• Cost of Saddle Vs. Good Rider Biomechanics

    Some of my recent saddle posts have received some negative comments with regards to the cost of the saddles that I choose to import and sell. Lets face it, nothing to do with horses is cheap. However, what price for your horses comfort, emotional well being and longevity?

    The focus of study below is rider position and how this is completely influenced by saddle choice. It is not only the style of saddle chosen that affects rider position - it is also very often the cost of that saddle. Simply put, higher priced saddles have more research, expertise and thought behind their design. It is no coincidence that a higher priced saddle is far superior to ride in.

    Rider position DIRECTLY affects the horse in either a positive or a negative way - full stop! This is why I will only sell saddles that offer the rider an optimal HEAD - HIP - HEEL position. This type of saddle usually comes at a price.

    "...money invested in a correct-fitting saddle could save your horse’s back and a huge vet’s bill in the future due to the injuries an ill-fitting saddle could cause."

    Photo shows a saddle offering its rider a very poor riding position with most of the riders weight being forced rearwards onto the horse's sensitive loins.

    AHT EXPERT URGES RIDERS NOT TO SADDLE THEIR HORSE WITH PROBLEMS

    Dr Sue Dyson, Veterinary Advisor to the SRT (Head of Clinical Orthopaedics in the Centre for Equine Studies at The Animal Health Trust), was invited to appear as guest speaker at this year’s National Equine Forum (NEF).

    Sue emphasised the importance of correct saddle fitting for the welfare of the horse, but also the implications on the rider’s position, balance and the pair’s potential to perform well together. Taking a holistic approach, this particular research should encourage saddle fitters to provide saddles that will not cause pain or compromise the horse’s musculoskeletal development and will also assist the rider to maintain a balanced position. Riders and trainers must also recognise the importance of good posture and synchronous movement to minimise inappropriate loading of the horse’s back.

    The Study - The AHT recently completed a pilot study investigating some basic aspects of rider position and saddle fit for the rider. Lateral photographs of 34 randomly selected horses and riders which had been assessed at the AHT were evaluated by 12 assessors, which included equine veterinary surgeons (n=4), an equine veterinary nurse (n=1), equine technicians (n=5) and office staff (previous horse owners, n=2). The riders included pleasure riders, those that competed at amateur level and professional riders. The assessors were asked to determine if the rider sat correctly, with the shoulder, ‘hip’ and heel in alignment; whether the rider was too large for the seat of the saddle or for the saddle in general; whether the rider sat too far towards the back of the saddle; whether the fit of the saddle to the rider was likely to adversely affect their position; and whether the rider was too big for the horse.There was generally good agreement among the assessors. The consensus of the results was rather disturbing:

    •12% had alignment of their shoulder, ‘hip’ and heel

    •41% were judged to be sitting too far towards the back of the saddle

    •59% were considered to be too big for their saddle

    These findings have implications for the balance of the rider with the horse and the rider’s weight distribution on the horse relative to its centre of gravity. These preliminary results will form the basis of a much larger scale study of saddle fit to horse and rider and the influence on rider position.

    Common Problems:

    •Saddles are often fitted to the horse, but not to both the horse and rider

    •If saddles are not fitted to the rider this can make them unbalanced and therefore place abnormal forces on the horse’s back

    •Lameness and poor performance can be the result of an ill-fitting saddle, because the saddle may restrict the movement of the horse

    •Saddles are often not checked frequently enough for correct fit in horses that may change shape (e.g. young horses as they develop musculature through their training, or during seasonal weight changes)

    •Cost of tack can discourage owners from buying the ‘correct fit’, and instead they will purchase the ‘best fit’ from what is available

    Sue’s Call to Action:

    •Better training and education available to saddlers, giving them access to the latest research and techniques to provide the best products for improved welfare and performance of the horse

    •Saddlers encouraged to consider the fit of tack to both the horse and the rider

    •Owners reminded to have their tack checked when they change their horse’s routine, workload or type of training, and to consider the time of year and horse’s age or level of training to plan necessary saddle fit checks

    •Basic rider position (shoulder-hip-heel alignment) emphasised to riders, trainers and saddle fitters from grass-roots level through to professionals, to better recognise poor saddle fit and promote good rider-horse balance

    •Better owner education of how to check if your saddle fit

    •Cost can be a concern, but money invested in a correct-fitting saddle could save your horse’s back and a huge vet’s bill in the future due to the injuries an ill-fitting saddle could cause. Does your horse really need another rug, or is that money better spent on your saddle?

    Please feel free to share this study :)

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  • Gullet Width & Rafter Angle

    There seems to be a lot of confusion about gullet width and the role it plays when fitting saddles. It is vital that the correct gullet width be selected, however, there is a lot more to good saddle fit than gullet width alone.

    For example, our wonderful SA Kuda Saddle agent, Tori, was recently called by a new owner of a pre-loved Kuda Flex Saddle, stating that there was no way this saddle could be a 7" gullet as advertised on a second hand Saddle FB page, as it did not fit her horse the way her trainers 7" gulleted saddle had fitted her horse.

    Now this may or may not be news to many out there in the horse-world, but not all 7" gullet saddles are the same! ***gasp*** yeah, I know! Shocking stuff right?

    Not at all actually.

    For the sake of clarity, I will be referring to Western saddles only here.

    A 7 inch gullet saddle will always be a 7 inch gullet saddle regardless of brand and type. The gullet width of a saddle is solely referring to the distance between the bars of the tree. See Figure 1. This is where the gullet measurement should be taken. You will often see ads for second hand saddles being measured between the Conchos, as if this is the location to measure the gullet of a saddle. This is incorrect. However it is also difficult to accurately measure the gullet width of a finished saddle due to leather and fleece being in the way. The gullet width is measured on the bare tree.

    The measurement that will vary on a 7" gullet saddle, sometimes significantly, is the width of that same 7" gullet saddle further down the front of the saddle between the Conchos, and further down again, at the bottom of the bars of the tree. This is because the angle of the bar is flatter in some types of trees when compared to others. This is known as rafter angle of the bars and is measured in degrees not width. The rafter angle does not impact on gullet width at all.

    The angle of the bars are however vital to how a saddle is going to fit a horse, regardless of its gullet width. We need to stop thinking about gullet width just for a moment and start thinking about rafter angle. Here is a great explanation as to why many get confused when talking about gullet widths.

    From Saddlemakers.org:

    Some interpret a flatter angle to be wider and thus a wider gullet. A flatter angle will produce a wider measurement at the bottom of the bars but not at the top of the bars where gullet width is measured. This measurement at the bottom of the bars is referred to as spread, bar spread, or gullet spread. As stated before, Although related, bar angle and gullet width are independent measurements. One can have bars set at an angle for an upright or steep profile with a gullet width of (7") or bars set at an angle for flat or spread out profile with a gullet width of (7").

    This is because rafter angle varies depending on the type of horse the tree has been made for. For instance, Full Quarter Horse Bars and Semi Quarter Horse Bars. There will also be variations of the same 'Quarter Horse fit' between tree maker's which adds to the confusion even more. There is no industry standard that dictates what rafter angle and gullet width Full Quarter Horse Bars should be.

    Many tree makers have tried to simplify this for their customers by combining gullet widths and angles into generic terms like the ones listed above.

    Here is Steele's various Quarter Horse tree fit descriptions:

    J - Semi-Quarter Horse (Semi)/Arabian (Arab) or SQHB- Steeper front and rear rafter angle and closer-spaced bars (usually 6.25" gullet) relative to Standard Quarter Horse fit when positioned at standard spread. In addition, sufficient bow (rocker) enables this fit to conform well to the short Arabian back having a narrow wither dropping off quickly to the shoulder.

    D - Standard Quarter Horse (SQ) OR RQHB- Approximate 92º front rafter angle. Good front flare, bow and upturned tails to avoid bridging and bar edge pressure points. (usually 6.5" gullet)

    TF - Full Quarter Spread (FQ) or FQHB- Same bow (rocker) and wind (twist) as 'D' fit with an additional 1/2” front spread ('GW+1/2' or '+1/2') than standard (meaning 7" gullet in this instance).

    and their larger breed fit:

    Draft Horse (DH) - Approximate 105º front rafter angle. Flatter rear rafter also and less bow for broad, flat backs with little dip.

    Steele make the flexible trees used in the Kuda Flex saddles that I sell. All of these fits can be ordered in any gullet width that is available from the manufacturer. Please note however, that not all of these fits are available in the Flexible Tree range. They also make wooden trees and have been doing so for over 160 years.

    But let's not get bogged down in generic breed specific tree names too much. As we know, Quarter horses come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. In simpler terms, wide horses need a flatter rafter angle and narrower horses need a steeper rafter angle.

    The angle of the bar needs to mirror the angle of the horse's shoulder/wither area, see Figure 3. This angle needs to then curve and follow the shape of the horses back all the way to the rear of the tree. This is called 'Rocker' (or bow) and then there is also the 'Wind' or 'Twist' of the bar which is another vital, slightly more complex ingredient to good saddle fit which won't be covered here. This deserves a blog all of its own!

    Confused yet? It is a complex topic for sure. No wonder so many get it wrong and buy saddle after saddle after saddle. And if you really want your mind blown, think about this…there is no such thing as the perfect fitting saddle. Yup. No-such-thing. There is, however such a thing as the best fit possible and this is what we should all be striving to achieve at all times.

    I say, at all times because good saddle fit is a constantly moving target. Fit needs to be monitored regularly. Weekly, and in some cases, daily. Horses, if allowed to, can change shape very quickly. Heck, they can change shape during one single ride! Just ask any Endurance rider. The reason I say, if allowed to, is because it is quite the balancing act keeping horses in consistent work and condition and therefore maintaining a consistent shape and top-line. Life can and does, get in the way of regular, proper riding. Seasons change, feed availability changes, so too does the horse's weight.

    When the horses exercise program changes, so too does his/her muscle condition/size change. Therefore how your saddle fits your horse now, will change! Accept this, educate yourself, be proactive and do something about it before harm is caused to your horse.

    Flexible saddles go a long way to dealing with condition fluctuations. Fit is enhanced in motion when using a flexible tree saddle there is no doubt. But it does not mean that it will always fit your horse no matter what his/her condition.

    If your saddle is not adjustable then you will need to pay close attention to the interface between your saddle and your horse, i.e. your saddle pad! The thickness of your saddle pad influences saddle fit quite a bit. There are also some excellent shimmable pads available which are a great way to address minor fit issues. Additional foam Shims can also play a role in achieving the best possible fit, especially if muscle atrophy is present. I would hazard a guess that 90% of ridden horses have muscle atrophy and/or asymmetry present.

    If the gullet width and rafter angle aren't a good match for your horse, then shims and different pads will do very little to correct this. They will help greatly when these angles line up well already. Especially if all you need is a little lift here or there when the condition of your horse has dropped off due to lack of work or seasonal weight fluctuations.

    So, back to gullet width. Why is this so important if we get the rafter angle right? Because there still needs to be sufficient room for the top of the horse's shoulder blade to pass freely between the saddle and the wither. If the gullet is not providing sufficient clearance all the way around the wither, that means over the top and either side of the wither, then the saddle will pinch as the horse protracts his front leg and his shoulder blade moves rearward beneath the saddle. A minimum of 2-3 fingers width between the wither and the panel of the saddle is needed. This will vary depending on the shape of the horse's withers. Mutton withered, fleshy shouldered horses will require more space. Thankfully, the correct gullet width is easily established following the saddle manufacturers wither tracing instructions. Or at least it should be.

    In summary, this is why one make of saddle with a 7" gullet, will fit differently to another make of saddle with a 7" gullet.

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  • Comparison of Rider Posture: Kuda vs. Traditional Swinging Fender Saddle

    Kuda Aussie Flex Saddle vs. Traditional Swinging Fender/Half Breed Saddle.

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  • WHITE HAIR - What can cause it?

    We usually associate the appearance of white hair with incorrect saddle fit. Most of the time we would be correct! However not always.

    I recently met with a customer and her Standardbred "Prince" when they came to collect and have fitted their new Kuda Elite Flex saddle. My customer, Mel, had visited with her horse a couple of months earlier to trial some saddles and have her horse measured up for her new Kuda. Mel also asked if I'd take a look at her current saddle on her horse to check fit. It was a synthetic Endurance type saddle of reputable brand, that fitted her horse quite well. Mel still wanted to go ahead and order a new Kuda however - smart lady ;).

    So when Mel and her horse returned to collect her new saddle, I was shocked to see that her horse had developed a substantial amount of white hair around his withers. I asked Mel about it and she said that yes, it was new. She had also had an independent saddle fitter out to check her tack and fit and she too concluded that her Endurance saddle was a good fit. The saddle fitter felt it was the saddle pad that had caused the white hair. The pad was the type that you put rubber inserts into, which is supposed to absorb shock and enhance fit. The fitter felt that the inserts where sitting too close to the horses spine.

    Mel showed me the saddle pad. It was made of synthetic fleece with a nylon quilted 'top'. It had 2 pockets which housed rubber, 12mm thick inserts. Mel admitted that she had purchased the incorrectly shaped inserts for the pad so had to cut them down herself so they would fit inside the pockets. The space between the 2 inserts probably wasn’t ideal but I couldn’t really see how this would have caused the large patch of white hair - (see photos).

    I hate to admit it, but I had at one point sold this exact brand of saddle pad. I dropped it from my product line after doing some research and discovered that synthetic saddle pads are one of THE biggest causes of sore-backed horses. This may or may not be news to you but hopefully if it IS new information, you will heed this blog as a warning and ditch your synthetic pad - immediately! I now only sell wool felt (100%!) or sheepskin lined saddle pads and blankets.

    The reason that synthetic pads sore horses is not only that they totally lack any breathability, they can and do actually cause heat to build up underneath them. This alone is detrimental to muscle, skin and coat health. This really big problem however, is that synthetic material can also cause friction burns. The heat kills the hair follicle and when the hair re-grows, it is totally void of pigment.

    White hair can unfortunately be permanent. It can also disappear, after the offending saddle and or pad has been tossed, and the horses change of coat comes through. As long as you act quickly, there should be no long lasting damage.

    A good friend of mine once told me about a quick, fail-safe test that she performs on all saddle pads that cross her path. She rubs the tips of her fingers back and forth very quickly on the underside of the pad and if her fingers get hot - she ditches/doesn’t buy the pad. Go and do this on all your pads now and throw away any that cause the tips of your fingers to heat up. It is not always easy to determine if a pad is synthetic or not just by looking at it, and there usually isn’t a handy tag attached describing the materials used (perhaps there should be however!).

    It is true, synthetic pads are usually more affordable. However, this particular pad I’m writing about costs over $350 with the inserts included. I am also a strong believer in the adage, the saddle is for you and the pad is for your horse. Why spend $3000 plus on a saddle and then hunt around for the cheapest saddle pad you can find? Yes, I know, the saddle "sent you broke" so you have to economise, but at your horses detriment?

    Natural fibre saddle pads and blankets may cost a little more to purchase, but in the long run, they are going to cost you less as: 1. They last much longer than synthetic pads so will need replacing much less frequently and 2. will take better care of your horses body which means less visits from your body-worker.

    Di Pascoe - Qualified Equine Sports Therapist - A.C.A.T.T. 2004

    Owner: Kuda Saddles Australia & Holistic Equine Saddlery & Tack (H.E.S.T.)

    Written with kind permission from Melinda Sutton and her lovely 'Standy', "Prince".

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  • HOW TO BUILD TOPLINE FAST!

    Below are 2 photos of my horse, Phoenix, a rising 18 TB x Trakehner. The photo on the left, taken 30/05/2015, shows obvious muscle atrophy. You can clearly see the indentation behind the shoulder blade. The photo on the right was taken 30/10/2015. During this period Phoenix had very little consistent riding, BUT when he was being worked, he was ridden in either a Kuda Flex saddle or a Mattes Fellsattel. The photo on the right shows that the indentation has almost completely disappeared. By using flexible, non restricting saddles, Phoenix was able to use his body correctly and therefore, re-build his topline. Mattes Saddle Pads & Girths were also used with both saddles. The muscle atrophy was the result of a 7 year hiatus due to health reasons.

    Muscle atrophy can also be caused by a tightly fitting saddle. Saddles that are too narrow in the gullet or too long in the bars, will interfere with the freedom of the horses shoulder blades. It is of the utmost importance that the shoulders remain unrestricted during all work under saddle. This cannot be emphasized enough! Does your horses back look similar to the photo on the left? If so, it’s time to re-evaluate your saddle.

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  • HOW TO CORRECTLY POSITION A KUDA WESTERN OR HALF BREED SADDLE ON YOUR HORSE

    Many riders are choosing Kuda Flex Saddles not only because they are an awesome saddle but because they are the perfect cross-over saddle from English to Western. This is due mainly to the perfectly balanced - head - hip - heel position that the Kuda saddles offer the rider. That and the fact that they are on average 10 kgs lighter than most traditional Western saddles on the market and are around 4 inches shorter front to back! Yes Kuda's have a lot going for them!! ;)

    Because many of our customers are new to Western Saddles, we thought we'd write a few words about correct saddle positioning on the horses back. It may seem quite different to the positioning of Dressage or AP saddles but actually, it's not different at all - but this does warrant some explaining…

    We all know that Western saddles are longer (front to back) than English saddles - that much is obvious. Dressage saddles are designed to sit behind the horses Shoulder Blade (Scapular). In theory, one of the reasons the saddle is placed here is so there is no interference with the horses shoulder movement and therefore foreleg protraction (extension of the forelimb). However, in reality, often the front of a dressage saddle becomes a 'bumper bar' to the horses shoulder blade. More on this in the next BLOG!

    If you place the front of Western saddle behind the shoulder blade, the saddle would be sitting too far back. This is undisputed. So should a Western saddle sit ON the horses shoulder blade?? The answer is YES and NO.

    We need to take the structure of a Western saddle into consideration here. The bar in a Western saddle ends about 2 inches before the front of the saddle - the extra 2 inches being leather only. In most Western saddles (Kuda's included), the end of the bar lines up with the front Concho. Kuda's don’t come standard with Conchos's so we look to the SS bracket where the front Saddle Strings hang from - this is the end of the front of the bar of the tree. This section of the bar also flares outwards and away from the horse in the Equi-Fit Flexible trees, as it should in any well made Western tree.

    So we need to visualise the back edge of shoulder blade through the saddle when lining up the Concho (end of the tree) with it. See photo with green outline of the shoulder blade. The weight bearing surface of the saddle is then sitting BEHIND the shoulder blade - but the front edge of the saddle (Leather only) appears to be sitting on top of the shoulder blade. In actual fact, it should be flared away from the horses body at this point. Due to horses coming in all sorts of shapes and sizes (and weights!), this, is not always the case however. (See our next Blog about how to remedy saddles that interfere with the shoulders).

    To some, this may look like the saddle is too far back, especially when the Latigo's may be angled forwards towards the cinch. This is quite acceptable and will not cause the saddle to slide forward (unless there is an underlying saddle fit issue). The Latigo's do not need to hang straight down in a perfectly vertical line. See photo with Blue Line.

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  • FIT TO BE SEEN - Equi-Fit Flexible Tree Fit Kit

    You may be interested to learn that we have a 'Fit Kit' available for hire. It has 3 shells which correspond to the Steele Equi-Fit Flexible trees used inside the Kuda Flex Saddles. The "Fit to be Seen" fit kit comes with comprehensive instructions (with photos!) and I am there to "hold your hand" along the way through the process of assessing the shells on your horses back.

    The 3 fit kit 'shells' available are:

    1) D Fit - Regular Quarter Horse Bars

    2) TF Fit - Full Quarter Horse Bars

    3) LT Fit - this Flex Tree is Ideal for TB's and other high Withered horses that require additional Flare in the front of the saddle and more Rocker than the Quarter Horse Fits. LT is Steele's Gaited horse fit. Gaited horses require complete Shoulder freedom in order for them to Gait correctly. Whilst Gaited horses aren't as numerous here in Australia, I have found that the LT Flex Tree is perfect for many breeds that have some curve to their back, are short coupled and/or have prominent Withers.

    A security deposit of $100 is required and all postage costs are at the hirers expense. Once the kit is returned and a new saddle is ordered, the full $100 is refunded. Please contact us to arrange the "Fit to be Seen" kit to be sent to you: info@kudasaddles.com.au or 03 5427 3330.

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  • HOW LONG SHOULD YOUR GIRTH BE?

    So how long SHOULD your Girth be? This seems to be a question that I get asked more than any other of late. And for good reason. The Girth is an extremely important aspect of every Riders gear and unfortunately for the horse, it is often not given the proper attention it deserves. The correct type and length of Girth is imperative to allowing your horse to not only perform better but to be much more comfortable in the process.

    Many riders simply don't know where, on their horses sides, the Girth should end. Some also believe that a shorter Girth provides better saddle stability. If saddle stability is the issue, then trying to fix this with a shorter Girth is definitely not the answer. However, this is a subject for another Post altogether...

    Here's how to select the correct Girth length: with a soft measuring tape, measure your horse from the midline of his sternum, the indentation in the middle of his pectoral muscles (where the centre of the Girth sits) up to a point which is 2 inches below the bottom of your saddle skirt (Dressage Saddle being used as an example here-see photo on right), then multiply this number x 2 to get the full length needed. 1 inch below the saddle skirt (approx.) is where the very end of the girth should sit when fully 'girthed up' for riding. We're allowing a little bit extra for the buckle guards as Girths are always measured buckle to buckle, not end to end.

    When a Girth sits lower than this, the buckles will cause quite a bit of discomfort to the horse. The inside of the horses elbows may indeed rub across the buckles or at the very least, bump into the buckles, as he moves and swings his forelimbs - see photo on the left and middle. Especially if the horse has the type of conformation where his elbows are held closely to his ribcage, (as is the case with many Quarter Horses, for example).

    In addition to getting the Girth length correct, Girth shape is of equal importance. Straight cut Girths, simply put, are far from ideal. Always select a Girth that has the anatomical benefit of a 'cut-in' or "scooped out" area, which sits just behind the horses elbow (see photo right).

    There has been some very conclusive research into whether these types of girths actually do offer the horse greater comfort. Using pressure testing mats, it was concluded, without doubt, that the maximum area of peak pressure was located in a relatively small region on the horses ribcage, just behind the elbow, generally where Girth Galls will form. These studies also revealed that Girths with elbow relief, increased stride length (hind limb protraction) by as much as 20%! Plus significant increases in knee and hock flexion were also noted.

    It should also be pointed out that the 'elbow cut-in' or 'curve', must be quite significant in order to achieve these performance improvements. A slight curve in girth shape is insufficient, according to these studies. The horses elbow must be allowed to move backwards, completely unimpeded, at all times, if we are to expect the best performance from our equine partners. For horses that are not ridden competitively, it is still good to know that, as leisure riders, we can make every effort to ensure the comfort of our 4 legged companions. Lets choose our Girths armed with this knowledge.

    Article cited: Murray, R., et al. "Girth pressure measurements reveal high peak pressures that can be avoided using an alternative girth design that also results in increased limb protraction and flexion in the swing phase. The Veterinary Journal (2013)".

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