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I love the saddle - I rode bareback for 2 years on my horse and this is the only saddle I've been comfortable switching into. [read more]

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FAQ

 

vps

 

What is the VPS System?

technical

 

Technical Details

barefoot-saddle-demo

 

Is there a trial period?

what size

 

What Size?

 

Barefoot Physiological System

Over the span of a lifetime, the back of a horse has to bear a lot - giving the reason for a closer look at it from a physiological standpoint: The back of the horse is not naturally created to carry rider and saddle.

 

Only correct training under a well-fitting saddle enables a horse to arch up his back and reach far and powerfully underneath his center of gravity. By doing so, the necessary muscles are formed which stabilize the columnar vertebrae - eventually turning the horse into a riding-horse. The thoracic vertebrae are most stable between the withers and the 15th vertebrae. It is here that the horse can equilibrate the weight of rider and saddle the best.

 

Sabine Ullmann, a German equine physiotherapist, decided after working for years on horses with saddle related back problems, to use her knowledge to create her own range of high quality saddle. She designed Barefoot Saddles for the comfort and to ensure a healthy back for the horse.

 

COMFORT FOR THE HORSE

All Barefoot Saddles are designed anatomically to follow the horse's topline and they are flexible in all dimensions - without a rigid tree. They adjust themselves ideally according to the horse's back and allow powerful strides out of the shoulder as well as arching of the back. Columnar vertebrae, as well as withers, stay free of pressure. Additionally, under a Barefoot Saddle, the shoulder and the loin area aren't restricted. The Barefoot Saddle positions the rider into the perfect saddle area, between withers and 15th vertabra - thus aiding the horse in equilibrating his weight.

 

vpsCOMFORT FOR THE RIDER

A Barefoot Saddle adjusts its shape to a horse's changing back be it due to training, age, or feeding. The necessary restuffing or even buying of new saddles is omitted. The Barefoot Saddle allows a close contact feeling between horse and rider, making it ideally suited for beginners and even riders with a handicap. The seat is comfortable and cushioned - ideal for a long ride. Barefoot Saddles can be fitted onto 99% of all horses, making them ideal for riding stables. The rider's back is also made comfortable thanks to the soft and elastic way the horse's movements are transmitted.

 

What is the VPS System?

VPS stands for 'Vertebrae Protection System'. It consists of a combination of different materials, some more pressure distributing whilst others are more pressure absorbing. All materials are totally flexible allowing the saddle to instantly adjust to the horse's movements and changes to the horse's back. The VPS-System is not bulky and does not interfere with the rider's communication through the aids.

 

Why VPS?

VPS aids the best possible weight distribution in the aera that can carry weight, between the withers and the 15/16 thoracic vertebrae. Pressure points are eliminated, as pressure readings prove. The soft panel construction to the left and right of the spine allow for a distinct spinal channel and guarantie constant spinal & wither clearanance. The rider's weight is still distributed over the whole saddle area, even when standing in the stirrups (Rising Trot) - there is no rider's weight limit.

 

Very elastic 'sandwich construction' made of shock apsorbing Elastomer layers and a pressure distributing Polymer layer.

 

All materials have a smooth surface and beveled edges. Barefoot does not use upholstery material which could compress unevenly and create uneven pressure distribution.

 

Differences: Barefoot vs Conventional saddle?

Not only does a Barefoot Saddle look different from a conventional saddle but a Barefoot Saddle also functions totally differently because of its 'inner life' with its VPS-System.

 

horse diagramUnder a Barefoot Saddle a horse can move freely, arch his back and therefore allow a true sideways movement of the spine. The horse can bend without having to avoid pressure on the back.

 

The Barefoot is the most flexible saddle in the world. It can therefore adapt, anytime, to any changes of the horse's back. A horse's back mainly changes due to seasonal changes, training or age. The back also changes shape (see illustration) during forward- upward movement.

 

A conventional saddle cannot keep up with the movement - it blocks at least part of the back muscles and therefore buildup of muscles is not possible and muscle atrophy is the end product. Under a Barefoot Saddle, a horse can let go, relax his muscles, stretch forward - upwards, without any pressure from above. The horse learns to move without pain and that moving under a saddle can be fun!

 

We have often noticed that horses increase their tempo, the strides automatically become bigger. And, the horse suddenly offers what a rider tries to achieve month after month through training.

 

How can treeless work? barefoot

Every horse's back is different. The back of the individual horse will change often during its lifetime, whether through age, training, disease or seasonal transitions. Whenever we ride, the horse's back is constantly in motion. The dynamic and ongoing changes in posture while the horse moves under the rider are determined by the level of collection, flexion and gait.

 

All Barefoot Saddles are designed anatomically to follow the horse's topline and they are flexible in all dimensions - without a rigid tree. They adjust themselves ideally according to the horse's back and allow powerful strides out of the shoulder as well as arching of the back. Columnar vertebrae as well as withers stay free of pressure; also the shoulder and the loin area aren't restricted. The Barefoot saddle positions the rider into the perfect saddle area, between withers and 15th vertabra – thus aiding the horse in equilibrating his weight.

 

The soft structure and flexibility of our Barefoot Saddles enables the horse to move without losing its natural grace, allowing full 'range of movement' while carrying the rider. The horses back can arch and thus enhances vertical and lateral movement of the thoracic vertebral column. The rider is placed right behind the wither therefore avoiding pressure on the loins while allowing full range of movement of the shoulder blades. This way the riders weight is carried without causing pain, discomfort and damage to the horse's body.

 

The horse should ideally not have any weight bearing beyond T14 but definitely no saddle should load the horses loin area behind the last rib (T 18). The area on the horse's back equipped to carry us the most comfortably is between the 9th and 14th thoracic vertebrae, this area is in fact a lot smaller than most of us think. This is particularly true if you own a horse that is short in the back. The further we move away from the horse's center of gravity the more likely it is that soundness problems will occur. The Barefoot Saddle wraps the riders weight around the horses center of gravity. If you look at your buttocks and upper thighs and compare the size of that area with the panels of a treed saddle you might find that the treeless rider actually distributes his/her weight over a larger area than the rider in a conventional saddle.

 

Technical Details

barefoot features diagram

 

Is there a trial period?

Since we first offered Barefoot Saddles in 2004 we have wanted to help our customers make the correct choice when purchasing a saddle. It is important to us that you and your horse/s are very happy with your new Barefoot Saddle. We are therefore happy to offer you the opportunity to demo a Barefoot Saddle.

 

We don't have "official" demo saddles in our demo program. As most of our customers simply love their Barefoot Saddle from day one, we avoid the hassle and cost to our customers of having to send back a "demo" saddle and then have to wait for their saddle. So here is how our demo program works.

 

You decide and/or we help you decide which saddle best suits you, your horse, and your riding style. (You may call our toll-free line to speak with one of our treeless specialists Monday-Friday, 8am-5pm PST.) You then purchase your saddle and any equipment you need and you have a full week upon receipt to try it out on your horse to be sure everything works for you.

 

If you encounter issues, we work with you to resolve anything that may be causing a problem, which could be just as simple as a different saddle pad that will work better for your particular horse and rider combination.

 

If, after trying different options, you feel the saddle is not working for you, we will provide you a return authorization number and you send the saddle and any equipment you don't need back to us. (Please note that all returned equipment must be in resellable condition complete with all tags.) We will refund your purchase price less a $49.00 demo fee and the initial cost of shipping.

 

Saddle Slippage & Security?

Our Barefoot Treeless saddles will not slip more than any other saddle. If you have slippage issues with your current saddle you will most likely have the same issues with a treeless saddle. Slippage issues are generally due to your horse's conformational issues, but there are remedies.

 

For rounder, flatter shaped horses, we always recommend an English rigging system over western rigging, as it provides additional hold. We always recommend a short girth or cinch. The shorter the girth/cinch the more secure the saddle will fit. (See below for our girth/cinch placement recommendation.) We recommend that you girth snuggly, but you do not have to overtighten your girth/cinch.

 

We recommend you use a mounting block or other mounting aid (i.e. tree stump, rock, etc.) when mounting your horse for the following reasons:

  • Using a mounting block is better for your horse's back and lessens the strain placed on his back and withers.

  • Using a mounting block is also easier on your joints and muscles particularly if you are short and your horse is tall.

  • Using a mounting block is also a pre-riding safety check. If you horse will stand comfortably and willing at the mounting block then he is giving permission for you to ride.

 

girth positionSECURITY?

Barefoot Saddles can be flexed in all directions. They are an easy fit and it is likely that one saddle will fit all your horses.

 

The Barefoot Saddles are made from a vegetable-tanned nubuck leather which is open-pored and this leather molds properly to the shape of the horse's back. The raised front and rear of the saddle are filled and stabilized with a piece of fiberglass for cantle and pommel. The pieces are removable in order to completely avoid undue pressure on any horses with extremely broad withers or with a overly sensitive loin area. Due to the fiberglass and the positioning of the rider close to the horse, the saddle achieves a very secure hold on the horse's back.

 

You will be amazed when you first ride in your new Barefoot Saddle. You will have a new connection with your horse. You will feel your horse underneath you and your horse will be able to feel your aids. Without the rigid, hard tree, your horse will have freedom of shoulder movement, be much more comfortable, and will move out freer than ever before.

 

GIRTH POSITION?

The ideal girth position for a treeless saddle is shown in the picture to the right. This position is just above the elbow of the horse's front leg. This shorter style of girth/cinch results in a more secure saddle fit.

 

what size

What Size?

 

Click here for our printable measuring template, a Step-by-Step Guide to correct pommel width for your horse.

 

In the illustration to the right:

A = Length of saddle

B = Length of seat

C = Length of flap

 

Barefoot Saddles are handmade. Each saddle is unique. All figures are estimates - minor differences are possible.


Please note:
The length of saddle (A) is the overall length. Since there is no pressure at all in the rear part, the horse can move freely. Even if the saddle looks a little too long on your horse, choose the size according to your measurements. It is very important that the saddle fits the rider well, so he has enough space between thighs and pommel and does not sit on the pommel or cantle, which would limit the saddle's adaptability. The horse's back is free of any pressure at the rear - the Barefoot can even be lifted slightly at the cantle with a rider on board.

 

Saddletype
A in cm
B in cm
C in cm
recommended
pant size
Ladies
recommended
pant size
Gents
Arizona Gr. 0
53
30
37
32-34/36
44
Arizona Gr. 1
58
35
38
36-40
44-48
Arizona Gr. 2
61
40
37
42-46
50-54
Atlanta Gr. 1
58
35
36
36-40
44-48
Atlanta Gr. 2
61
40
38
42-46
50-54
Cherokee Gr. 1
49
35
53
36-40
44-48
Cherokee Gr. 2
56
40
55
42-46
50-54
Cheyenne Gr. X0
42
28
37
104-140
104-140
Cheyenne Gr. 0
48
32
45
32-34/36
44-46
Cheyenne Gr. 1
52
36
50
36-40
46-48
Cheyenne Gr. 2
58
40
51
42-46
50-54
Lexington Gr. 1
51
34
56
36-40
46-48
Lexington Gr. 2
56
39
59
42-46
50-54
London Gr. 0
45
30
51
32-34/36
44-46
London Gr. 1
50
34
55
36-40
46-48
London Gr. 2
55
39
57
42-46
50-54
Misula/Virginia Gr. 1
59
38
34
36-40
44-48
Misula/Virginia Gr. 2
65
43
36
42-48
50-56
Nevada
57
35
46
36-44
44-52
Sevilla Gr. 1
52
34
42
36-40
44-48
Sevilla Gr. 2
58
39
49
42-46/48
50-56

 


More Q & A

 

WILL MY BAREFOOT SADDLE FIT SEVERAL DIFFERENT HORSES?
Absolutely! Its flexibility is one of the biggest advantages of the Barefoot: It will conform to just about any shape horse or mule, will always fit, and often save you buying saddle after saddle for your herd. If you have very different types of horses (some high-withered, some round-backed), you may have to exchange the pommel arch or fork. This is done by opening two zippers, exchanging fork, closing zippers again (it nestles in there fairly sung), and takes less than 5 minutes. Extreme differences may be accommodated with different blankets/pads.

 

Most average horses do well with the same, standard, medium-wide fork. Weight changes from summer to winter are not a concern anymore, changes in shape from muscling up during training don't require a new saddle, blanket or stuffing. If you get a new horse you can start riding right away, with confidence, and don't have to pay for professional saddle fitting, alterations, a new saddle, or go through weeks of painful trial and error.

 

CAN I MOUNT FROM THE GROUND?
Yes, you can, but you shouldn't - in any saddle! Mounting from the ground will put tremendous stress on the horse's withers. Any good Chiropractor or massage therapist can tell if you mount from the ground, just from the state of the horse's spine and muscles! It is literally looking 'a bit wrung at the withers'. The hard parts of the saddle tree are ground into the horses off-side when you hang onto the saddle or stand in one stirrup, and may pull the spine out of alignment. The shorter or heavier you are, the less springy and athletic when mounting, and the taller or wider your horse is, the worse this gets. Also, ground mounting will pull ANY saddle asymmetrical over time, and it requires you to cinch or girth up a lot tighter than you really need to. So try to use a mounting block, a rock, log, truck, fence, ditch, bank, or just a handy slope in the terrain to assist you in mounting - your horse will love you for it! Thankfully, this message is spreading, through magazines, vets and chiropractors. The days where you must prove your worth as a rider by mounting from the ground will soon be over.

 

That said, on the trail there is sometimes no choice, and you can mount most horses from the ground just fine with the Barefoot saddles. Try to be a little slick about it: Don't hang on to the horn, grab the opposite side of the saddle and the mane instead, face forward, push up hard and fast with your right leg, and throw the weight in your upper body over to the other side right away. If you have difficulties with ground mounting, choose the Physio pad, its non-slip Sympanova lining makes a huge difference in mounting stability! For desperate short-legged riders of very tall or round horses with no withers, there are mounting aids available from good saddleries, these are straps that go around the opposite foreleg, you put them on, mount, then unclip it from the saddle and park it in its keeper buckle.

 

DO I NEED TO GET USED TO THE SADDLE?
Probably not. It depends on your old saddle and style of riding. Most likely you'll just be blown away by the comfortable seat, by the big swing in your horse's back and gaits, and by how easily your horse seems to read your aids and cues now. On the other hand, if your old saddle had forced you into a chair seat, like many Western saddles do, you will feel a change. The Barefoot puts you into the correct vertical position. Any riding manual, no matter if Western or Dressage, shows that drawing with a line going straight down through the riders ear, shoulder, hip and heel. The Barefoot stirrup attachments and seat are positioned to allow you to sit like that. This may feel weird at first, like your leg is further backward, under you. It will feel to the muscles of your inner thigh like you're sitting bareback. You'll learn to appreciate this position really quick, though, as it makes for good balance, easy posting, and allows you to follow the horses movements or influence them. This ideal position also feels very stable. Renown riding coach Mary Wanless always asks, 'What would happen to you if someone pulled your horse out from under you?' Well, in the Barefoot you would land perfectly balanced on your feet!

 

If you had an English saddle before, and have a wide-backed horse, you may feel you're sitting wider in a treeless. This is because now you feel the width of the horse's actual back, when before you were sitting on top of a built-up, narrow twist. The muscles around your hip joints or inner thighs may need to adjust to this, if you have become a bit inflexible. Stretching helps, or some warm-up before riding. Any 'stretched wide' feeling should disappear after a few rides. If you have bad arthritis in your hip or other chronic hip problems, you can fix this by customizing your saddle: First, get the Physio pad, it has a narrower seat, with the thick layer being butterfly-shaped. Should this still not be narrow enough, rip off the removable seat, and build up the middle of the seat a bit with one or two layers of foam in a narrower shape. Put seat back on with Velcro.

 

DOES MY HORSE NEED TO GET USED TO THE SADDLE?
No. But you may need to get used to your new horse! Most horses are very happy to be finally able to move freely and without pain. This can lead to some exuberance on your first ride or two - be prepared for a more spirited horse! And any new saddle may feel just plain weird to a horse, plus the Barefoot allows it to feel what you're doing up there, which may be feel odd the first time, too. Don't ask too much right away.

 

IS IT OKAY FOR YOUNG HORSES, TOO?
Absolutely! A Barefoot treeless saddle is eminently suitable for starting and training young horses! It spreads the weight quite different than a treed saddle. The rider sits between the pommel and cantle supports which are fixed to the saddle in their pockets, not ON them, so they are free to move with the horse without disturbing its motion. The saddle can be placed on the shoulder, since the scapula (shoulder blade) is able to move underneath the saddle without bruising the muscles. This type of saddle places the rider in the optimum position, above the centre of gravity, and therefore makes it easy for the young horse to balance itself. The cantle support is soft, and there is space underneath, so no unnecessary weight is transferred to this sensitive area. Thanks to the total flexibility of our saddle, it can adjust itself to the horse's back even when the horses' shape changes significantly. A horse undergoing training goes through a pronounced transformation, the muscles get bigger, fat disappears, the back develops. A conventional saddle with a rigid tree is very unlikely to fit throughout these changes, while the Barefoot saddle will 'grow' with the horse. Horses are very comfortable under the lightweight Barefoot saddle from the beginning, because it doesn't impede their movements. And again, a pain free horse is a relaxed horse, and a happy horse is much easier to ride! Especially young horses are often confused or offended that you would cause them pain, they are not as resigned to discomfort as most older horses. Keep them pain free, and you will keep their willingness, and that spark, alive!

 

IS THERE A BREAK-IN PERIOD FOR MY NEW TREELESS BAREFOOT SADDLE?
The saddle is soft, comfy, deep and flexible, and your posterior will feel right at home in it. In fact, it will probably feel like it has died and gone to heaven! The leather won't squeak, either, and doesn't need to be conditioned.

 

However, all those layers of foam and fleece will compress over time, and this may take a month or so, depending on how much you ride.


(This is shown in the graphics below. The picture on the left is a brand new Barefoot Lexington. The picture on the right is the same saddle after two weeks of riding. As you can see, the saddle seat is deeper after having been utilized on a horse.)


Lexington New

Lexington Used








During this time, you need to re-tighten the girth a lot, until everything has compressed and settled a bit. It helps if you have someone tighten your cinch or girth again right after mounting with your weight in the saddle, then do it again after 10 minutes or so after the foam has warmed up, and again before you do any wild galloping. This will gradually get better with every ride, just be careful to always keep the girth snug for the first few weeks. Western riders: The Nevada has a dressage girth, you can usually snug that up right from the saddle, without getting off! Love it!

 

The natural dyes used for the Nubuck leather may stain for the first little while if they get damp - please wear darker pants for the first few weeks of riding!

 

If you get a Western model, you may want to pre-bend the fenders just like you do with conventional Western saddles, especially if you have short legs. This avoids knee strain and helps to keep your feet in the stirrups at all times. Support saddle on chair or sawhorse, stick fenders in two buckets with lukewarm water or oil them well, then turn the fenders with the stirrups in riding position, and lock in place with a broomstick through both stirrups, or with rubber bands or string. Not absolutely necessary, but a nice trick - you need to do it only once, and only if you have a problem getting or keeping your feet in the stirrups, or if you have knee pain. The narrow fenders for the Cheyenne will usually not need this treatment.

 

I HAVE A GAITED HORSE, IS A TREELESS SADDLE SUITABLE FOR ME?
Absolutely! In fact, it is especially well suited for gaited horses: it allows their backs and shoulders the freedom to move that they may need in order to gait. Also, they are often short-backed, so conventional saddles will hurt them by banging the rear ends of the tree into their loins when they bend. The Barefoot is short and soft, so it prevents that problem. It is also very light, which is helpful for smaller or lightly built breeds. Gaited horses seems to have more than their fair share of back trouble, maybe from being started very young, maybe from the rider sitting too far back. In any case, most horses with back problems will benefit greatly from a Barefoot saddle with an appropriate blanket.

 

WILL THE BAREFOOT SADDLE REMOVE ALL THE PAIN MY HORSE HAS?
That depends. It will certainly prevent the acute pain typically caused by ill-fitting saddles, saddle sores, pressure points, or a hard tree slamming into the horse's back, shoulders or loins. Most horses will gain immediate relief for their back pain from a Barefoot saddle, but if you suspect there are injuries to its back already, call a vet, or examine and observe your horse: if there is no improvement after a few weeks of regular, back-friendly (lots of 'long and low', no sitting trot) riding in a treeless saddle, you may need the services of a vet, qualified equine chiropractor, massage therapist, physiotherapist or body worker, to address the previous damages. Acupuncture has also been highly successful.

 

If your horse is stabled, it is especially prone to chronic back pain. Its muscles do not get the 24/7 exercise from walking, grazing and play that a horse needs to stay healthy. The stable may have drafts, or the enclosed air is damp, so a wet horse stays wet a long time. Most of all, it has his head UP all the time, to look out over the partition - this hollows the back. Solitary confinement is not a healthy choice for a horse!

 

Also, the back is not the only source of pain! Your horse may be grumpy, unwilling, lazy, hot or excitable from painful feet or from pain in its mouth. The state of many horses' hooves is a disgrace, many farriers are untrained or unreliable. A horse that gets sore when you pull his shoes is a lame horse and needs his hooves fixed, not just a new set of shoes to suppress the symptom!

 

And any bit causes pain and interferes with your horse's breathing, maybe less pain with perfectly soft hands, but this is just a question of degrees, and who has always perfect hands anyway?

 

CAN I USE THE HORN FOR ROPING, DRAGGING, OR MOUNTING?
No. It is solid, but contained in a zippered pocket, and the zippers will wear out if you put too much force on the horn. You can use it for stability when riding, or to hang a light horn bag from it, but don't tie any animals to it, and don't haul yourself up in the saddle from the ground on it. If you expect to do some roping, a treeless saddle is not for you!

 

CAN I USE THE BAREFOOT TREELESS SADDLES FOR SHOWS AND COMPETITION?
Yes: With horn and fenders, and a deep seat between the high poll and cantle, both Western saddle models fulfill the requirements, and are legal for Western Pleasure shows. The latigo straps allow you to carry any required gear. There may always be a judge that punishes you for a lack of glitz and bling, but others may appreciate the workman-like simple good looks of the Barefoot.

 

The London looks conservative enough to be legal in a Dressage show. And remember, you will see an increase in animation, in reach and float in your gaits, there is more swing and bend to your horse, collection is not impeded by a painful hunk of wood jamming into the lifted back, and even light aids can be felt by the horse - this increase in performance should more than offset any funny looks your saddle will get.

 

For hunter jumpers, a treeless saddle may be legal, but is not the right choice. There is a lot of force coming down onto those stirrup attachments!

 

Since there are infinite numbers of regulations and organizations involved in horse shows, which also change continually, so we cannot absolutely guarantee that there isn't some show somewhere that has a rule against treeless saddles. In case of doubt, I recommend just showing your Barefoot saddle to the decision makers, or inviting them for a test ride, rather than ask for a ruling on treeless in general. Not all treeless saddles are created equal! And your Barefoot may even be considered to be a half-tree saddle, since it has a fixed pommel. In the end, you always have to decide what's more important to you, the horse's best interest or another ribbon.

 

CAN I JUMP IN MY BAREFOOT?
Yes, you can, up to about 3'. We recommend the Physio pad, for stability and improved shock absorption. If you are a regular and ambitious jumper, however, treeless saddles are not for you. There is a lot of force jerking on that stirrup attachment on landing, this is better caught by a stiff tree. Barefoot is, however, researching and developing a Jumping saddle.

 

IS THERE A WEIGHT LIMIT?
While most manufacturers use the weight of the rider to evaluate size, we find this method to be somewhat imprecise, as a person who is 5' 11" and weighs 120lbs has a completely different impact on the saddle than a person who weighs the same but is 5' 2" tall. To clarify this situation, we recommend saddles sizes according to clothing sizes.


The Barefoot saddles come in 3 different sizes: 0, 1 & 2.


We suggest:

Size 0: Youth and petite adults up to size 4.

Size 1: Ladies sizes up to size 8; Men sizes up to size 32

Size 2: Ladies sizes up to size 16/18; Men sizes up to size 42/44


The Nevada Saddle:

This model is offered in one size. Ladies sizes 10 - 18/20 and Men up to size 46.


If you are bordering sizes, we suggest that you lean toward a larger size saddle. It's important that the rider is placed correctly in the saddle in order to feel comfortable for both the rider and the horse. Ideally, the Barefoot saddles places the rider over the center of the gravity of the horse. Since there is no rigid tree to restrict movement, the overall length of the saddle is not as important.


If you are a heavier rider, we recommend the Physio pad. In case of doubt, it can be further 'beefed up' by adding extra rubber foam inserts, especially if you spend a lot of time standing in your stirrups.

 

ARE THERE ANY OTHER RIDING LIMITATIONS?
Very few: Extremely green and unbalanced riders often rely on the horn to stay in the saddle. Make sure to cinch up good and tight and consider a Physio Pad if you often offer rides to adult beginners. If you get beginners all the time, and often have heavy, un-athletic guests, you may be better off with a conventional Western saddle. (Try at least to get a wide and short one, to minimize the damages to the horses back.) And of course activities like vaulting, trick riding or roping are entirely unsuitable for a treeless saddle.

 

I'M NOT SURE WHICH SIZE SADDLE TO ORDER.
If you're in doubt, go with Size Two. Sizing isn't nearly as critical as with treed, hard saddles, where a too big or ill-fitting seat will mercilessly bruise, chafe or overstretch your tender parts. The Barefoot's soft, flexible seat will be as comfortable as a pillow for any shape or size of seat, in the bigger size you will just have two inches more wriggle room. Also consider if other people will ever use your saddle, if you share it a lot you may want to stick to the bigger size. If your horse is very short-backed, on the other hand, take the Size One if it fits you. The fit of the seat really isn't an issue with the Barefoot, it will mould exactly to your individual shape over time, as foam and felt compresses. Only the most delicate of bottoms will ever need a sheepskin seat cover for the Barefoot!

 

DON'T CONVENTIONAL WESTERN SADDLES SPREAD THE WEIGHT OUT OVER A LARGER AREA?
In theory. But it's a large area only for as long as it lays flat all over. This would require a perfectly fitted saddle to start with. And as you have seen on the back pictures, as soon as that horse moves just one step, bends, or lifts his head, the back moves away in places from the saddle, which stays stiffly where it was before, so it contacts the back only here and there, in a rocking motion.

 

WHAT ABOUT SADDLES WITH FLEXIBLE TREES?
If they were really flexible, a good idea. But its buyer beware, most of those trees can be bent only by throwing all the strength and weight of a grown man at them, or they bend just from front to back, not sideways. This means of course if you can't wiggle and flex it with your hands, such a tree will not follow the shifting of the horse's back. That flex is just to keep the tree from busting, it won't help the horse one bit. And then there is the saddle: is the leather too stiff to allow any flex? Is the seat soft? Is the seat swell shaped right? Is the stirrup attachment too far forward? Make sure that the flex tree is not just a marketing gimmick!

 

BUT SHOULDN'T THE WEIGHT BE SPREAD OUT OVER A BIG AREA?
Yes, but this area is limited by anatomy. Only the four vertebrae right after the withers (# 9-13) can carry weight without risking injury. Behind those, there is a delicate section where the spinous processes almost meet (vertebrae # 15-16), as they change directions, the front ones pointing back, and the rear ones pointing forward. This is where the dreaded 'kissing spine' syndrome happens first: the tips of the spinous processes touch and rub, with much pain and inflammation, until they fuse if the back is hollowed out in that region. So the region of the spine that can safely carry weight is just that spot where you sit if you ride bareback, right behind the withers - and that is the spot where the rider should sit in the Barefoot saddle if you have saddled correctly. A big long saddle spreads weight to where you really don't want any!

 

WHAT ABOUT GETTING THE SADDLE BACK AND OFF THE SHOULDERS?
Forget it. With a treeless, you don't need to worry about pinching the shoulders - everything is soft and flexible and will just follow their movements. It can be valuable with a rigid saddle to free up the shoulders, and works well if the saddle is designed for it like the Balance Saddle system, but it can backfire badly if you end up sitting too far back - see above. Plus many saddles don't have the right shape to rest further back, because they were never meant to, and they end up rocking or slipping or pinching withers etc, or you have to shim.

 

WHICH PAD AND ACCESSORIES DO I REALLY NEED?
Most important is your saddle blanket or pad. It is an integral part of any treeless saddle system and plays a big role in its performance. The right blanket can make ALL the difference!

 

With all treeless saddles, you should use a shock absorbing pad with foam or felt inserts!

 

This distributes weight evenly over a larger area. Should you happen to have a Skito pad already, those are good, and quite similar to our Grandeur 'Special' pad. If you have any other good pad with inserts or extra shock absorbing properties, check if it has any thick or rough seams right up where it lays over the spine. You don't want any big holes there, either, because their edges may get pressed into the skin if pulled down. Is it anatomically cut (meaning it rises at the top to follow the curve of the horses' spine)? Because if it is all straight, it will pull down over the withers and put pressure on the spine with the front seam. Last, give it the pinch test - can you feel the tip of our finger or nail when you pinch it between thumb and index finger? If all that is fine, try it with your new treeless saddle and do some hard riding. How does the pattern of sweat under the blanket look afterwards?

 

Even all over, except over the spine: That would be great, the spine is often dry from the air flow in the channel of spine clearance.
All wet: That's also good, just means your horse sweated a bit more.

 

Dry spots right under your seat bones, or a bit forward (at stirrup attachment): Not so good. Needs more padding, stiffer inserts, maybe new or additional inserts.

 

The last consideration is slipping. The material of the underside of your blanket has a big influence on saddle stability. So if your saddle rolls, you may want to upgrade to our Physio pad.

 

WHAT KIND AND SIZE OF GIRTH OR CINCH DO I NEED?
The Arizona needs a Western cinch, usually 65 to 85 cm. All other models need a short dressage girth, usually around 45cm to 75cm. These are the regular English flat girths with two 2.5cm wide buckles, just shorter than some, because the saddle comes further down.

 

To figure out which size you will need, measure with a measuring tape from a hand width above the horse's elbow on one side, down under the belly, to a hand width above the elbow on the other side. Girth lengths are always given from the end of one buckle to the end of the other. This measuring method ensures that buckles lie far enough above the elbows.

 

For the Western cinch, measure with a tape, from two hand widths above the horse's elbow on one side, down under the belly, to two hand widths above the elbow on the other side. This measuring method ensures that buckles lie far enough above the points of the elbows.

 

You don't need a specific girth for a treeless saddle, but since treeless saddles should be done up snug, elastics are especially important. Your girth should have at least one, better two, elastic inserts, to allow for proper breathing, yet secure girthing up. Two elastics, or self-centering girths are best, because they will not pull the saddle one-sided. Should you prefer a Western cinch for your saddle, or a dressage girth for the Arizona, there are girth converters available at good tack stores. If you have a problem with chafing behind the elbow, you may want to try neoprene or gel-filled girths. Sheep skin girth covers are excellent, too, since they allow the girth to slide back and forth without pulling at the rib muscles. Contoured girth help some horses.

 

DO I NEED YOUR SAFETY STIRRUPS?
Not necessarily. They are your safest choice, but it won't make any difference to your horse or the saddle's performance if you use regular stirrups, or other safety stirrups from your local tack store. Be aware that many conventional English saddles have a hinge on the stirrup attachment affixed to the tree that allows the stirrup to come loose when a rider is dragged (theoretically). This doesn't work on treeless saddles, that's why we recommend some sort of safety device on your stirrup instead. The EZ-ride stirrups are also excellent, and you can get them with a safety cage to prevent the foot from slipping through. They are light, wide and padded with soft, slip resistant elastic rubber, some even have extra shock absorption in the top bar. They are an excellent choice for every rider with knee, hip or lower back pain, if you can get past the slightly unconventional look. For Western riders, tapaderos are a safety option, since they prevent the foot from slipping though the stirrup. Still, boots with heels should always be worn for riding.

 

DO I NEED YOUR STIRRUP LEATHERS?
Not necessarily. If you have old dressage stirrup leathers that buckle at the lower end. You can also pull your regular old stirrup leathers around, so the buckle is at the bottom, then tuck the loose end into a sleeve. Sleeves are available in Neoprene or leather at good tack stores, or you can make your own with Velcro. Do Not use your old stirrup leathers with the buckles right under the saddle flap. They may press through the softer treeless saddle and cause a pressure point there. Once you get rid of that nasty bump under your leg, by having the buckles below, you'll ask yourself why you didn't do that a long time ago! No more chafing or bruising, and your leg will lay smooth and long on the horse.

 

HOW DO I CARE FOR MY NEW TREELESS SADDLE?
Easy: Nubuck leather doesn't need saddle soap, and don't use Neats' foot oil either - it often contains chemical thinners which may weaken and harden leather. All you need to do is maybe once or twice a year dab on a light coat of a nut or seed oil, like almond oil or walnut oil. This also works for the London's soft-leather. Another option is using commercial leather care products that are specifically made for Nubuck leather. Nubuck will get polished with use to an almost smooth-leather look, still very soft, but shiny, like leather clothing. Don't fight this natural process, your saddle will develop a fine patina that will tell of many happy hours in the saddle! The natural dyes used produce subtle shades that come out a little bit different with each hide, slight variations in colour, and a soft, washed-out look are a sign of natural beauty!

 

 

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