Dr Fiona Macdonald (BVMS MRCVS) is a veterinary surgeon in the UK who worked in horse practice a few years ago, as well as being passionate about dressage. She felt strongly to set down some of her thoughts and experiences with saddles in general, and in particular our StrideFree® saddles.
I have watched the development of dressage saddles since I first became serious about this sport in the early 1990’s with the purchase of an Advanced Danish Warmblood schoolmaster from Germany. He jetted me up to the dizzy heights of top hat and tails dressage – what a thrill! Over the years from then to now I have had a number of dressage horses (of various shapes/sizes and breeds) and consequently a number of different makes of saddle. Fast forward to now and my current horse, a 14 year old 16.2hh Hanoverian gelding whom I was very lucky to purchase last February. He had some issues (we vets can’t resist a challenge!) and did not have the condition or musculature that you would expect for a horse of his age – see Picture 1.
Firstly, I had my previous horse’s fully adjustable modular air flocked saddle fitted to him, but he made it very clear with his behaviour that it did not suit him! From that I went on to a well known ‘middle of the road saddle’ and had one custom made for him. Cue a short ‘honeymoon period’ when all seemed to be well, and then he again showed sporadic back issues necessitating frequent physio treatments with the consequent time off and interruption to his training. Eventually my brave physio said ‘it’s the saddle!’ which was harsh but true. My trainer had been extolling the virtues of the StrideFree® for her horses, and I must say I had seen a significant difference with hers.
Julia Duffin from Saddlekind in the UK's Wiltshire area, visited with a van-load of saddles, and the confidence-inspiring attitude of ‘take as much time as we need, but I’m sure we will find a saddle to suit you and your horse’. We tried 9 different makes, but in the end I settled on 2 candidates. She was brave enough to leave me the 2 saddles for comparison, but within 10 days he had altered his shape so much the traditional saddle didn’t fit any more, and would need to go back to the manufacturers to have the tree altered, taking both time (at least 2 weeks) and money (there was a significant cost to this alteration as well). My concern was that if he had altered that much in under 2 weeks, how much more would he alter as he developed the musculature for the higher level work, and so this saddle was not a feasible option. I settled then on the StrideFree® and the difference in my horse has been dramatic. He went from Medium Wide to Wide in the first 4 weeks, and has increased again in the subsequent 4 weeks, along with changing his way of going to a much more supple horse finding joy in his work. When we started with the StrideFree® his shoulders were different sizes – now they are symmetrical.
Here are two further pictures – one with the previous saddle last autumn and the other last week with the StrideFree®. What is interesting is the difference in both horse and rider – look at his stride length and no tracking-up in Picture 2 compared with Picture 3 plus the comparison of my position between the pictures.
Apart from my obvious delight in finding a saddle which will bring out the best in my lovely horse, I like the combination of a novel concept with the tree, combined with the easy instant adjustability and good old tried and tested wool flocking.
I cannot recommend this saddle too highly.