Saddle Fit Saga: The Saddle That Changed My Horse’s Life (and Back!)

Tale of a Sensitive OTTB

Anyone that knows me knows that #saddlefit is kinda my thing. Not in a traditional saddle fitter kinda way (though I do believe in that completely), but more in a let’s-try-everything-out-there-and-see-what-works-why kinda way. With 10 horses in my care in various stages of work vs. retirement along with all sorts of breeds and body shapes and styles, coupled with my best friend — a veterinarian with a herd of her own — and you could say we’ve got a pretty good scenario for trying just about everything under the sun to see what works.

Two summers ago started my Saddle Fit Saga journey in comparing wool vs. foam in which I found out I was #teamwool all the way, and most of my horses agreed. But, I had a few that didn’t *quite* fit in a traditional saddle, as well as a few that had specific issues ranging from chronic Lyme disease to old back injuries. Jenn (the vet) was bringing along a few Standardbreds to hunter pace with and they also didn’t move well in a traditional saddle. We tried pads with shims, and found some that worked for some of our horses, but still had a few hard to fit / back issue creatures that needed something different.

We shifted to #saddletech and took a look at high tech saddle pads and even non-traditional high tech saddles. Each test was one step closer to finding the winning combination for each horse. The hardest to fit was my former hunt horse Sky — the one with my favorite video of us galloping alone through the hunt field over massive stone walls (well not Leslie Wylie with Ledbury Hunt massive, but Hudson Valley, NY, massive nonetheless haha!).

BUA saddles

One of Jenn’s Standardbreds, Frosty, enjoyed playing in the lake wearing his BUA

Sky’s Story

Due to former blown hind suspensories, chronic Lyme disease, an over-sensitive nature, and a very cold back, everything we tried made some improvements but nothing entirely clicked until recently. After the test of high tech saddles, my friend loved the BUA so much, she purchased one. But then winter set in and winter in the Catskills this year was no joke. Riding was put on hold until spring (which really just skipped right to summer) and I finally got to try a BUA on Sky.

WOW! What a difference! While it’s definitely non-traditional, he came back to work off of a two-year layup from intermittent issues + semi-retirement (he’s 20 now) without a single buck. Not one. Not even a little one! Anyone that knows this horse knows just how huge this is. And even more, of all of my horses after a long winter off, he was the easiest to bring back into work. It seemed my hot headed OTTB was finally maturing — and perhaps his back felt better in this saddle too.

I ordered my own BUA in royal and black and away we went. We’ve spent the past two months now riding in the BUA exclusively and while it was great, I still felt like he needed a little something more to protect his ├╝ber sensitive back. Referring to my high tech saddle pad cheat sheet, I pulled out the Kingsland Relief Pad. While Sky had liked it well enough in the past, due to his unique back and health issues, without being able to shim, it wasn’t exactly the right fit under the wool flocked traditional saddle. However, with the BUA Saddle and its cantilevered tree coupled with its thicker non-traditional panels, the Kingsland Relief Pad was a perfect fit. SCORE!

Total Saddle Fit StretchTec plus BUA Saddle

The BUA Saddle with the Total Saddle Fit StretchTec girth and slim leathers was a BIG win for Sky!

Finally, something that worked for Sky 100%. The cantilevered tree protected his back and gave him the freedom to move without worrying about pain or soreness. It got the stamp of approval from two vets, a saddle fitting friend, and anyone that was out riding with me that saw Sky firsthand as a calmer, happier animal. Most noticeably, the horse with the world’s worst walk (part of why we ditched eventing for fox hunting) actually had a lovely free swinging walk. What?! Wow. Color me convinced. I paired it with the Total Saddle Fit StretchTec girth because Sky is also Mr. Sensitive about what goes around his belly, and added the TSF slim leathers and we had the winning combination. The saddle fit well, he moved better, and he was relaxed.

Sky. Relaxed.

Two words that have not appeared in a sentence together in the 16 years I’ve owned this creature horse.

BUA Saddle for horses with back issues

I’ve never felt Sky this relaxed and truly enjoying himself…on trails and in the lake nonetheless!

What’s Next?

So while the BUA Saddle with its cantilevered tree and thicker foam pads is far from traditional, it worked for precisely that reason. It’s also helped bring my retired former international show jumper back into work comfortably as well as my off track Arabian with spine issues — both of whom are 23 years old and have been retired for the past 2+ years but bored without having any job at all.

Rumor has it that there should be a few demos out on the East Coast soon and I hear that BUA (based in Ireland) is working on more traditional saddle leather. Their current leather is actually the same leather used in high end European sports cars — super smooth and comfy and easy to maintain but not as grippy as many equestrians are used to. They are also testing different panel options for even more customizability — interesting to say the least. Something I appreciate about this saddle is that the current panels are more similar to a western saddle. They are focused on weight distribution — something I am familiar with from my trail and western days working cows and chasing cans — than an English custom contoured fit.

BUA Saddles

Another of Jenn’s Standardbreds — who is still also an active race horse — enjoys trails in the BUA

I’m planning to again hit the road with a car full of saddles as I head down to Great Meadow International, and of course I’ll try the BUA on even more horses along the way. Since I haven’t yet had the chance to jump in it, I’ll let you know how that goes. Based on how the cantilever works, I would think that it protects the horse’s back from the rider’s weight on landing and lets them really use their backs more — especially sensitive horses — something I’d love to also try out over some cross country jumps. I know it helped Jenn’s Standardbred jump on hunter paces with a lot more ease than he has ever before so I am excited to try it myself. I’ll let you know what we find, and how it works, and what’s next.

In the meantime, if you’re interested in trying a BUA, until there are some demos out on the East Coast, touch base with Marlene Moss of Badlands Equine that can help. And check back for more updates from the road at #GMI as the #saddlefitsaga rolls on!

Happy riding and of course, go eventing!

BUA Saddles

With its high end durable leather, the saddle looked great, even after trail rides.