BALANCE did actually produce a Western Style saddle some years ago (both with and without a horn), but due to challenges with the manufacturers, Carol and Lesley decided to stop production.
It is very important to make the distinction that they were only ever (very deliberately) Western Style saddles, not Western Saddles; they were a BALANCE English saddle on the horse’s side, just with the ‘look’ of a Western saddle on the rider’s side. As such, they were never suitable for activities such as roping. This is because in order for a saddle not to move on the horse’s back when you have another animal, in effect, pulling on it, it has to be so tight on the horse that it will disable full range of natural movement which BALANCE would never advocate.
It may be possible for someone to use a BALANCE Western Style saddle for some other Western activities, but in reality, the chances of enough riders having enough balance, self-awareness and commitment to helping their horse move in a natural and bio-mechanically correct way to make good use of them without encountering problems such as the saddle moving/slipping is very small. For that reason, BALANCE has no plans to create a saddle suitable for Western activities. There may come a day when BALANCE might be able to re-start production on their Western Style saddle in its previous form, but at the moment that is not looking likely.
Yes! BALANCE worked with Team GB Driver Chris Ainscough of Thompson House Equestrian Centre to create the CADENCE Driving saddle; offering driving horses and ponies the same level of care and consideration from BALANCE as those who are ridden.
The girth (billet) straps on some BALANCE saddles look like they are on the wrong way round!
The breastplates and lunge cavesson are also made inside out!
Is it a manufacturing fault?
We know that some of the methods we use to make horses comfortable can seem strange, so here's why we put our girth straps on ‘back to front’ and we have our bridle work made ‘inside-out’!
There are many features that you will find in BALANCE equipment that someone who worked with horses 100 years ago would see as very familiar, but are not found in most products in tack stores today.
One of these features is girth straps (billet straps) that have their unfinished side showing uppermost. The reason for this is so that the pressure and wear from the buckles of the girth are made to the harder wearing, unfinished side of the strap. Also, it makes it much easier to get the buckles done up when the large side of the holes is underneath, which is usually on the finished side of the strap.
Having the finished side of the strap showing on the top is just a way of making them look more attractive to the person who is buying the saddle, it has no practical benefit.
So, we would argue that we have our saddle makers put the straps on the correct way round, in terms of practicality and longevity. It’s everyone else that has got their straps the' wrong way round'! Unfortunately most saddle makers buy girth straps that have had numbers stamped on them already. This means that when they use the straps in the way we advise, the numbers are underneath and this is another thing that leads people to believe they are the wrong way around.
If you look at the straps, you will see that all of the ends are folded and finished on the upper surface. This is deliberate. Our argument is...... why should the horse get all the rough and lumpy ends of the straps on his side of the bridle?
We know that our breastplates and cavesson may look a little different to others, but then our focus is a little different. We put the comfort and safety of the horse well above the way the equipment looks. We know that some people would disagree and there are plenty of manufacturers and tack stores that cater very well to them.
Meantime, we will continue to make and provide equipment that is very well designed, and made from high quality materials, in ways that really do put the horse 1st.
So, if anyone looks at your BALANCE saddle or equipment and mentions your ‘back to front’ girth straps, or ‘inside-out’ breastplate, you can educate them as to why they look like this!
Our Pro-Complete Pads are made of Pro-Lite foam. We chose it and continue to use it in our Adjustable Pad System because:
It is soft enough to provide the horse with protective cushioning and comfort, even when only ¼ inch thick.
It’s light enough not to drag down on the horse as used to be the case with the older gel type pads.
The gel-like property protects against shear forces and therefore offers some protection from friction (Our recommended pad combinations almost always include a pad with Wool-fleece next to the horse's skin, which also does the same job)
It seems to continue to stay the same after many years of repeated and heavy use, which is unusual with a lot of foams
Its closed cell structure avoids absorbing sweat and water
Its closed cell structure also allows it to instantly recover and therefore keep up with the rapid muscle firing that is going on in the horse’s back step after step after step. By contrast, open-cell foams collapse and are too slow to recover their depth between compressions, and slow recover foams end up yielding to high pressures, become ‘dead’ and stop providing protection.
No we don't, because when we offered this choice to horses during our research we found that:
Although there was often a 'honeymoon period' where a horse showed signs of relief when first trying a treeless saddle if he/she had suffered pain, discomfort and/or restriction from an inappropriate saddle tree, in the vast majority of cases, this relief was short-lived.
When offered a choice between a restrictive tree, a treeless saddle AND a saddle tree wide enough to be used Functionally, the vast majority of horses chose the Functional approach (the wider tree with appropriate padding).
BALANCE has always believed it is essential to ALWAYS ask the horse's opinion with anything relative to his care, management and training. Often humans have ideas that seem great in theory, yet when presented to a horse in such a way that he/she can show their preferences, we are often sent back to the drawing board!
What we discovered was that any saddle with some sort of girth straps and stirrup bars/attachments (and the weight of a rider!) will inevitably exert pressure on the horse. With the BALANCE Saddling System, where the saddle points are wider than the horse's back and are cushioned by the Padding System, the effects of these pressures are minimised.
We found that when there was no tree to spread the rider's weight over a larger area of the horse's back and to keep pressure from the stirrup bars and girth straps off the spine, those concentrated pressures began to work against the horse.
I addition to this, we found that most horses appreciated the reference points* offered by saddle tree, providing the reference points were provided without restriction.
Another point to be aware of it that some treeless saddles do not help the rider to ride in a balanced position. This in turn has an impact on the horse because the effect of the rider's weight is actually increased (the rider feels heavier to the horse) when the rider is out of balance. So, it is important to bear in mind the effect on the rider as well when choosing a saddle, whether it is treeless or otherwise.
* We will endeavour, during 2020, to write an article about what 'reference points' are relative to the saddle, and why they are important - the discussion would be too large for this FAQ section of the website.
The BALANCE saddle trees (in the adult saddles) are made with laminated beech wood with steel reinforcement, in the traditional way. They are officially named 'Sprung Trees' because they are not solid, but in reality there is very little flexion in them. Some 'sprung' trees do have a lot of flexion in them, but ours don't. We have them built this way on purpose because the saddles are fitted wide enough to enable the use of the Padding System and it is the Padding System that is flexible and allows for the changes of back shape, so that the tree can provide a 'constant' reference point for both horse and rider.
Some tree makers use thinner laminate laid in a way that allows more flexibility and the way they use the steel also allows more flexibility. In the past, some trees had their wood weakened and others were even cut to create more movement in them, but all of these developments were actually an attempt to please the rider rather than to create any benefit for the horse. Prior to this, old fashioned seats were very flat and hard as they didn't have the materials to make them softer, but after the war, once horses were used more for leisure and less for true work, people complained about the feel of the seats and the sprung trees were an attempt to create a comfier feel for the rider.
The problem was that, in the case of weakened or cut trees, the rider's weight became concentrated in the middle (where the tree had been cut/weakened), thus creating pressure and discomfort for the horse. Through our 25+ years of research, we have found that unless the rider is very stable and well-balanced, most horses find more flexible trees less comfortable because they create more movement between horse and rider; the vast majority showed a distinct preference for a stable tree, with the required flexibility provided by the pads.
The term 'Hoop Tree' is not really used in the UK, but seems to have become quite common in the USA. It usually refers to trees that have an open shape in the head of the tree, more like the 'inverted U' shape trees that we use and advocate, although we have never described our saddles as having hoop trees.
Using saddles with trees that are an inverted U rather than an inverted V in shape is one of the key design features that we have been educating riders about for a very long time. Even when a horse has muscle wastage and is in need of a remedial saddling approach, we still use trees that are very open through the head to avoid the inverted V profile.
However, there are some trees that get classified as 'key-hole', because they have a high, and sometimes narrow arch in the pommel and then flare out, similar to some Cavalry saddles. We do not advocate this, but we have seen these referred to as hoop trees too, so it is very confusing!
The BALANCE Dressage saddles are made using either a Show Bar, which sets the position of the stirrup further back than on the GP or Jump saddles, or, on the Xtreme Dressage saddles, the hanging e-bars are set slightly further back, but are not as far back as some riders have come to prefer in a conventional saddle.
Carol and Lesley, who have designed the saddles are both trainers and riding teachers. They developed a strong interest in, and studied, rider bio-mechanics as well as equine bio-mechanics many years ago, and they could see a lot of problems in saddling were being caused by the trend towards riders being encouraged to ride with their stirrups very long and with very little angle in their hip, knee and ankle joints. This position is much easier to adopt when the stirrups are set further back. However, this position can be very stressful on the human body when riding in a saddle that is the shape and width needed for a healthy, well-muscled equine back, which is always wide. So, horses have often ended up in saddles that are too narrow for them, in order to allow their riders to adopt a straight legged position.
When you see someone riding a horse bare-back, you rarely ever see them riding without a good degree of angle in their hips and knees. They naturally adopt a balanced and organised position. Riding in BALANCE saddles is more like riding the shape of the healthy horse without a saddle and for that reason, the stirrup bars are positioned to compliment this organisation.
(A note from Keren Morris, BALANCE Saddle Consultant... "I can remember riding in a BALANCE saddle for the first time… I was so used to forcing my hips open and legs down and back, because this is what I had been taught, but once in the BALANCE saddle, my legs ended up way too far back! It turned out I didn’t need to struggle or work hard, just letting my legs hang where they did naturally put them exactly where they needed to be because the saddle was in balance and supported both my biomechanics and that of the horse."
Being able to move in a powerful, balanced and engaged way, without restriction or discomfort, is every horse’s birth-right and essential in order for him to be able to carry the unnatural weight of a rider, without doing harm to himself.