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« On control and kindness | Main | And now for something completely different..... »

August 01, 2008


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Grey Horse Matters

I've seen the ad for this and thought it was a good idea, but the price makes it prohibitive for personal use,(mine anyway). I can see where it would be a great idea for riding centers though. You've got some great ideas for engineering students to work on, it would be interesting if someone could come up with all the add-ons you've suggested. I for one would like to know how different pressures affect the working horse and saddle input would be a huge help to so many horses.


It reminds me of the "phony pony" WETA made for The Lord Of The Rings films for the non-rider-actors to ride when they needed close ups during a battle / gallop scene. Did a pretty realistic job. They started with a barrel covered in horse hair mounted on a rocker: that's how they got the shots of Liv Tyler doing the Ringwraith chase, the actual ride was done by a stunt-woman on an Andalusian stallion, she was an AMAZING rider. Sorry, LOTR nut here [not just the films] & you ARE in Shire territory ...


GHM: I am following up the research idea with some former colleagues in academia. Nowadays, engineering students do projects in teams, and sometimes the projects go for several years using a new team annually. Perhaps some finance can be obtained from equestrian trade bodies and saddle manufacturers? The project could really help understanging of the human-equine interaction. It could also have a big impact (one way or the other) on the acceptance (or rejection) of gadgets such as treeless saddles.

Jules: Interesting, thank you. This is very much Tolkein territory. There are the obvious sights, and also hidden places such as the (likely) models for Weathertop and the Barrow Downs.

I did once manage to visit Tolkein's old house in Oxford, and sit briefly at the desk where he wrote The Hobbit and much of LOTR.


i was wondering about your experience with treeless saddles, as i was thinking of trying one with a horse who has some girth/back issues. you seem to know something about them that i don't, which maybe i should take as a warning... i'm in the middle of researching them, and any info you might have would be a big help!

White Horse Pilgrim

Although I haven't used one, I've received a number of reports about treeless saddles from knowledgeable friends and equestrian professionals. I posted about this in May, see The consensus is that treeless saddles have appreciable potential to cause harm both through putting weight on the spine and associated ligaments and muscles and through failing to distribute the rider's weight adequately along the full lwngth of the bearing surface. Saddlers and chiropractors have practical experience of serious rubbing and other problems. A number of long horseback expeditions have been planned using treeless saddles, all of which have run into saddle-related problems that were relieved by a conventional treed saddle. Archaeological study of skeletal remains of horses that were ridden bareback (probably with some kind of pad) also demonstrates damage to the vertebrae where weight was borne.

So the evidence strongly suggests that a tree-less saddle is much more likely to harm a horse than a correctly fitting conventional saddle.

I would tend to suggest consulting an experienced equestrian chiropractor where a horse has a back problem that cannot simply be put down to an ill-fitting saddle.

I do find that the claims made by proponents of tree-less saddles can be confused, illogical and incomplete. For instance, the fact that a saddle is "soft" does not mean that it is acceptable to place weight over the spine. Nor can a saddle without a rigid structure spread the rider's weight evenly along its length. (Either the saddle is rigid and spreads weight, or it isn't rigid, flexes, and concentrates weight.) Whilst claims are made that pressure distribution beneath a treeless saddle has been measured, results don't seem to be published, nor is it stated whether tests used new or broken-in saddles, whether tests were made on a moving horse, etc.

I hope that this helps.


hmmm... that all makes sense. the horse i am referring to has no physical issues with his back (we've done every diagnostic available including nuclear scans, etc...) but seems to have some kind of phobia linked to previous abuse with a western saddle and his epsm... at this point i'll try anything :-\

i think i know the archaeological study you refer to, where bareback-ridden horses had evidence of trauma to their thoracic vertebrae, and it only makes sense that sitting directly on the spine/spinous processes is going to cause problems. the one i was looking at is by Ansur, and has a gullet down the center to relive the spine. the first saddles were nothing more than two stuffed leather pads with a saddle cloth attached to the top which allowed clearance for the spine between them, so maybe when something has been working well for thousands of years we probably shouldn't throw it away on a whim, which it seems a lot of these new treeless saddles have done. i find the concept of a non-rigid tree interesting, though, and it would be nice to have the kind of study you suggest, to know what the real impact of all of this equipment is on the horse...

White Horse Pilgrim

jme: maybe the horse has learned to react in a particular way to a modern saddle? In which case maybe the pad that you suggest, with a gullet, is the best way to go in this particular instance? It seems to make sense to try it. You've done everything else for this horse, maybe this is the key to treating his fear or whatever is the problem?

I see special merit in a saddle that has the means to absorb shock. (I think that the felt-wool-felt sandwich in the pads of some high quality saddles is good for this.) However it does also have to distribute weight along the back, which implies some sort of structure so that the saddle doesn't bend like a banana. Not least because people are heavier nowadays.

There is a current study by Cambridge University (the MacDonald Institute of Archaeology) that is finding damage to the vertebrae of Scythian riding horses (ridden with pads only) compared to a control of Chinese chariot horses.

Just today a copy of the 1942 U.S. Cavalry Manual appeared through the post. It contains a nice view of a horse ridden at the gallop with a very slight contact. The photo shows just a slight droop in the reins. I shall try to scan it for a post.

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