On trend in the saddle: The latest tack design innovations *H&H Plus*

  • Alex Robinson looks at what’s new in the world of tack and which of the latest design innovations could benefit you and your horse

    As our scientific knowledge of the mechanics of the horse continues to grow, so does our insight into how outside influences, such as tack, impact movement and performance. With this in mind, saddlery manufacturers are constantly looking to improve, innovate and develop their products to help riders improve both their own and their horse’s performance.

    Irrespective of which discipline you compete in, it’s imperative to have the correct gear so your horse is comfortable and able to perform at his best.

    A saddle is one of the single biggest expenses for riding owners. If you buy a younger, growing horse you can guarantee an upgrade will be needed in a couple of years. The Ideal Saddle Company’s Technical and Traditional (T&T) saddle could be a solution for those who would rather not have the financial demands of purchasing a completely new saddle when the current one no longer fits. It is available in four models (dressage, cross-country, showjumping and general purpose) and has an adjustable design so it can be easily altered for the growth of a youngster, the arrival of a new horse or during the changing seasons when your horse’s shape might develop.

    “It can be adjusted to continue to provide the perfect fit, even though your horse’s shape may change over the years,” explains Ideal’s Jenny Doran. “The idea is to ensure that each saddle is expertly tailored today, tomorrow and for many years to come.”

    Albion also produces a saddle that can be adjusted according to the horse. The Adjusta-Tree enables the tree to be altered by two fitting widths, without being removed from the saddle. It has been robustly engineered to withstand loading and pressure-induced spread, tested and proven by a specialist independent engineering laboratory.

    Albion say the Adjusta-Tree is the only wooden adjustable tree on the market. Albion founder and director of design Paul Belton is considered by many international and Olympic riders, such as Laura Tomlinson, to lead the most innovative saddle designers in the world.

    “My loyalty to the Albion brand is based on the sophisticated feel that each saddle innovation since 1996 has given me,” says Laura, who uses the Adjusta-Tree with Albion’s Revelation model.

    Enhance the horse’s performance

    If you’re in search of a jump saddle to improve your showjumping rounds then the Victrix from Bates could be for you. The lightweight saddle – which event rider Sarah Bullimore uses – promises to enhance the horse’s performance by giving them freedom of movement at the shoulder while absorbing impact on landing.

    “Showjumpers have never been so close to their horse,” says a Bates spokesman. The company’s compact and low profile saddle, made from luxe leather, is designed to create a close-contact feel. “Riders particularly rave about the seat of the Victrix as the way it is balanced means they can stay with their horse’s movement. The lower leg is stable so the rider’s hands remain light and in command.”

    Other features which aid both horse and rider comfort include an adjustable ergonomic stirrup bar and a streamlined girth point attachment.

    When it comes to dressage saddles, British dressage star Lottie Fry rides in Amerigo’s Pasubio Masterclass saddle on one of her top horses, Glamourdale.

    “It’s such a comfy saddle and it gives his shoulders more room to move,” says Lottie.

    Made from Italian leather, the Pasubio model can benefit wider horses. The wooden spring tree is made with a wider gullet for greater wither freedom.

    Charlotte Dujardin opts to compete in the World Class monoflap dressage saddle from Fairfax, which has been subject to rigorous scientific testing. The design of the saddle’s knee block, combined with the configuration of the seat, means the rider has a more evenly distributed seat pressure and their pelvis can remain in a neutral position for longer.

    “It allows the rider to feel more balanced and ‘at one’ with their horse,” explains Vanessa Fairfax of the saddle, which has seven flap lengths and seat-size options to suit the individual rider’s anatomy. “Scientists used 3D motion capture gait analysis to identify and track both the horse and rider’s individual movement patterns. Researchers demonstrated that a more symmetrical and balanced rider enhances the horse’s spinal stability and range of motion. When the rider is sitting with a neutral pelvis and an even seat pressure distribution, the horse’s freedom of movement increases, with improved carpal, elbow and hock flexion.”

    “It’s so important that we keep up to speed with scientific research so we are using products that will allow our horses to train and perform at their best,” says Charlotte.

    Don’t forget to girth up

    A functioning, well-fitting girth is vital to performance, but is often the piece of tack which gets overlooked.

    • “Girthing is a vital part of creating a good saddle fit, but can be paid too little attention,” says WOW Saddles’ Felicity Norrie. The Soft H-girth from WOW is tailored for the sensitive horse with its soft leather and choice of configurations.
      “By dispersing pressure over the sternum, it promotes better movement in front while keeping the saddle back in place on horses with a forward girth groove, without over-tightening,” adds Felicity.
      “The two straps are interchangeable; the front and back straps can be different lengths to suit the needs of the horse’s conformation. There are also different size sternum plates available. As not all riders need a martingale strap and D-ring for breastplate attachment, plates are available with and without these.”
    • The new GH13 stud protector girth from Equipe is made with double-density lined leather for greater comfort. It is equipped with three-layer elastics on both sides. Unique to this girth is the Kevlar insert that promotes even distribution of pressure on the side of the horse. It comes with a carabiner clip to attach your martingale or breastplate to, with a flap to stop the horse’s hoof hitting the clip directly.
    • Saddling experts at Ideal have created the Affinity F2 Pro girth specifically for horses with a forward girth groove. The ergonomic design offers freedom of movement as well as even pressure throughout the width. The Affinity F2 Pro is finished with a soft-topped material and is available with or without a fleece lining.

    The price of a good saddle

    Keeping one eye on the budget (approximate prices):

    • Amerigo Pasubio Masterclass – £4,200
    • Albion Revelation Adjusta-Tree – £4,000
    • Fairfax World Class Monoflap Dressage – £3,500
    • Bates Victrix – £2,899
    • Ideal T&T saddles – £1,550

    Ref Horse & Hound; 25 June 2020