Does your horse put his ears back when you approach with tack? Does he swish his tail or open his mouth evasively when you ride him? Does he struggle to work forwards and in good balance? Have you had to resort to stronger bits or tighter nosebands for better control? If you answered ‘yes’ to any one of these, you would be forgiven for thinking that these are all perfectly reasonable behaviours or common problems for the average horse. However, should we really consider this to be ‘normal’ and how do the images look to the wider public? With growing evidence to illustrate that these common symptoms are seated in pain or discomfort and that truly happy horses do not display multiples of these negative behaviours, and are easier to ride and train, it is important that we use this information to address any potential issues for the betterment of horse sport as a whole. Whether we like it or not, equestrian sports’ social license to operate is being challenged, which could in turn lead to horse sports not only being removed from the Olympics, but also have a knock-on effect to the use of horses at all levels.
With saddles having such a major influence on both horse and rider, as individuals and as a combination, saddles and saddle design will no doubt come under stricter scrutiny too.
SMART™ Saddles was founded in a quest to develop a saddle that improved horse and rider welfare and performance. Understanding limitations of traditional saddlery, SMART™ saddle designer, Dr Anne Bondi BHSI, invested her wealth of knowledge into creating a saddle which horses could perform optimally in, not in spite of.
Just like an athlete’s running shoe, the flexible construction conforms dynamically to the contours of the horse’s back, to allow uninhibited movement and support healthy physiological function. As the saddles are fully flexible, they do not pinch or bridge, and they are not displaced by the horse’s biomechanics in the same way that a rigid frame can be. On top of this, scientific research shows that SMART™ saddles offer better horse: saddle: rider synchrony; the flexible base panels can engage with the long back muscle either side of the spine independently throughout the stride cycle, allowing better alignment.
It goes without saying that horses who are comfortable in their work perform better and look happier whilst they do so. SMART™ saddles aim to give every horse the chance to work as comfortably as possible so that they can enjoy their career under saddle.
Without the need for a wooden or metal frame, SMART™ saddles are notably lighter weight than most traditional saddles on the market, helping to reduce the overall load that horses are expected to carry. We know that increasing the horse: rider weight ratio can lead to compensatory movement patterns and even lameness so, just as we have developed many human products to benefit from being lighter in weight than their earlier counterparts, minimising the weight of the saddle can be beneficial for the horse.
SMART™ saddles also benefit from allowing the taller rider to comfortably ride a shorter backed horse in a saddle that is suitably sized for them, ensuring that the horse is not being asked to carry an out-of-balance load.
Your horse changing shape and the saddle no longer fitting needn’t induce anxiety when you have a SMART™ saddle. As all adjustments are made externally to the saddle, it is possible to adapt the fit without specialist equipment or expensive new saddles; simply add or remove shims as required, either at a refit visit with a SMART™ Advisor or using your own knowledge and experience. There is no need for horses and riders to be riding in ill-fitted or out of balance saddles when you have a SMART™ saddle.
‘’With the help of a SMART™ Advisor the saddle fit was customised for Triggs and he
continues to improve every day. I would even go so far as to say he enjoys his flatwork sessions. He is
much nicer to ride and much happier in himself. His jumping has also improved because I think he is much
more comfortable - he is the best he has ever been.’’
~ Geraldine Torr
Social license to operate is everyone’s responsibility. Whether you are a happy hacker or an elite athlete, it is important to keep horse welfare at the top of your agenda to help improve our much-loved past-time and secure a positive future for horses everywhere: Love the horse first and the sport second!
‘’From the first ride in the SMART™ saddle until now she has been a completely different horse to ride. She is easier now than she was when we were competing. With the SMART™ GP saddle, we can trot on a loose rein, canter on a loose rein, we are jumping again and we can walk afterwards without her getting stressed and tense.
She doesn't toss her head up in transitions. She doesn't get the strange diamond shaped sweat patch on her shoulder. She's not stiff or sore after a ride. She doesn't rush. She doesn't grab at the bit or run through the bridle. And she hasn't done her silly 2 beat bouncy canter that consistently got me marked down in dressage. She is relaxed.
What the SMART™ GP saddle saddle has given me is priceless:
It's made me fall back in love with riding.
It has given Annie and I the chance to make some more memories even though I'd retired her.
It has given my youngster the opportunity to have the best start when the time comes to back her.
So whilst I really can't afford to be buying saddles, I can't afford not to ...
I owe it to Annie to make her life as comfortable and enjoyable as possible.
We owe every horse that.’
~ Jenny Parsons