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It may seem counterintuitive, but removing a significant part of your saddle may make your seat more secure, according to a new study. Led by Michigan State University professor emerita Hilary Clayton, BVMS, PhD, the study showed that riders were more balanced and stable when sitting in a saddle that had no flaps---the large leather panels that lie between the rider’s thighs and the horse. Most English saddles have two flaps on each side---one in contact with the horse and the other under the rider’s leg, with the billet straps lying in between the two ---but on some saddles only a single flap rests between the horse and the rider. “I believe flaps were developed rider’s friction,” though every tary or saddle. cavalry legs they says to from aren’t protect “Legacy Clayton, designs sweat found the mili- al- have and on no number flaps, of and modern there endur- are a ance small saddles seat with that straps consist for of the a girth and stirrups.” The research team tested rider stability in a modern dressage saddle designed to have no flaps. “The saddle has a full tree and a normal seat to ensure comfort of both horse and rider,” says Clayton. “From the horse’s perspective, the tree and the panels provide weight distribution and gullet width, which are critical elements to ensure equine comfort that many treeless saddles struggle to offer. From the rider’s perspective, the seat feels like conventional saddles despite its appearance. It is nothing like the feel of a bareback pad.” The saddle also has stirrups attached under the skirt and
long a short For billets the girth. study, to be five used dres- with sage horses were ridden by the same professional rider. Each horse was familiarized with the feel of the flapless saddle prior to the day of the study. Data were collected using a pressure sensitive pad placed under the saddle as the horses were ridden in their standard saddles and in the flapless saddle in a randomized order. The rider’s movements were then plotted using computer analysis of the data. The analysis showed that the rider was more stable in the flapless saddle. “The rider’s center of pressure, which represents the rider’s position in the saddle, was more stable with the flapless saddle,” says Clayton. “The rider stayed more centered over the middle of the horse in all gaits. In collected trot, extended trot and extended canter, the rider also moved less from front to back.” Clayton explains that “part of this effect can be attributed to the rider’s closeness to the horse [without flaps] and the fact that the rider’s thighs are less abducted (spread apart). Most riders who get into a flapless saddle comment that their horses feel narrower, which makes it easier to inwardly rotate the signer the the more flap; improved port the the rider, terpret for rider This the thigh. thighs rider’s gaits.” horse in this will effectively says believes horse being that stability is be ability as The Clayton: are hip how as less well because able saddle’s being less ‘hinge’ that, without she benefits riders inclined as to abducted, “I the sees because follow better in- the works de- re- a the to upset Additionally, sition (varied ipate Horses the the was like less) rider’s horse’s more consistency.” from the movements. consistent rider’s balance. stride po- to She stride, so the horse can anticadds study horses accepted that reported either or the quickly riders immediately that the adapted in the to was the The a professional, flapless rider in saddle. the study but Clayton effects riders such were says as seen that herself: the in amateur same “I collected sional and data amateur from riders profesbut fessional only reported rider for on the the study proto reduce the variability in the data. I was so impressed I gave it a try and am now riding flapless.”
Reference: “Comparison of rider stability in a flapless saddle versus a conventional saddle,” PLOS One, June 2018
On a conventional saddle with two flaps, the underlying sweat flap and girth tabs are visible when the outer flap is raised (right). This is a monoflap saddle; when the panel is lifted the tabs are visible (right). A flapless saddle is shown without a pad and with a pad (right).