Well, I am glad that I had Kelly, a professional saddle fitter, check out the saddle I had on trial for Jewell. The saddle was actually just a bit too narrow for her. After she gets into some regular work, her shoulder muscles will build up and the saddle would have become much too tight in a short time. The good news is that my Bates saddle – which has the changeable gullet system – does fit her.
The Bates saddle has the Cair ® cushion system. The marketing about this saddle leads one to believe that the saddle is filled “simply with air” which keeps you seated closer to your horse. I have had my Bates saddle for several years. The seat is comfortable for me, but the panels that sit on the horse’s back are hard without any give. There was also a crease developing in the panel where the front & back air bags met.
Kelly explained that she could remove the air bags and stuff the saddle with flocking to give a better fit. Having this done, of course, ends any manufacturer’s warranty on the saddle. But, the warranty had long expired. I decided to have the air bags removed and the saddle stuffed with traditional wool flocking.
As Kelly explained to me, there are 3 options in English saddle stuffing materials:
- Flocking (combination of wool & synthetic fibres) – provides the most adjustment for the horse’s back. Padding can be added or removed to fit the horse’s back as it changes over time. Flocking provides rounder edges which are less likely to cause pressure points or rubs on the horse’s back. The entire saddle can be re-stuffed if necessary.
- Foam (injected into the panels within a form created by wool felt) – Foam panels may leave gaps in contact, may be more squared at the edges causing pressure points or rubs, and the foam breaks down over time leaving the tree exposed and pressing directly on your horse’s back. Foam panels cannot be replaced and most saddle fitters will not even attempt to re-stuff these saddles with flocking. So, once the foam breaks down, the saddle must be replaced.
- Air (the Bates/Wintec Cair ® or Flair ® systems) – The “air bag” systems seem similar to the foam option. The air can leak out of the bladder leaving only the thin foam padding.
It only took Kelly a few days to get my saddle done and the results look great. She also brought me a bag full of the stuff that she removed from the saddle –
4 vinyl “bladders” (2 from each panel), some foam pieces and some white acrylic “fluff”. The “fluff” actually feels unpleasant to touch and quite crunchy. I wouldn’t stuff a toy animal with it.
The foam pieces were inside the bladders. So, the saddle was really stuffed with foam, a bit of air and some acrylic “fluff.
Because of the weather and my schedule, I haven’t had a chance to try the saddle on Jewell yet. Stay tuned for Part 3 in this Saddle Fitting Chronical.