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At Strada Saddles, we are riders first & foremost. We have gained our knowledge from our horses, learning all we can about saddles (mostly through some very agonising moments). But by understanding how & why saddle issues exist, we gain real knowledge. Even when we have found the answer to our saddle problems (Strada!) we will continue to research saddles & their role in performance.

For riders to know more, we need to share our knowledge & experiences. The following information about saddle structure helps us identify the performance hindrance we can’t see, but can feel - for both horse & rider.

Below, we also share some research behind the design to our jumping saddle - which has proved to be very interesting....


The width of a channel - the true relationship between panels & the tree

A very strong part of the horses back is the flesh each side of the spine, as it is supported by many ligaments surrounding the joints of the spine & is the deepest part of the back muscle. The further away from the spine, the less deep the muscle is, as it thins out towards the ribs, this area without the supporting ligaments is more tender when pressure is applied. Utilising the strongest part of the back (without touching the spine) & the largest area to spread weight over, is the optimal way to distribute weight, to never cause muscles tenderness or pain or to waste muscle (due to lack of blood flow).

As an example, we can feel on our ourselves - putting your hands behind your back, use your thumbs to apply pressure to the areas directly next to the spine. You can feel these areas take a considerable amount of pressure without too much discomfort. Move your thumbs out into the middle of your back muscles that run beside the spine and you can feel that pressure in the this area feels more tender. 

For the horse, localising any pressure further away from the spine, could cause pain & discomfort over time & possibly lose of back muscle condition. This may only be noticable in the early stages, to a rider, as a horses unwillingness to perform, less extravagance, non-matching movement between the front & hind action or grumpyness to be saddled up. Eventually an overall lack in movement, less than that of the horses natural capabilities, would be the result. 

For a saddle design to truly work & distribute weight effectively, we have found that the panels must be directly under the tree. The width of a tree can only go so wide, until it becomes uncomfortable for the rider, interfering with the thigh hanging naturally from the hip. So there are boundaries to saddle design.

On saddles that have wide channels, in some cases, panels are set further apart under the saddle - though the tree remains the same. In this case the true distribution of pressure is reduced as the weight being exerted through the tree is not fully supported by the cushioning panels. Below are some illustrations to depict tree & panel positions & their relationship with distribution;

panels directly under tree.jpg

• Panels DIRECTLY under tree  

(illustrated left - brown depicts the tree, light blue depicts the panles, hatched lines are distribution)

For the panels to completely support the tree, give cushioning & true distribution of the riders weight, they must be directly under the tree. Therefore the width of the channel is dictated by the tree.

Strada saddles have their panels directly under the tree for 100% direct weight distribution throughout the whole area of the back, which also helps with saddle balance, stability + horses & rider comfort, as well as promoting healthy, full back muscles.

• Wide channel & ‘narrow twist’  🚫

(illustrated left - brown depicts the tree, light blue depicts the panles, hatched lines are distribution)

To create a narrow twist, the tree has been tightly webbed through the waist of the tree, pulling in the rails to give the rider the illusion of a closer feel to the horse. 

The wide channel is created by setting the panels further apart. But this no longer allows the panels to fully cushion & distribute the weight being spread by the tree. Having a thinner area under the middle of the rider and more weight is distributed front & back.

• Panels not directly under tree  🚫

(illustrated left - brown depicts the tree, light blue depicts the panles, hatched lines are distribution)

Having a wider channel that does not fully support the tree also takes distribution further away from the spine into the back muscles.


Again, we see the potential localised area where the smaller portion of the panel supports the tree under the rider & at the points, while the majority of the distribution is at the front and back. 

You can check your own saddles:

On the underside of the saddle through the channel, you can feel the tree in relation to it’s panels by pushing your hand up & under the panel in the middle. The hard area you feel is the tree & you can then match it’s edges to see where they sit under the panel. An obvious indication of a tree sitting inside the panels, is a hard line protruding inside the channel area - this would be the inside edge of the tree (example photo right). 

A hard line protruding inside the channel is the inside edge of the tree, unsupported by panel  and therefore unable to have directly supported distribution of the riders weight. These cause 

Support of the panels directly under tree - for balance - especially in jumping...

Having a balanced saddle, for jumping, is the most important. Our Esprit de Cross jumping saddle has been designed to remain stable and balanced - with the horse - even at the moment of take off.

With our metal-free tree’s that are ‘horse-shaped’, our highly absorbent panels that adjust to the muscles and fully support weight by being directly under the tree - the Strada Esprit de Cross stays with the horse, in balance, throughout the motion of jumping...  that is why our de Cross saddle encourages the horse to use itself fully and aid in performance! Below is the Strada Esprit de Cross in action, at the moment of take off:

Looking into other saddles performances within the discipline of jumping, we have noticed an undesirable trait becoming more obvious. We feel a combination of tree shape (too curved), gullet sizing (or changable gullets - see notes on our saddle woes page) plus the lack of panel support directly underneath the tree, leads to a pivot action at the moment of take-off, when the horses hind legs come through & the front legs begin the jump.

This would lead to concentrated pressure being applied behind the scapular exactly when the horse is bringing their front legs up & forwards to jump. This can be seen in the photos below:

Though we have known for some time that rigid dressage saddles yaw, rock, lift or move. Horses swing & use their bodies, which led Strada to the obvious answer of a flex-tree for our dressage saddle 18 years ago - so our saddle stays in contact & balance through every movement. Below is an example of a rigid dressage saddle in action - the left hand back of the panel has completely lifted off - obviously exerting more pressure through the point (behind the scapular) at this moment:

Short girth straps - yes, even on a dressage saddle...

We have found that girthing-grumps can be almost instantly remedied (in some cases) by always using long girths & short girth straps. All our riders are surprised to realise that you cannot feel the buckle under the flap - it sits neatly in the area behind the riders bent leg & is undetectable.

This removes the bulk from behind the horses elbow, allowing ample room for movement in extended paces. It also removes the buckles from sitting over the thinner muscles & skin over the rib area, which can become tender from buckle pressure - even from the most padded girths.


Long girths with NO elastic...

We promote girths without elastic. Reason:  this means we truly know how tight we are doing the girth & not over-tightening or pulling the saddle down onto the horse back - which can be done with elasticated girths. Elastic also has the ability to ‘give’ at a sudden moment, which we believe is unsafe for the rider if a horse was to spook and the saddle to slip around on the horse.


It is highly undesireable to over-tighten a girth as this places extreme pressure on the horses pectoral muscles. The pectorial muscles correspond with lifting of the forearm, strike off in canter & jumping (to name a few) & pressure to these muscles could result in pain, damage or unnatural restricted movement.




Saddles positions & balance...

The feeling of being in ‘balance’ & in time with the horses movement is what all riders desire. This obviously can be aided by having a saddle that fits the horse.

For a rigid saddle to be in balance, it is fitted to the horse when standing. A rigid saddle has a static shape, with padding below. The movement of the horses back as it swings through the different paces & movements, would transfer energy to the saddle & then to the rider. This is basic physics: for every action there is an opposite & equal reaction.


Riding in a rigid saddle, a rider is feeling the horses movement a via the energy is transferred to the saddle - the sensation of the horse via a rigid structure. It would then suggest a rigid saddle is required to be positioned further forward of the centre of balance, to give the sensation of being ‘in time’ with the kinetic energy transfer


The Strada superflex tree & malleable panels, means the feeling of the horses back muscles & movement is reflected by the panels & tree the moment it is happening, for the rider to have no sensation of transferred energy via a saddle, just the horses movement. This saddle is able to sit in the exact centre of gravity, the most optimal position for optimal balanced movement from the horse. This position does not impede the shoulder, nor the lumber, pectorials, triceps, elbow, etc.

Which is why we have identified the centre of balance for each horse ‘type’ (for each of our trees) so that any sized rider, riding that ‘type’ of horse is placed in the centre, in balance. The the rider is able to relax with the horses movement more easliy & their position naturally hangs aligned & straight (shoulder, hip, heal). Our seats are open & ultra comfortable & accomodate riders of all shapes & sizes, seat size through our fitting system is removed from the equation, so balance & alignment are never compromised.

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