Do you need special stirrup leathers for a treeless saddle?

The short answer is yes.

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.

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Barefoot English Stirrup Leathers with buckle down by the ankle and stirrup leather keeper.

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!

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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.

 

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Action Rider Stirrup Leather Keepers

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.

In Conclusion

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.

 

 

 

 

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Going Forward – It’s Everything!

BarefootArizonaRobinWhite500Training 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.

Training a Relaxed and Happy Trail Horse

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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’s in YOUR Saddle Bag?

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This gorgeous trail riding photo was shared by Action Rider Lindsay Nichols

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.

Is a Treeless Saddle Right for You?

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Barefoot Nevada Treeless Western Saddle

There are so many saddles in this world, where does one begin? Saddle trees were traditionally made of wood, which is why it’s called a tree. Today, treed saddles are made out of various materials. Saddle trees can be made with wood reinforced with spring steel, wood combined with other metals or rawhide, fiberglass, synthetic polyethylene, and even plastic. Treeless saddles are often made with leather, foam, fiberglass, felt and other materials to create panels for spine protection and a stiff pommel for wither protection. The decision to choose a treed or treeless saddle is most often based on what works best for your horse.

Action Rider Tack has been selling a variety of treed and treeless saddles for years, and through our experience with success and failures we have developed certain guidelines to determine whether a treeless saddle might be good for you.

First, let us state clearly that treeless saddles are not for everyone. However, when they do work it can be a great experience.

Here are a few reasons why a treeless saddle might be a good choice for you and your horse:

  • You have a low withered, wide horse, or other challenging conformation issues, and every treed saddle you have tried digs into your horse’s shoulder or creates a sore back.
  • You have a big moving or gaited horse that is restricted by the tree of a treed saddle.
  • You love to ride bareback and the close contact feel, but want more security that a saddle can provide.
  • You are a competent rider and feel a treed saddle is too bulky under you.
  • You want a lighter weight saddle.
  • You have a young horse that is developing and changing shape.
  • You want to use a saddle on more than one horse.
  • You love the idea of being in closer contact with your horse and are willing to take the time to make the adjustments necessary to get comfortable riding in a treeless saddle.

Here are some reasons why a treeless saddle might not work for you:

  • You are a heavy weight rider on a small/medium horse.
  • Your horse has prominent withers and an exposed spine. This type of conformation can be difficult to achieve proper wither clearance and spinal clearance on horses with a treeless saddle.
  • You require a lot of security in the saddle. A treed saddle with knee rolls, poleys, a pommel and horn are going to provide more security than a treeless saddle. There are treeless saddles with deep seats, knee rolls, and a horn, but compared to a treed saddle with the same design, the treed saddle will most likely feel more secure.
  • You cannot rope cattle or dally a horse on the horn of a treeless saddle.
  • Mounting from the ground is important to you. Treeless saddles on some horses will slip when you mount from the ground. This is most often a problem on really round horses. (However there are some mounting aids that help with saddle slip)
  • You stand in your stirrups a lot or like to jump. A treeless saddle cannot provide the support under the stirrup area that a treed saddle can. This also depends somewhat on your weight.

Is there a weight limit to a treeless saddle? Generally speaking, the weight limit is around 170 lbs, but keep in mind, there are plenty of exceptions. Depending on the size of your horse, it is certainly possible to go over that limit. Riders who weigh above 170 lbs have ridden successfully in treeless saddles, but usually are on bigger, stout horses that can carry their weight with relative ease.

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Barefoot Arizona Treeless Saddle

You can also increase that 170 lb weight limit with a proper saddle pad using a combination of open and closed cell foam inserts or other materials. The weight limit is also influenced by the position and skill of the rider, as that effects how the pressure from the rider is influencing the back of the horse.

 

The US Cavalry came up with a useful guideline for how much weight a horse can carry without stress. According to them, the weight of the rider and his tack should equal approximately 20% of the weight of the horse. So, if your horse weighs 1000 lbs, both you and your tack should weigh approximately 200 lbs or less. This is only a guideline and there are exceptions of course, but this 20% figure has been backed up by recent stress testing.

In conclusion, we know that in the world of horses there are no hard and fast rules for fitting a living, breathing animal with an inanimate object on his back. We recognize there is a need for treed and treeless saddles, as the variables and needs of horses and riders are infinite.

The First Rides of Spring – Keep It Safe!

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.”

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Photo: Endurance Action Rider, Sandy Cheek

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!

Tito: A Modernized Gaucho

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Tito at work on a ranch in Argentina.

Mariano Fernandez has a ranch in Argentina. He raises cattle and sheep and has about twenty ranch horses – real working horses that help to move the livestock. But this story is not about Mariano. It’s about his ranch hand, Tito.

Tito has been working on Mariano’s ranch for the last twenty-eight years. He is seventy-two years old, fit and lean and weighs in at 120 pounds soaking wet. Mariano describes Tito as a true representative of an Argentine gaucho.

Historically the gaucho of Argentina was known to be a skilled horseman who worked cattle. The gauchos of the Buenos Aires pampas, or grasslands, have been recorded as saying, “A man without a horse is a man without legs.” The Argentinean Criollo horse comes from the Andalusian and Arabian horses imported by the Spanish conquerors centuries ago. These wild horses adapted to the harsh conditions of the pampas and are tough and known for their endurance.

Mariano shared this story about Tito. “Eighteen years ago Tito was riding on horseback, probably chasing some animal. His horse put one of the front feet in an armadillo hole and rolled over. This resulted in a broken hip for Tito, the horse didn’t get hurt. Apparently Tito’s hip bones didn’t heal the same way they were so from that point on, he sort of rides slanted to the right side. The funny thing is that you tell him that and he doesn’t acknowledge it. I’m saying this because if you look at the saddle, you can see that it has been definitely ridden off balance. A very non-advisable thing to do with a treeless saddle in particular.

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Tito, 72 years old, still working and riding ranch horses.

“Typical Argentine saddles in this area are called recado,” Mariano explains. “It is a succession of layers without any hard structure. You basically have a sweat pad, one or two wool pads, a leather pad, the “saddle” and on top of that a sheepskin.  This recado saddle is very comfortable for the rider but it is usually not very good for the horse. The most common problems are pressure points and galling of the withers. Most people don’t wash the sweat pad so that results in even bigger problems.”

Traditionally the gaucho’s recado, a multi-layer design, was built with local available materials – leather and wool. When the gauchos are out on the pampas, the recado saddles can be disassembled and used as a sleeping bag when needed.

Mariano continues, “Tito rides different horses. There are about fifteen to twenty ranch horses and we rotate them in groups of four every shoeing cycle. We wanted to give Tito a saddle that was comfortable for him and the horse, but also adaptable to every horse that we have.

“Tito is seventy-two years old and has been working with us since we bought the ranch in 1990.  He uses the horses to move cattle, sheep and muster deer as well.  During the hunting season he also guides hunters on horseback. He is a true representative of a gaucho but now modernized with a Barefoot Atlanta Treeless Saddle. Everybody that meets him believes that he was born one century too late.”