A traditional treed English saddle has a recessed metal stirrup bar affixed to the tree of the saddle. It is recessed into the tree so when the buckle of the English stirrup leather is right up against the stirrup bar, you won’t feel it under your thigh. It is covered with a small skirt of leather. Sometimes this still results in a bulge over the buckle, but it’s slight, and most people can tolerate the small lump under their thigh.
Treeless saddles do not have a tree, and therefore the stirrup attachment is most often under the seat. If you put your English stirrup leathers under the seat in the traditional way, the buckle will be a lump right under your thigh and you will be very uncomfortable. The solution is to put the buckle of the stirrup leather down by your ankle.
Basically, you are turning the English stirrup leathers upside down. Under your seat will only be the fold of the leather, and it will lie flat and not bother you. Now that you have the buckle down by your ankle, what do you do with the excess ends of the leathers so they don’t flop around?
To answer this question, the illustration below works better than words. Simply tuck the ends of the leathers back into the buckle and then between the two layers of leather and slide a stirrup keeper over the whole thing to keep everything neat and tidy. Ta-da!
Barefoot English Stirrup Leathers are rigged so the buckle is at the ankle and comes complete with the stirrup leather keeper. They are nylon lined so they won’t stretch, and made with soft and pliable leather for comfort.
You can use regular English stirrup leathers with a treeless saddle if you put them on as the above illustration shows. You can purchase the Action Rider Stirrup Leather Keeper separately.
A traditional western saddle with fenders has the buckle for adjustments down by the ankle. The western or endurance fenders for a treeless saddle has a similar design. It is important for the top of the fender to be thin and pliable enough for it to lay smoothly under the seat of the western treeless saddle. The Barefoot Western Fenders and Barefoot Endurance Fenders are made with a nylon section that goes through the stirrup attachment to allow it to lay as flat as possible under the seat.
The most important element for success with your English stirrup leathers, western fenders or endurance fenders with a treeless saddle is to eliminate the bulk of the buckles from under your thigh. To do this, the buckles need to be positioned down just above the stirrup, near your ankle. The result will be a smooth transition under your leg and you will be comfortable and in close contact with your horse.
“A canter is the cure for every evil.” ~ Benjamin Disraeli
The canter is indeed high on the list as one of the thrills while riding a horse. The three-beat rocking horse canter with a brief moment of being airborne can be one of those memorable feel-good experiences, logged in the brain for life.
A calm canter depart is the start of developing this dreamy gait. When working with a young horse, or one that is reluctant to break into the canter, be sure to approach the subject in an unhurried fashion and have a plan.
In a western or English saddle, an easy way to get a canter depart is from a very active forward posting trot without rushing your steed off his feet. Establish your forward trot and choosing the direction that your horse prefers, head for a corner of your arena and make a gentle curving line. At some point, the horse will want to break into canter; it’s less work than a butt-busting trot. Don’t stop posting and take advantage of that moment by applying your cue for the canter. If your horse just trots faster slow him back down and ask again. Sometimes, if you ask for a strong forward trot, then slow down the trot slightly and sit to apply the cue for the canter, it will encourage your horse to strike off into the canter.
The canter is a 3-beat gait. If you are making a circle to the right, the inside is the right side of the horse, and the outside is the left side of the horse. Beat 1 is the left hind leg, or outside hind, striking off. Beat 2 is the diagonal pair of legs that move together – the inside right hind and the outside left foreleg. Beat 3 is the right foreleg – the inside foreleg – and when going to the right, the horse will be in better balance especially while on a circle to the right. We say the horse is on the correct lead, because the inside or right foreleg is the leading leg that goes more forward than the other foreleg in this gait. Beat 3 is followed by a moment of suspension when all four feet are off the ground.
Most riders ask for the canter by slightly moving the outside leg back and squeezing it against the horse’s side. This is because you are asking for the outside hind leg to strike off to begin the canter, resulting in the horse’s leading leg to be on the inside to be in better balance.
If you ask your horse to canter, and he strikes off on the wrong lead – do nothing – you’re cantering! The horse obliged with the correct gait. Let him canter for a bit. Then you can break back to trot, rev-up the engine again if necessary, and try the canter again until you get the correct lead. When you do, tell him what a genius he is! You’ll find that your horse progressively begins to pick up the correct lead more often, until right and left leads are firmly established.
After you have established a smooth canter depart from the trot and you are sure your horse understands the canter aid; you can try asking for it from a walk. Without hurrying, establish a forward-marching balanced walk that feels like it has a bit of bounce to it. You will probably experience some trot strides before getting the canter, but with repetition, the number of trot strides will diminish until your horse can strike off into the canter directly from the walk.
When you train the canter in this fashion, and all is going to plan, the horse seamlessly slides into it without rushing. If you establish the forward energetic trot or walk before asking for canter, you won’t have to kick, use a crop or spur, and all will be well. If things don’t go to plan – no worries. Take a break, re-organize yourself, establish that wonderful walk or trot and try again. Your confidence will make it happen.
Training your horse to move forward willing and dependably is the most important element to having a responsive and well-behaved horse. Most behavior problems begin with your horse’s resistance to the forward aids – your legs and seat. Severe resistance to the forward aids can result in bucking, rearing, shying, balking, and being unwilling to leave other horses or leave the barn. These are serious issues, but the cure is to go back to square one – your horse’s response to the go forward aids.
Going forward dependably is also a safety issue. If there is a scary monster in the bushes, your horse still has to listen to your go forward command to get past it. He might not like it, he might be tense and wild eyed, but if he continues to obey the forward aids, you can still make it past the obstacle. Going forward when asked is not a suggestion, or a guideline. It’s a hard and fast rule. It effects how your horse steers as well. Like a sail boat, you can’t steer a horse if he’s not in motion. I like to turn my horse’s head slightly away from the monster in the bushes, but continue it a straight line until we’re in the clear.
If you have trained a young horse, or started him under saddle, you have experienced that the green horse is so difficult to ride because his gas pedal is sticky. He goes forward, then the motor cuts out, then he doesn’t steer. Repeat. It’s rarely a problem that you cannot slow down or stop your young horse, he gets that pretty quickly. An experienced rider can get the horse moving forward with their aids, their energy and their mind. Everything about their attitude in the saddle says let’s go forward with consistency without blocking the way forward with hands or a body that cannot follow the forward motion smoothly. After many rides, the young horse learns that it’s fun to go forward in harmony with a rider, and through repetition and reward, and perhaps backed up with a crop on occasion, he learns that going forward is a way of life. Only then can you start bending and flexing, and introduce side way movements, because there is forward energy and motion to work with.
Every successful training moment that you make it past the barking dog, the plastic bag, and the parked car, builds your horse’s confidence in you. You are in charge and if you say go – it is safe. He learns to trust your leadership until finally; there is no resistance to anything. You are a team that can go anywhere! That is what we call a well-broke or fully trained horse. It does take time to get there – but it is so worth it.
It’s a good idea to revisit your horse’s response to the forward aids in the arena throughout his lifetime. I like to get on a big circle and go from trot to walk to trot to walk. Those transitions reinforce the go forward command, and sharpen his response with immediate compliance. Then I do the same thing with trot to canter to trot to canter – reviewing the response to the canter aid. Then really mix it up with a halt to trot to canter to walk to trot and back to halt. Gas pedal, steering wheel and brakes all functioning properly? Then you’re ready to go hit the trail again.
Out on the trail is not the ideal time to train. That’s why we ride in an arena in a controlled environment. If you don’t have a fenced arena, create yourself a training area by roping off a section of your pasture, or put logs or poles on the ground to cordon off your training space. It’s not fun to discover that your horse’s brakes don’t work all that well when you pick up the canter with a couple of your riding cronies. Just as dangerous as no brakes is a sticky gas pedal. Your horse must know that going forward when asked is not a negotiable request. You can check your horse’s response to your aids by testing him in the arena. Take every opportunity to ride through the puddle, past the flapping jacket on the arena gait, walking over ground poles, riding in company and by yourself. Once you feel you are completely in charge and are comfortable with your horse’s response and cooperation in all gaits, you are ready to venture out.
Going out on the trail should mean a relaxing time for your horse. When you start out with a young horse, a new horse, or tuning up your horse, take baby steps to develop your horse’s attitude about the trail. You should first establish that trail riding means walking. Go for a short walk at the end of an arena session. Your horse is in a great state of mind to relax and just walk to cool down. Your first trail rides can be around the barn and around the property. Make the ride in a circular pattern. Don’t go out in one direction, make a 180, and then head straight back that might encourage anticipating returning home.
With your riding buddies, take turns leading the way, riding in the middle and following. If your horse acts up in any one of these positions, change back to his comfort zone position, and then give him short doses of what he doesn’t like. That way he doesn’t work himself up, and stays in a relaxed state of mind. Eventually you should be able to ride anywhere you like.
Increase the distance and time of your trail rides by increasing the circumference of your circle. Around the barn, over the hill, and back down the road. Then around the barn, over the hill, across the road to the next field and then back down the road. You get the idea. You and your horse will have no worries as the next steps are never too challenging. Follow a riding buddy to help you across the creek for the first time. Always set yourself up for success.
Once your horse proves to you he knows the trail is for relaxation, you can pick up the trot somewhere in the middle of your ride for a short period. Return to walk to be sure your horse maintains his calm walking demeanor. After several weeks, or months, you can add a loping or canter session keeping an eye on his attitude. Always quit while you’re ahead, there is always another ride tomorrow. Taking the time to advance your rides with baby steps can help the development of your laid-back and happy trail horse. And the old saying, “walk the first and last mile” is still sound advice.
What should you carry in your saddle bag? The length of your ride and whether you are going on familiar trails or exploring new horizons will obviously have some bearing on what you take with you. Although it is impossible to carry everything for every emergency scenario, there are some practical items that are often needed and can really come in handy.
Here are some suggestions of practical items to consider putting in your saddle bag: Water, water purification tablets, fly repellent, trail mix, wire cutting tool, sunglasses, tissue, camera, small flashlight, pepper spray, hoof pick, Band-Aids, Dy’s Liquid bandage, Vetrap, pain reliever, antihistamine, bear bell or little bells to ward off critters, an Easyboot, folding water bucket, folding saw to cut branches and trees from blocked trail, Multi-purpose tool, pocket knife, signal whistle, map, and compass.
There is a First Aid Kit available that comes in a soft pack that fits in most saddle bags. It includes 40 items including a First Aid Guide, bandages, gauze pads, butterfly closures, wound dressing, antiseptic towellets, Povidone-iodine prep pads, needle, moleskin, safety pin, and latex gloves. There is also a small item that can make a difference for your safety, it’s Rein Safe. It prevents you from loosing your reins when your horse takes a drink from a stream, or you take a photo and drop your reins for a moment.
What size saddle bag should you carry? There is a huge selection of fabrics, styles, and sizes of saddle bags, carriers and ties that attach to your English, western, endurance or Aussie saddle and saddle pads with pockets. If you become separated from your horse, there are carriers that attach to your ankle, wrist or waist for your cell phone.
In the event that you did not take something for an emergency that arises while out on trail, and your cell phone has no service, be sure you have told someone where you are going to ride and approximately how long you will be gone. Then if you don’t show up back at the barn, someone will know where to look for you.
ActionRiderTack.com has an extensive selection of trail riding gear for trail riders and their horses.
Pamela Karner is an endurance rider and an equine veterinarian. She has had quite an eventful time with her endurance gelding, Castlebar Link, or Link for short. Even after several serious accidents, Pam has persevered and continues to ride, train and plan for her next endurance ride with Link, a beautiful chestnut Anglo-Arabian.
Pam travels to Australia every winter, and that is where she found Link. Pam explains, “I picked Castlebar Link out as a three-year-old from a large, very successful endurance stud. They kept him over the winter and sent him to their trainer for four weeks. I picked him up the following year when I was back in Australia. That year he broke my leg, knee, and ankle with an explosive move while I was on the ground! I had never been hurt like that in 30-plus years of my large animal veterinary practice!”
”The following year he broke his splint bone in the pasture and required surgery,” she continues. “So we were even, both broken once. His six-year-old year he dumped me and I refused to let go of the long split reins, as I was alone in the Australian bush. His response was to double barrel the creature scaring him from behind… thus another hospital visit and surgery.
“The next two years I was determined to go back and start over with this affectionate, lovely horse who was fantastic to ride 99% of the time, but when frightened was over the top explosive. My natural horsemanship friend and coach here in the US was very helpful.
“Link has gradually come along. He is still not a horse to take for granted! We have managed to successfully ride multiple 40K rides and 4,80K rides. I am hoping that he will be ready for the Quilty 100-mile ride next year! It is a challenge in many ways. Link gets 7 months off every year. I start him back every December and leave early May!”
The rain and snow have slacked off, the weather is warming up, and the trail beckons. You put a date on the calendar to go ride with your favorite horse buddies. You anticipate the day’s ride coming up with visions of a warm spring breeze on your face, green grass and spring flowers abound, and your horse’s mane and tail gently blowing in the wind. You sigh…., “I can’t wait until this weekend.”
The first rides of spring can be glorious. But be sure to take some precautionary steps to avoid unwanted surprises. Most importantly, check the frame of mind of your horse! The completely dependable trail horse that you put away in November for his yearly time off, may not prove himself to be all that dependable the first couple of rides out.
Start off with some round pen work, or put him on a lunge line if you don’t have a round pen or arena. Watch how he moves at all three gaits keeping your eye out for soundness issues. How exuberant is he? Perhaps several days of lungeing are in order. Saddle him up and send him around some more. Has he lost or gained weight? Does the saddle still sit level? Girth still fits?
Then, choose an easy trail with good footing. If it’s too muddy, consider going a different way. It’s safer and doesn’t chop up the trails for the rest of the year. Be sure and give your horse some breaks if he gets winded, and gradually increase the length and difficulty of the trails as you both get back in shape. Watch for chicks and cubs who might be hanging around their nests and dens. Protective mothers in the wild are not to be messed with.
Don’t’ forget to stop and smell the roses. And pack your sheepskin seat saver; you may need it after an hour or so! Happy Trails!
The short answer is yes! Stirrups now come in all shapes, sizes, and materials. Personal preferences and style of riding have quite a lot to do with your stirrup of choice. However, safety stirrups are often preferred by trail, endurance, and recreational riders and safety should always be a consideration around horses. The worst train wrecks with horses are never predictable. That’s why a helmet will only provide protection if it’s on your head at all times. Same applies to safety stirrups. Safety stirrups can help to enable you to get clear of the saddle and the horse when needed.
One component of being safe in the saddle is how your foot is placed in the stirrup. You should strive to only have the ball of your foot in the stirrup, no further. This is a safety measure to help your foot come out of the stirrup when necessary. Also the old “heels down” rule is not just for looks. When your weight is in your heel, your foot will slide out of the stirrup easily. It amazes me to see Grand Prix jumper riders ride with what looks like only their toe in the stirrup as they fly over five-foot fences.
If you choose to ride with safety stirrups, there are so many more choices today. It’s like we’ve had a stirrup explosion. But first, let’s not forget the tried and true Peacock Stirrups.
One would think that the elastic bands on the outside would come off all the time, but actually, they do not. Generally, a rider doesn’t put their weight on the outside of the stirrup, so your foot rarely touches the outside of the stirrup which is where the elastic bands are. Peacocks are a favorite choice for children in English saddles, yet many ladies also choose this stirrup for peace of mind. It does require an English 1” leather to go with it.
Icelandic Stirrups have the top bar of the stirrup at a 90 degree angle to the base of the stirrup. This allows the stirrup to hang perpendicular to the saddle, so you are able to slide your foot into the stirrup easily without fishing for it. It also has an S curve shaping to the sides that allow your foot to come out of the stirrup more easily. They also require an English 1” stirrup leather.
EZ Stirrups with Cage prevent your foot from sliding through the stirrup, much like western Tapederos stirrups. Riders have told me that small twigs and leaves can get caught in the cage holes when you are brush busting. However, there are many happy people riding with EZ Ride Stirrups with Cage with no problem, and they are very popular with endurance riders. You can use a western or endurance fender, or 1” or 2” leathers with EZ Ride Stirrups.
English Flexible Stirrups have a rubber covered hinge that flexes when you put pressure on it with your ankle. It helps to absorb the motion of your horse’s gaits, particularly in the sitting trot. The flexible hinge will release your foot to slide out during a fall. Many people find them more comfortable than a traditional English stirrup iron.
Easycare came out with a new EZ Ride Aluminum Ultimate Stirrup with Cage that is a lightweight safety stirrup that prevents your foot from going through the stirrup. It has a nice cushion pad and wide platform for your foot. It can be used with any size fenders or stirrup leathers.
So, when you are considering your choice of stirrups, consider your own comfort. But also keep safety in the forefront of your mind.
I recently took home the Startrekk Treeless Dressage Saddle to try on my TB cross that I ride on the trail and in the dressage arena. Action Rider Tack has carried the Startrekk Western, the Comfort, and the Endurance models for years, but we just recently stocked several dressage saddles.
First, I have to say, the Startrekk Dressage Saddle by DP Saddlery of Germany is a good looking saddle made with quality leather. It looks like a traditional dressage saddle and sports a deep seat, prominent knee rolls, and traditional wool flocked panels. The panels provide good wither and spine clearance, so you don’t have to pair it with thick saddle pad inserts in your saddle pad. It also has quite a bit of structure and is stiffer, if you will, than other treeless saddles that are a bit squishier. (Squishier is a technical term.)
My Thoroughbred cross has a bit of a wither, but is also fairly wide in the wither and shoulder area. I didn’t take the time to swap out the gullet plate for the wider one that my horse needed, but with an extra half pad underneath, it sat level and rode comfortably.
Treeless saddles feel different. It takes a couple of rides to get used to them. I immediately felt the closer contact, even though I felt I was sitting in a traditional dressage saddle with support. As I let my horse warm up at the walk, and he took his very first step I could feel his back legs moving much more clearly. I could also feel his sides, his breathing, his ribs and his back moving.
After fifteen minutes or so, I began to settle in. I have found through the years that riding on a 15-20 meter circle, continually doing transitions between the walk and a slow sitting trot, is a great way to sink into a saddle and get in tune with your horse’s rhythm. It’s seems like it would be boring, but actually, I find it very relaxing as it makes you stay in the center and sit upright to stay balanced for the downward, then the upward transitions. Repeat. Your horse also relaxes and becomes in tune to your forward aids and your half halts, balancing back into the walk.
The great thing about the Startrekk Treeless Dressage Saddle is it’s adaptability to your horse. If your horse’s weight or muscle tone decreases, or he develops more muscle through the years of training, the saddle will still fit. There are six different gullet plates that bolt into the firm leather in the front under the pommel that you can order if you need them. When you put in a wider gullet plate, the channel under the saddle also slightly widens. The channel, or gullet, is about 3” with the average gullet plate fitted in the saddle.
I rode with my normal English leathers with the buckle up under my thigh on the stirrup bar. Some people might prefer Barefoot English Leathers with the buckle down by the ankle, or the Barefoot Dressage Leathers with a T-bar at the top and the bottom for a seamless transition under your thigh.
Saddle fit can be a nightmare. Treeless saddles like the Startrekk Dressage Saddle can solve some of these saddle fit problems and can also be a saddle you can take to the next horse. Because we all know, you can’t just have one horse, right?
Why does your saddle slip? Well… it’s complicated. Saddles can slip side to side, saddles can slip back, and saddles can slip forward. Not only is it annoying, it is unsafe. And safety with horses should be your number one priority.
First we have to address the simplest and most obvious cause. Your girth or cinch is loose. It is extremely important to check your girth before mounting, after mounting, after just a short walk away from your mounting block, and again after 5 minutes or so. During a long trail ride, check periodically. There are some saddle pads with foam or other inserts and they compress after you settle in the saddle, and can compress further after a long ride. Your horse may sweat during work, and your girth may need tightening after several hours in the saddle.
The next issue is saddle fit. A saddle that is too narrow or too wide will slip side to side and even forward or backwards. If your saddle has a tree, it must be the right size and fit your horse. There is no way around it.
Another common cause of saddle slip is while mounting. The way in which you mount your horse can effect how easily the saddle slips. For instance, how much you pull on the horn, pommel, cantle or seat. Mounting from the ground is putting torque on the saddle tree (if there is one) and possibly tweaking your saddle and the leather. As a daily ritual, mount from a mounting block. It will help your saddle, tree or no tree, last longer. It is also safer.
When out on trail, carry a step stool, search for higher ground, a log, a rock, anything to gift you a boost. There are saddles on very round horses that do indeed fit the horse, but still will not stay put for mounting from the ground. It also depends on the weight of the rider. More weight, more slip. Safe Rider makes a Trail Mounting Aid that keeps the saddle in place while mounting.
Saddles slipping side to side can also be caused by the rider. It is more common than you think that you ride with more weight in one stirrup than the other. Many times your stirrups are not level. The best way to tell if your stirrups are equal length is to take them off and put them side by side. It might surprise you. To tell if you are weighting one stirrup more than the other, have a friend stand directly behind you while in the saddle. They will be able to see if your saddle is off center. You can also look down at the pommel and see if it is lined up with your horse’s neck. It may be necessary to ride without stirrups, or drop the longer stirrup to train yourself to stop putting more weight in it. It may take awhile to self-correct, however, it is worth the effort for both you and your horse. Your horse’s musculature will compensate for your unevenness, and your spine will suffer if you continue to ride with one collapsed hip.
You also should rule out any lameness. According to the British Equine Vet Association, the saddle will slip to the lame side. Your horse also may also be asymmetrical in his muscle development, shifting the saddle from the more built up side to the weaker side. Shimming the saddle pad may be necessary to even things out.
So – when you rule out a loose girth, uneven stirrups, ill fitting saddle, unbalanced riding, lameness, and asymmetrical muscles, there are ways to combat saddle slipping in any direction.
Your choice of saddle pad plays a big part in saddle slip. Fleece is not a good choice, neither is felt. That rules out lots of saddle pads. You can try putting a non-slip, thin, inexpensive saddle pad under your other saddle pad. It kind of looks like shelf paper, but is more substantial. It’s only 18” x 22”, but worth a try since it is under $10. The HAF Saddle Pads from Italy have a pebbly, egg carton underlay that is helpful. There is also the Getta Grip Non-Slip Western Pad, and the Tacky Tack Western All Purpose Saddle Pad. I personally use a Dixie Midnight Saddle Pad under my other saddle pads, and even though the Dixie Midnight company does not make a claim for non-slip, I find it does help.
Your girth or cinch choice is also a factor. Mohair is pretty grippy, so is neoprene, synthetics with egg carton looking underlay, and girths and cinches that are wider in the middle. Again, fleece or felt is not a good choice as a non-slipping material.
Breastplates and breast collars are designed to stabilize your saddle. The English style breastplate attaches to the D rings on either side of your saddle and to the girth stabilizing side to side movement, and preventing saddles from sliding back when going uphill. The western breast collar functions the same way and attaches to each side and it often has a neck strap to aid it in staying in place. I recommend either of these for all trail riders.
The back cinch of a western saddle can also help the saddle stay in place, but some horses are not used to them so a breaking in period may be necessary. To avoid the back cinch sliding too far back and becoming a bucking strap it must be attached to the front cinch with a connector strap or flank cinch hobble strap.
Lastly, cruppers prevent the saddle from sliding forward going downhill. They can be used on western or English saddles and are made of synthetic material or leather. Word of caution – some horses will come UNGLUED when you put one on, so a training period is needed. However, some horses will never tolerate one – proceed accordingly.
To sum it all up, as with everything involving horses, it is a case by case situation. It is necessary to evaluate your horse, your riding, your saddle and all your tack and equipment to come up with a working and safe solution to keep your saddle in place.