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Comparing the Function of a Saddle to the Function of a Shoe

By: Galadriel Billington

9:47PM Aug 25, 2006

People often like to compare the fit of a saddle to that of a shoe. This can be similar in many ways, but perhaps a more on-target metaphor would be comparing to a backpack.

A soft backpack, the type used by a schoolchild, is effective and comfortable for carrying a certain amount of stabilized weight. But if the size or weight of the load is too large, or the load is constantly shifting, the backpack becomes unpleasant. If the load is distributed unevenly, it can dig into the wearer's back and become very painful, even causing bruising. If the load is constantly shifting, the wearer will be off balance and the shifting will rub against the wearer's back with every step. And also, after wearing the backpack for long enough, even a light steady weight can make the shoulders sore.

A hiking backpack has a sturdy frame which spreads out the weight in the pack, and keeps the backpack firmly against the wearer. If the load is very heavy or shifts suddenly, the hiking backpack makes it easier to cope with the stress on the wearer's back. The backpack will not shift with every step no matter how it is loaded, since it is shaped to the wearer's back.

This is the function of a saddle tree. It is the firm structure inside the saddle which keeps the saddle (and rider) stable against the horse's back. It keeps the rider's weight from digging into the horse's back at any one point. More weight, more size, and more shifting of the rider can be tolerated when there is a firm structure to support the rider's weight against the horse's back

Riding bareback or in a treeless saddle may be comparable to a soft backpack packed unevenly. All the weight is in one spot against the horse's back, directly below the rider. That much weight leaning up against the horse's back can be uncomfortable.

Riding in a flex tree saddle can be compared to a constantly shifting load. The saddle is not a fixed, firm structure; it is also not soft. But it moves. Every time the horse's back moves OR THE RIDER MOVES, the saddle flexes. Since the rider's movements are not precisely those of the horse's back, the flexing tree moves against the horse's back, not with it. This can almost dig holes into the horse's back at the point of flexion. A horse who has worn a flexitree saddle sometimes looks like he has been wearing a saddle with a broken tree; that is how the flexitree is likely to work.

Just as a well-fitted hiking backpack distributes load weight while making the load more comfortable, a well-fitted saddle tree sits closely against the horse's back to make the load more comfortable. The horse's back moves--however, the saddle is not fixed in one place. As a backpack would, the tree follows the movements of the horse's back BUT without digging in or rubbing.

Just as the soft everyday backpack can be used for many things, bareback or treeless riding can have their place. However, when the load is heavy, the ride is long, or the horse is expected to really use his back, he will be much more comfortable with good weight distribution.
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2006 Galadriel Billington. All rights reserved.