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Saddle Logic: Frequently Asked Questions about Fhoenix Saddles

Q1. Why 'SoftTree'?

A1.
Having no points of a tree means that the shoulders are much less restricted. Having flexibility laterally means that the saddle will allow the horse's back to round up and carry the rider more easily, also allowing the rider to feel the movement of the horse in a way that a treed saddle doesn't permit. Not having a rigid tree means that the saddle can be adjusted to fit almost any horse, with nothing more than additional padding. The Fhoenix offers unrivalled comfort to both horse and rider, combining the flexibility and best characteristics of a treeless saddle, easily adjusting to the fit of almost any horse, but with the rider support of a treed saddle.

Q2. What about pressure points?

A2. The Fhoenix saddles have been pressure tested using the Port Lewis Impression Pad and the Pliance pressure testing system. The results showed impressive lack of pressure points across the board.

In a treed saddle, from the moment that the rider's weight lands in the saddle once mounted, there will be pressure from the tree, especially from the points. However well fitted the saddle, the solid nature of the points of the tree, will restrict lateral extension of the shoulders. This may well also cause the shoulder blade to jam up against the points every time the shoulder swings back, shortening the stride, and eventually causing pain and bruising. In a treeless or part treed saddle, the weight is evenly distributed over the horse's back, with no pressure being exerted on the stirrup bars, until the rider rises to the trot, or stands in the stirrups for fast work. If the rider is correctly balanced, with the weight also distributed down through a secure lower leg, there should not be excessive weight placed on the stirrups and bars.

Q3. Are pressure points caused by the rider's seatbones?

A3. The saddle is as thick as conventional saddles and made of layers of shock absorbing/pressure dissipating material. We have experienced no soreness in all of the test horses, 'cold backed' horses have shown no resistance at all to the Fhoenix. Those horses who have suffered sore backs, through conventional saddles being incorrectly fitted, accept the Fhoenix willingly.

Q4. Is there any pressure from the solid cantle, where it ends or begins, perhaps?

A4. No, the rigid cantle is a small component which does not enter the seat area of the saddle. There is a thick layer of wool felt, plus either the Prolite panels or Suberpanels underneath the cantle, and it has never caused any problems.

Q5. Does the saddle feel very wide without a tree?

A5. The seat has been designed to allow the rider's thighs to drop easily into a more vertical knee position, the saddle having a definite 'waist', which does not leave the rider feeling straddled as if bareback. The new Fhoenix Vogue, is our narrowest twist yet, and many riders find it no wider at all than a treed saddle. The Fhoenix offers the same level of support as a conventional treed saddle, yet is the nearest thing to sitting on a cushion on a horse!! The rider who is accustomed to sitting in a 'chair' seat as a result of riding in most GP saddles, will feel more stretched as little stretch is placed on the hip and thigh joints when sitting in this way - as soon as the leg is brought back into line, and the hip joints have to open and the thighs stretch, the saddle will feel wide!! This is often attributed to the fact that the saddle is treeless, but in fact is mostly to do with the placement of the stirrup bars.

Q6. So, why are the stirrup bars so much further back?

A6. Nearly all conventional saddles have the stirrup bars set too far to the front, resulting in the rider's seat being pushed to the back of the saddle, and the thighs pulled forwards. This is why so many riders find it nigh on impossible to maintain the ear/shoulder/hip/heel line - the very tool that is supposed to be assisting the rider, i.e. the saddle is actually preventing him or her from maintaining this ideal position of balance! The stirrup bars are set back as in all of the Heather Moffett designed saddles, to enable an instant 'ear/shoulder/hip/heel' line to be easily achieved. The bars have been designed to permit the use of normal stirrups, allowing the leather to come away and prevent the rider being dragged in the event of a fall. They are attached to strong webbing, which is in turn, attached to wider bands of webbing strained front to back, to ensure that the weight is evenly distributed, and which also carries the girth straps.

Q7. The Fhoenix doesn't look as if it fits when I place it on my horses' back - it bridges in the middle and the panels and flaps seem to point a bit backwards?
A7. This is because when the rider's weight causes the saddle to sink in the middle, this pushes the flaps forward. The saddle may appear not to touch all along the back, and may protrude at the rear, on either side of the back, but after riding in it a few times, it will very quickly mould and adjust to the shape of the horse.

Q8. The saddle looked asymmetric when it came out of the box.

A8. This is because it is fully flexible, excepting the cantle, and will sometimes assume the shape of the box. This will quickly correct itself once used on the horse.

Q9. The saddle feels very hard when the weather is cold!

A9. Under cold conditions, the viscose-elastic foam used in the seat will feel hard. If you do not wish to warm and soften the foam with your own seat - it is fine to warm the saddle before use, either by keeping it in a warm place or allowing it to sit for ten minutes or so on the horse's back before riding, preferably with a rug over the saddle and horse's back to retain heat if necessary. One of the microwave 'hotties' - a wheat or similar filled bag used as a hot water bottle or heat pad, is excellent to place on the seat in exceptionally cold weather, to warm and soften the foam. We now sell custom fit latex 'Toppers' for Flexion SBS, Fhoenix and Fhoenix Vogue models, which are not temperature sensitive and remove the need for warming up the saddles first.

Q10. Can I use my normal stirrup leathers with the Fhoenix?

A10. Dressage stirrup leathers - i.e. those with adjustment at the stirrup end should be used, as the stirrup bars cannot be recessed as with treed saddles. Or, alternatively, use normal stirrup leathers, with the buckle at the stirrup end, and put the loose end of the leather into one of the neoprene sleeve you can buy for the purpose from Robinson's catalogue and many saddlers. Using the stirrup leathers in this way is commonplace on the Continent, even with treed saddles to avoid having buckles under the leg. If hiring a trial saddle, even use a couple of strong rubber bands to secure the end of your normal leathers, to prevent them flapping.

Q11. What type of girth do you recommend?

A11. We strongly advocate the Professional's Choice dressage girth - this girth is extremely well made, elasticated at both ends (one end means that the saddle is pulled unequally to one side) and has a wide neoprene strip against the horse, which is velcroed and can be removed for easy washing. Correct choice of girth can influence the stability of the saddle and leather girths, in particular, can contribute to stability problems.

Q12. How long should my dressage girth be?

A12. Usually, a dressage girth needs to be about 20 inches shorter than your regular English general purpose girth. Ensure that the girth is done up equally on both sides. If the girth is too short, it will result in the horse's elbows hitting the buckles as the shoulder swings back and forth. This is very painful, possibly causing injuries to the elbow, and has even been severe enough for it to be known to bring a horse down. Therefore, the girth should be long enough to come about two inches below the bottom of the saddle flap, once the girth is sufficiently tightened.

Q13. Why have both GP and dressage models long girth straps, and not the conventional three short billets associated with GP saddles?

A13. This is because we found the saddles to be less laterally stable with the longer girth, and also with the soft Italian flaps, the rider is likely to feel the buckles under the thigh, causing them discomfort.

Q14. Does the Fhoenix come in different widths?

A14. The Fhoenix has a soft front arch, which expands and contracts automatically to accommodate all but very high withered horses (see Q&A 18).

Q15. Does the Fhoenix have a gullet and spinal clearance, unlike some other treeless or part treed saddles?

A15. The Fhoenix has a gullet - but this is more for lateral stability than spinal clearance. The saddle being soft with no hard tree in either the front arch or down the gullet area, does not need spinal clearance, but the presence of a gullet does make the saddle remarkably laterally stable, even permitting mounting from the ground without difficulty. Although we strongly do not advise this on a normal basis, as it is damaging to the horse's back, it may be unavoidable out hacking occasionally, if the rider, for instance, drops his or her whip!

Q16. What type of numnah or saddle cloth would you recommend?

A16. If using a numnah rather than a saddle cloth, make sure that it is large enough to fit so that the numnah has around an inch at least showing all round the saddle, without any binding seams coming directly underneath the saddle. This could encourage the saddle, with a less than balanced rider, to slip and rub, especially across the back under the cantle region.

The Fhoenix should be always used with a so-called 'high wither' cut saddle cloth, such as the excellent Mattes range. All saddle cloths and numnahs should be designed in this way, conforming to the shape of the saddle arch, thereby not pulling across the wither, and creating a pressure point. The high cut also assists with lateral stability, being cut to fit up into the front arch, rather than straight across.

With wide flat backed horses, overweight ones, such as the horse to the right, and those with mature, correctly muscled backs, no padding is necessary. Use only a high wither saddle cloth.

For those with a small amount of atrophy, just needing an extra padding boost, our Backsaver pad,made from the same visco elastic foam as the Fhoenix seat, is ideal, used on top of the Mattes cloth between cloth and saddle.

Q17. Use of a Suberpanel

A17. In some cases, especially very wide, flat backed horses, the use of the cork filled 'Suberpanel' would be advocated in place of the moulded ones. Simply remove the moulded panels, and Velcro the pockets closed, and flatten smoothly against the main body of the saddle. Attach the Suberpanel as shown to the 'd's on the front of the saddle. The Suberpanel works better still if used damp, straight from the washing machine is fine. Ensure the cork is evenly distributed. It will feel lumpy when washed and you first put it on, but it quickly moulds and smooths to exactly the shape of the horse's back in use.

Q18. Would you advise the Fhoenix even with severe atrophy?

A18. Even the worse cases of atrophy can usually be fitted. Due to the significant amount of padding needed, it may be necessary only to do slow work and schooling to build up the topline, but we would also advocate this if using a treed saddle to permit the muscle to regenerate. We would suggest that an agent visits and advises for individual cases - there is no one solution.

Q19. Why do you have two types of moulded panel?

A19.
The thicker moulded panels are shaped for more depth at the edge of the panels. They are ideal for the more A framed horse or pony, ponies who although may not have much wither but are physically narrow compared to, for example, a flat backed cob, or for horses lacking in muscle development. The flatter panels are ideal for wider, flatter backed horses. However, there is always the exception to the rule, which is why all new Fhoenix saddles will ship with both types of panel, as well as a set of shims. Both types fit in the leather panel pockets of the Fhoenix saddle and are completely interchangeable.

Q20. Will the Fhoenix last as long as a conventional treed saddle?

A20. The saddle is, by its nature and construction, very different but the life expectancy is likely to be as long as that of a treed saddle, with proper care. The saddle has been manufactured using the finest quality materials but these are softer than those used in treed saddles, in order to give the saddle flexibility and the grip needed when no tree is present. The original Flexion prototype is still going strong after nine years of use, and the quality of materials used and standard of manufacture was very poor by comparison! We expect that in most sports you would pay at least a couple of hundred pounds a year for equipment, a decent pair of running shoes will cost 150, for example. So if you take that the Fhoenix lasts a minimum of ten years, that is only just over 100 per year, or less if the Standard, and with proper care and normal use should last much longer.

Q21. How do I care for the saddle?

A21. The saddle should be either oiled regularly with a product such as Hydrophane leather dressing, or can be waterproofed with Nikwax G wax leather dressing, which will also keep the leather supple. The saddle should also be regularly cleaned with saddle soap, such as a glycerine based product - the spray glycerine soaps are excellent.

The saddle does not need reflocking and maintenance is minimal. Should the moulded panels need replacing, replacements can be ordered from Nurseys. These can usually be inserted fairly easily but if any difficulty is experienced, in the UK, the saddle should be sent back to Nurseys. They will insert them and turn the saddle around within a couple of days. Suberpanels are extremely long lasting - the original Suberpads from 1996 are still in daily use, but should the panel be ripped or torn in any way, and the cork lost, replacements can again be purchased at 85 per panel.

Stitching should be regularly checked, as with all saddles, especially girth billets and if repair is needed, should be attended to immediately.