The problems usually begin when horses get fitted for their first saddle.
Because conventional saddle fitters have been trained to focus on using the horse's stationary body shape and width as their reference and because they have been taught to always make sure the saddle provides several centimeters of clearance over the withers, before any saddle pads are used, the very first saddle that the horse experiences is not wide enough to allow him to use his body as nature intended.
In addition to this, most saddle fitters are also saddle sellers, who understandably try to keep a stock of saddles to sell in the most popular make, styles and sizes. So unless they come across a horse who is unusually wide, they will hope to use a saddle they have in their stock, which is most commonly in the conventional Medium or Medium Wide widths.
Unfortunately, these widths are completely unsuitable, unless the horse is particularly under-developed, in which case, the question should be asked whether it is strong enough to carry the weight of a rider at all, without risk to its health.
We have to remember that whatever the width of the horse is when it is standing still, it will be wider than that when it starts to move, or at least, it should be, as part of the natural bio-mechanics of correct movement.
So, if the saddle is only as wide as its stationary shape and in many cases, narrower than its stationary shape, can you see that the first saddle that many young horses experience is often one that creates difficulty and discomfort. Indeed, a young horse is easily ‘trained’ by its saddle to shorten its stride and to become less confident and generous with its movement in order to protect its own comfort.
Within only a few months, the bio-mechanics of the horse’s natural movement can be disturbed to the extent that balance, co-ordination, musculature and posture can be badly affected. However, because the majority of horses are still being ridden in traditional widths of saddle, the compensatory behaviours and movement patterns that we see in a ridden horse that is restricted by its saddle are so common they rarely get noticed.
The kind of compensations that are all too common create symptoms such as:
Shortened stride length
Tension and spookiness
Tripping and stumbling
Resistance in the mouth
Inability or reluctance to engage the hind-quarters
Fear of being saddles up
Cold back symptoms
The need for regular chiropractic adjustment
Hanging the front legs over jumps
Hollows gradually appearing behind the withers
Withers becoming more prominent
Shoulder blades pulled forwards making them look upright
Horse landing too heavily on the heels
Most of these symptoms are so common that the fact that the saddle might be the cause or a contributory factor is over-looked. Resistance and stiffness are usually thought of as a problem with the horse's willingness, attitude or ability, when in our experience it is usually a symptom of discomfort and/or restriction that needs to be removed.
If you could imagine taking a young and innocent child and forcing it to wear something that made it difficult and uncomfortable to move in a normal and natural way, if it couldn't tell you what the problem was, it might become reluctant to move and when it did move, it would not move with the freedom and range of possibilities that the human body is capable of. Would you ignore this and assume that the child was being willful? Would you set about thinking of training methods and training gadgets that could make it move in a way that you liked the look of better? This is the reality for many young horses who are trying to learn how to carry the weight of a rider in a saddle that basically dis-ables its full range of movement!
Fortunately, most horses are remarkably good at remembering how to move as nature intended once restriction and/or discomfort has been removed. BALANCE has worked successfully with horses and ponies well into their twenties who have regained a youthful athleticism once released from the burden of their old saddle.
Therefore, whether you have a young innocent horse ready to start it’s ridden life or an old campaigner who still wants to be ridden, we would urge people to give every horse a chance to show what they can do with the Functional Saddling Method that BALANCE created and has transformed the lives of countless horses during the past 25 years.
In our experience the answer to this question is YES!
Since we began doing the research into impact that saddles have on ridden horses, we have yet to meet a horse that doesn’t prefer it to anything else that is available.
Even with the latest in high-tech flexible panel saddles and air filled saddles/pads, the horses seem to continue to prefer the simple principles and practice found in the BALANCE Saddling System when they are given the opportunity by their owners to try it. Unfortunately, many horses never get to try it.
Remember that using the BALANCE Saddling System, does not mean that you are restricted to only using saddles produced by BALANCE. If you can find other saddles that offer the same design features for the horse and are available in the generous widths that horses need, you can make them work as part of a Functional Saddling approach, provided you use them with the right padding system.
We have to accept that although horses seem to have no doubts about wanting everything that a Functional Saddling method like the BALANCE Saddling System can offer, it isn't every rider that loves it.
The reasons? Well the main one seems to be that working with a saddle in this way requires some thought and commitment on the part of the rider.
Any Functional Saddling method that has to avoid clamping the saddle hard into the horse’s soft tissues will tend to expose areas where the riders actions are in conflict with the horse’s bio-mechanics and needs.
For example, the BALANCE Saddling System makes riders aware of their own lack of co-ordination, balance and straightness, because the saddle can be moved out if its correct position either forward/back or laterally by the rider, if the rider is not moving in sync with their horse. For more enlightened souls, this serves as a stimulus to improve riding skills.
Unfortunately for their horses, some riders simply do not want to change anything in them-selves. In other words…….they want the benefits of working with a better saddle provided that they don’t have to change anything other than the saddle!
Riders who are rigid in mind and body can be challenged by Functional Saddling methods and for them, one can understand that they are always going to be more comfortable with the old ways of conventional saddle fitting.
'Maintenance Saddling' is applied when a horse has very little or no damage/wastage to his muscles, and when he has a posture that is relatively un-compromised.
In this case, the saddle still needs to be slightly wider than his stationary shape (see 'Functional Saddling Explained' by clicking here) to allow his back to widen as it lifts during bio-mechanically correct movement, but padding under the saddle is usually relatively minimal compared to the pads needed for horses with more muscle damage.
Having said that, many horses still choose a thicker Wool Pad when given a choice, and sometimes a Base Pad as well, even when their muscles are fully recovered/developed. So, it's important to continue to check in with the horse from time to time by trying different pad types/thicknesses and watching/feeling for his responses/feedback.
When horses have more muscle damage and/or postural issues, a 'Remedial Saddling' approach needs to be applied, as explained here.
In summary, 'Remedial Saddling' is a method of saddling horses during a recovery/development period when they have damaged or under-developed muscles.
However, it is very important to state that when a horse is weak, damaged and/or suffering from postural compensations, the best way to help the horse to recover in a kind, ethical and efficient way is often to commit to a period of time NOT riding at all.
During that time, very simple, yet very specific and profound exercises can be done in-hand with the horse to dramatically improve recovery.
Only once a horse is strong and balanced enough would 'Remedial Saddling' be utilised. It involves:
Using a width of saddle that allows for appropriate padding underneath to protect the horse's structure and ensure comfort while the horse's muscles are recovering (usually more pads than used in 'Maintenance Saddling' approach)
Taking care not to use a saddle that too wide (it must not touch the withers when placed on the horse's back without pads underneath)
Sometimes using, for a period of time, a saddle that is narrower than the horse will eventually need, before swapping to a wider one when the muscles have recovered/developed more
Sensitive and constructive riding - this entails riding the horse in a supportive way, for very short periods of time at first, allowing time for strength and muscling to build without strain
For a more in-depth look at Remedial Saddling click here.
Yes, in many cases it can. A considerable number of our clients do exactly that and it works very well for them. In fact, many trainers have one or two BALANCE saddles in different widths that they use on multiple horses and they use the pads to fine-tune the balance and feel.
Usually the horses need to be of a
similar shape and size, but there have been occasions when we have been
surprised how well one BALANCE saddle has worked for two very different
horses. You just need to adhere to the fitting principles set out in the
BALANCE Saddling System Manual (e.g. checking that the saddle doesn’t touch the
withers and how to use pads in different ways) in order to give the additional
horse or horses the opportunity to show whether they also like the saddle or
One particular BALANCE saddle may not be every horse’s first choice of BALANCE saddle, but in our experience, most horses seem to prefer any BALANCE saddle to a conventional saddle, even if it’s not the perfect BALANCE saddle, provided it is used correctly.
We try not to make quick assumptions about what will and won’t work when it comes to the saddles, because horses are not all the same in what they need or like. Every horse/rider interaction is very personal and individual. We prefer to observe and trust the feedback provided by the horse to determine what is relevant and useful and what is not.
When someone buys a BALANCE saddle
from BALANCE direct we always provide a Saddle User’s Manual as a reminder of
the basic principles of the System. It explains how to use the Pad
System to balance the saddle and this can be used to keep one horse happy in
its BALANCE saddle or more than one horse using the same saddle.
Remember the aim is not for the
saddle to ‘fit’ the horse in a conventional way. The aim is for the
saddle to work for each horse and this requires a very
Yes! It's important to give both yourself and your horse time to adjust to your new BALANCE Saddling System. At first sessions need to be fairly short and undemanding and then built up gradually. Remember that muscles and joints that have spent years working within a restricted range need time to adjust. We suggest that you do not compete or participate in clinics until you have allowed 4 weeks to adjust to your new saddle.
‘Yes’, in many cases, you can. A considerable number of our clients do exactly that and it works very well for them. In fact, many trainers have one or two BALANCE saddles in different widths that they use on multiple horses and they use the pads to fine-tune the balance and feel.
Usually the horses need to be of a similar shape and size, but there have been occasions when we have been surprised how well one BALANCE saddle has worked for two very different horses. You just need to adhere to the fitting principles set out in the BALANCE Saddling System Manual (e.g. checking that the saddle doesn’t touch the withers and how to use pads in different ways) in order to give the additional horse or horses the opportunity to show whether they also like the saddle or not.
One particular BALANCE saddle may not be every horse’s first choice of BALANCE saddle, but in our experience, most horses seem to prefer any BALANCE saddle compared to a conventional one, even if it’s not the perfect BALANCE saddle, provided it is used correctly.
We try not to make quick assumptions about what will and won’t work when it comes to the saddles, because horses are not all the same in what they need/like. Every horse/rider interaction is very personal and individual. We prefer to observe and trust the feedback provided by the horse to determine what is relevant and useful and what is not.
When someone buys a BALANCE saddle from BALANCE direct we always provide a Saddle User’s Manual as a reminder of the basic principles of the System. It explains how to use the Pad System to balance the saddle, and this can be used to keep one horse happy in its BALANCE saddle or more than one horse using the same saddle.
Remember the aim is not for the saddle to ‘fit’ the horse in a conventional way. The aim is for the saddle to work for each horse and this requires a very different approach.
Horse owners may have to actively seek out, because it is not considered ‘mainstream’.* Focuses very strongly, on the needs and wants of the horse, with the rider’s needs also considered.
DOES NOT match the static shape and width of the horse, but allows for the fact that a moving back measures wider than a static back.
Allows easy fine tuning and adjustment of the saddle ‘fit’, when the horse needs it, not just when the saddle fitter can visit.
Standard saddle widths that start at wider than extra wide and extend into a range that caters for all breeds and sizes.
Appropriate saddle width, shape and length are chosen by studying the horse when ridden and by assessing bio-mechanical and performance responses, by people who are educated and experienced in this field.
Offers a Remedial Saddling Process for horses who need to recover from muscle atrophy and past saddle damage.
Encourages riders to pay attention to the day to day feedback (feel-back) from their horse, and to have the confidence and the tools they need to make simple changes, when appropriate, to fine tune the comfort of the saddle.
Uses the experience of the saddle fitter to provide additional input when necessary.
Conventional Saddle Fitting :
Is easily available and still most commonly used.
Is often focused on putting the needs and wants of the rider first.
Matches the saddle shape to the static shape and width of the horse,
Does not make allowance for the use of saddle pads and uses the outdated notion that ‘if the saddle fits, it needs no pad’!
Uses a very narrow range of saddle widths tending to range from narrow to extra wide.
Emphasis is on trying to make the contours of the saddle panels match the contours of horse’s back, even if the horse is underdeveloped and in a static posture.
Often resorts to creating deliberately uneven flocking to compensate for uneven muscling and posture in the horse to give the rider the illusion of being balanced, rather than addressing the reason for the uneven muscling.
Will adapt the saddle features on the horse's side, in order to stop the saddle being displaced by unbalanced/crooked riding.
Tends to encourage horse owners and riders to assume that their saddle fitter is always the most reliable source of information, when it comes to evaluating the way the saddle is working for the horse.
Yes! There may be a BALANCE registered Saddle Consultant or Test Ride Facilitator who can do a Saddle Check for you if you are unsure of anything and can't find the answer you seek in the relevant BALANCE Saddling System Manual or via the website here. Find out who is in your area by selecting your country on the 'Find a BALANCE registered team member in your area' page and view the team member profiles to see what services they offer.
If there's no-one available your area, we will be very happy to help you from BALANCE HQ. We have been very successfully helping people all over the World distantly for over 20 years.
Please don't be tempted to work with a non-BALANCE saddle fitter, as they don't know/understand enough about what we do, so they could cause a lot of confusion!
In order for us to start helping you, you'll need to send us some specific photos as shown in the 'Photos needed for a query' PDF below:
Please send the photos exactly as shown in the document and please do not send any extra photos or videos unless specifically requested by the Office, or to show something very specific. The PDF also explains how to send the photos to us; please don't email them to us as they may block our Inbox and stop other enquiries from getting to us.
You will need to send an email to accompany your pictures to [email protected] outlining the problems or concerns you are having.
If you bought the saddle directly from us, then this service is free of charge.
As you will appreciate, the pressures we are under to deal with all the enquiries that we get every day, mean that we have to work very hard to keep up and also allow time to offer free support for people who have bought a BALANCE saddle from us. We are also happy to help, where we can, the people who manage to find a BALANCE saddle from somewhere else, but we have had to start making a charge to cover some of our time and staff salaries for non-straightforward cases.
If yours is a second-hand saddle, you can still send the 6 pictures to us. If we can make a quick and easy suggestion via email, we will do so free of charge. If there are numerous relevant issues that need to be considered/addressed, if we need to study further photos or videos, or if it's a more complicated case for any reason, we will notify you via email that we'll need to make a one-off charge of £50 (+VAT for EU) so that we can devote all the time needed to helping you as much as we possibly can.
Air-filled pads are not suitable for using with any saddles that are fitted in accordance with the BALANCE Saddling System Principles (also known as Functional Saddling). This is because air-filled pads or panels rely on pressures from the saddle to stabilise the movement of air from one part of the pad/panel to another, whereas Functional Saddling is designed to minimise pressure. Therefore, a correctly 'fitted' BALANCE saddle will tend to 'float' on this kind of pad, which is not helpful for the horse or rider.
You can use a non-BALANCE numnah under your BALANCE saddle, but whether your horse will be as comfortable with it we can't say. Below is information about our Wool pads, so that you can see why we recommend them for use with the BALANCE Saddles:
The properties of wool make it an ideal point of contact between the underside of the saddle and the horse’s back. (On rare occasions we come across a horse who seems to dislike the feel of wool against their skin. In these situations, we can provide an alternative pad.)
When Wool fibres are used in the form of a fleece pile, they have a natural elasticity and an ability to move as the horse moves. This helps to create an effective and consistent protection from friction, which is highly beneficial when you consider the amount of movement there can be in the horse’s back and the rider.
Wool can absorb/disperse up to 30% of its own weight in moisture, before feeling damp, which means that wool can help to keep horses comfortable all year round, even in hot temperatures. Research shows that wool has an ability to level out changes in muscular temperature which helps to reduce the likelihood of muscle damage.
The 'horse friendly' features found in the BALANCE Saddle Pads have:
A contoured shape along the spine to respect the natural curves along the horses back. You will see a lift at the front for the wither area and a small lift at the back to avoid pressure across the spine at the back of the pad.
A generous size/shape to ensure that the saddle panels do not sit over any of the bound edges, as this can cause discomfort and damage.
Fixing straps that are positioned at the front edge of the pad. Many pads have their straps sewn further back on the pad which can cause pressure points under the saddle.
A long life if looked after well. The materials that are used for the horse’s side of the pads (pure wool, cotton etc.) have stood the test of time to offer considerable benefits.
All of our standard wool pads are made using natural coloured, (un-dyed) fleece. This is to avoid the risk (albeit a small risk) of an allergic reaction to the dyes used, or the chance of the colour staining the coat of a light coloured horse.
The combination of top quality materials and workmanship make the pads easy for the horse owner to use and clean, which is another benefit to the horse.
The original BALANCE Wool Fleece lined Pads have been made for us by the same English Company since the mid 1990's. These pads have proven themselves to be wonderful value, with many clients happily using the same pad, every day for over 10 years! They are made from a high quality, pure wool fleece, that has a short, but dense, pile length that is knitted onto a cotton backing material. This method of manufacture ensures that:
The depth, density and quality of the wool fleece is always reliably consistent.
The pads are very easy to machine wash and they also dry quickly.
The pads last for many years of hard use, when looked after well.
The wool is obtained from the shearing of live sheep rather than after the death of the sheep, which is important for some people.
In order to get the most out of your BALANCE saddle, it needs to be used with appropriate BALANCE Add-on pads, such as a Base Pad and/or JB Pad(s). It is important then to have a thick enough saddle cloth/numnah underneath. For example, with our Regular Thickness Wool Pads, you can only use either a ¼”JB or Large ¼” JB on top of it unless you are also using a Base Pad, whereas our Extra Thick Wool pads are thick enough to directly attach any of the Pro-Complete Add On Pads to, which is very useful if your horse does not want/need a Base Pad. Some non-BALANCE numnahs are very thin and so unless you are using a Base Pad, you will need to be sure not to use anything more than a ¼”JB or Large ¼”JB on top of it, and that may or may not be enough cushioning for your horse. We have certainly known horses change their way of going dramatically for the better when swapping from a thick numnah to a BALANCE Wool pad, even though we were also using the same Add-on Pads.
Yes, the BALANCE Pads can be used with Tree-less saddles. Click here and scroll down to read about 'Tree-less Saddle Support' using a particular pad set.
In the 25 years that Carol Brett (co-Founder of The BALANCE Organisation) was working with Functional Saddling, she never saw a horse in a Treeless saddle that didn't show significant improvement when the BALANCE Pads were used underneath.
BALANCE saddles are simply well designed saddles that contain the features that horses seem to need and in horse friendly widths. They can be used as part of the BALANCE Saddling System, which pays attention to the difference between the static and dynamic back width and posture, or they can be used in a Conventional saddling method, which uses the static posture and shape of the horse as its reference to match the saddle to.
Obviously, everything we have studied and observed in the past 20 years
makes us believe that in order to get the most from your BALANCE saddle
and to provided your horse with the highest level of comfort and bio-mechanical
freedom, you need to be using a width of saddle that provides the room you need
to use the BALANCE Pad System underneath. However, we appreciate that
some people would rather stick to what they know and use the princples of
Conventional Saddle Fitting.
Rather than deny their horses the benefits of the good design features
found in all BALANCE saddles, we are happy to provide saddles to anyone who is
interested in using them. If you want to buy a BALANCE saddle to fit
more conventionally, please contact the office to discuss your needs.
Air filled pads are not suitable for using with any saddles that are fitted in accordance with the BALANCE Saddling System principles which are designed to minimise pressure. As air filled pads (or panels) rely on pressures from the saddle to stabilise the movement of air from one part of the pad/panel to another, a correctly 'fitted' BALANCE saddle will tend to 'float' on this kind of pad, which is not helpful for the horse or rider.
Please remember that most, if not all, air-filled pads have been designed with conventional saddle fitting principles applied, or are designed to decrease the damage done by saddles that are fitted too narrow on the horse and are therefore tight and restrictive. There is no doubt that in this situation, air filled pads can provide much needed relief for many horses. However it is a temporary solution, and should ideally, be followed up by addressing the shortcomings of the saddle, thus making the pad unnecessary.
Some additional points to consider:
Some people inflate air pads unevenly to compensate for uneven patterns in the horse and/or rider, however, we would not advise using asymmetric padding to disguise problems that should be addressed by paying attention to the habits of the rider and/or horse . • Air does not absorb concussion and therefore needs to be combined with other materials to create comfort for the horse. • The use of air between the saddle and the horse can create a rather strange feel for the horse in which the riders seat aids can feel ‘fuzzy’ or unclear. • Some air filled pads offer a non-slip material by way of a cover. If it is the non-slip element that you want, you can get this effect in pads that do not contain air.
When developing the BALANCE Padding System we tried many different materials over the years and always referred back to countless horses for their feedback. The BALANCE Padding System is the best combination of materials that we have found to work with the BALANCE Saddles and to offer the properties needed for the BALANCE Approach to Constructive/Functional saddling to work at it's best.
Yes, the BALANCE Pad System can improve the ‘fit’ and comfort of other
makes of saddle. If you own a tree-less saddle or an adjustable width
saddle, you might like to know that our experience shows that the components
found in the BALANCE Pad System could increase the comfort and the versatility
of fit of your saddle. For example:
Tree-less saddles: The BALANCE Pro-Complete Base Pads create a shallow channel down the spine which helps to avoid heavy pressures in this area associated with some treeless saddles. This is particularly important when you are helping your horse to recover weak and atrophied muscle either side of the spineous processes. The Pro-Complete add-on pads can also help to create a more supportive shape in the top of the saddle for the rider and will soften the firm front edge of the saddle by gently lifting it away from the back of the shoulders. There is also extra built in protection in the area of most pressure around the stirrup bar and girth attachments.
Adjustable width Saddles: These can work very well when taking a horse through a remedial programme of recovery and the synthetic versions are often chosen to fit in with a budget. However, to get the best from this kind of saddle, you need to work with a pad system that supports this adjustment and the changes the horse makes. The BALANCE Pad System was designed specifically to do this job and can turn an inexpensive synthetic saddle into something that is a big improvement on many conventional, expensive leather saddles that you see!
BALANCE pads come in a range of shapes and materials to provide the
rider with a whole selection of ways in which to improve and support the way
their saddle works, to keep in line with the changing needs of their horse.
All makes of saddle! The BALANCE Add-on Pads are designed to affect the balance of a saddle, so if your saddle is fitted to match the horse's stationary back exactly, you will find that using a Base Pad, for example, will make the saddle sit too high in front. This is because the BALANCE Saddling System involves using a saddle that is wider than the horse's stationary shape (because the horse's back naturally widens when it lifts during natural, bio-mechanically correct movement) along with pads that balance the saddle and offer protection to the horse. So, if your saddle has been conventionally fitted, the Add-on pads most likely won't be ideal, however...
If your saddle has been fitted with consideration for your horse’s comfort to allow room for a well made, protective saddle pad, you could make use of any of the BALANCE Wool fleece saddle pads. The excellent properties of natural wool fleece are well known and our pads are very well shaped, are machine washable and designed with the horse’s comfort as the priority. The Wool fleece saddle pads do not affect the balance of a saddle because they are a consistent depth throughout.
One thing you need to be aware of if you want BALANCE pads for use under a non-BALANCE saddle, is that our pads are deliberately made to be a generous size to avoid the chance of an edge sliding under the panels of the saddle. BALANCE saddles are also more generous in their panel width than many other makes of saddle. These things combined mean that some of our pads may look bigger under your saddle than you are used to.
A Basic Explanation of the BALANCE Padding System.
The Functional Saddling method known as The BALANCE Saddling Systemcombines a well-designed saddle, deliberately chosen to be wider than the horse's current static back shape and width, used in conjunction with an adjustable padding system that provides comfort, protection, stability and the balance of the saddle, which always involves a slightly deeper layering of padding under the front of the saddle.
In order to do this, the pads have to have a variety of important qualities and this requires a mixture of materials.
The pad that goes against the horse needs to provide some cushioning, the ability to regulate body heat, and the ability to wick away sweat. There are many high tech materials around, but as is so often the case, when the horses themselves are asked for an opinion, the material that seems to fit the bill more often than not, is wool.
There are, of course, exceptions to this rule and very occasionally, we come across a horse who dislikes the feel of wool and then an alternative needs to be offered. However, this is unusual and therefore, BALANCE saddles are usually 'fitted' with a wool-fleece, lined saddle pad to go directly onto the horse.
This pad is always an equal depth/thickness through its length, but we do offer two different choices of thickness because some horses want more padding than others. The pad will lift the saddle up and off the horse's back a little, but it will not impact on the front to back balance of the saddle.
When you fit a saddle to be slightly wider than the horse when at rest, it will not be stable/balanced when you only use the wool-fleece pad alone. The saddle will rock and tip down and forward at the front as soon as any weight is put into the stirrups. In conventional saddle fitting this would be considered to be a fault. However, in Constructive Saddling, this feature is essential because the saddle width has to allow for the use of an additional, protective, therapeutic pad under the front of the saddle without lifting the front of the saddle out of balance.
The extra pad under the front area of the saddle is the key to the success of the BALANCE Saddling System and the feature that time and again, transform horses from short striding, tense and resistant, to free moving, happy athletes! One would never imagine something so seemingly simple and innocent could cause so much controversy in the saddle industry, and yet it so often does!!
If the horse is well muscled and has been trained well enough to carry its rider in an engaged and lifted posture, it will probably only need a modest amount of therapeutic padding under the correct width of saddle. Indeed, there is no benefit to the horse from using more pads than are necessary.
This is where we use, what we call the JB Pad (so called because they sit over what we call the Junction Box area). These pads, sit under the front of the saddle and depending on which version is used, or which combination of JB pads are used, provide anything from a quarter of an inch of lift to three quarters of an inch of lift to the front of the saddle. These pads can be fine-tuned in their actual position to work for every horse. The material used inside the JB pads is a closed cell, gel foam. This is important because the material in these pads has to be able to respond/recover fast enough to keep up with the rapid muscle movement in the horse's back and must not stay compressed.
Please Note: Slow recovery (memory) foams will not work in the same way.
It is the combination of the wool-fleece next to the horse and then the closed cell foam layers between the saddle pad and the underside of the saddle that creates a dynamic and protective interface between the soft tissues of the horse and the structures of the saddle.
Whenever a rider gets onto the saddle his or her physical weight impacts on the horse. The structure provided by a well-designed tree of an appropriate shape, length and width is important because it makes it easier to distribute the rider's weight over a larger area than can be achieved in a bareback pad or treeless saddle.
However, where you have weight from the rider, you also have compression of the soft tissues in the horse's back. The closed cell foam in the JB pad and the wool-fleece pads work together and act like a protective barrier for the horse. Rather than the soft tissues of the back being directly compressed by the rider’s weight via the structures of the saddle, it is the materials in the pads that get compressed well before anything on the horse!
Some horses demand even more cushioning under the saddle than the wool-fleece pads can provide alone and for them, the BALANCE Pro-Complete Base Pad was designed. In two thicknesses, it extends the protective quality of the closed cell foam along the full length of the saddle, but also has a built in JB pad at the front.
The therapeutic BALANCE Padding System also offers several versions of what we call Remedial Pads.We usually see these as temporary pads that are used on occasions where a horse has become so compromised in its natural, healthy posture that a layer of the protective gel foam needs to provide some support under the back of the saddle or under the middle. The long term solution to these problems has to lie in the correct training and management of the horse as it is usually in the training and management where the negative influences and the cause of the weak posture, have come from!! However, there is no doubt that for some horses, the Remedial Pads provide what they need during the time of transition.
All of the pads have been designed, to offer very versatile options to fine tune to any horse. The fact that they are a layered and adjustable system makes them easy to use. Taking care of the horses saddling needs is not rocket science! Unfortunately, there is a huge growth in complicated, expensive merchandise and diagnostic tools that are making some people a lot of money and that seem to suggest that ensuring that the horse is comfortable in its saddle is beyond the average rider.
This is simply not the case, and provided the rider has access to the tools he or she needs as in:
a) a well-designed saddle that is available in a good enough range of widths that go considerably wider than a conventional extra wide tree
b) a simple, adjustable and layered range of pads in materials that offer what the horse needs a
c) some simple principles and information about how to work with them, you have a recipe for keeping the ridden horse healthy, happy, sound and performing well.
We understand that in some countries, it is still unusual for a saddle fitter to charge a horse owner money for coming out with a selection of saddles for them to try.
This is because most horse owners still only have access to conventional saddle sellers, who need to sell saddles to make a living. This puts a lot of pressure on them to make a sale, even if the saddles they have are not suitable for the horse and/or rider!
It is very different when you ask a BALANCE registered Saddle Consultant (BrSC) or a BALANCE registered Test Ride Facilitator (BrTRF) to come to see you, because they have a different role and a different focus.
These people all started as BALANCE customers. They have owned and used BALANCE saddles for a long time and can share their experiences with you. They are enthusiastic about the benefits of the BALANCE Saddling System because they have experienced them. They have gone through training with The BALANCE Organisation to be able to do this work.
They are now willing to share their time and their experience with other horse owners and make it possible for them to try the BALANCE approach to saddling. They are not sales people. They will never put any pressure on someone to buy a saddle and this means that they can focus on helping the horse owner/rider to discover what really works for their horse. At the end of a Consultation or Test Ride, many horse owners are so happy with the way their horse feels that they decide to invest in a suitable BALANCE saddle. However, other horse owners need more time to think about what they want to do, and some decide that they want to continue with the saddle they already own. All of these decisions are OK.
However, the BALANCE registered Saddle Consultants and Test Ride Facilitators have bills to pay, just like everyone else! They have to be willing to get in their car, drive somewhere, spend several hours of their time helping someone to understand the BALANCE methods and try some BALANCE saddles, without putting any pressure on that person to buy a saddle. In order to offer the service, they also need to spend time regularly cleaning and conditioning all of their Demo saddles and washing Wool Pads and Girths sleeves and so on. For them to do all of this, they have to charge for their time.
When BALANCE started in 1993, the idea came as shock to horse owners in the UK because they were used to saddle sellers/fitters making no charge, but it is now very normal and more horse owners are beginning to recognise that if they want an honest relationship with their saddle fitter, it is essential that the saddle fitter does not have to rely on making sales for their income.
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The BALANCE Test Ride Session is designed to enable you to gather information and try the saddles without fear of being pressurised into purchasing anything! The BALANCE registered Team Members have all been selected by BALANCE because they have had many years of experience as BALANCE Saddle users and have also been given some additional training by BALANCE to help horse owners to explore the way the saddles work and feel. They all know what it is like to be a BALANCE customer and therefore can appreciate the situation from the Customers perspective.
Time to allow:
You will need to allow at least two, uninterrupted
hours of your time for the Test Ride Session.
A Suitable Venue:
You will need to have access to a
suitable place to ride e.g. indoor school (almost an essential in the winter in order to avoid
problems with the weather) otherwise, an outdoor arena or field with good
footing. You do not normally need to do
more than walk and trot during the consultation, although if it is appropriate
you can do more. If you want a jumping
style saddle, it is important that you jump during your TRF session.
What happens during a Test Ride Session?
The BrTRF/BrSC will want to see you ride in your current saddle for a short time to be confident that the horse is sound and to make a note of any saddle related issues that she can see. She will also take a photograph of you sitting in your current saddle for her own records and this picture will also be needed by BALANCE if you decide to submit your Test Ride Data Pack to BALANCE to order a saddle in the future.
Please note that if the BrTRF/BrSC does not feel that it would be safe for you to ride in a BALANCE saddle, she has the right to refuse to proceed beyond this point.
when this could happen:
The horse or pony is unsound, too weak, unhealthy, unsafe to ride.
The rider is too heavy for the horse.
The horse is less than 3 years of age.
The riding area is not safe enough.
The rider is too crooked and unbalanced to ride safely in a BALANCE saddle.
Most of these problems will be avoided if the correct information is provided to the BrTRF/BrSC before the appointment is made. Remember, that the fee that she needs to charge to cover her time and travel expenses, must be paid to her, even if, for reasons beyond her control, it is not possible for the horse to be ridden in a BALANCE saddle.
Once she has seen you ride in your own saddle, she will show you how to use one or more of the BALANCE saddles and pads correctly and will give you an explanation about how and why the saddles are designed and ‘fitted’ differently to conventional saddles. Between you, your horse and the BrTRF, you will then be able to compare the movement of your horse in its own saddle and a variety of BALANCE saddles. (If the BrTRF/BrSC can see ways of improving the way your current saddle is working for your horse, she will be happy to make suggestions)
What happens if you want to buy a saddle?
If you want to take the next step and order a BALANCE saddle, the BrTRF/BrSC can help you to gather the data that BALANCE will need you to submit to the office (photographs and other information). As well as the photographs and a back profile, she will write a report on which saddles and pads were tried and which of them worked best for you and your horse. She will send these to you as soon as possible after the conclusion of the trip.
The BALANCE registered Test Ride Facilitators and Saddle Consultants are not employed by BALANCE. If you decide to buy a new BALANCE saddle from The BALANCE Saddle Company, the BrTRF/BrSC will earn a modest ‘commission’. However, none of them are sales people! They all care deeply about the health and comfort of the horses they see and they believe in the benefits of using BALANCE saddles, but they will never put any pressure on a horse owner to buy anything. In order to do this, they need to make a reasonable charge for their time and travel costs.
You must discuss their
charges and agree them, before booking a Test Ride Session.
A Whole Way forward…
horses, unnatural patterns of movement, muscle development and posture have
been created by past discomfort and restriction from saddles. Some of these problems are only exposed when
the horse first tries a saddle that allows them to use their bodies fully. The full extent of their previous saddle
restrictions may have been misdiagnosed as laziness, stiffness or a poor
attitude to work. Sometimes a horse can
recover well as soon as he gets a more comfortable saddle, but others need some
time and the additional support of a Vet, Chiropractor, Osteopath or other
therapist. If appropriate, this can be
discussed during the Consultation. Please remember that in the UK, you are currently
required to obtain Veterinary permission to have most ‘therapists’ work with
Support after ordering/purchasing a saddle.
Most people enjoy the fact that they have the tools and the information they need to be self-reliant when it comes to managing their horse’s saddle comfort. However, we know that some of you will appreciate some extra support and after-care. If you keep in touch with us at the BALANCE office, we can guide you through the process and help with any queries that come up. Some of the BALANCE registered Test Ride Facilitators are also happy to provide follow-up, hands-on, help if you want it. You will need to talk to your BrTRF/BrSC to see if she can offer follow-up re-assessments and discuss her charges directly.
Before a Test Ride Session is booked, you will need to provide the BrTRF/BrSC with enough information for her to check that she has an appropriate choice of saddle to bring out for you and your horse to try. During this initial communication you can share any concerns or talk about anything you feel you need to before deciding whether or not to go ahead with a Test Ride or Consultation.
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In order to determine which BALANCE saddle model, width, style and length is most suitable for a horse and rider we consider the following:
What the horse and rider are currently using for a saddle
Whether the horse is in good physical health and muscle development (in which case a 'Maintenance Saddling' approach is OK), or whether the horse is underdeveloped/muscle wasted (and therefore needs a 'Remedial Saddling' approach).
The age, breed, size and shape of the horse.
The rider’s dimensions and any physical limitations they may have.
The way the rider rides and what they want to do with the horse.
How well trained the horse is and the way the horse moves, because this can make a difference to the length of saddle/tree that it can comfortably wear.
Preferences exhibited/reported by the horse and rider when comparing their current saddle and then a BALANCE saddle(s).
This is all done either by having a session with a BALANCE registered Team Member who will visit you and your horse with a selection of BALANCE saddles and pads for you to try, or via a Distant Consultation method, followed by a Saddle Sampling arrangement where available.
We do not use standard terminology when describing the BALANCE saddle widths and lengths because to do so could mislead people. For example, people usually describe a saddle’s length by the length of the seat, but the shape of the cantle can affect that measurement, and also, because the BALANCE saddles are wide enough to accommodate the horse’s natural healthy width, they often feel shorter to ride in than conventional saddles. Similarly, if you are trying to gauge the width of a tree, people will often measure the distance between the ends of the points of the tree or the distance between the D-rings at the front, but there is no standard when it comes to the length of points (in fact some of our saddles have had the points removed in line with the rails of the tree), so again this would affect the measurement, and there’s no standard for the positioning of D-rings, buttons or pins either, so it gives no accurate information. Finally, the tree shape also affects how a saddle sits on the horse (this is why we use different codes to depict width in different models within the BALANCE range, because they sit differently on the horse).
All of this means that, unfortunately, we cannot put enough information on this website to help you to work out for yourself which BALANCE model, style, width and length should be most suitable for you and your horse. We want the very best for you and your horse, so we would always recommend that you work with a BALANCE registered team member who has had enough specialist training and experience to help you.
A lot of people tend to think that if they do, or compete in, Dressage, they need a Dressage Style saddle. It has also been said by some that a General Purpose saddle means it's not really fit for any purpose. However, both assumptions are actually incorrect.
We determine which BALANCE Style of saddle is best for a rider by:
Observing what the horse and rider are currently using for a saddle.
Looking at the dimensions of the rider (the hip-to-knee length is particularly important).
Looking at the way the rider likes to ride, including things such as preferred stirrup length, jumping style, flat-work style, schooling methods and so on.
Finding out what the rider wants to do with the horse.
Taking into account the rider's needs in terms of human bio-mechanics
Looking at the size and shape of the horse as this can affect the stirrup length the rider will need to ride at, as well as which model saddle the horse needs.
Noticing how well trained the horse is, because this can make a difference to the length of saddle/tree that it can comfortably wear. If we are limited with saddle length due to the horse's back, a more forward-cut saddle is sometimes helpful in accommodating the rider.
Observing the horse and rider in action in their current saddle and then in BALANCE saddle/s and asking for rider feedback.
An impression pad, or Pressure Testing Pad, can provide useful information about what is going on under a saddle, but as with so many things, the interpretation of the information needs to be done with care and knowledge to avoid going off on a tangent. Believe it or not, we have seen people trying to assess the way their BALANCE saddles are behaving with one of these pads, without using their BALANCE pad system, and of course the two are designed to go together! Of course, they will get very strange patterns of pressure when they do this, that can look alarming, but actually have no relation to what the horse experiences when his BALANCE saddle and pads are used together correctly!
We have been asked in the past, "Have you used Pressure Testing Pads to cross-check saddle fit? I'm thinking that as my horses grow and develop their backs I would need to check if the saddle still fits on a regular basis, potentially at least once a year?"
Here's our answer...
Believe it or not, if you follow our advice, you will be checking how your saddle is working for your horse each and every time you ride! We will give you the tools (knowledge) to check the saddle every time you use it, so that any fine-tuning of the pads can be done as soon as it is required. That way the saddle is always in balance and padded to provide optimum comfort for your horse.
We’ll also explain what to look for in terms of feedback from the horses (using wither tracings, photos and assessments of their way of going/demeanour etc.), so that they can show you their preferences, both initially and as time goes on. Learning to recognise and understand the feedback from the horse moment-to-moment is far more valuable than using a pressure pad.
It is important to understand that we are not looking for perfect ‘fit’, we are looking for optimum comfort for the horse, and only the horse can give you accurate feedback about that.
In order to give the width measurement of a saddle in centimetres, you need to measure the distance between the ends of the points of the saddle tree. The problem is that the length of the points can vary greatly from saddle to saddle (in fact the BALANCE Matrix saddle has no points at all below the rails of the tree), and the length of the points affects the width measurement. So, it's not actually very accurate at all to compare saddle widths in this way.
Some people measure between the D-rings at the front of the saddle, but again, there is no standard place for these to be attached, so it's not possible to get any sort of standard in order to compare the widths of different makes of saddle, or even the different BALANCE models.
The best way to establish which width of BALANCE saddle you need is to have a Consultation with a BALANCE registered Team Member, or to have a Distance Consultation with the BALANCE Office. You are very welcome to do this regardless whether you are looking for a new saddle, or plan to look for a second-hand BALANCE Saddle once you know exactly which to look out for.
There are a few reasons why the width suggested for a BALANCE Jump saddle is usually narrower than the suggested BALANCE Dressage saddle width:
The panels on a Dressage saddle run more vertically downwards, directly underneath the pommel of the saddle and over a wider part of the horse’s body – in this way the panels support the pommel and make it sit higher in front than a Jump saddle, because the panels on a Jump saddle come much further forwards and lie over a narrower part of the horse’s body.
The panels are also often more shallow on the Jump style than on the Dressage style of the same model, so again the Jump saddle will sit wider on the horse than the Dressage of the same width.
When jumping, you ride more of the time with your weight concentrated in the stirrups – this concentrates your weight at the front of the saddle, so it is important not to go too wide with a Jump saddle otherwise you risk pressure over the withers.
Having a Jump saddle too wide can affect the horse's comfort and confidence when jumping. This is because a wider saddle needs more pads under it and this increased padding can cause a very tiny delay between the moment when the horse's own weight lands over a fence and when the rider's weight in the saddle comes down onto the horse. It's only the tiniest split second, but it can matter to the horse, and many horses feel more confident with a slightly narrower saddle and minimal padding when jumping.
We have a list of guidelines we follow when working to establish the most suitable width of BALANCE Saddle for a horse, and we consider many things when making an assessment, such as:
The breed and build of the horse
The condition of the horse/any muscle damage (and therefore, is a Remedial approach to saddling, required, or is a Maintenance approach more appropriate?)
The horse's current posture
The horse's stage of training
The riding style/experience of the rider
What the rider intends to do with the horse
Whether or not the rider is willing and able to help the horse to recover any muscle damage or postural compensations
The age of the horse
Which model of saddle the horse has chosen
However, the most important thing (after safety) is the preference of the horse.
BALANCE registered Test Ride Facilitators and Saddle Consultants aim to offer the horse choices and then they pay very close attention (along with the rider) to the many different forms of feedback from the horse, so that he is empowered to show us what helps him best. Those too far away for a face-to-face Consultation can have a Distance Consultation with the BALANCE Office. Following this, wherever possible (in USA, UK or EU), we offer a 30-day sampling period, to make sure that both horse and rider are happy with our suggestions.
The conventional way to measure the length of a saddle is to stretch a tape measure from the centre of the head nail to the centre of the cantle; this gives a measurement in inches.
However, early in the history of BALANCE saddles, we recognised that riders sometimes have a pre-conceived idea of what seat/tree length they should be riding in which proves to be inappropriate to their needs when they try our saddles.
Many people have only ever ridden in saddles that have been made/fitted with a focus on what riders like and without much reference to the needs and the healthy shape of a horse’s body! These saddles tend to be narrow in width.
BALANCE trees and saddles are made and fitted in ways that focus very much on the needs and comfort of the horse, to avoid restriction and damage. This means that they have to be horse shaped and horses are big animals with wide backs (when they are healthy and well enough muscled to carry a rider).
We discovered that when you increase the width of the tree/saddle to give the horse the comfort and room to use its body naturally, it increases the width for the rider as well. For some reason, this makes the seat feel smaller to the rider than an equivalent measurable length in a narrower width. In other words, a 17-inch saddle in a narrow width will feel more generous in the seat than a 17-inch saddle in a wide fit.
When riding in a BALANCE saddle, it's important to keep a good degree of angle (bend) in the hip joint, especially when riding horses that are particularly broad through the ribs and back and need one of the wider BALANCE saddles, otherwise the rider risks strain to the hips and lower back. For this reason, some riders need a slightly more forward-cut flap or slightly longer seat than they might expect, to allow for slightly shorter stirrups than they are used to riding with in a narrower, conventionally fitted saddle.
The letters A-E refer to 'Saddle Lengths’ not ‘Seat-Sizes’. This is because some of the BALANCE saddle models are available with different cantle options, some of which provide the rider with a longer seat, but the 'Saddle Length' (e.g. 'C-Length') refers to the horse’s side, not the seat on the rider’s side.
Saddle lengths vary sometimes between BALANCE models, for example a C-length Nexus saddle rides shorter than a C-length Zenith saddle.
We found that if riders were fixated on the idea that they needed a 17 ½ inch tree, because that is what they were used to, and in a BALANCE saddle we could see that they would need an 18” tree, they would sometimes be offended! In their minds, only very large riders used 18” saddles!
It is also worth noting that if you take 20 different makes and models of saddle in the same width and that all measure 17 ½ inches from the centre of the cantle to the middle of the head-nail, they will all be different in terms of how big or small they feel to the rider, depending on the shape of the seat and the shape and height of the cantle, so it is a very unreliable way to ‘describe’ the size of the saddle.
So, we would always recommend that you work directly with the BALANCE Office or with a BALANCE registered Saddle Consultant/Test Ride Facilitator in order to establish which saddle length you and your horse need. We are very happy to assist even if you are looking to purchase a used/second-hand BALANCE saddle.
This is why we decided to let go of describing the size of our saddles in terms of inches and use our own classification.
We determine the appropriate tree length by:
Looking at the size and shape of the horse.
Assessing how well the horse is trained, because this can make a difference to the length of saddle/tree that he/she can comfortably wear.
Observing what the horse and rider are currently using for a saddle.
Looking at the shape of the rider and the way they ride.
Knowing what the rider wants to do with the horse.
Observing the horse and rider in action in their current saddle and then comparing with a BALANCE saddle/s.
BALANCE did actually produce a Western Style saddle some years ago (both with and without a horn), but due to challenges with the manufacturers, Carol and Lesley decided to stop production.
It is very important to make the distinction that they were only ever (very deliberately) Western Style saddles, not Western Saddles; they were a BALANCE English saddle on the horse’s side, just with the ‘look’ of a Western saddle on the rider’s side. As such, they were never suitable for activities such as roping. This is because in order for a saddle not to move on the horse’s back when you have another animal, in effect, pulling on it, it has to be so tight on the horse that it will disable full range of natural movement which BALANCE would never advocate.
It may be possible for someone to use a BALANCE Western Style saddle for some other Western activities, but in reality, the chances of enough riders having enough balance, self-awareness and commitment to helping their horse move in a natural and bio-mechanically correct way to make good use of them without encountering problems such as the saddle moving/slipping is very small. For that reason, BALANCE has no plans to create a saddle suitable for Western activities. There may come a day when BALANCE might be able to re-start production on their Western Style saddle in its previous form, but at the moment that is not looking likely.
Yes! BALANCE worked with Team GB Driver Chris Ainscough of Thompson House Equestrian Centre to create the CADENCE Driving saddle; offering driving horses and ponies the same level of care and consideration from BALANCE as those who are ridden.
The girth (billet) straps on some BALANCE saddles look like they are on the wrong way round!
The breastplates and lunge cavesson are also made inside out!
Is it a manufacturing fault?
We know that some of the methods we use to make horses comfortable can seem strange, so here's why we put our girth straps on ‘back to front’ and we have our bridle work made ‘inside-out’!
There are many features that you will find in BALANCE equipment that someone who worked with horses 100 years ago would see as very familiar, but are not found in most products in tack stores today.
One of these features is girth straps (billet straps) that have their unfinished side showing uppermost. The reason for this is so that the pressure and wear from the buckles of the girth are made to the harder wearing, unfinished side of the strap. Also, it makes it much easier to get the buckles done up when the large side of the holes is underneath, which is usually on the finished side of the strap.
Having the finished side of the strap showing on the top is just a way of making them look more attractive to the person who is buying the saddle, it has no practical benefit.
So, we would argue that we have our saddle makers put the straps on the correct way round, in terms of practicality and longevity. It’s everyone else that has got their straps the' wrong way round'! Unfortunately most saddle makers buy girth straps that have had numbers stamped on them already. This means that when they use the straps in the way we advise, the numbers are underneath and this is another thing that leads people to believe they are the wrong way around.
If you look at the straps, you will see that all of the ends are folded and finished on the upper surface. This is deliberate. Our argument is...... why should the horse get all the rough and lumpy ends of the straps on his side of the bridle?
We know that our breastplates and cavesson may look a little different to others, but then our focus is a little different. We put the comfort and safety of the horse well above the way the equipment looks. We know that some people would disagree and there are plenty of manufacturers and tack stores that cater very well to them.
Meantime, we will continue to make and provide equipment that is very well designed, and made from high quality materials, in ways that really do put the horse 1st.
So, if anyone looks at your BALANCE saddle or equipment and mentions your ‘back to front’ girth straps, or ‘inside-out’ breastplate, you can educate them as to why they look like this!
Our Pro-Complete Pads are made of Pro-Lite foam. We chose it and continue to use it in our Adjustable Pad System because:
It is soft enough to provide the horse with protective cushioning and comfort, even when only ¼ inch thick.
It’s light enough not to drag down on the horse as used to be the case with the older gel type pads.
The gel-like property protects against shear forces and therefore offers some protection from friction (Our recommended pad combinations almost always include a pad with Wool-fleece next to the horse's skin, which also does the same job)
It seems to continue to stay the same after many years of repeated and heavy use, which is unusual with a lot of foams
Its closed cell structure avoids absorbing sweat and water
Its closed cell structure also allows it to instantly recover and therefore keep up with the rapid muscle firing that is going on in the horse’s back step after step after step. By contrast, open-cell foams collapse and are too slow to recover their depth between compressions, and slow recover foams end up yielding to high pressures, become ‘dead’ and stop providing protection.
No we don't, because when we offered this choice to horses during our research we found that:
Although there was often a 'honeymoon period' where a horse showed signs of relief when first trying a treeless saddle if he/she had suffered pain, discomfort and/or restriction from an inappropriate saddle tree, in the vast majority of cases, this relief was short-lived.
When offered a choice between a restrictive tree, a treeless saddle AND a saddle tree wide enough to be used Functionally, the vast majority of horses chose the Functional approach (the wider tree with appropriate padding).
BALANCE has always believed it is essential to ALWAYS ask the horse's opinion with anything relative to his care, management and training. Often humans have ideas that seem great in theory, yet when presented to a horse in such a way that he/she can show their preferences, we are often sent back to the drawing board!
What we discovered was that any saddle with some sort of girth straps and stirrup bars/attachments (and the weight of a rider!) will inevitably exert pressure on the horse. With the BALANCE Saddling System, where the saddle points are wider than the horse's back and are cushioned by the Padding System, the effects of these pressures are minimised.
We found that when there was no tree to spread the rider's weight over a larger area of the horse's back and to keep pressure from the stirrup bars and girth straps off the spine, those concentrated pressures began to work against the horse.
I addition to this, we found that most horses appreciated the reference points* offered by saddle tree, providing the reference points were provided without restriction.
Another point to be aware of it that some treeless saddles do not help the rider to ride in a balanced position. This in turn has an impact on the horse because the effect of the rider's weight is actually increased (the rider feels heavier to the horse) when the rider is out of balance. So, it is important to bear in mind the effect on the rider as well when choosing a saddle, whether it is treeless or otherwise.
* We will endeavour, during 2020, to write an article about what 'reference points' are relative to the saddle, and why they are important - the discussion would be too large for this FAQ section of the website.
The BALANCE saddle trees (in the adult saddles) are made with laminated beech wood with steel reinforcement, in the traditional way. They are officially named 'Sprung Trees' because they are not solid, but in reality there is very little flexion in them. Some 'sprung' trees do have a lot of flexion in them, but ours don't. We have them built this way on purpose because the saddles are fitted wide enough to enable the use of the Padding System and it is the Padding System that is flexible and allows for the changes of back shape, so that the tree can provide a 'constant' reference point for both horse and rider.
Some tree makers use thinner laminate laid in a way that allows more flexibility and the way they use the steel also allows more flexibility. In the past, some trees had their wood weakened and others were even cut to create more movement in them, but all of these developments were actually an attempt to please the rider rather than to create any benefit for the horse. Prior to this, old fashioned seats were very flat and hard as they didn't have the materials to make them softer, but after the war, once horses were used more for leisure and less for true work, people complained about the feel of the seats and the sprung trees were an attempt to create a comfier feel for the rider.
The problem was that, in the case of weakened or cut trees, the rider's weight became concentrated in the middle (where the tree had been cut/weakened), thus creating pressure and discomfort for the horse. Through our 25+ years of research, we have found that unless the rider is very stable and well-balanced, most horses find more flexible trees less comfortable because they create more movement between horse and rider; the vast majority showed a distinct preference for a stable tree, with the required flexibility provided by the pads.
The term 'Hoop Tree' is not really used in the UK, but seems to have become quite common in the USA. It usually refers to trees that have an open shape in the head of the tree, more like the 'inverted U' shape trees that we use and advocate, although we have never described our saddles as having hoop trees.
Using saddles with trees that are an inverted U rather than an inverted V in shape is one of the key design features that we have been educating riders about for a very long time. Even when a horse has muscle wastage and is in need of a remedial saddling approach, we still use trees that are very open through the head to avoid the inverted V profile.
However, there are some trees that get classified as 'key-hole', because they have a high, and sometimes narrow arch in the pommel and then flare out, similar to some Cavalry saddles. We do not advocate this, but we have seen these referred to as hoop trees too, so it is very confusing!
It is not uncommon for people with no history of an injury to their back, hips or leg joints to suffer pain or discomfort when riding.
Often this is because there are many things about the way ‘Dressage’ is commonly taught that actually work against the human’s natural biomechanics. This is completely unnecessary and in fact, when the human body is strained, it has a negative impact on the horse as well, so is far from ideal for everybody.
At BALANCE we specialise in Rider Biomechanics as well as Horse Biomechanics, because for the ridden horse, both are equally important. As such there's a lot of information we would be happy to share with you to help your riding to be a much more comfortable experience if you wish. Just get in touch via the Contact Us Page.
If the stirrup length is too long, the rider will tend to:
Struggle with their own balance
Become braced in their body
Experience diminished confidence
Experience stress/pain in the hip joints, especially if riding in a saddle that is wide enough to accommodate the shape of a horse's healthy back
Be inclined to hollow the back which affects the balance of both horse and rider, and may lead to pain/discomfort in the rider's back
If the stirrup length is too short, the rider may:
Struggle with their balance
Struggle to avoid adopting a 'chair position' in the saddle (with the legs out to far in front of their body), in which case they will struggle to take responsibility for their own body-weight. In this case, the rider will feel heavier for the horse to carry and it will be harder for the horse to lift his back up underneath the rider as he needs to do during natural movement
End up with too much of their weight concentrated in the back of the saddle which can cause problems for the horse
Experience stress/pain/discomfort in the knee and ankle joints
Read on for a bit more detail...
Many dressage instructors are keen to encourage riders to adopt a longer straighter leg position. However, in many cases, this actually works very much against the rider in terms of their balance and the bio-mechanics of the human body. This is especially the case when riding in saddles that accommodate the true width of a horse...
The structure of the human pelvis and hip joint make it difficult to have the thighs pushed apart (as when riding astride a wide horse) and also have them straighter and longer with the knees pushed back. This postural combination tends to put a lot of stress on the hip joints themselves and can encourage the rider to become hollow in the lower back, which can both lead to soreness and stiffness in the rider, so riding on a saddle that accommodates a horse's true width often needs the rider to sit more as they would when bareback, with a good degree of bend in the hip and knee joints.
Basically, the available rotation and movement in the hip joint means that the wider the base that you are sitting astride, the higher your knees need to be so that your sitting is the equivalent of a squat, where you are still balanced below your pelvis and above your pelvis. If you try to ride with a longer stirrup with the knees lower and the thighs more perpendicular to the ground, it will force the thighs apart in a way that influences the lower back (hollowing) and rolls you forward onto your pubic arch instead of staying in a neutral arrangement in the pelvis. This will also make the saddle feel a lot wider. With enough bend in your knees, the rider's lower leg will also come into easier contact with the horse's sides, so there should be no struggle.
So, using a length of stirrup that allows sufficient bend to the hip, knee and ankle joints enables the rider to:
Take better responsibility for their own balance - have you noticed that you never see a surfer riding the waves whilst standing straight-legged on a surf-board? This is because any movement of the board underneath would throw the surfer off balance. In the same way, for a rider to maintain good balance whilst sitting on top of a moving animal, they need some bend to their hip, knee and ankle joints. This is especially important when riding more unpredictable horses or when riding over undulating/more challenging terrain etc. when there's an increased chance of dramatic movements from the horse, but it is still very important even when riding a very steady horse quietly in an arena with a reliable surface.
Rise/post to the trot in better balance, which in turn makes things much easier and more comfortable for the horse - there's more info about this in the 'Riding in BALANCE Saddles' section of the FAQ Page.
Improve their confidence in the saddle. Because in the vast majority of cases, riding with longer straighter legs negatively affects the rider's balance, riding with better angles in the leg joints often improves rider confidence as their balance often dramatically improves as a result.
Reassure the horse - an unbalanced rider stresses the horse physically, and often mentally as well, whereas when rider's take positive steps to improve their balance, there's usually a dramatically positive effect on the horse's way of going, his physical body and on his mental/emotional state.
A quote from BALANCE Co-Founder, Lesley Taylor Brett (who at only 5ft tall, backed and trained many horses including many very tall and/or very wide horses)
"... What I had to learn was that having a longer stirrup length than was appropriate for my body and the width of the horse I was on, made me unstable in my seat and less effective as a rider. I know that many instructors are keen to encourage the look of a longer leg for flat-work and dressage training, but there is no benefit to the horse if it compromises the effectiveness, balance, co-ordination and comfort of the rider."
So, next time you are struggling with your balance in the saddle, or are experiencing pain or discomfort in your body during/after riding, just remember that there are many things about the way ‘Dressage’ is commonly taught that actually works against natural human biomechanics. Experimenting with a slightly shorter stirrup length may be of great help to both you and your horse because when the human body is strained, it has a negative impact on the horse as well.
Many riders struggle to maintain their balance in rising, or posting, trot, and often its actually because of a simple misunderstanding in the way they have been taught...
In order for the seat to be light (which is essential if the rider is to avoid banging down on the horse's back) and balanced in rising/posting trot, or when in a forward position for faster work outside and jumping, the riders body needs to be organised so that their head and pelvis are equal distances in front and behind their feet as shown in the diagram here.
Above are images showing how even when riding with longer stirrups it's important to keep the head and pelvis equally distant from the feet in order to maintain balance.
The best way to practice keeping the body balanced like this in rising/posting trot is dismounted, using a chair of a comfortable height, as shown above. By allowing the head and shoulders to come forwards and the pelvis to push back as you sit you will discover that it enables you to sit much more lightly on the chair (and the horse) and to maintain your balance.
The second exercise is to practice going up and down in the same way as in Exercise 1 (taking care not to squat too low for your current level of strength and fitness), but this time with your knees in contact with the front of the chair as shown here...
If the knees come away from the chair as you go 'up', or rise, you will find that your lower leg swings forwards as you rise when on the horse, whereas by taking care not to allow the knees to lose contact with the chair during the exercise, you will find that when doing the same thing on a horse, your lower leg will be much stiller and more stable.
The reason we use short girth straps as standard on most of our saddles is for a couple of reasons.
1st. In our experience, most horses show a preference for a long girth over a short girth when given the opportunity to try both. I think this is often because in many cases the short dressage girths are so short that they have their buckles sitting over an area that is often sensitive to pressure, behind and just above the horse’s elbow. Depending on the design of the girth, the buckles tend to widen the girth out, just at the point where the elbow is moving back into the area. This can inhibit the horse and train it to shorten its stride.
2nd Using long girth billets and a short girth is not a stable an arrangement as short billets and a good, long girth. With very wide horses that need saddles that are very wide and flat, the issue of lateral stability for the rider can be common.
It may help to experiment with the length of the girth you use, but in most cases, if the buckles sit in behind the bend of your knees, they don’t get in the way. The standard buckle guards on a BALANCE saddle are quite thick so you could see if you can find some thinner ones which might make a difference.
However the most important thing to check is that you are not trying to ride with your legs too straight/long. When riding particularly wide horses, it is essential that you keep your stirrup length short enough to keep a good degree of flex/bend in your knee, hip and ankle joints. You must not be persuaded to ride with a straighter/longer leg position than is appropriate for the width of the saddle/horse and your own physique. If your stirrup length is too long for you, your own bio-mechanics will be in conflict and it will feel difficult. For more information about this, you may wish to refer to the Question 'What difference does stirrup length make?' in the 'Riding in a BALANCE Saddle' section of the FAQ page.
Having said all of this, if you decide to change the straps on your BALANCE saddle, please let us know so that we can update our records. As long as the saddler only swaps the leather straps and does not remove the panels of the saddle (there is no need to do this as the webbing is long enough for the saddler to hand stitch new straps to) it will not impact on the manufacturer’s warranty.
Yes! Many riders have habits such as (to name a few):
Habitually riding with more weight on one seat bone than the other
Bracing into the stirrups
A twisted or crooked posture
Driving with the seat
Being too strong with the reins
Trying to force the horse into a certain posture
Hollowing the back and tipping onto the pubic bone
Conventional saddle fitting often masks these issues because the saddle is fitted relatively tightly onto the horse's back. As such, it will often remain in place despite serious rider imbalances or habits (or even when a cow pulls against it as in the case of horses used for roping!) This may sound like a good thing, but what often happens is that the horse is left trying to cope with the problem, while the rider remains blissfully unaware of it.
You do not need to be an experienced rider to ride in a BALANCE saddle, in fact, there are riding schools that use nothing else, but if you have habitual patterns in your body that are working against the horse, it's far more likely to show up when using Functional Saddling than conventional saddling. For example, if you have a tendency to drive with the seat, or to throw your weight to one side when you ride, there's a good chance you will start to push a BALANCE forwards a bit, or to take it slightly to the side. This may seem a very annoying thing to happen, but when a rider is willing to use the saddle as an indicator of problems that they are causing for the horse, then it becomes a tremendous tool in improving your skills, awareness and sensitivity as a rider.
In the past, we have known riding instructors use the balance pads to change the balance of a saddle in order to help 'correct' riding posture. An example of this is using a pad under the back of the saddle in an attempt to counteract a rider's habit of adopting a 'chair position' (a chair position is where the rider's legs tend to be too far out in front of them, rather than underneath them as they should be).
HOWEVER, it is really important NOT to do this because it will always change the balance of the saddle for the horse. In the case described above where extra padding was put under the back of the saddle, the imbalance of the saddle will tend to tip the horse onto the forehand.
Check out more articles in the 'Riding in a BALANCE Saddle' section of our FAQ page for ideas on how to improve rider posture in a horse-friendly way instead.
BALANCE Co-Founders Carol Brett and Lesley Taylor-Brett were both very successful horse trainers and riding teachers/coaches long before they got involved in the design and application of better methods of saddling.
At a time when it was still considered unusual, they both had an interest in understanding the way human and equine bodies need to function, in order to stay healthy, mobile and safe.
This interest and curiosity led them to explore The Alexander Technique, Centred Riding, Yoga and Pilates, all of which play a role in helping riders to develop or retain a body and movement awareness that can improve their riding skills.
However, it was the meeting with Feldenkrais Teacher Vreni Booth, very soon after the BALANCE organisation was formed in 1993, that had one of the biggest impacts on their knowledge and teaching skills.
Although the work with saddles basically took over Carol and Lesley’s lives, their love of teaching never stopped and continued for Carol until her death in 2018 and continues for Lesley, with a select group of people, when time allows. As Carol used to say… ”you cannot separate the influence of the saddle from the influence of the rider. They are linked.”
One of the biggest reasons for saddles to be designed and fitted in ways that damage horses, is that too many riders lack the skills and levels of fitness needed to ride with an independent seat!
When this happens, the rider tends to start looking to the saddle to cover up their lack of stability, balance, co-ordination etc. Too many saddle makers, sellers and fitters fall into the trap of trying to accommodate the demands of crooked, stiff, over-weight, under-fit riders because they need them to hand over their money. Unfortunately, many of the ways that they try to make the saddle work for riders like this, take away from the comfort and freedom of the horses they ride!
Deep seats to support a weak rider who has little control over their own balance and stability.
Recessed stirrup bars to avoid the rider feeling any raised area under their legs
Point Straps to lock the saddle into the soft tissue behind the shoulder blades to prevent the rider from driving it up the horse’s neck.
Deliberate uneven flocking, to make the crooked rider feel level but then trap the horse into a lopsided way of using its body
Narrow Twist saddles to create an artificially narrow feel for the rider that bares no resemblance to the actual shape/width of their horse
Tree widths chosen by saddle fitters that are considerably narrower than the horse’s actual body shape, to create an artificially narrow feel for the rider, but creating excessive pressures, discomfort and restriction for the horse.
The line that BALANCE has taken, is to maintain the comfort and health of the horse as its priority and encourage riders to commit to developing the awareness and skills they need to ride in saddles that support and protect their horses. This is why BALANCE saddles tend to look simple in their design with flatter seats, no point straps and are in widths that reflect the shapes found in healthy, well-muscled horses.
Refusing to provide horse-damaging saddle features and fitting methods, in order to make a sale, means that BALANCE Saddles and Saddling will never be accepted or chosen by every rider, but when riders decide to put their horse’s needs first, they need encouragement and support.
To this end, we would encourage anyone who rides, to commit to developing and maintaining a good level of fitness, body-awareness, balance and co-ordination in whatever ways they can.
The Feldenkrais Method is definitely a wonderful way for riders to do this and provides the tools needed for continuous self-evaluation and learning, during every riding session. Including:
Improving rider self-awareness
Helping rider's to let go of old patterns within the body and rediscover balance, alignment and softness
Helping riders to move with the horse instead of against him
Helping riders to feel at ease in the saddle and no longer struggling to maintain a riding good position
Reducing rider pain and/or stiffness
It was particularly helpful for Carol and Lesley to work with Vreni Booth, because she had no previous experience of working with horses or riders at that time. It meant that her teaching and guidance was in no way influenced by pre-conceived ideas of how people should ride or how horses should move.
Some of the BALANCE registered Team Members have also spent time training with Vreni Booth and incorporate what they have learned from her in their teaching (and where appropriate/necessary, during Saddle Consultations). Vreni still runs clinics for riders in the Preston area from time to time, usually organised by BrSC Abigail Rowland.
Some of the BALANCE registered Team Members do run clinics or offer individual training relative to Rider Bio-mechanics and offer Dismounted Training for Riders.
There are none of these clinics running from BALANCE HQ at the moment due to other projects we're involved with. This may change later in the year, but in the meantime it's well worth contacting any BALANCE registered Team Members in your area if you are interested in this in case they can help you. You are also very welcome to Contact the Office for an update if you wish.
You may also wish to read, "Why does BALANCE sometimes refer to Feldenkrais?' also in the 'Riding in a BALANCE Saddle' section of our FAQ page.
Saddle length is extremely important, from the horse's point of view, but also for the rider. If the saddle is too long, the rider can feel a bit 'lost' in it. For most riders, at least under certain circumstances, it is important to have some degree of support or reference points from a saddle.
If the saddle is too short for the rider:
Their weight will tend to be concentrated too much over the back of the saddle, instead of being spread evenly, as it should be, along the length of the panels. This can cause discomfort or even pain to the horse, and may trigger reflex points which cause his back to hollow and hind legs to disengage.
It will inhibit the correct use of the rider's pelvis/hip joints.
It is not unusual for a rider, who has ridden in a 17.5" saddle and found it comfortable to think that she will always need this length of saddle, regardless off the saddle make, style or width of the saddle. However, these are relevant and important factors that do make a difference.
One example of this is that because the BALANCE trees differ from traditional saddle trees in order to accommodate the width and shape of a healthy equine back when moving in a bio-mechanically correct way, they ‘feel’ smaller to the rider than they measure
We determine the seat size and tree length and shape by:
Observing what the horse and rider are currently using for a saddle.
Assessing whether the horse is in good physical health and muscle development, in which case a maintenance saddling approach is OK, or whether the horse us underdeveloped, muscle wasted and needs a Remedial Saddling Approach.
Looking at the shape of the rider, the way they ride and knowing what they want to do with the horse.
Looking at the size and shape of the horse and noticing how well they are trained because this can make a difference to the length of saddle/tree that it can comfortably wear.
Observing the horse and its rider in action in their current saddle and then in BALANCE saddle/s.
Taking into account the style of saddle that suits the rider best.
There's more information about seat lengths in the 'BALANCE Saddle 'Fitting'' section of the FAQ page.
You may also wish to check out 'What is the secret to rising/posting to the trot in balance?' in the 'Riding in BALANCE Saddles' section for information about the correct use of the rider's pelvis/hip joints as mentioned above.
Our saddles have been used for many years with very good results by people doing long distance trail riding for pleasure and endurance competition, including rides like the Golden Horseshoe Ride here in the UK and the Tevis Cup in the USA. However, the owners of the horses involved had a good understanding of the importance of training and riding their horses in a way that encourages a certain level of collection and engagement during training and even during long rides.
This picture shows one of our clients doing the Tevis Cup in the USA in her BALANCE saddle; she finished well and with the horse getting a high condition rating.
However, there are definitely some aspects of the way many horses are ridden and trained in long distance riding that conflict with the basic principles of why we do what we do with saddles, so we'd recommend you click on the document below if you are interested in using Functional Saddling for this sort of activity.
Some people like to combine arena work, with trail riding on a long rein because they are under the impression that trail riding in this way is somehow 'kinder' and will require less effort from the horse physically and mentally than the arena work, where they are focused on good bio-mechanically correct movement. However, it is really important to understand that any time a horse is moving, he/she is designed to have a degree of engagement (where the hind legs coming further under the horse's body to off-load weight from the forehand). Sadly, a lot of people associate engagement with stress of the horse or being demanding/forceful, yet without engagement during movement, the horse's body comes under excessive and unnatural strain (even without a rider - exaggerated further with a rider).
When a horse is ridden on a long rein, he/she receives no help from the rider to maintain an engaged posture so his/her body starts to follow the line of least resistance. This means that the rider's weight forces the horse down and forwards onto the forehand which is not designed to take that sort of weight (the hind quarters can strengthen to safely carry additional weight without damage to the structures).
A lot of people have the impression that riding on a long rein offers relief to a horse and that it is necessary/beneficial in terms of the horse's mental and emotional well-being. That belief has most likely come about because when a horse is ridden in a conventionally fitted saddle, the saddle actually gets in the way of natural engagement of the hind-quarters, so when a rider insists on engagement in a conventionally fitted saddle, it stresses the horse and therefore there would be some relief in a long rein in those circumstances.
However, what horse's really need is equipment that allows them to move as nature intended and to be ridden in a constructive and supportive way. There is no reason a horse should feel restricted or that the 'fun' is being taken out of the ridden work by maintaining engagement. Rather engagement allows the horse to carry a rider much more comfortably and with minimised stress to the body so enjoyment can increase!
We encourage riders to tend to the horse's engagement just as much when out on the trails as in the arena for the sake of the comfort of the horse and preservation of the horse's biomechanical structures. It takes time to help the horse to adjust their posture once it has become distorted and then more time still for the horse to become strong again and established in their more natural, biomechanically correct posture. After that, even more time is needed to enable them to build up stamina and strength in order to maintain good posture whilst carrying the additional weight of a rider for longer periods of time, yet this is a good foundation well-worth establishing.
During the process (just as all other times) it's very important to pay attention to any signs that the horse is beginning to struggle and then tend to the problem (such getting off and leading the horse if he is getting tired, slowing the tempo if it has become too fast for the horse's balance, tending to straightness if the horse has become crooked etc.). Horses have evolved to be incredibly good at masking discomfort and strain and it is this ability that has helped keep them alive in the wild, so it's important to be sensitive and alert to subtle signs of stress in the horse at all times, and especially when riding.
It is important to treat reversed hide leather in the same way as the rest of the saddle in terms of cleaning and conditioning, with the one difference that you stick to using glycerine saddle soap and a thicker conditioner occasionally (such as Effax or Aussie Leather Care), just wiping over lightly rather than using oil. The oil is likely to penetrate too much and could affect the foam inside.
Do not worry that the 'fluffy' texture of the reversed hide disappears once it has been conditioned; this is how it should be.
Yes you can (just avoid using it on any reversed hide panels - just use glycerine soap or a thick conditioner such as Effax or Aussie Leather Care on those).
However, please note that when leather is conditioned with oil, the oil gets drawn deep into leather. This is good for the inside of the leather, but as the oil leaves no residual layer on the outer leather, this part of the hide remains ‘vulnerable’. Therefore, after oiling, it is important to use a product (such as Glycerine soap, Effax Lederbalsam or Sedgewicks Leather Care) that will, in effect, ‘seal’ the leather and will condition and protect the outer layer of it.
BALANCE saddles are expertly hand-crafted and are of excellent quality. As such, if cared for well they should last 20 – 30 years at least, but if left neglected and unconditioned, its life will be drastically shortened.
When left unconditioned, leather gets dry and will lose its elasticity. It will also fade more quickly and lose its original colour. Dry leather can be prone to cracking and breaking, which may lead to a safety issue as well. So, conditioning and caring for your saddle well will protect your financial investment and will keep it safe to use as well. The manufacturers are clear that poor management and care of the leathers in their saddles can nullify their warranties.
The frequency of conditioning depends on how often the saddle is used and the climate it is stored and used in. Hot, dry climates tend to dehydrate leather quickly and make the need for conditioning more frequent, but remember that whenever an oil is used to condition the leather, it should always be followed by using a more waxy, thicker product to seal the surface.
It is also possible to use too much oil and conditioner on good quality leathers, making them lose their strength and become too soft. No more than once a week in climates with extreme temperatures and usually around once a month in more temperate climates, in between normal cleaning.
Many people have been taught that it is good practice to have saddles re-flocked now and again, but in actual fact it may not be necessary, nor even advisable. We have known many BALANCE Wool-flocked saddles to be 15 years old or older, with no adjustment needed to the original flocking. This is because the Padding System protects the panels from the horse as well as the horse from the panels.
If you turn your saddle upside down and feel the panels, do they feel uneven, lumpy or hard? Or are there areas where there are dents/'holes' in the panels where the flocking is missing/less dense? If so, then it would be good to address this, but if not, it is usually best to leave the original flocking alone. This is because, in our experience, it is almost impossible to adjust the flocking and get as good a result as the original flocking.
If your panels are lumpy or hard etc. the best thing to do is to get a good saddler to strip out all of the old flocking and completely re-flock softly with high quality, long-fibre white wool.
If you do not know a good saddler, you could send the saddle back to Frank Baines in the UK (www.frankbaines.com), but you would need to contact them directly to request prices and to arrange when they could do the work etc. Alternatively, you could ask Frank Baines if they can recommend someone to help you in your area.
(If the saddle is still in warranty please contact the BALANCE Office for advice).
Important Please Note: If you are experiencing problems with your panels, it may be necessary to assess whether there are any postural issues relating to your horse and/or the rider that needed to be addressed. If panels have become unevenly compressed for example, and any postural issues are not remedied, the problem with the panels is likely to return after re-flocking. It is very important to identify and address any such issues for the sake of your horse's comfort and well being, and it will very much help the rider too :-)
Some BALANCE Saddles (such as the Felix, Matrix and Horizon models) have foam panels. Although the leather encasing foam panels does stretch a bit with use, the panels are extremely reliable and unless they receive extreme pressures in order to compress them unevenly, they do not usually require any attention over time.
It is a good idea to wash all the fleece lined pads that will go next to the horse’s back before you first use them. There are two reasons for this:
The wool on these pads has been shorn from the sheep and then knitted onto a cotton backing. Because it has been through this manufacturing process it is a good idea to wash it as instructed to remove any chemical residue that may be there.
Because of this process, the individual fibres will not all be lying in the same direction as they would if they were still attached to a skin. So, the cuticles on each hair shaft will not all be lying in the same direction. This can make the fibres feel rather ‘rough’. Washing as instructed, particularly using the cup of white vinegar in the final rinse, will soften the fibres so that they feel better for the horse.
There are many things that can contribute to a horse wanting, or needing, to put his tongue over the bit, such as:
The design features of the bit are making it painful or uncomfortable for him
The bit is the wrong size for his mouth or incorrectly fitted which makes it uncomfortable/painful for him to wear
The horse has pain in his mouth from teeth that are not comfortable
The horse may have pain in his neck that needs chiropractic/osteopathic treatment
The rider is providing a rein-contact that is uncomfortable, restrictive, irritating, too inconsistent or painful for the horse.
If you would like us to look at your specific situation closely in order to make some suggestions, you would be welcome to do a Distance Consultation with us. It would involve you sending some pictures, video and information to us so that we can suggest whether or not the horse-friendly design features of the BALANCE Fulmer Bit should help your horse. Similarly, we can check whether or not the Eeezy Reins would be likely to help you to offer a more acceptable rein contact when riding.
The difference between the two elastics (Standard and Soft) is the amount of stretch they provide and therefore how firm a contact they encourage. Standard elastics require that the rider is willing to take up quite a positive contact in order for the horse to explore the elasticity and the concept of having connection to the rider that is consistent without it being fixed.
We introduced the softer elastics because we found that a lot of people who have been through one of the 'Natural Horsemanship' training programmes have spent a lot of time with little to no rein contact, and find it very challenging to go from that to the level of contact required to work with the Standard elastics. The soft ones are a kind of stepping stone.
In reality, most horses seem to need the level of security and consistency created by the firmer elastics, particularly when they are inexperienced and/or unbalanced. As the horse becomes stronger and more educated in the art of carrying a rider in balance, his need for a firmer rein contact diminishes because he spends more of his time in self carriage.
For more information about what the Eeezy Reins (TM) are for, click here.
For anyone riding in challenging circumstances, such as moving at speed or jumping over undulating terrain, riding young or green horses etc., we would encourage the use of a well fitted breastplate. It ideally needs to be one that allows you to connect back to the girth straps/billets rather than the fall-down staples (sometimes called D-rings) at the front of the saddle. There are 5-point breastplates now on the market that allow you to do this, or you can use one of our own BALANCE English Hunting Breastplates.
The reason we suggest these Breastplates is because providing they are fitted correctly, they do give some extra lateral stability - they act almost like training wheels on a bicycle, not having any influence at all 99% of the time, but coming into action as an early warning system if the saddle starts to become displaced laterally in an extreme situation.
In theory, any bit can be used for driving, but traditionally driving bits offer more control, probably because of the mistaken belief that driving horses should use themselves differently and pull with their front end. It would probably be safer to only use a Fulmer with a single, not pairs, as one horse could get caught up in the other's bridle, or could do damage to the other horse, with the cheeks.
Throughout 2020, we will be changing the way we offer training and education to those interested in joining the BALANCE Team as BALANCE registered Test Ride Facilitators (as well as to horse owners who just want to learn more).
If you are interested, please just email us via the Contact Us Page and we'll update you about it. It would also be helpful if you could let us know a bit about yourself when you inquire, for example your experience with the BALANCE Saddling System/ Functional Saddling, and any other equestrian experience.
Occasionally a position opens up to help us in the BALANCE Office; when this happens the position is advertised on the BALANCE Facebook Page.
New BALANCE Saddles are currently only available for purchase through BALANCE HQ in England.
However, we are open to individuals and shop owners stocking the BALANCE pads and sundries if they wish. We are able to give a discount to anyone buying in bulk, but please be aware that our profit margins are very tight:
Because our products are expensive to produce and,
Because we try to keep our prices as low as possible for the sake of our clients.
So, there's not a lot of money to be made selling them I’m afraid.
Over the past 25 years, there have been many professional riders who have asked us to sponsor them by supplying a saddle free of charge. Some of these riders rode in a way that was sympathetic to the principles of the BALANCE Saddling System (understanding and respecting the bio-mechanics of healthy equine movement) and others clearly did not. We did not want to supply these riders with one of our saddles with the BALANCE logo on and appear to have an association with them. However, we also didn't want to offend those we refused! So, we took the decision many years ago that it was most fair to refuse all requests for sponsorship than allow some and not others.
Sorry we can't advise you on that as there are too many factors to consider, such as the age and condition of the saddle, the current demand, where in the World you live and so on.
The best thing to do is to look at other 2nd-hand BALANCE saddles for sale on our website and elsewhere on the internet to get a rough idea of what sort of price similar BALANCE saddles are going for.
Some of our BALANCE registered Saddle Consultant do offer a service where they will do their best to help you to sell your saddle, in which case they should be able to give you a rough idea as to how much to ask for it.
Some of our BALANCE registered Saddle Consultants do help their clients to sell their 2nd-hand BALANCE saddles from time to time, so it might be worth checking in case one of them covers you area and may be able to help you.
Occasionally we do have an ex-Demo saddle for sale from the BALANCE HQ, so you are welcome to inquire about that if you wish by contacting us via the Contact Us Page.
Sorry but we can’t buy back used BALANCE saddles. Even if we could, because we have to charge VAT on everything, we’d never be able to pay as much as you'd be likely to get for it selling privately anyway.
We can't offer a trade-in service for used saddles either (especially not for non-BALANCE saddles - BALANCE saddles are significantly different in their design features and fitting compared to other makes and models, and for very good reasons. The only reason we design and produce saddles is because they are not available elsewhere with the specifications that the horses have shown us that they need).
If you have a used BALANCE saddle to sell, it might be worth contacting the BALANCE registered Saddle Consultants in your area in case they know of someone looking for a saddle like the one you have to sell, or may be able to help you to sell it. You’d also be welcome to advertise it on our 'Used Saddles' page if you wish.
Unfortunately, we no longer have the manpower to look back through our records to find out when saddles were originally sold because it takes up so much time.
In truth, the age of a saddle usually doesn’t mean much anyway…there are older saddles out there that have been wonderfully looked cared for are in superb condition, and there are much younger ones that have been badly neglected and are really quite a mess! Once a saddle leaves the BALANCE Office, we have absolutely no control over what happens to it, so there's always a level of risk with a used saddle regardless of its age.
However, as stated above, it is possible to find really great 2nd-hand BALANCE saddles, so if you find one that works really well for you and your horse, the age usually becomes irrelevant because if it is cared for well, a BALANCE saddle is of such good quality that it should last a very long time.
1. If you have ridden in a particular saddle and are trying to find the same thing second hand...
Things to bear in mind:
All BALANCE models are DIFFERENT. If you have ridden in an 8X (width) Zenith, but have found an 8X Felix second hand, it will not sit at the same width as the Zenith, and the panels will feel completely different to your horse. (For details about working out exactly what you need, see further FAQs).
The Style of saddle will affect how wide a saddle will sit on the horse, for example a Jump style will sit wider on the horse than a Dressage or GPD style of the same model and width.
There are many factors that can affect how an older saddle will feel to your horse, such as how it has been used and cared for. This is especially the case with models that have a Wool-flocked panel, but there can be an impact on a foam-panel saddle as well. For example, you may find one saddle has been cared for very well and has been ridden in by a well-balanced rider on a well balanced horse, and another of the same specifications that has been badly neglected, ridden in by a particularly heavy crooked rider, on a very compromised horse and the two saddles will have become very different from one another.
2. If you are not familiar with BALANCE saddles...
Please be aware that there are a huge number of options within the extensive BALANCE range, and the different models, widths, styles and lengths all have a significant impact on both horse & rider. Please refer to further FAQs in the 'BALANCE Saddle 'Fitting'' section about how to work out what you need to look for second hand.
3. You are trying to identify a used saddle.
Click below or go to the 'Downloads' section to view a document which explains exactly how to identify BALANCE Saddles (both current and discontinued models).
Please be aware that the office is no longer able to look up how old a used saddle is for you. However, in many cases, age is not the best indicator of condition anyway - we have occasionally seen fairly new saddles in surprisingly bad condition, and have often seen very old saddles in fantastic condition.
The theory of sweat patterns can be very confusing... The idea that a dry area is caused by high pressure has come about because a lot of horse's are ridden in saddles that are very tight in the front and putting a lot of pressure in this area. Sometimes the pressure can close off the blood vessels and even damage nerves if very high. This is why it rightly worries people.
However, unless you are using a BALANCE saddle in a very incorrect or strange way, it is almost impossible to get high pressures underneath it.
There are several reasons why people see uneven sweat patterns and ‘dry spots’ in the wither area or in other areas under the saddle after riding:
Pressure from the points of the tree. This a very common problem with conventionally fitted saddles, but it is very rare with BALANCE saddles unless the saddle is not balanced correctly (for example, if the saddle is slightly tipping forward and/or the rider is very braced into their stirrups).
Previous pressure from a tight saddle has caused the area under the points of the tree to become 'shut down' and the sweat glands stop working correctly in that area. This often improves gradually in a less tight saddle.
If a BALANCE saddle is very generous in width, then there is room for sweat to evaporate from under the points of the tree as it produced (like it is on the rest of the body that is not covered). This area does not come into constant contact with the saddle and so there is room for the air to circulate through the fibres of the wool fleece here. After riding, the rider will then find 'dry spots' under the points of the tree.
We sometimes see a drier area in the middle of the back when the horse is not quite engaged up into the saddle enough, so the saddle is, in effect bridging very slightly. Quite a lot of people use this symptom to identify how well their horse is moving and when they get even sweat patterns it identifies a really good training session where the back has been lifted and the pressures more even.
If a horse and/or rider is habitually not straight it can create uneven pressure left-to-right on the saddle, which in turn can create uneven sweat patterns when comparing left and right-hand sides of the horse after riding.
A lot of horse owners have been trained to believe that a dry looking area always means high pressure, but in fact, it can mean quite the reverse. We always say that a rider should not ignore a change in sweat patterns, but also not assume that they are necessarily bad. It is a good idea to get into the habit of palpating the horse's back gently, at least one hour after riding to assess if the horse is comfortable, and always pay attention to the way the horse is moving under saddle.
When people refer to 'white hairs', it is usually when a horse with a non-white coat develops areas of white hair where previously the coat was a different colour.
It is important to pay attention when this happens because they are usually caused by one of two things:
Pressure – this can be from equipment or clothing such as rugs or saddles. However, it is very unusual to get areas of high pressure under a BALANCE saddle because they are designed to be fitted wider than the horse’s stationary shape. With a BALANCE saddle, risk of pressure would usually only be an issue if the saddle was padded very incorrectly, or if an inappropriate width was being used (too narrow, so that it fits like a tight conventional saddle). Pressure tends to create an area of all-white hairs.
Friction – Friction occurs when there is repetitive movement/rubbing of the skin and/or coat(and ruffled hairs are an early warning sign of friction). Friction can cause patches where some of the hairs are white, while others are the usual colour of the coat, creating a ‘roan’ effect, or it can create areas with all white hairs. A sprinkling of white hairs is a warning sign. Friction will cause skin soreness and the horse will usually hold the back away from the saddle in an attempt to reduce that soreness. It is important to check how clean the horse and the underside of the pad are. Dirt, grit or sand from the arena can act as an abrasive if it is in the horse's coat or the wool of the pad.
In either case, the cause of the problem needs to be identified and remedied, as it is sign of a significant problem.
A saddle that 'bridges' is one that makes more contact with the horse's back under the points of the tree and under the back of the panels than it does through its middle. This worries people because they are concerned about pressure being concentrated under the front and back of the saddle instead of it being spread evenly along the length of the saddle tree/panels.
In order to address this topic, it is important to first understand that when he is efficiently using his body as nature intended, a moving horse will lift his back to enable correct engagement of the hind legs and subsequent lightening of the forehand; however, when he is standing still, it is biomechanically correct for him to have more weight on his forelegs and for him to drop/hollow his back a little.
This means that in order for a saddle to make even contact with the horse's back (via the pads) during movement, the saddle will have to bridge very slightly when the horse is standing still.
However, it is important to note that while BALANCE Saddles are designed to accommodate natural biomechanically correct movement, not all riding styles and practices encourage it - in fact some may even hinder, interfere with, or restrict the horse. So, if the horse is being ridden in such a way that encourages or forces him to drop/hollow his back during movement, or if he has developed a habitual pattern of a hollow back which now hinders his ability to actually lift his back when needed, a saddle that bridges may well start to cause a problem. However, in this case, for the sake of the well-being of the horse, it is essential to adopt a riding style and/or groundwork practices which will help him to recover a more natural, bio-mechanically correct posture, rather than fitting a saddle with curved panels that will, in effect, lock his back into an unnatural hollow posture preventing any hope of recovery.
It may sound obvious but saddles do not move on their own! In most situations, a BALANCE saddle will be moved forward by one or more of the following:
The rider sitting too far back or leaning back (behind the movement)
The rider's seat being used too strongly in a driving action
The rider's rein contact being too restrictive or braced against the necessary movement of the horse's head and neck
The horse being lunged,'circle game', loose schooled, at liberty and moving in an unbalanced way that has his weight thrown forward and down over his front legs
The horse being dropped in his back and disengaged
The horse being ridden too fast, causing him to be out of balance and on the forehand
The horse being ridden too fast with the rider unstable
The saddle being placed too far back when tacking up and then moving forward during work
The saddle sitting too high in front and too low at the back which encourages the rider problems in points 1) and 2)
It is obviously important to identify which of the above applies in your
situation, and you may be able to make the relevant adjustments
However, if you need more support:-
For issues relating to the rider. Some options include:
Contact the BALANCE Office and request a ‘Distance Riding Lesson’
Check the Dates/Events page for information about BALANCE Riding Clinics in your area
Some BrSC's and TRFs have spent time training with the BALANCE Co-founders in Functional Riding & Training and would be well equipped to help you with these issues - check out the 'Equestrian Experience' listed for any Team Members in your area.
For issues relating to the horse. Some options include:
The BALANCE Remedial Programme is designed to help the
horse to recover a more Natural, Biomechanically-correct posture and way of
For an overview of the Remedial Programme, click below or go to the Downloads section of this site:
It is important to know that your horse will most likely have as much of an opinion about girths as he or she does about saddles!
The best things to do is to find a way to offer your horse a few different options in terms of design and materials and pay attention to his/her feedback – there is not one sort of girth that is best for everyone. As always, the horse will be the best judge as to what works, what does notand what feels best to him/her. However, we have found that certain design features are favoured by most horses. These include:
That whatever material the girth is made of, it is kept scrupulously clean and supple. Stiff, sweaty, dirty girths can cause great discomfort!
A quality of smoothness. Avoid wrinkles and creases in either the girth or girth cover. Check this when the girth is curved as it would be around the horse and not when it is lying flat.
Sufficient width (bearing surface) over the sternum area of the horse.
We do recommend that whatever girth you choose, it should split into two separate sections well before you get to the buckle end (see left).
There are pros and cons for different girth materials, such as:
Wide/Soft Mohair/Trevira/String/Cord Girths
PROS: We have seen these work particularly well for a lot of different horses; they seem to find them very comfortable.
CONS: They must be washed regularly and not allowed to become stiff with sweat or mud. If you trail ride out in the country where there are burrs/sharp seed-heads/thistles etc. these can catch and stick onto the girth.
PROS: They can help stabilizing the saddle with crooked horses and/or riders due to the grippy quality of it.
CONS: If the horse is ridden hard/for a long time/in hot weather, the skin underneath the girth can over heat and blister. Some horses do not like the ‘grippy’ feel of the neoprene.
PROS: Some horses like the ‘give’ provided by the elastic part of the girth.
CONS: If the girth is elasticated on both sides, it is very easy to over-tighten the girth! If the girth is just elasticated on one side, it is important to do your final tightening of the girth on the side without elastic to avoid over-tightening. Some horses like the feel of elasticated ends and others do not. We have known some horses who were very bothered by the constant and unrelenting pressure (albeit not a high pressure) created by an elasticated girth, and were much happier in a solid leather girth where the pressures could vary.
PROS: A lot of horses find these girths very comfortable, providing they are kept very clean and supple.
CONS: They need to be cleaned and conditioned very regularly (cleaned after each use and conditioned at least every week) and it is important that they do not become impregnated with sweat. If they are not kept clean they become stiff and could crack.
We tend to avoid the ‘humane’ sliding girth arrangement because it is almost impossible to avoid pressure under the metal fitting that you find on these girths.
It is important to remember that with any girth, it should not be overtightened. If you are having issues with a saddle moving laterally when the girth is sufficiently tight, it is of vital importance to address the balance and straightness of both horse and rider rather than just over-tighten the girth in order to compensate.
(For new saddle owners... You’ll need to make sure that your girth is long enough because the girth straps (billets) on new saddles are shorter and stiffer than on well-used saddles. If you only have a girth that does up at the bottom of the straps/billets of your current saddle, it will probably be too short to use with your new BALANCE saddle when you first get it).
Most BALANCE Saddles have 3-short girth straps (or billets), for use with a long girth, as standard. This is because long girth straps (billets) create more potential for:
The horse to be pinched if the long billets catch the skin below the saddle
High pressure to be exerted from long girth straps when compared with the broader surface of a long girth
Excessive over-tightening. The low position of the buckles on the short girths that are used with the long billets creates more leverage so that more pressure is exerted with no more effort from the rider.
The buckles of the short girths to bruise the horse in the very sensitive area just behind the elbow.
With the three short girth straps, you also have more choices for positioning the girth to best effect, but with long girth straps you only get two, so are more restricted.
Which girths offer more saddle stability, long or short?
The answer to this varies a lot depending on the girth type/design, however, a long girth attached to short straps seems to be more consistently stable and so if stability is an issue, this is probably the best option.
If someone uses a ‘’short’’ girth that is actually long enough to have the buckles well above the level of the elbows, it will come a fair way up the horse’s rib-cage and can also be stable. In this case there may not be much difference in stability or comfort.
However, if someone is trying to use a very short girth on long straps, where there is a lot less girth relative to straps, then this is definitely not as stable and not as comfortable for the horse (especially when combined with a short saddle pad). In more recent years, there seem to be less very-short dressage girths being used, which is a blessing, but it used to be much more common.
Being able to move in a powerful, balanced and engaged way, without restriction or discomfort, is every horse’s birth-right and essential in order for him to be able to carry the unnatural weight of a rider, without doing harm to himself.