The Functional Saddling method known as the BALANCE Saddling System is comprised of a well-designed saddle that is deliberately chosen to be wider than the horse's current static back shape and width, used in conjunction with a padding system that provides comfort, protection and the balance of the saddle. .
In order for the saddle to work with the padding system, it has to be 'fitted' to be wider than the horse's current, static shape. It must not be so wide that it touches the withers before the pads go underneath, nor narrow enough to sit level on the horse's back before the pads to underneath.
The saddle also needs to have a specific combination of horse-friendly features.
A generous gullet width of no less than 2 inches (5cm) at any point in its length and widening to respect the natural shape of the horse towards the front.
Panels that are generous in width and relatively flat from front to back and across the horse's back. In order for this to happen, the tree needs to have good angles.
Panels that are no firmer than the muscles that they sit on.
An open and wide shape that flares at the front to respect the natural and healthy shape of horses . More like an upside-down U shape and never an upside-down V shape.
Stirrup Bars that are not recessed back towards the horse.
A girth strap arrangement that spreads the tension from the girth along the tree but never from the points of the tree
A seat that allows the rider to sit comfortably in the middle of the saddle with a neutral alignment of the pelvis
If the saddle has these features, it can form part of a Functional Saddling method and can be used with a padding system that also needs to have a specific combination of features.
The pads used for the Padding System 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 Functional 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. (see options above) The Pro-Complete version is available in two thicknesses which 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. There is also a wool-fleece version., which we often suggest is used under saddles that have foam panels, such as our BALANCE Felix and Matrix saddles. Foam panels combined with a foam saddle pad, can create a bit of bounce that some horses like, but others do not, which is why we provide an alternative.
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 BALANCE Saddle Pads 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 following tools he or she will have a recipe for keeping the ridden horse healthy, happy, sound and performing well.
a well-designed saddle that has horse friendly design featuresand is available in a size that is wider than the current shape of their horse when that horse is standing at rest.
a well-designed combination of saddle pads that are adjustable & layered in materials that offer what the horse needs
some simple principles and information about how to work with them
If you want more information and/or to talk to someone about the BALANCE approach to Functional & Constructive Saddling, please look for the 'Find a Consultant' page or contact the BALANCE TEAM via the Contact Form.
I received my bit and I am thrilled with it!! It is for
my mare, who has competed through Prix St. George but has been very hard to
find a bit for. She has sharp bars, and despite every effort on my part, she
has often had small bruises on the edges of her tongue. I ride many horses and she is the only one this has happened to. I have been at
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Amy N. - United States
I can’t tell you how much I love my Zenith!!! I went through 10 saddles in 6 years for my horse before I got my Zenith. Two were “custom” made for him. What a joke. I am on my 5th year with my Zenith and it is still perfect!!! I cringe now when I see these very deep Dressage saddles with the huge thigh blocks. People ask me how I can ride in my Zenith with no thigh blocks and no deep seat. I say well now my horse is balanced and I don’t have to depend on the saddle to hold me. ☺️
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What can I say? I love it! The saddle and all of the accessories are great quality and look good but most importantly my horse is so comfortable that her stride has almost doubled, she glides round corners and works on the bridle with ease. What a difference!
Donna - Scotland
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.