As an equestrian physiotherapist, Sabine Ullmann searched for a long time for a saddle system that was adequate and adjusted to problem horse backs while ensuring the flexibility of the horse's back at all times. To meet the selection criteria, the factors of the horse's anatomy were specially considered.
This means a saddle design that adapts to changes in the shape of the horse's back caused by changing seasons, age of the horse, and types of training.
Considerations led Sabine Ullmann to develop the Barefoot saddle system as described below.
1. Horses and their back problem
Unfortunately, many back problems exist in horses, and represent one of the reasons for frequent consultation for trail horses, in addition to lameness, which is often caused by various back problems. Different causes exist and lead to this development.
One of the most common causes is a bad seat and/or bad influence from the rider. The horse that never learns to lift its back is also a cause of trouble. The images below show a bulge in the lower part of the neck and a sunken back.
2. Poor development of the horse's back
Some horses have poor conformation and are prone to back problems. Unfortunately, these horses end up in the hands of inexperienced riders because of their low price.
Horses with anatomical problems should end up in the hands of experienced riders. These horses are not as "wear-resistant" as a horse with good conformation. For example, on a horse with a hollow back, the backbones come together even closer and grow together faster. Finding a regular saddle that fits well is nearly impossible.
Often one also notices a bad fit of the saddle which causes problems for the horse's back.
3. Limitations of a saddle with a rigid tree
There are countless ways a rigid treed saddle can go wrong, here are just a few:
- The saddle, higher in the front, tends to lean backwards: Result: a lot of pressure above the lumbar vertebrae and in the kidney area. Therefore, such a position brings greater pressure to the front and back of the saddle.
- Saddle is too far forward: Result: Shoulder blades are compressed, shoulder and lateral or wide movements are blocked. Usually, there are pressure points behind the withers, which can cause atrophy of the muscle, becoming painful for the horse.
- The saddle leans too much on the sides: this can be due to a weakness of the muscle on the side of the horse or even to a bad position of the rider. Result: The saddle is not parallel to the spine, and in this case the muscle weakness cannot be corrected, and may even get worse. In addition, the horse could have bending problems.
Of course, it is obvious that the horse can exhibit free and relaxed movements, only if it is free from pain. Each pressure point results in tense muscles, which can cause the horse to be off balance and even stumble, and so on. A relaxing and pleasant hike becomes impossible.
4. The horse's back, according to an equestrian physiotherapist
The process can be observed on all horses and ponies, as it is a biomechanism caused by the ligament of the neck and the other ligaments of the back which connect the back of the skull to the lumbar vertebrae, combined with the work of the back and abdominal muscles.
The back, positioned by the height of the head
Every horse has a different back. Moreover, a horse's back is constantly changing, and not only by the change of age, season or the discipline exercised, but during a riding lesson, the horse's back is constantly in motion, according to the positions of the head and the height this one.
The difference in the back caused by the height of the head is clearly visible and can reach, depending on the horse, up to 5 cm. A saddle with a tree is too rigid to accommodate this difference.
The position of the back released by a treeless saddle
The flexible Barefoot can be adjusted to the horse's back at any time, without limiting the horse's movement. It places the rider, or more specifically the rider's weight, above the horse's center of gravity.
The development of the dorsal vertebrae
The horse's backbones are not naturally created to support the weight of a rider. As a result, the objective of training is to allow the development of muscles to support our weight, therefore to avoid damage.
For a horse to truly become a horse for equestrian activity, it must be taught to lift its back, even with a rider on its back. Thanks to this flexion of the dorsal vertebrae, the space between the vertebrae opens more widely and the blood circulates more freely and the true sideways bend of the dorsal vertebrae becomes possible.
By being badly positioned, the stiffness of a treed saddle disrupts this sequence of movement, or again, with a rider sitting too far in the saddle, this objective cannot be achieved and all sorts of damage ensues.
5. The ideal area for the saddle
Unfortunately, there is a popular belief that a saddle should have the widest possible contact with the horse's back.
If some turn a blind eye to the importance of the horse's back, others discover it, especially those who have a horse with a short back. For the latter, there is very little suitable space to sit. The shoulder should not be limited in its movement by the weight of the rider, because the scapula has, at its top, cartilage the width of a hand. The latter can become inflamed, or at least painful, if the stiffness of a saddle causes friction when the horse is in motion.
This means that the rider should be seated behind the shoulder.
Due to the process of the lumbar vertebra (T18) which tilts backwards, i.e. towards the tail of the horse, the change of direction brings the vertebra T15 vertically and the vertebrae T16, 17 and 18 forward, or towards the horse's ears. It becomes difficult for the horse to arch its back if the rider is sitting close to the T vertebrae, during the process where these vertebrae are very close together.
The backward arch of the spine is very important in all riding styles. To transport jumpers, to allow better blood circulation in the muscles (and therefore to allow muscle development), and to prevent the deformation of the vertebrae. The rider must therefore sit in front of this critical point (T15).
How much space should the rider occupy?
The rider's weight should be in the area behind the withers (T9), and just before the point where the process of the lumbar vertebrae approach each other. In Germany it is called "saddle-area", i.e. where the rider slides when riding bareback.
It is a narrow area, about the width of 2 hands. With horses that have longer backs, it is important to respect this location, as the bridge of the lumbar vertebrae is longer. This horse often struggles when stepping up his actions because more weight is put on his hind legs.
Another reason for making this position more comfortable is that the rider's weight is in the horse's center of gravity. This way the horse can better balance the weight on its back.
6. What do Barefoot Saddles do for the horse?
The Barefoot saddle can be adjusted on the shoulder, because the fork or pommel insert can move so the saddle is not weighed down by the rider and/or pressed on the shoulder blade. Therefore, Barefoot allows the rider to sit in the appropriate section, without impeding the horse's movements.
Thanks to the flexibility and adaptability that the Barefoot offers you, it can be suitable for the majority of horses. The front shape is supplied in different sizes and materials, which allows it to be adjusted correctly to all types of shoulders.
To avoid pressure points, Barefoot saddles are equipped with a flexible backrest, which adjusts in all directions. Due to the height of this backrest and the depth, the rider is comfortable and safe, as he is well framed in the saddle.
Whether you are with a beginner horse, with a horse with experience, a Haflinger, or a Warmblood with a high withers, Barefoot saddles allow you to practice riding while maintaining the health of your horse's back.
The Barefoot saddle adjusts to all types of horses and for all types of horses with back problems, becoming an "ideal suite" for different horses and riders. The same saddle can often be used for different horses, so convenient for breeders or horse sellers who often change mounts.
Due to its flexibility, the Barefoot Saddle is also well suited for young horses, who will constantly change shape through their muscles as they develop.
With Barefoot, you create the ideal conditions for a young horse by creating a 'good' weight distribution on the muscles, without being hindered by a rigid tree.
7. Barefoot, a healthy solution, not just for the horse
It's not just the horse that benefits from the lightness and flexibility of the Barefoot saddle.
Barefoot saddle users notice comfort and also a significant connection with the horse. Riders who do a lot of hiking and endurance riders show enthusiasm because they can sit for several hours on their Barefoot and it feels like they're on cloud nine!
Riders who use the seat a lot as an aid find that aids can be given more gently and gradually with the Barefoot.
No back problems with Barefoot!
The Barefoot is also suitable for riders with back problems. Several riders, using a treed saddle, complained of back pain before using the Barefoot. This back pain, they had developed it with a saddle with rigid tree, because the movements of the horse became unpleasant jerks. Unfortunately, several riders have had to stop riding under the advice of their doctor. Impossible for horse lovers!
With the Barefoot, riders can use their saddle without pain, because the movements are transmitted with much more flexibility.
This transmitted flexibility allows beginners and people with disabilities to better feel the movement of the horse.
SOURCE : HULLMAN Sabine. « The Barefoot Saddle-System », Barefoot, (octobre 2007), 7 pages
The VPS system:
The new VPS system offered has the function of better distributing the weight on the horse's back. There is no more weight limit for the rider with this type of construction. Its construction also improves the absorption of pressure on its back.
The VPS system is designed entirely with flexible materials:
- Outer layer: leather or Drytex
- Thickness of shock-absorbing polyurethane foam
- 1st layer of shock-absorbing elastomer
- Polymer thickness that distributes the pressures
- 2nd layer of damping elastomer
- Synthetic fur underside
Polymer and Polyurethane (Urethane Polymer) have physical qualities, i.e. a linear structure that allow the weight to be distributed correctly on the horse's back
The elastomer is a mixture of natural rubber and synthetic rubber. What makes the elastomer special is its ability to rebound and elastically stretch, which allows them to return to their original shape after stretching.