A question of flocking

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  • Lucy Thompson
    former European three-day event champion and co-founder of Equine-Sport-Therapy

    The important thing is that the saddle fits, and a good saddler is invaluable. I like a close-contact as long as the foam is soft; softsurfaces on any back must be more comfortable, like carrying a soft rucksack rather than a hard one.

    I prefer to get saddles to fit when the horse is half-fit, in good but not enormous condition, and use appropriate padding as he gets fitter and slimmer. When horses get really fit they lose a lot around the withers.

    I like air saddles, too, especially for dressage. Welton Molecule had one of the early ones for dressage because he changed shape so quickly that you needed to be ableto adjust it at the same rate.

    For me, it’s second nature to double-check the saddle every time I put it on, like checking the horse’s legs when you feed.

    Amanda Sutton
    chartered physiotherapist and author of The Injury-FreeHorse (David and Charles)

    The most important thing is that the saddle tree and basic design is right for the horse. Owners have got to do maintenance checks – check there are no lumps in flocking, no pressure points.

    Learn to palpate your horse so that you know when he’s comfortable and when he isn’t. It isn’t difficult!

    Whatever system you have, check that you put the saddle in the right place. A lot of people put it too far forward so it impinges on the shoulder and twists from side to side as each shoulder moves.

    Dana Green
    McTimoney chiropractor

    Wool flocking is excellent as long as it is not allowed to go lumpy and is not packed in too hard. Close-contact saddles with foam can be lovely but you can’t vary them – and all horses change shape.

    “Whatever you use, or however nicely flocked a saddle is, it must have the right tree for the horse. You will also still get problems if you get lumps on the tree at attachment points or if stirrup bars are too tight and give pressure points. It’s like the princess and the pea – the horse can feel it through flocking.

    Jill Thomas
    endurance rider and European gold medallist who has developed a synthetic endurance saddle with Thorowgood

    I like something like Prolite gel in my saddle because it absorbs any jerking movements and helps to cushion horse and rider when you’re going over rough ground. The problem I have is that living as far into Cornwall as you can get, there is a shortage of master saddlers – so if I had something like air flocking, it would cost as much for me to get one to come out and adjust it as to buy another of my saddles!

    Paul Belton
    Past president of the Society of Master Saddlers and chairman of Albion Saddlemakers

    I dislike non-natural materials.Wool, cotton and felt draw heat and sweat from the horse’s back; we found that synthetics can act like a poultice over the muscles.

    What is defined as white, virgin wool – probably the most expensive medium – is wonderful in dressage saddles because of the amount of spring in the wool. However, when you put this into a jumping saddle it almost destabilises it, so we use a ‘deader’ mixture.

    Air must be the ideal mixture for the horse’s back, but you have to control it. It’s in its infancy in terms of development and requires more investigation. Unfortunately, some retailers are using air to try to make saddles fit that patently do not and it’s not a substitute for saddle fitting.

    Your horse’s comfort is not a luxury. If he’s comfortable, he will concentrate and do what you ask. If he’s uncomfortable, he won’t.

    Read more on choosing the right tack in this week’s Horse & Hound (23 May), or click here to subscribe and enjoy Horse & Hound delivered to your doorevery week.

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