Saddle designs, security and the Total Contact Saddle

A client (“SJ”) sent me this article that appeared in the Jan 2019 edition of Endurance News. “SJ” regularly rides in endurance events and trail rides in the US over some highly impressive ground. She tells me that the article ‘chimed’ with her as it reflects much of the design of the Total Contact Saddle (TCS). Whilst this study is not specifically about TCS it does reflect some of our design differences and so has a relevance. Anyway, have a read and see what you think ….


How saddle design affects rider stability

The presence or absence of flaps on a saddle may affect rider steadiness

by Christine Barakat and

Mick McCluskey, BVSc, MACVSc

It may seem counterintuitive, but removing a significant part of your saddle may make your seat more secure, according to a new study.

Led by Michigan State University professor emerita Hilary Clayton, BVMS, PhD, the study showed that riders were more balanced and stable when sitting in a saddle that had no flaps—the large leather panels that lie between the rider's thighs and the horse.

Most English saddles have two flaps on each side—one in contact with the horse and the other under the rider's leg, with the billet straps lying in between the two—but on some saddles only a single flap rests between the horse and the rider. "I believe flaps were developed to protect  the rider's legs from sweat and friction," says Clayton, although they aren't found on every saddle. "Legacy military or cavalry designs have no flaps, and there are a number of modern endurance saddles that consist of a small seat with straps for the girth and stirrups."

The research team tested rider stability in a modern dressage saddle designed to have no flaps. "The saddle has a full tree and a normal seat to ensure comfort of both horse and rider," says Clayton. "From the horse's perspective, the tree and the panels provide weight distribution and gullet width, which are critical elements to ensure equine comfort that many treeless saddles struggle to offer. From the rider's perspective, the seat feels like conventional saddles despite its appearance. It is nothing like the feel of a bareback pad."

The TCS client “RB” was able to sit out the antics of her horse and felt secure in her TCS despite some ‘hairy’ bucks - “RB” told us that this was pretty normal for her horse and it had NOTHING to do with his TCS.

The TCS client “RB” was able to sit out the antics of her horse and felt secure in her TCS despite some ‘hairy’ bucks - “RB” told us that this was pretty normal for her horse and it had NOTHING to do with his TCS.

The saddle also has stirrups attached under the skirt and long billets to be used with a short girth. For the study, five dressage horses were ridden by the same professional rider. Each horse was familiarized with the feel of the flapless saddle prior to the day of the study. Data were collected using a pressure sensitive pad placed under the saddle as the horses were ridden in their standard saddles and in the flapless saddle in a randomized order. The rider's movements were then plotted using computer analysis of the data.


This is the ‘open hook’ design of stirrup attachment that Total Contact Saddles use. We now have them made to our own design, in the UK and in stainless steel for extra strength.

This is the ‘open hook’ design of stirrup attachment that Total Contact Saddles use. We now have them made to our own design, in the UK and in stainless steel for extra strength.

The analysis showed that the rider was more stable in the flapless saddle. "The rider's center Of pressure, which represents the rider's position in the saddle, was more stable with the flapless saddle," says Clayton. "The rider stayed more centered over the middle of the horse in all gaits. In collected trot, extended trot and extended canter, the rider also moved less from front to back."

Clayton explains that "part of this effect can be attributed to the rider's closeness to the horse [without flaps] and the fact that the rider's thighs are less abducted (spread apart). Most riders who get into a flapless saddle comment that their horses feel narrower, which makes it easier to inwardly rotate the thigh. The saddle designer believes that, because the thighs are less abducted, the rider's hip 'hinge' works more effectively without a flap; this is how she sees the improved ability riders report in being able to follow the gaits."

This stability benefits the horse as well as the rider, says Clayton. "I interpret that as being better for the horse because the rider will be less inclined to upset the horse's balance. Additionally, the rider's position was more consistent (varied less) from stride to stride, so the horse can anticipate the rider's movements. Horses like consistency."

She adds that the riders in the study reported that the horses either immediately accepted or quickly adapted to the flapless saddle.

The rider in the study was a professional, but Clayton says that the same effects were seen in amateur riders such as herself'. "I collected data from professional and amateur riders but only reported on the professional rider for the study to reduce the variability in the data. I was so impressed I gave it a try and am now riding flapless."

 ENDURANCE NEWS I JANUARY 2019 7

TCS Clients often feedback that they feel MORE secure in the TCS than their previous saddles and that they can sit, even extreme, bucks and shies from their horse. Clearly we’re pretty pleased with that as it often validates what we may feel ourselves when riding. Some, who are not TCS clients are surprised at these comments as it just seems counter-intuitive that something as skimmed won as the TCS could present such a secure ride - but it does ! Have a look at one of our other Blogs which features a mass of comment from clients about their experiences in a wide range of activities to see just what they say - it’s all un-edited as well. So, a horse that is more relaxed and steps out easier, a seat that offers high levels of security even in extreme activities and bucks etc and all of this at a price that won’t break the bank. Take another look at Total Contact Saddles - “It’s the saddle of the future”, (Albert Voorm).

Mario no bridle.jpg