Friday, June 20, 2014

Tack Update: Sensation Treeless Saddle (mostly)

I had a notion upon purchasing Scrappy that a short backed, round, not super wither-y horse would be easy to sort saddle wise, but that hasn't been the case. In the last calendar year since I bought him I've ridden Scrappy quite a few conditioning miles and 140 AERC miles-- in a Specialized Eurolight, Abetta western saddle, Frank Baines English all Purpose, Specialized Trailmaster, and now finally the Sensation English Trail treeless saddle. The Specialized were difficult to get shimmed to level without rock on him (and I traded the Eurolight for the Frank Baines), the Abetta didn't fit once he lost some fat, the Frank Baines seemed wonderful til he shed out with matching hairless spots behind the shoulders...and we now have 40 miles in the Sensation treeless saddle, with a rating of So Far, So Good.

My mini journey with the Sensation has thus far included multiple adjustments of course. I have no experience with treeless saddles or pads with inserts previously, so I was mining friend's experience for pearls of wisdom but figured I'd start with the Sensation pad the saddle came with. My initial impressions of the Sensation pad were that for all that I was hearing that firm foam (or some foam) was the way to go with treeless saddles, the pad was quite lacking in the foam department entirely. Also I thought the multitude of seams on the underside didn't look very friendly for rubbing about for many miles on a horse I know to be sensitive skinned. But what can you do but try!

Scrappy in Sensation with Sensation pad
underside of Sensation pad, post ride. See all those crazy seams?!
After a short test ride Scrappy had a decent sweat mark but you could see every seam reflected in it and there was just no way I would want to go 50 miles with that under there. Also I didn't get much wither clearance with that set up and friends agreed to go to a non top loading pad with some firm foam. If you've looked into Skito, Haf, or Equipedic pads at all you'll see that there is a decent price tag attached and since I was trialing the saddle, too, I hoped to find a firm foam pad that I could borrow to try out before committing. Riding buddy N came through again with a Haf pad with firm foam inserts that she met me with at the trail head just a day or two later. The ride was cushier than ever and the sweat mark post ride was superior.

regrowing hair spots at the shoulders+goop pre-ride, that's why it looks mussed, but quite even sweat mark in person, with good spine clearance shown for a super sweaty horse
Sensation with Haf pad with firm foam inserts
My other issue has been the stirrup set up. The first time I rode in it as it came, with this interesting stirrup attachment that effectively buckles your stirrup to the bottom of your saddle flap. The notion is stability but being short legged and metal ankle-ed I immediately discovered that where I needed the stirrups to be put the buckle digging directly into my ankle at the top of my Terrain, something not taken care of with the simple addition of a fleece tube (I tried). I also found the artificial stability to be a bit constricting, maybe because my ankle likes a wonky angle. Fortunately the saddle had the open stirrup bar attachment so I just took their leathers off, tucked the now extraneous strap at the bottom of the saddle flap down where the girth billets go, and put my Webber leather with composite stirrups on.

In that set up I mounted, settled, Scrappy walked off, and I nearly fell on my face! I haven't mentioned yet but I have discovered that treeless saddles really make you *ride* the horse, not the saddle, if you want to stay top side and centered, that is. To me it feels like riding in a really bitchin bareback pad, in that you can feel everything in the horse's movement and have to ride with your seat but are super cushioned and comfortable at the same time. After each ride in the Sensation I have been sore as if I've been riding bareback, for sure. Those seat and quad muscles that you forgot that you had say HELLO, how are you? Oh, you thought you could walk? I also gave myself shin splints or some equivalent by hiking 3 miles steep downhill on a ride last week, hobbled for a few days after that one. So as for the falling on my face, attaching free swinging leathers (underneath a full saddle sheepskin, ah thank you) after I'd ridden it with stirrups previously  attached at that base strap provided me an even freer free riding experience--and I nearly toppled forward until I got my seat properly under myself and rode the horse, not the saddle or stirrups. Once I got acclimated I no longer had buckles digging into my leg, my seat was EXTRA cushy, and oh yes, I could see doing 50 miles in this! I've been making myself check and retighten the girth multiple times as instructed, something I'm generally guilty of not doing.

So, I feel like it's improving my seat and giving me a *good* soreness, and I really enjoy the ride of the treeless. I'm certainly not fool enough to think that 40 miles of trail proves much of anything about long term saddle fit at this point, but I did feel it was promising enough to purchase the used Sensation from a fellow endurance rider. Following the advice of endurance buddies with a lot of miles riding treeless in all temperatures and geography I opted to go with a Skito saddle pad which I've just now ordered. ~*Squee!!*~ (I choose to be excited about a quality long lasting product rather than appalled over the cost of said product!) Skito has a great service on their site where you can submit a form detailing saddle fit issues and attach photos of the horse you're trying to fit; they emailed me back in about a week with advice on what inserts and foam to use and I just had to choose fabric and color and away we went. I'll be updating you all with the pad's arrival and performance of course.

current incarnation of tack, with full bridle and Myler full cheek snaffle, time for some work ON the bit instead of avoiding it, eh Scrappydoo. The saddle set up is like a memory foam bed <3
The treeless does highlight our only other real performance issue, which is a real enough one--Scrappy was essentially just cowboy trail broke in a hackamore when I bought almost a year ago, which is great, but once your fat lazy gelding gets fitted up and gets out on a chilly race morning turns out he channels Hi Ho Silver, and a hackamore with no lateral give just doesn't do the trick anymore. He carries himself well naturally but wasn't trained to giving to the bit and collecting, so he doesn't have a great idea of what to DO with a bit in his mouth at this point, besides point his chin at the sky and play Hollowback the Giraffe. We've got some work to do on that, and I look forward to getting some pointers from my trainer April when I go north to pick up Sheza hopefully next week. Sheza, by the way, got cleared by the vet on Tuesday to return to work and has been dishing up some sass to April but it's nothing she can't handle.  Here she is at April's on Tuesday:
Finally I just have to add that my husband took a nasty spill the other day and my dogs have been in and out of the vet for various reasons; I can't stress enough to readers both constant vigilance re: animals (and re: adventurous husbands, apparently) AND a seriously well stocked med kit. That may be worth another blog post actually, as I have recently discovered that some of the "fully stocked" kits that you can buy can be sort of a joke and I'll be rebuilding my own kit very soon after using up most of the supplies in the last few weeks. 

Another time! 


  1. Have always wanted to try out a Sensation. Do you think this model will fit all of your riding ponies? Did you have any issues with the saddle "rocking" or staying centered?

    1. Actually, no! This Sensation English Trail is too long for my other gelding's back. To be fair, my other gelding's back is absurdly short, he's going in my Specialized Trailmaster saddle and Coolback pad just barely bigger than the saddle, with no back to spare.

      My mention of attention to girth tightening and riding the horse, not the saddle or stirrups, were meant to imply that if you don't do those things, you will definitely rock and slide around. If you don't get that girth tight and if you've got a spooker, you better have thighs of Thor to stay upright, discovered that the first day ;-) But with a properly tightened girth and riding balanced, with correct posture, no worries. Seems to me you wouldn't want to be getting tired/slouchy in a treeless, you need to really ride properly, which is good for your horse anyway of course but should be interesting to see how I like that theory near the end of a 50, haha!

  2. Re the falling on your face and riding the horse and not the saddle is EXACTLY what I discovered with the FF to. Looking forwars to riding with you and comparing notes.

  3. I can't wait for your review on the Skito!! My woolbacks with various inserts have been doing well, but I'm interested in something else potentially. We used a borrowed equipedic in October with success at Fort Valley (hello adding new gear on race day! lol), but I've always wondered about others.

    Re: falling on your face...hmm. I guess I'm maybe some freak or something but I haven't experienced that in my Ansurs or the Barefoot saddle I used in Tennessee two years ago. Movement of the horse and feeling everything, definitely. I'm just gonna chalk it up to being drug along on crazy trail rides as a kid who didn't know anything back in the day. I had to learn to stay up there or suffer the *terrifying* consequence of falling. lol I was a determined kid when I was terrified!

    I'm loving these updated posts on your treeless escapade. It wasn't a route I had planned for myself either, but it seems to be working. I enjoy gaining insight from others though. Very helpful in troubleshooting later on!!

  4. Glad you like the saddle! And most importantly that it seems to fit Scrappy, yeah! I totally get why a shorter-legged person might not like the hard-use stirrup setup. It took me a bit (when I was demoing the saddle) but I really came to like it.

    I never thought I'd fall on my face in the sensation (I did in the freeform at first), but I did feel very sore in different muscles after a bit! Scrappy looks very handsome all dressed up, and that saddle cover looks divine! I'll be interested in hearing about he Skito. I have a Haf but with stiffer equipedic foam. Boy, there are a million ways to do this riding thing...

    And hope your hubs (and pets) are recovering. Everyone be careful out there!