Saddle Fit Saga Continued: Technology vs. Tradition

Many of you may know that it’s a personal passion of mine to find the best fitting saddle for each of my horses — and to figure out what saddles work for what types of horses to help out my friends and fellow equestrians, too. In case you missed it, you can go back to the beginning of the Saddle Fit Saga series, starting with #TeamWool vs. #TeamFoam. Since then, I’ve found a saddle that fits my main horse well, but I had some challenges when it came to helping out my hunter pace teammate so we turned to look at some newer things on the market when it came to saddles.

Does technology have a place in saddle fitting?

My hunter pace teammate also happens to be a veterinarian, as well as a Standardbred trainer, and in recent years started hunter pacing with one of her retired Standardbreds rather than her sport horses. It was OK, except he struggled to fully use his hind end, especially when jumping. He was athletic enough, and a trotter, and readily able to canter, so we started looking at technology in saddles.

Being a vet, Jenn already had a few in mind to try out and to test the theory about the use of technology in saddle fitting. After all, we use advanced technology in veterinary diagnostics, supplement creation and development, and even through the use of apps to track our rides, our horse’s conditioning and progress, and so much more. Why not use some of that technology not just in understanding saddle fit, but also in developing a better / different saddle all together.

EQ Saddle Science used technology to test the impact their saddles had on horses. Photo courtesy of EQSaddleScience.com

EQ Saddle Science used technology to test the impact their saddles had on horses. Photo courtesy of EQSaddleScience.com

So we took a closer look at two brands that utilize technology in new ways when it comes to saddles. The Irish company, BUA, and the sister company to endurance-focused ReactorPanel Saddle Company that launches this week at the USDF convention with a new brand, focused on sport horses and flapless saddles (yes, really!) called EQ Saddle Science. They’re both totally different and use different technology and work in completely different ways from each other and from any other saddles out there. Pretty cool!

The EQ Saddle Science Flapless with the EQ Flex Panel System

I got to try and ride in the EQ Saddle Science flapless saddle and test it out on a few horses, as well as see it on horses that it had been previously fit to. I’m not going to lie, the way it’s fit is pretty complicated and I was intimidated at first. I’d never seen the flex panel system – the EQ Flex Panel System is the same that was used from the sister company, the ReactorPanel System. Rather than try to explain it, you can read the full details on how it works here.

Between the shock absorbing discs and non traditional panels, it offers more freedom of movement for the shoulder as well as spine. Their jumping saddle is in limited production so while we weren’t able to quite get it to fit my horse in that model (and you don’t want to see me in a dressage saddle right now — I’d have no idea how to test one out!), I can say that it allowed much bigger shoulder movement in my horse as well as the other horses I saw go (they were in the dressage version). The biggest bonus was also the ability to feel my horse without a flap under my leg. It was the ultimate in close contact!

The flapless saddle by EQ Saddle Science takes close contact to an entirely new level! Photo by CJ Millar.

We found that this saddle tends to fit broad backed horses very well (and easily) with tremendous results. Even cooler were the biomechanics of saddle fit that founder Carmi Weininger put into development of the saddle. The way they tested the fit of this saddle was just incredible! While at first the idea of how to fit such a customizable, adjustable saddle may feel overwhelming, their fitters are experts in the biomechanics of equine movement as well as the specific flex system that makes it easier to fit than you may think.

Right now the big focus is on dressage saddles for this brand, but I expect to see growth in the jumper market in the future as well. If you want to test one out, they do an exceptional trial program as well as will be there in person at the USDF Convention Nov. 29 – Dec. 2. Definitely something to watch, especially if you have a horse with back issues and need a close contact feel.

The BUA Cantilevered Saddle

Next, we tried the BUA which is a really unique cantilever tree. While I tried it on a few of my horses, sadly it didn’t fit me or them quite right and they are used to riding off seatbone aids rather than seat weight aids. Not something I’d thought of before but it was pretty interesting to see how this performed. Because the cantilever isolates the rider from the horse and vice versa, it has a very different feel than a traditional saddle. We found that any horse that moves off seat weight — think gaited, western, even jumpers and hunters — all can benefit from the BUA but that if they were looking specifically for seatbone aids, it takes a little for the horse to learn the feel of the new saddle.

This saddle worked exceptionally well for all of Jenn’s horses — not just the Standardbreds. Her Paso stallion moved better and finally stopped bucking or rearing in the BUA, and was happy to canter all over the property, ears up and ready for more! Her Standardbreds preferred it, as it allowed them to move through their backs, and it also isolated Jenn’s back from her one Standardbred that can have a bit jarring movement. She hunter paced in the saddle and her horse jumped beautifully and she finished a 10 mile ride without back pain. Huge win!

BUA saddle hunt equestrian

The BUA let Jenn’s Standardbred move better and learn how to jump with ease on hunter paces! Photo credit CJ Millar.

Even better was that the more she rode in the saddle, the fitter her Standardbred riding horse got, and the better he jumped — to the point that by the end of the season he was dragging her around the hunt fields as my Dutch Warmblood scrambled to keep up! That was a new and unexpected development. Considering that not only is Jenn a vet, she’s extremely picky about what equipment she uses on her horses and how and when, the fact that the demo I got to test out made it to her horse and I never sat in it again says something! (Note: Her own saddle is on the way … finally haha!)

As an added bonus, we found that through a Hunter/Jumper trainer friend that shows and trains the A-circuit, her adult ammy rider who had issues with seat and balance was able to successfully navigate her horse over a course of jumps and poles without issue. That was a first for her, despite the fact that the trainer didn’t have issues jumping the horse. We were able to deduce that the difference was the cantilever tree for horse and rider — it benefitted both of them — wow!

Video by CJ Millar.

You can see in the video above that the saddle really moves with the horse! It was cool to watch Frosty start to really figure out jumping as the season went on. Despite this being his 2nd season pacing, it was his first one in the BUA and the first season he really started to enjoy the jumps.

The cons of this saddle are that right now it only comes in one seat and flap size (though there are different styles of flaps for dressage, jumping with and without blocks, and trail). Because I have an extremely awkward leg, I just couldn’t get the saddle to fit me, but it fit Jenn nicely. In addition, you can adjust the springiness of the cantilever seat based on the kind of riding you are doing which was nice for riding different horses. And if you’re not sure if it will work for you, Marlene at Badlands Equine has a great demo program and tons more information on her site in addition to what you will find at BUASaddles.com. She was well versed in the BUA, how to fit it, change out the flaps, and so much more.

BUA saddle

Jenn’s custom BUA is on the way and it looks just stunning! Photo credit Marlene Moss.

Technology for the win!

While it may not be for everyone, when you have a hard to fit horse or a specific need when it comes to saddles, checking out brands that embrace technology can be a huge win! In some cases, you may find that a traditional saddle flocked with wool or foam is the right choice for you, but it’s always worth looking at other options and thinking outside the box. Happy riding!

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