As horsemen and women a saddle is one of the most important tools we have to work with. A proper fitting saddle is a great asset for both horse and rider, while an improper fit or balance not only inhibits correct riding, it can lead to injury. The saddle industry brings in millions of dollars in saddle fitting and there are now countless options for flocking, panels, and blocks for your knee and thigh. It can feel overwhelming to find the correct fit with so many options. Here we have broken down the DBarbier saddle design to illustrate the real essential criteria when looking for one of your own.
THE LOST ART OF FLOCKING
Dominique fashioned his own saddle design after the original tree used by Mestre Oliveira, a design that is 400 years old. While training mules in the French military (a story for another day), Dominique delivered horses to the Republican Guard in Paris, where he met the man who would one day become the head of Forestier saddlery. With a tree-maker (arconier in French) in the factory itself- the only saddlemaker to design his own tree and not buy mass-produced trees- the Barbier custom-crafted saddle was born.
With a bit of ingenuity and a little help from the modern age, he has been able to update the materials from wool taken from army socks to advanced padding with the same material used to pad satellites (yes, you read that right. We are waiting for our NASA endorsement) that does not shrink with age. That means no “re-flocking necessary.” Today’s saddles feature leather cut by laser for the cleanest lines and computer-designed balance to ensure accuracy for each saddle.
WHAT IS PROPER BALANCE IN A SADDLE?
A saddle tree’s purpose is to help a rider find their position. Let us return to Dressage for the New Age for a moment; a rider’s center of gravity is below their navel, while a horse’s center of gravity is between the knees of the rider. Your saddle should, in theory, bring the two centers of gravity as close together as possible. If you cut your saddle into three equal segments, the lowest part of your seat should be in the front third while your leg hangs underneath you, thanks to your stirrup bars sitting underneath your hip.
Most models today place the balance in the second third, further towards the back, while keeping stirrup bars forward to prevent breakage, forcing riders to either sit in a “chair” seat, or to perch on their horse’s backs. With the knee and thigh blocks, riders legs are forced into “correct” position, though they have no knee mobility, which contracts riders’ bodies, and therefore their horses’ bodies on top of it.
Comfort for your horse is also vitally important. They are, after all, carrying us. Aside from being in correct position with our center of gravity as close to their own as possible, we want to think of how the saddle fits the horse. True to form, Dominique kept things very simple in his design, with the “flexible” tree, available in narrow (for the high-withered horses), medium and wide, a wide gullet for the horses’ back comfort, and the same padding used for the rider’s seat for the horse’s back. The lack of metal in the front allows for extra freedom of the shoulder. By using a single-panel design and foregoing knee blocks (removable blocks are available for the new Working Equitation design), he maintained closer contact to the horse. The end result? Unparalleled comfort for horse and rider.
Each saddle is handcrafted and made to your specifications using highly-durable, beautiful Bison leather, making each one a work of art in of itself. Functional can be fashionable, too! Our newly released Deluxe in chocolate has been a hit with crowds, and the hand-tooled seats of the working equitation model in chocolate and camel are so beautiful you *almost* don’t want to sit on top of them.
When you buy a saddle, you are investing in your horse and in yourself. It is important to make the right choice. Dominique is happy to answer questions personally about his saddles and can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone, +1707.480.5598.
I have been struggling with this for 10 years !!! I have just recently gone back to using my wonderful older Passier.