The Barefoot - Attention to Detail Makes All The Difference!
Why is the Barefoot saddle so successful at solving problems?
Barefoot saddle technology is patented and can be identified on the saddles by the feather logo.
What makes our Barefoot saddle system so special?
By Sabine Ullmann, Equine physiotherapist
As an Equine physiotherapist, I had long been searching for a saddle system that would fit even difficult backs, and which would adjust flexibly to the back at all times. In my deliberations I especially considered the anatomical factors of the horse. This meant a design that would accommodate seasonal, age and training caused changes in the shape of the horse's back.
It was important to me to develop a saddle system that guaranteed sufficient spine clearance and, at the same time, would place the rider, or more specifically the rider's weight, over and into the horses' centre of gravity.
These days back problems are among the most common medical conditions of riding horses, besides lameness, which also can be frequently caused by problems of the back.
Several causes have lead to this development:
One of the most common causes can be found in a bad seat and/or wrong influences from the rider. The horse never learns to lift the back , is not correctly on the bit, but is 'pulled together'. This will show as a 'bulging out' of the lower neck, or as hollowing of the back (also see "Why is the Barefoot saddle humane for horses" ).
Artificial collection by 'pulling together':
When a horse hollows its back, whatever the reason, the spinous processes approach each other. Long-term, this will often lead to kissing spine syndrome.
In a horse ridden correctly, long-and-low, the spinous processes will move apart and be more upright. The spinous processes of thoracic vertebrae 14 - 16 are standing up vertically.
(Source: 'Osteopathy' by Fr. Schulte Wien, published by Mueller-Rueschlikon)
Some horses have conformational faults that can predispose them to back problems. Sadly, these horses often end up in the hands of inexperienced riders due to their lower price.
Sometimes, however, an ill-fitting saddle is to blame for the back problems of our horses.
There are countless ways in which a saddle with a stiff tree can be 'ill-fitting'.
Here are a few examples:
- The saddle tilts backward: higher in front than in back.
Result: the horse experiences massive pressure in the loin (over the lumbar vertebrae), and in the kidney area. Often such a saddle will also lie on the horse only at the front and back, not in the middle ('bridging').
- The saddle sits too far forward.
Result: the shoulder blades are squeezed and bruised; the mobility of the shoulder is blocked. Lateral movements and extended gaits cause pain. Usually hollow spots form in the muscle, behind the withers (=muscle atrophy: the horse 'develops withers').
- Saddle sits lop-sided. This could be due to weaker muscles on one side of the horse, or be caused by an incorrect seat of the rider.
Result: Worst case scenario, the saddle sits crooked or at an angle to the spine instead of parallel with it. In this case, weak muscling cannot be corrected and will even get worse and the horse will have problems bending.
Of course it should be self-evident that a horse can only move relaxed and loose if it is free from pain . Every pressure point results in tense muscles - similar to a pinching shoe in humans.
A horse that doesn't suffer from muscle tensions and blockages stays healthy longer, both physically and mentally, and riding such a horse is twice the fun!
Unfortunately, the reality often looks different:
Many of our customers come to us only after years of being on a 'saddle odyssey'. These customers buy saddles with the assurance that their horse has been well fitted but then back problems develop or are not resolved and the 'odyssey' continues. Best case: tense, cramped muscles. Worst case: saddle sores or even kissing spines.
How can we help them?
Well, first by explaining the anatomy of the horse's back to them, and, in this context, showing where and when a treed saddle has its limitations, and what the clear advantages of a Barefoot are. That's why we place great importance on individual talks, help and explanations for the horse owner.
We support each customer with our experience.
We see our work first and foremost as helping the horse.
That is why we often recommend, before buying a saddle, to have a Chiropractor or Osteopath examine the horse, if the problems seem to warrant it.
Why is a Barefoot saddle horse friendly?
Every horse has a different back. Additionally, a horse's back changes constantly, caused by age, training and/or seasonal changes. During riding, the horse's back is in constant motion and changes shape differently, depending on the degree of collection, bend and head height. (The photo shows the same horse with different head and neck carriage).
When a horse walks on a loose rein and with its head held high, the back shows, from anatomical causes, more curvature - the back drops, sinking downward. If the horse is put correctly on the bit or is ridden long and low (head fully stretched out forward/downward), this curvature changes, the back is lifted up and the spine is 'arched up'. This process can be observed on every horse/pony because it is bio-mechanically caused by the Nuchal ligament and other ligaments of the back which connect the back of the skull to the lumbar vertebrae, combined with the working of the back and abdominal muscles. The difference in back height caused by this is clearly visible and can, depending on the horse, measure up to 5cm or 2 inches. A saddle with a tree is too inflexible to adjust to this difference. The flexible Barefoot, however, can at all times adjust to the top line and its changes, without limiting the horse in its movement. Additionally, it places the rider, or more specifically the riders' weight, exactly over the center of gravity of the horse.
The thoracic spine of the horse is not naturally created to bear a rider's weight. It follows, then, that the goal of training must be to enable the horse, by developing its muscles, to carry our weight without sustaining damage.
In order for a horse to truly become a 'riding' horse it must learn to lift its back while being ridden. Through this arching up, this flexing of the thoracic spine, the spaces between the vertebrae open wider, the muscles get better blood supply, and the true sideways bend of the thoracic spine becomes possible. Should a badly positioned, stiff saddle disturb this sequence of movements, or the rider sit too far back in the saddle, this goal cannot be reached and all sorts of damage ensues.
Unfortunately, it is a widespread belief (usually among Western riders) that a saddle should have the largest possible area of contact with the horse's back.
If one has a closer look at the horse's back, one discovers that, especially with short-backed horses, there is very little 'suitable space' to sit on. The shoulder shouldn't be limited in its movement by the rider's weight, because the scapula (shoulder blade) has on its top about a hand's width of cartilage. This material can become inflamed, or at least painful, if a stiff saddle is constantly rubbing on it as it moves. This means that the rider should sit behind the shoulder.
Because the spinous processes of the vertebrae of the thoracic spine (T1 - 18) are inclined backwards, towards the tail end of the horse, but change their direction (T15 is vertical, T 16, 17 & 18 are leaning forward, towards the horses' ear), it is difficult for a horse to arch the back if the rider is weighing this point (around T15) at which the spinous processes come very close to each other. Since this arching of the back is very important (in every style of riding) to carry the riders' weight, allow better blood circulation to reach muscles (and thereby allow muscle development), and enable bending the thoracic spine. One must, therefore, sit before this critical point (T 15).
What space remains for the rider? The area behind the withers (T 9), to just before the point at which the spinous processes approach each other. In German, there is a word for this area, meaning "The place where the saddle lays", this is where the saddle would lay 'automatically', and this area is, in short-backed horses, not much more than two hands wide, by longer-backed horses slightly more. Especially with short-backed horses it is important to sit in this correct place, because the span of the 'bridge' of the back is longer. Such a horse has often a hard time stepping under and putting more weight onto the hind legs. Another reason why it is most comfortable for the horse to carry the rider's weight on this spot is that its center of gravity is under this area. This way, the horse can best balance the weight on its back.
The Barefoot can be set over the shoulder, because the fork or pommel insert can move along in our supple nubuk or soft leather and is not weighed down by the rider and pressed onto the scapula. Therefore the Barefoot allows the rider to sit in the correct area, without impeding the horse's movement. Additionally, the spine stays free and allows the horse (if ridden correctly) to lift the back.
Whether you are just starting your horse, have an older horse with a swayback, a roly-poly Haflinger, or a Warmblood with high withers, the Barefoot lays the foundation that allows your horse to carry you for all its years as a riding horse with ah healthy back!
The Barefoot adjusts its shape to all kinds of different and often problematic horse backs, making it ideally suited to be used on different horses. Often it is used in riding stables, which cannot buy a saddle for each individual horse, or by breeders and dealers whose stock changes frequently.
Owing to its flexibility, it is also well suited for starting young horses, which, after all, will steadily change shape through the ongoing muscle development. With the Barefoot, you create the ideal conditions for a young horse to build up the correct weight bearing muscles, without being hampered by a rigid tree.
It is not just the horses that are comfortable in the light and flexible Barefoot!
Our customers value the comfort and the closeness to the horse. Numerous trail- and endurance riders say enthusiastically that they can sit for hours in the Barefoot and feel like they are riding 'on clouds'.
Riders that use a lot of seat or weight aids find that the aids can be given much finer and more gradually.
The Barefoot is also appropriate for riders with back problems. Many of our customers complain that they developed back pain from riding in treed saddles, because the rigid tree transmits the horse's movements as jolts. Many have already had slipped disks and their doctor advised them to stop riding.
I n the Barefoot, these riders can ride pain free again, because the horse's movements are transmitted much more softly. This 'wave-shaped', soft and close transmitting of the horse's motion allows even beginners or riders with disabilities to feel the rhythm of the horse.
The Barefoot creates optimum conditions for horse-friendly riding and relaxed riding. It cannot replace correct handling of the horse!