I love dressage training and have 2 warmbloods that I ride every day and an un-started 21 month QH cross. I bred and started my mare (Lolly) who is almost 9 and is narrow in the shoulder, wide in the barrel and slightly croup high. When she was about 7.5, her shape had noticeably changed / matured and my very expensive French dressage saddle started causing problems. Lolly went from a big mover to a horse that had trouble going forward, resisting and was generally unhappy under saddle. My saddle kept sliding forward and sitting right on her shoulders, I just couldn’t prevent it from moving. I had 6 treed saddles – ranging from stock, AP and dressage – none of which fitted her. I also tried an anatomical girth which didn’t help. Lolly started going intermittently lame in the shoulder, and the lameness kept getting worse each time. I contacted a saddle fitter and was told that Lolly had muscle atrophy in the shoulders and her posture was poor from an ill-fitting saddle. I looked into buying yet another saddle, I trialed a couple, though just kept having the same fitting issues. I was advised to contact a saddle maker in the UK who specialised in custom fit saddles designed for horses shaped like Lolly. I contacted them – they were happy to provide me with a cost, but when I asked what made their saddles different from others on the market and how they would suit my horse – I got no answer. In my research I came across treeless saddles. The only bad wrap that these saddles were getting were from treed saddle makers and fitters – I could not find anyone that actually rode in a quality treeless that had anything bad to say about them. I was at the point where I stop riding for the health of my horses, or I try a treeless. So I sold all 6 of my treed saddles…….
I contacted Bettina and had an email saddle consult with the view to purchasing a Barefoot dressage saddle – I really liked the Wellington. Bettina was incredibly helpful and knowledgeable and suggested the Merlyn – I was worried that the flaps on the Merlyn were too short for a dressage saddle and preferred the Wellington. Bettina was very detailed in why the Wellington would not be suitable for Lolly, so I took her advice and went with the Merlyn.
When I received the saddle my first impressions were that it was a really nice looking, well made saddle – the flaps were shorter than the Wellington, but I liked it. I liked the shape, the subtle knee rolls and the high pommel. It suited Lolly perfectly. The first ride I had in it I felt like I was sitting way above the horse – almost perched up on top of her - and I found it hard to find my centre of balance. I also found it hard to stabilise my lower leg. After a couple of weeks of riding, the saddle started to settle and I started getting used to it - it is so comfortable, I love the seat and the close contact. I can feel every movement Lolly makes - where her hind legs are and her back swing - it's great! Making the transition to a treeless saddle was a very humbling experience – it certainly highlights your weaknesses as a rider, a huge positive in my eyes to enable you to improve your riding skills. I have to say – I had no idea how much a treed saddle had made me a lazy rider, and how much the horse had really been carrying me! There is no being a passenger in a treeless saddle – you certainly use your core more for stability and balance - you have to carry yourself every step instead of relying on the horse to carry you. I like how you can move the stirrups forward or back on the Barefoot – this helped, as at first I was sitting in a bit of a chair seat. I moved the stirrups back a little and did some riding with no stirrups – something I have not done for a while. The stirrups are very easy to remove and also to put back on the saddle. Riding with no stirrups really helped me find my centre of balance and start using the correct upper inner thigh muscles again to help stabilise my lower leg. My seat and balance has quickly improved ! The saddle is really kind to my knees and hips too - I found when riding for lengthy periods in a treed saddle - I got hip and knee pain from being jammed into position by the rigid tree. Bettina provided great advice on transitioning Lolly to treeless as she had existing shoulder issues from the treed saddle. A month on, the freedom of movement in the shoulder Lolly now has is incredible – she has her amazing extended trot back. Her shoulder in and other lateral movements are now forward and fluid and she is happy and responsive to the aids like never before. Her shoulders are now developing correctly and her posture has improved. She is no longer girthy and I don’t have to do the girth up so very tight anymore in an attempt to keep the saddle in place – as a result I have noticed her breathing is much better– she now breathes in a much more rhythmical and relaxed way.
I have just started riding my gelding in the saddle too – he is a completely different shape and also had issues from treed saddles – he is high withered, uphill and fairly short backed - and I can use the same saddle on him with different padding in the physio pad. When I start my young QH – I am so glad that he will not have to go through the same issues my other two have had to – he will be in a treeless right from the start.
I highly recommend the Barefoot Merlyn dressage saddle – only positives for horse and rider. Bettina’s knowledge and advice is excellent. Happy riding!!Megan.
6 October 2016
Bettina kindly offered Lizzie and I a trial of The New Happy Valley Barefoot Saddle. The Happy Valley has more of a “twist” than the other styles of Barefoot saddle. Probably 10 years ago, I rode in a barefoot London saddle, and also a Barefoot Cheyenne saddle, (pre-VPS) and found them very unstable, and both of these saddles sat me so wide they hurt my hips, both were on wide horses too. This was just after having my children so my balance was a little shaky. I am now a more balanced rider too which helps I suppose.
So today was my first ride out in the saddle, and I was a tiny bit nervous, considering my horse has had the winter off and was full of spring grass. (But she was great). I had a little walk and trot around in an enclosed space last week as well so it wasn’t totally cold Turkey.
So I found the Happy Valley sat me about the same width as riding in my Ezi Ride half breed saddle, Lizzie is a red (wide) bates gullet so she isn’t super wide, the saddle does feel a fair bit higher than my old saddle. There is good wither clearance, which has been a bit of an issue with another saddle I have been using. Lizzie is a slightly downhill quarter horse, and I didn’t feel tipped forward in this saddle at all. I wasn’t planning to canter today, :0 but Lizzie had other ideas when the other horse I was riding with trotted. Oops. So I also rode in a Black Forest saddle on a New Forest pony about 5 years ago, and it took me about 2 months to be brave enough to canter in it. But again I am a more balanced rider than I was then. Now my horse Lizzie injured extensor tendon high up in her front leg about 4 years ago, and for a while struggled going downhill. She is far better now than she used to be, however in some saddles (mostly treed ones) she feels unbalanced down steep hills, so today, I rode about 6km and I got back and thought to myself, I rode down heaps of hills and didn’t even notice. J It also didn’t move at all forward or back, and I didn’t use a breastplate, and we went up at least one hill where I had to lean forward and hold her mane.
All in all it was very comfy, and Lizzie moved well. Be interesting to go a little faster and have a good run and see how it goes. J
13 October 2016
I did a 3 hour ride today in the Happy Valley Saddle. We had a small altercation with a very energetic Alpaca and Lizzie spun around like a reining horse, at which point I decided the saddle is quite stable. LOL.
We climbed a couple of very steep hills with no slipping What so every in fact I find the saddle is extremely stable, High compared to a treed saddle but stable.
I find it not quite as wide as other Barefoot saddles, due to the hip-saver cushion, and also the Sheepskin is thinner than a standard barefoot seat on most of the other models. This saddle still doesn’t clamp you into the saddle like a treed saddle, my inner thighs are quite tired tonight, but i'm sure that is just part of getting used to riding treeless.
I cantered today and my horse cantered quite slowly and smoothly, no head in the air (which she has done in the past. I still cant believe how comfortable she feels going downhill, compared with my old Half Breed Saddle with a tree.
These saddles are also much more soft to ride in than a treed saddle, I find I don’t get a sore back myself like I used to in my treed saddle.
11 October 2018
Almost exactly 2 years on I totally love my Happy Valley saddle, my horse has gained some top-line, and been very happy in this saddle. I regularly check my shims padding and pommel size and Lizzie has always seemed comfortable. Lizzie has regular bodywork, and is now 15 years old, the body worker has not found any issues back wise with Lizzie over the two years. My Chiropractor said today that he thought Lizzie was the best he had ever seen her body-wise.
It took about 10 rides for me to feel totally comfortable in a treeless saddle. The Happy Valley felt very high to begin with, but has moulded to Lizzie and feels much better now. I have done many hours of Trail riding in my saddle now, and the big fluffy ears on the front of the saddle make it really secure. I have once fallen backwards (but not off the horse) in the saddle, because the back squishy, but only once in two years, and Lizzie has gotten frights at things and spun around, (she is a cutting bred QH and has been known to spin around) and I have stayed on. I have a friend who rode in mine and then bought her own one she loved it so much.
I can honestly say now it is the most comfortable saddle I have ever ridden in. I have ridden other horses in other models of Barefoot saddles and I find if they have the right pommel, the right pad and padding for the horse and rider they are such amazing saddles.
Happy Barefoot Customer. :)
I was first introduced to the Cheyenne saddle by my friend when she was giving me riding lessons on her Standardbred. When I finally found my dream horse, a Palouse named Bubbles, who'd had a history of back issues with poor fitting saddles (and due to her short back and roundness, it was extremely hard to fit properly and I needed a saddle that was suitable for me as well size 0) I thought it was just a given that I try a treeless saddle on her. Since I already loved the Cheyenne that I had ridden in, I decided after speaking with Bettina that that was the saddle I was to get for her. I love the connection you get with a treeless and being able to feel what the horse is doing with their back and also the freedom they get with being able to move more freely through their shoulders and back by how the saddle moulds to their body shape. Being a not very confident rider I have always felt secure and safe in this saddle which I haven't always done in other saddles.
In the 3 + years that I've now had Bubbles she has never been sore or suffered from any back or girth issues. I mostly trail ride on Bubbles but she also gets ridden regularly by my daughter who also attends monthly to pony club and has also competed in games in the Cheyenne saddle.
I was also so happy with my saddle I also purchased the xo version of the Cheyenne for my youngest daughter for her then Shetland and now uses it on her Welsh pony. She also attends pony club using her Barefoot saddle.
The only real issue I've had with my saddle was that it tipped me forward but after a fitting consult with Bettina who added some extra shim padding in the front of the saddle pad and me changing the way I sit (old bad riding habits) has pretty much fixed this problem.
I truly love our Cheyenne saddles and highly recommend the brand to everyone looking for a treeless saddle.
For the past 5 years, I have only ridden my little QH x SH mare Jen bareback, which she much prefers.
It wasn’t until i brought home Daisy in June 2018 that I even thought about a saddle again. Pulling out my all purpose and western saddles again, I was able to adjust my all purpose to fit my new mare. Three minutes of riding in it, we ditched it and went bareback. There had to be something better.
Someone suggested trying a Barefoot saddle, and were kind enough to offer me a trial in their Arizona saddle (so grateful - thankyou). As soon as I sat in it I was hooked. I got into contact with Bettina that very day and organised a consult. As a huge lover of a western style saddle with western rigging, the Arizona really was a no brainer. Both my mares are short backed so it was perfect.
I expected the transition back to a saddle to be difficult for both myself and Jen. But it wasn’t. We both love it.
After a bad accident while cantering many years ago, I have zero confidence at the canter. After several rides in our Arizona, I plucked up the courage to try some canter in it. It was so stable, so secure, so comfortable and such close contact that I could feel every footfall of my mare. I have really noticed a huge difference in the way both my girls move with the barefoot saddle on compared to a treed saddle. There is no restriction and they seem to stride out further with greater relaxation.
The Arizona offers so much freedom and close contact. I can feel every movement my horse takes underneath me. I really recommend the fenders to go with the saddle, as they offer wonderful support to the rider’s leg. The soft step stirrups are really comfortable too and the stirrup stays put under your foot. The anatomical girth offers a really good and unrestrictive hold for Jen and Daisy who both have a forward girth groove, without having to have it super tight. The ‘Stretch & Breathe’ off billet really helps keep my girls comfortable too. The Arizona is so easy to clean with the Barefoot cleaner and conditioner. There are no knee rolls on the Arizona, but Barefoot offer a fender with a knee roll if you need or want support and security. The deep seat is suited for anyone who doesn’t want to feel restricted but wants to feel safe and close to their horse. The Arizona is a lightweight western saddle that both riders and their horses will fall in love with. I can not recommend Bettina highly enough. Being new to the Barefoot system, I really started with no clue. Now, I’m beginning to understand how to fit my saddle to different horses. I love how fully customisable the Barefoot system is. I have a physio pad set up and ready to go for each of my girls, with a simple change of fork is all that is needed. If you are considering a western saddle, definitely don’t overlook the Arizona.