Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Riley reviews treeless: Part III

"When we're done trying on saddles do I get a treat?  (not treeless here)"
Riley finally got me to understand that the current saddle I'm using is not workin' for him any more. How'd he make me aware?
  • Tight back, flat movement
  • Tense jaw
  • Reluctance to go foward
  • Reluctance to go straight
  • Crabby behavior when saddling
Four saddle fittings did little to change this.

 Ansur to the rescue?
So, one bright Saturday afternoon, my friend with the Ansur treeless came out. It was all very low key, and we started with the County.  I rode, she watched, and I commented on how "typical" this ride felt. It was typical, most notably in that Ri was pokey and wiggly.

Fifteen minutes later: we put on the Ansur. It's brown (thumbs up) and does look like a dressage saddle. It is not new, but appeared to be in good condition, with very nice leather and construction. I put my stirrups on the saddle and lengthened them a few holes -- for some reason they felt short.

I walked around. Two things -- two differences I noted -- were evident immediately. His neck stretched down, as if he was testing the waters. As we moved, he felt looser and suppler.  His stride got longer as we walked. Even in the saddle, I could sense his curiosity: "Hey, this is different! What's this?" His ears were pricked forward; in my other saddle, he had seemed bored. We walked a bit more.

I picked up a trot. He was willing, and as we made our first wide turn I felt something I had not felt in a while -- loft. He was stretching into the bit and swinging his back. The saddle owner, and another boarder were watching. After 2-3 minutes my boarder friend said, "he seems to be going better in this saddle." The Ansur saddle owner, wisely refraining from comment,  said "use your outside rein more as you come around corners." I kept riding, changing directions, doing transitions, assessing Riley's mood and way of going. I looked to the Ansur owner, and asked her opinion. She said, "Ride a bit more in this saddle, get comfortable, and we'll try your saddle again."

I tried to think about what other factors could be causing the change.  Was he just warming up? Were we reading too much into his behavior? I did a little leg yield, and felt his trot amplify nicely. We cantered a little, which I had not done in the County. Pokey but unremarkable. I wasn't pushing very hard. I walked around and checked the gullet clearance. Two fingers at the pommel. Was that enough?

"Let's try the County again." 
Saddle change. Back in the County, I attached my stirrups but could barely reach them with my toes! I shortened them up. "What's that about?" I asked. We surmised that the Ansur had conformed more closely to Ri's back, letting his sizable girth take up my leg more.

I rode around in the County. The trot was flat again.  Ri felt tighter. I rode a bit more, and the the Ansur saddle owner said, "Do you want to try the Excel again?" To be honest, I felt sad -- for myself, for Riley, for the time in a saddle that likely didn't fit him. I was ready to stop, so I didn't try it again. We had an honest conversation about the Ansur versus my saddle.

Well, I could feel an improvement, and two observers could see it. Riley, my big warmblood with a wither, liked the Excel on the first ride, and he went far better in the Ansur than in his too narrow County saddle. That is saying something. I'm impressed that a back sore horse could be so forgiving in a new saddle--but really I needed to compare a better-fitting saddle to the Ansur for a truly fair test.

But you know, that is only half the picture. How did I feel in the Ansur? Stay tuned...


  1. I agree with the second saddle allowing you to put more leg on Ri (read: "wrap" your leg a little better). However, I'm not sold that treeless is the way to go for you yet. Personally, I'm hoping you ride in a med-wide and a true wide to see if you can get the same result that you did in the treeless.

    My thoughts on treeless saddles are that I am not a perfect rider and I feel that a tree helps hide my smaller mistakes (such as my wobbly weight and such) for my mare.

    We went from a true med Crosby close contact with a narrow twist to a true wide Passier long flap with a wide twist and the difference was night and day for Bella and I! It's amazing how much of a difference a proper fitting saddle makes for you AND your horse!

    I can't wait to see how this ends! :)

  2. The world is divided into three camps: the people convinced no matter what, that a saddle needs a tree; the people who are convinced that a treeless saddle (completely flexible flex core) is the only way to ride; and the open minded who just aren't sure.

    Those of us who ride in Ansurs and have had total success are 100% convinced they are better for both horse and rider. My own back is SO much better since I switched to an Ansur 12 years ago. I am no longer sitting on a rigid structure--no matter how well padded--that sits on top of my horse. I am connected to his back and both he and I can flex and absorb his gaits without interference.

    Riding in an Ansur can take some getting used to, however. I find the Excel gives me a super secure seat on my horse, but I also felt super secure in my old Classic which offered almost no rider support at all. (The newer Classics have more of a rider support system than the first models.) In essence, the Ansur tends to make me a better rider. I can feel my horse so much more quickly and respond to his reactions with more appropriate aids.

    I also love the balance of the Excel as it naturally puts me in a very correct dressage position without too much extra work on my part. There are more knee rolls I could add as well as a thigh block that would help my leg stay in position, but I like a closer feel and don't have a lot of leg issues to deal with.

    I know I'm going on about this, but I am trying to respond to some of the negative comments about these saddles since I love mine so much.

    Regardless, how wonderful it is to hear that Riley responded so well to the saddle. IF he was truly sore from your other saddle, then his reaction to the Excel is even more important. (I never rode my two younger horses in anything but an Ansur--wonder how they would be in a treed saddle for comparison? I ought to try, just to be fair...)

    I am looking forward to the rest of your report. I do know a saddle fitter with some really good saddles for sale should you decide to go the treed route.

    In the meantime, I'm rooting for the Ansur. *G*

  3. Hey Jean, Pelham Saddlery has the junior petite excel for sale, and I read where someone called this size a "true 17.5 saddle." So I have a call into them, it was out on trial a week or so ago but not taken down yet. It is reasonably priced too.

  4. Whoo hoo! If you can get it on trial for a week or so, that would be great. Don't quite know how much difference there is in size between the petite--the size I ride in--and a junior petite, but you look to be thinner than I am (darn you) so it might be fine.

    What a great opportunity it would be to be able to try the saddle for more than one ride.

  5. Isn't that the biggest bitch of trying saddles? You find one that does make a difference in your horse, and you never ever want to put the one you own back on his back.

    "what will i ride in nooowwwwwww????" I wailed. It will take 3 months for my custom to come in.

    they left me a loaner, but still - once you know you have a problme, you're stuck.

    it sucks.

  6. I remember feeling sad like that. Riley will surprise you with what he will be able to do when you find the right saddle, but in the mean time it is no fun. I wish you luck.


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