This is the second part of a 2 part series on my visit to Germany to learn about saddle & tack making. You can read part 1 here.
A few weeks ago, I flew to Germany to Stubben, one of the top saddle companies in the world. I was on a quest to figure out why I was finding it so hard to locate a saddle that fit both me and my horse.
As a friend of mine wisely said on facebook recently:
“Anyone who doesn’t believe saddle fit is pivotal to both the horse and rider should be made to spend a few hours in a pair of thick wool socks shoved into a pair of stiletto pumps two sizes too small…and then they must balance themselves AND carry a couple of heavy squirming humans for good measure.”
Armed with my list of a million saddle questions & queries, Maura, a friend of mine, and I, spent the day in Stubben HQ with Johannes Stubben. Johannes very kindly explained the whole procedure around saddle making and fitting & we got backstage passes to the whole factory – for about 7 hours! Literally we saw everything. It really was amazing. You can read the full saddle report here.
I admit I was like a kid in a candy shop. With my all access pass for the day, I was uncovering so many amazing things everywhere! The first things to catch my eye were these very unusual saddle chairs. Who would not want their office chair to be one of these?
I fell in love instantly! And they would probably be a lot better for your back than a lot of the terrible ‘seat tilted backwards’ office chairs that are out there now. And what a talking point at the water cooler! You would definitely be the envy of all of your work colleagues.
Once I got focused again, a very unusual saddle caught my eye. The seat actually is split right down the middle into two parts. How unusual!
While I was on a mission to figure out traditional saddle design & fit, I hadn’t realised of level of innovation being pioneered in the saddle industry.
This saddle is one of their new range of equi-soft products, which are designed by Equi-soft. Equi-softs USP is that they are a company dedicated to the development of products to improve the welfare of the horse. I was instantly intrigued. Horse comfort and welfare, both in riding and care is a huge priority for me.
I’m not a fan of quick fixes. I don’t like or use gadgets, tie-downs or anything along those lines.
In my mind there is no substitute for great horsemanship, continued education, empathy for the horse & always putting his welfare first. The great horsemen I’m lucky to know, who spend the time truly communicating with the horse, reach skill levels far surpassing the riders who turn to the quick fixes to get fast results.
The idea behind this saddle is that the two sides of the horses back, move individually, based on which hind leg is moving at that time. So this saddle allows that movement to happen more freely. There is also more air moving around for both the horses back and the riders seat, and Stubben have noted that ‘helping to prevent injuries in the reproductive area in both women and men.’ Certainly an interesting angle!
However the proof is always in the pudding. I had a quick check on google so as this product is pretty new its quite hard to find reviews on it.
I did sit in this equi-soft saddle on a wooden horse, and felt the movement as if the horses back was moving. It didn’t feel that strange to be honest, and it would be definitely interesting to test:
– What would it feel like on a horse in the different gaits and in lateral work.
– Would the rider notice the difference?
– Would this saddle feel more like bareback riding?
– Would there be too much movement in the seat for the rider?
– Does this design would make a noticable difference to your horses movement?
It terms of design, this saddle definitely does look unusual. But when you are sitting in the saddle, it is actually hard to notice as the rider is sitting on the innovative parts!
Another part of the Equi-soft range from Stubben, is this funky looking girth. It reminded me a bit of a gadget you’d see in the Matrix!
I have seen some unfamiliar looking girths before. But it was not everyday that I could turn around and ask the general manager of Stubben why this girth was designed like this. So I did. I was curious as it what it was supposed to do – aside from keeping the saddle on!
This is an equi-soft girth, from the same range at the split seat saddle above. Girths can be a problem for horses. When you are doing up the girths, if you are not careful or too heavy handed, its easy to cause a horse pain, make the girth pinch a little and then wonder why your horse won’t stand or is trying to bite you, to tell you to stop.
I have a beautiful Connemara and I’ve always been mindful of doing the girth up in stages, and walking and trotting in hand as part of this process. The last thing I do is just pull the girth up the full way in one go. I use just a standard nylon girth, and my horse doesn’t have a problem with girthing.
A few weeks ago, I had someone over to my house to look at some tack. As part of that we were doing, she had to do up my horses girth. She did it up at once, and quickly. And my horse made a good attempt to bite her. The girth had hurt him in some way.
And it’s funny (but logical) how fast horses learn. The day after, when I went to tack up my horse (slowly!) he was unhappy as if he expected some pain again. I took my time and did it up, taking more time than normal.
That was the end of the issue, and then he was back to normal the day after. Horses learn pretty fast. But I guess if someone pinched your side hard, you’d be pretty defensive if you thought they were about to do it again.
So first up, the design of this girth was interesting to me as Johannes had mentioned that it works well for horses who do not like being girthed (often due to man made problems!). The main part of the girth is in 3 sections and the middle section has the most elastic & greatest ability to move & stretch.
Tight girths can cause constriction in the horses movement, and reduce circulation, which is something you don’t want. With this girth, you are meant to tight it on both sides equally, not just on one side. This is to make sure the middle ‘section’ is right in the middle of the horses chest.
This is where there is the most movement from the horses body (along the girth are) when the horse breathes, and so the girth is designed for this area to be the most flexible with the ability to stretch here. Which makes a lot of sense to be honest.
Johannes mentioned that horses ridden in this girth have a lower pulse rate, and that since the muscles are less restricted, it helps with lateral work too and facilitates more engagement of the hindquarters.
Of course, its one thing to understand the theory behind the girth, but another thing to actually review and road test it, and see if it really works. My horse may love or he may hate it! Either way I’ll get a very honest opinion
I’m definitely curious though, so if you’re interested in finding out what this girth works with my horse (who is wonderful, & tells me the split second something doesn’t work) sign up to the Honest Horse Tack Review website & I’ll post the review there in the next few weeks.
From my experience in learning about horsemanship over the past few years, nosebands have become a pet peeve of mine. When I was a kid, walking into a tack shop was a joy. It didn’t open your mind up to half as many gadgets and gismos, mainly there to replace a lack of horsemanship that you see in tack shops today. If you were going to buy a bridle, most were similar and had the standard cavesson noseband.
Things are different when you walk into a tack shop today. Most of the new bridles for sale had nosebands that are designed to keep the horse mouth closed, lots of flashes and grackles. I have two big issues with this.
1) When did the majority of horses need a noseband to keep their mouth closed? Was there a evolutionary development in equine body shape between 1980’s and now?
2) According to Jeff Sanders & Buck Brannaman, two of the most incredible horsemen & trainers in the world, the only reason a horse opens his mouth is because there is pain in his mouth. In fact, Buck equates the use of nosebands that tie the horses mouth shut to being the equivalent of seeing a warning light go on in the dashboard of your car, and then using your fist to smash it out. You don’t see the light any more, but the problem in still in your car.
So it was with great interest that I walked into the bridle area of the Stubben warehouse! I was a little taken back to discover of the full row of different bridle designs, only 1 bridle had a plain cavesson noseband.
So I took a deep breath and asked Johannes what was driving all of this bridle design. What he said was really interesting.
The way is works is that retailers receive a catalogue of all of the Stubben products every so often, and then they decide they want 5 of those bridles, 3 of those girths, 8 of those bridles, etc. What Stubben sells (and thus produces) is directly related to what his clients (the retailers) are ordering. And they are ordering these nosebands to shut horses mouths.
But the reason the shops are ordering these, is because this is what their customers are buying when they walk into their tack shops. So it actually comes back to us. The people on the ground, the pleasure horse riders, the riding club riders, the local showjumpers and eventers and the happy hackers. We are responsible.
By choosing to listen to our horses more when they are in pain, and maybe talking to your dentist about the shape of your horses mouth & the thickness of his tongue, you could actually end up with a bit that fits your horse, doesn’t cause pain, and a simple noseband that doesn’t restrict your horses ability to swallow (ever seen all the drool?) and be a lot more comfortable for him.
Horses mouths comes in lots of different sizes and dimensions so having a chat with your dentist to check the teeth, and talk about biting options that would suit the shape of your horses mouth, is a really good place to start.
Next up on the tour was stirrups. I’ve been doing a lot of investigation into how to improve my posture when I ride and one thing I came across was stirrups that have the stirrup leather attachment at a 45 degree or 90 degree angle. Recently I’ve been testing & reviewing the MDC stirrups, and they have made a HUGE difference in my riding position. You can read more about my MDC stirrup review here.
One concept behind these stirrups is that they face forward. All of the time!
Need to get up from the mounting block? No need to twist your stirrups to position them!
Lose a stirrup? Its right there waiting for you to put your foot back it again, without various contortions.
I actually found that in faster gaits having a stirrup that was more under my whole foot, and not diagonal under my foot, helped me to feel a lot more secure & made my position less wobbly.
The downside of these stirrups is that they are quite expensive, but there is a lot of design & features gone into them.
Si it was my delight to see that Stubben had also been designing stirrups that are also forward facing. We found these ‘Icelandic’ stirrups on a table, and my friend Maura promptly bought a pair to try out at home.
I heard a few days ago that she had been out riding & jumping in them and said “I also found the new irons great. ) We had lots of fun…. :)”
Its great to hear they are working out so well. I like the safety design in them too, plus they are a lot cheaper than the MDC stirrups. Definitely worth a think!
If you own or have tried out any of these products let me know in the comments below. If you share my pet peeve of tying horses mouths shut let me know as well!
WHERE TO BUY IN USA
WHERE TO BUY IN UK