inside of it. Jousters probably should use a treed saddle to help absorb the force of getting hit with a lance. It is my understanding that trees were originally added to saddles to help keep the riders and saddles on the horses during military battle. There’s really nothing about the tree that is for the comfort of the horse. What is comfortable about having a chunk of wood strapped down to your back? It’s the “loafers vs. sneakers” scenario.
What about jumping you say? Well, I think we’ve proven that jumping in the right flex-core saddle is very possible. I teach jumping lessons and have students completing up through national championships (one even winning a national bronze medal in jumping) in these saddles.
I want to share one more fact about my collection of flex-core saddles: not once, in the 10 years of using these saddles, have I, or any of my clients, had to have one of these saddles “readjusted” to continue to fit our horses. Not once. So, in the long run, this is a savings to me.
There are several manufacturers of “treeless saddles”. You need to shop around, and surf the internet to study the different kinds of saddles. Treeless saddles that tend to look more like “show saddles” are going to cost more. Having purchased a couple of the “other brands”, I can tell you that you get what you pay for, without a doubt.
When you do your research, you’ll find many blogs and bulletin postings listing the pros and cons about treeless saddles. One of the main complaints that I’ve read on the internet against treeless saddles is that “they don’t distribute the weight of the rider”. I just don’t find this to be the case it is not what I’ve experienced after 10 years of my flex-core/treeless saddle use. The saddles that I use have significant substance to them, and there just isn’t any evidence of back issues with any of my horses. I have routine chiropractic work done on my dressage horses, and NEVER do they have any soreness under the saddle area. The vet usually adjusts a hip angle or a crooked neck, but that’s it. As I said, 30 horses in my stable simply do not lie. If they were uncomfortable carrying me and my students around, wouldn’t they show it? Put them back in a treed saddle, and they exhibit resistance, hollow their backs and inhibit their movement. As I said, horses simply do not lie.
Click on the below link to learn more about Ansur Saddles: