Decreasing Waste: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Repair, Rehome, Repurpose

My parents are environmental economists, so using resources wisely for both financial and planetary reasons was ingrained into my DNA.  You do not have to be a hippy, or a Millennial embracing the Zero Waste lifestyle, to recognize the benefits of the six Rs: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Repair, Rehome, Repurpose.  Do I always get it right?  No.  Life is hard enough without remembering to hand the Dutch Bros guy my reusable mug every single time, assuming I even have it with me…

Do I still try?  Yes.

So how do the 6 Rs apply to saddlery, and what are some easy ways to embrace them?

Refuse:

Refuse items you do not need, the easiest example being flyers handed out on the street.  I do not have printed pamphlets and I do not do printed receipts, unless requested, because in this day and age everyone has access to the internet, and I can save a lot of resources by going paperless.  You can also refuse free samples that you are not going to use, including mine, and use sites like Catalog Choice to unsubscribe from physical mailing lists you do not want to be on.

Reduce:

Reduce what you need, including tack!  Obviously WOW saddles are uniquely suited to this because of their adaptability to multiple horses, and the ability to change flaps on a single saddle to use it for multiple disciplines.  Any high quality saddle will have an advantage over cheaper saddles, however, in its longevity, thus decreasing the number of saddles you need made for you over your lifetime.  Even if you rehome that saddle and replace it when you need a different fit, that saddle will continue to serve its purpose instead of going into a dumpster.

An ongoing theme many fitters complain about is clients repeatedly buying a lot of cheaper corrective pads, girths, etc instead of investing in the more expensive but more permanent solution.  In the end they often spend more on “cheaper” options than the initial solution would have cost, without solving the issue, and they end up with a tack room full of crap.  So save yourself frustration, money, and waste by buying the right option the first time, whenever possible.

Behold, my collection of cheap rope halters that do not fit my warmblood! Total Value: $110. Cost of halter I finally bought that fits her perfectly: $65

Reuse:

Again, WOW saddles are uniquely suited for reuse on new horses because of their extreme adjustability.  Other ways to embrace reuse at the barn include turning your feed bags into reusable shopping bags, saving IV bags from any hospital visits for waterproof bandage covers, and of course using baling twine to repair everything.

Wool Carder

When I reflock a wool saddle, I take the old wool out and card it so it can be reused in another saddle.  This helps me keep my prices low without affecting quality, and helps reduce waste.

Repair:

Whenever possible, repairing a saddle or other piece of tack will save you money and prevent you from having to buy a completely new set-up.  Rein and bridle repairs are often overlooked as an option, but they really are fairly straightforward and affordable, especially if the bridle is only going to be used for schooling.  Girth repairs can get more expensive, but depending on the girth can still be a lot cheaper than a full replacement!  Check your billet stitching as part of your weekly deep-clean routine; restitching a billet is extremely affordable, it’s not worth risking having it come undone during a ride!

Repaired Reins

Rehome:

When you no longer need something, try to find it a new home.  We take WOW saddles on consignment, and there are lots of other options for other high quality saddles.  By that same token, if you are looking for a new saddle on a budget, I suggest looking at a reputable saddlery even if you are afraid they will not have anything in your price range.  I have seen very nice used saddles as cheap as $600 in saddleries with new saddles starting at $2000, it’s all about the timing.

Repurpose:

So, your tree is broken.  For whatever reason, you decide not to repair the saddle.  There is a local guy here that take old saddles and turn them into stools for people with hip and back pain.  Maybe you make a stool for yourself.  Many 4H and Pony Club groups love to get donated old saddles for their kids to tear apart for educational purposes.  If you have a bridle or other smaller leather piece that is no longer suitable for its intended purpose, you can consider turning it into a purse handle (I have done it with my old reins).  Basically, I am happy to take all that “junk” and repurpose it as best I can, or help you find creative ways of doing so.

Chickens eating kitchen scraps

I compost the wool from saddles I reflock that is not high enough quality to be carded and reused.  My favorite thing about my chickens is their ability to repurpose our kitchen scraps into eggs and garden soil.

How Do YOU Buy a QUALITY Saddle?

This is likely to become a multi-part series, but one of my frustrations as a trainer has long been horses suffering with ill-fitting tack.  Sometimes it’s a cheaply made saddle, or a saddle that needs a repair, or it might be a really expensive “custom” one that just does not actually fit correctly.

So how do you, as an equestrian without a saddler’s education, determine whether or not a saddle is of decent quality?

First, educate yourself on the basics.  Learn how to check a tree, and make sure to check the tree of any saddle you put on a horse.  Recently we disassembled what felt like a broken tree in a fairly lightly used saddle and found that the problem was actually a manufacturing error- two different lengths of springs!  If the buyer had flexed the saddle before purchasing, she would have felt something very wrong.

Second, learn to recognize basic signs of quality leatherwork.  Is the leather on the panel supple and strong, or does it feel like old cardboard?  Are the billets in decent condition? Ask what the tree is made of, and expect a good explanation from your fitter.  If your fitter does not know or cannot explain the materials, that should be a red flag. Buying used is always risky; it is pretty much guaranteed to be broken in asymmetrically, and without a saddler’s education it is next to impossible to determine how good past repairs have been.  I would never buy used a saddle without getting my hands on it first, to check the quality of the leather, stitching, and flocking.

Speaking of fitters, asking about education is always important.  There are some great programs that teach fitting, such as the Society of Master Saddlers in the UK.  But there are also many fitters who are well educated from working with other well-educated fitters and saddlers.  Most saddle brands have their own fitter courses, typically between a weekend to two weeks long, and some of them are better than others.  The important thing is knowing how the trees of each saddle are shaped, so a fitter who has only done a single brand’s bootcamp is probably not well educated outside of that brand.  Your trainer may likewise have a solid grasp of basic saddle fitting, but they are not going to be comparable to someone who has studied saddle fit in-depth.

Beyond the initial fitting and sales, it’s IMPERATIVE that your saddle can be routinely serviced.  Most saddles need to be reflocked every few years, and rebalanced as often as every six months.  Horses change shape frequently, so having a local fitter and saddler who can check the fit and make adjustments is extremely important.  Buying a saddle without local support can become an issue!  I frequently hear from people looking to have their very expensive saddle repaired or reflocked, but there is no local brand representative.  Most saddlers will not touch a saddle from a brand they do not represent, and we are all plenty busy with our own clients.  So be sure to ask about repairs and reflocks when buying a saddle, and make sure you have good access to both.

Finally, remember that quality saddles require quality materials and workmanship, which is going to cost a bit more.  In my experience, a new saddle under $2k is probably not going to be decent quality.  My next post on this subject will be about what exactly that $2k+ buys you, but for now just remember that a bad saddle can cause expensive, sometimes irreversible back problems for your horse, put you in an incorrect and/or crooked position, will not hold up to routine use, and is less likely to be repairable.  In the long run, a cheap saddle can end up costing you more in vet and training bills plus the hours of frustration spent attempting to correct issues that could have been avoided with a better saddle up front.

Saddle Care 101

Since I get asked this a lot, I thought I should make a post containing all the basic information on saddle care in one place.

Products I Use

  • Effax Leder balsam (any brand is fine, look for beeswax/lanolin)
  • Effax Leder combi
  • VeruGreen Naturals Leather Cleaner, or any other pH balanced soap specifically designed for English tack (Lexol also makes one)
  • Hydrophane oil

Products to Avoid

  • Any oil except Hydrophane
    • Other oils will weaken/wreck vegetable tanned leather
    • Neatsfoot and other tack oils are for Western tack
    • Only hydrophane oil will preserve English tack
    • In a pinch, you can use corn oil!
  • Glycerine based soaps
    • Again, they are for Western tack
    • They may strip the dyes from you tack
    • They may leave a nasty residue on your tack
    • They will shorten the lifespan of vegetable tanned leather

Brand New Saddle (or Bridle, Girth, etc):

  • Wipe with a barely damp cloth
  • Using your fingertips, coat the entire thing with leder balsam to condition and protect it

After Every Ride

  • Wipe off all the sweat, dust, and moisture with either a barely damp cloth or leder combi
  • Do not store your girth on top of your saddle; the sweat left on the girth with erode the seat
  • Hang your bridle nicely to prolong its useful life
  • Wipe gunk off the bit to prevent it from building up

Once a Week

  • Clean thoroughly with a barely damp sponge and your pH balanced soap, wiping away all soap residue
  • Clean the billets weekly, but only oil or balsam them monthly or they will stretch
  • Using your fingertips, apply a very thin layer of leder balsam
  • If the leather is very dry, use your finger tips to apply a small amount of hydrophane oil instead of leder balsam

Please let me know if you have questions or want more information by leaving a comment.  I intend to keep working on the video series as I have time, including tips for oiling, for show boots, etc.

Learned Pain; Two Recovering Backs

People often say, “I don’t want to spend a lot of money on a saddle right now, his back is going to change so quickly.”  I cringe every time, but especially when talking about a young horse.  Do you really want your horse to associate riding with discomfort?  By choosing a cheap, and thus almost certainly ill-fitting saddle, to back your young horse with, you are teaching him that saddles are something to be tolerated at best.  It’s much better to spend the money on an adjustable, properly fitted saddle from the start!

Spike is the kind of sensitive soul who told his owner clearly that every saddle ever placed on him was uncomfortable.  As the years went by and the saddles continued to be not quite right, Spike’s knowledge that saddles equal pain became cemented in his brain.  Unfortunately for Spike, he is a very difficult horse to put a saddle on!  His back is very short, very downhill, and he has a massive shoulder rotation.  Kay, his owner, is a body worker experienced with equids in many shapes, include lots of mules and donkeys, and she really did try everything!  Finally, in early April, she stopped riding Spike and started working on helping him forget about the pain of the saddles.

This fall, when she felt he was ready to try again, I came out with some demos for them to try.  It’s always hard to do a fitting for a horse that is not currently in work, and this was exacerbated by Spike’s distrust of the saddles themselves.  They had also just gotten a new mule in the pen along the arena that Spike was acting wary of.  He was so tense he would barely walk forward under saddle, and trotting was out of the question.  Still, as I gradually adjusted the flair and Kay became level on his back, we could both tell Spike was starting to relax a little.  Kay ordered a gorgeous Baroque saddle with coccyx support for herself, and unique panels for Spike’s unique back.

I delivered their new saddle yesterday, the first saddle Spike has ever had that fits him correctly.  Plus, the ergonomic features of the seat really helped support Kay’s lower back pain and kept her in the center of the saddle, which is something she has struggled with due to past injuries.  It took about ten minutes to get the flair adjusted front to back, and Spike let us know where he wanted the balance.  He was stepping well and acting a bit sassy.  Then, I added a touch of asymmetrical air to support Kay, and all of a sudden Spike stretched down into the bridle and started breathing deeply.  They walked around for another ten minutes or so, and Spike continued to lengthen his stride and lift his back just a touch.  I was thrilled to see such a huge change in such a sensitive horse, and I cannot wait to see how his topline develops now that he AND his rider has a comfortable saddle.  By summer I expect they are back to their dressage lessons and frequent trail riding!!!

Weekly Tack Deep Clean

Once a week, all your nice leather needs to be cleaned with a properly formulated soap and then conditioned with a balsam.  I personally like VeruGreen’s spray soap, and of course use Effax’s Leder Balsam to protect and condition my leather.  DO NOT use a glycerine soap on your English tack!  Those products are formulated for Western tack, which is tanned using a different process and requires different care.  The wrong soap will fade the leather, and destroy the stitching holding your tack together.

If you do a good job wiping the sweat and dust off after each ride, then a deep clean will only take a matter of minutes.  Cleaning this very dirty girth only takes me ten minutes total!  So put on your favorite podcast, playlist, or tv show, and get cleaning!

First Baroque Saddle Arrived!

The first Baroque saddle arrived, and I am so excited to share pictures!  This is the “simple” Spanish-style flap with a fixed block, with a deep seat.  You can see all the lovely grey detailing, and the tooled inlay above the cantle.  Like all Baroque saddles, there are lots of places to attach gear, making this a very functional flap for trail riders!  Plus, like all WOW saddles, it is completely adjustable.  The Relvas-style flap has a traditional chevron stitch pattern, if you are looking for a more eye-catching saddle for your Working Equitation goals!


A First Saddle, and a Revelation

Yesterday I got to do two of my favorite things as a saddle fitter:  Deliver a girl and her horse their first “real” saddle, and show another young rider what riding in correct tack feels like.

Toree bought her five year old mare Charlie straight from her let-down from the track.  When I met them seven weeks ago for their initial fitting, Charlie was skinny, stiff, and a bit unsure, but incredibly kind and willing.  I was so impressed with Toree’s handling of this young mare, and with Charlie’s adaptability to her new surroundings.  Given how much horses change coming off the track and into careers like jumping and eventing, a WOW was an obvious choice.  In the seven weeks between ordering and delivery, Charlie gained nearly two centimeters of trapezius just behind her scapula, growing more than a tree size in traditional saddle terms!    Thankfully, we just put in a wider head plate and set up her Flair to fit, and the saddle we ordered works perfectly!

Charlie’s tracing from August 2018. Crooked, hollow at the withers

Charlie’s tracing from early October, 2018. Symmetrical, filled out nicely along the top line, and lifting through her withers

Seeing their progress under-saddle was inspiring.  Toree has worked hard to properly build Charlie’s topline and balance her up, and the symmetry is as obvious under saddle as it is on their new template.  When I last saw them, Charlie could barely hold herself up to the left, and now Charlie has a beautiful and balanced left lead.  With the help of their new saddle, I expect both horse and rider will develop exponentially in the next few months!

 

Next up, I got to help Anna and her gelding Sheldon.  I met this pair at a clinic over the summer, where Sheldon was a demo horse and I showed how his current saddle was restricting movement in his shoulders and sitting too low on his withers, disallowing topline development and likely contributing to his occasional refusals.  Anna had purchased the saddle a few years back, when she was several inches shorter.  Her femurs are quite long for her height, and her current saddle cannot accommodate her leg anymore, leaving her feeling insecure.

Sheldon is a typical shark-finned Thoroughbred with big hollows down to his ribcage, which is much wider.  One of the unique fit options of a WOW saddle is that we can match the head plate to the angle of the muscle behind the furthest rotation of the scapula, and then lift the pommel off the wither with a specialized panel.  When this is not an option, we can also use a V-style headplate, which lifts the front of the saddle higher than a U-style without changing the angle.  Both options allow for wither clearance without having to go too narrow down lower.   In this case, I did the first option to really give Sheldon as much freedom through his back as possible.


 

At first Sheldon was not convinced about the Flair adjustments, but after those ten minutes of fiddling Anna and he settled into a warm-up routine.  Their trainer came out and immediately remarked at how nice and through his back he looked.  She had them pop over a couple smaller fences, messing with the velcro blocks and stirrup positions a bit until Anna felt very comfortable.  Sheldon is an enthusiastic mover, and Anna’s leg got much quieter with the correct stirrup and block positions- neither of which are options on her current saddle.

Anna’s trainer set up a couple fences on the diagonals and had Anna just take Sheldon over them on a loop.  Each time, she raised them a hole, until we eventually ran out of daylight at just over a meter.  Sheldon consistently took off square and landed square- a first, according to their trainer!  As the fences got higher, Anna started to settle into feeling secure in her lower body and could focus on her equitation more and more, improving with every fence.  It was magical to watch!  They have been stuck at 2’3″, and I think this offered a revelation that a properly fitted saddle would help them get out of that rut.  Since she has not had much saddle buying experience I recommended that she also try two other brands known for fitting thoroughbreds well before deciding- the same as I told Toree- but whatever she decides, I hope to see Anna and Sheldon jumping the bigger fences this coming summer!

 

 

 

Wiping Down Your Tack

Wiping down your tack after every ride is essential for the longevity of your saddle, girth, bridle, and all other leather parts!  If it is made of leather, sweat and dirt will erode it over time.  A quick wipe down also prevents sand from scratching the leather, and in more humid climates an anti-mildew formula can be used.

Wiping down your tack- so easy, even a preschooler can do it!

Effax makes a very nice leder-combi daily cleaner/conditioner for a quick and easy wipe down, and they make a mildew formula in a spray bottle too.  But even a damp, clean cloth is fine!  The important thing is that you remove the dirt, sweat, and excess moisture before putting away your tack.  Plus, it makes your weekly deep-clean and condition a lot easier!

Riding in the Rain

It’s monsoon season here in Colorado, and lately I have gotten caught riding in several tremendous downpours.  I hear Copper Penny, the big hunter/jumper show in Estes Park, got drenched last week as well!  Fortunately for my clients, their saddles are well coated in laderbalsam from their cleaning routine and can withstand a bit of moisture without damage.  My friend and I jumped for about 45 minutes in the pouring rain, wiped off our saddles with a soft rag, and the next day you would never know either saddle got wet and a little muddy!

Laderbalsam is a beeswax and lanolin based leather conditioner and protector that I, and many other professionals, recommend using on a weekly basis.   After cleaning your tack thoroughly, you should apply a very thin layer all over.  I like to use my fingertips for this.  The heat from my hands helps thin the balsam, I can feel how much the leather needs to absorb, and it works well as a lotion!  When applied correctly, there is no need to wipe it off.  Some people like to use a rag or sponge, but I find it’s too easy to glob on too thick that way.  I prefer the Effax brand, and it is what we sell at Singing Cat Saddlery, but there are many great laderbalsams on the market.  Look for a natural product that is thick and waxy.

In addition to helping make your leather water-resistant, laderbalsam conditions, prevents and fills minor scuffs and scratches, and makes your saddle a little bit stickier.  If you have never ridden in a saddle with a good coating of laderbalsam, the tacky feeling of the seat is typically a nice surprise.  I compare the grip level to slightly broken-in full seat breeches.

So next time your horse is mud-colored and it’s threatening to rain, worry not!  If you are keeping up with your tack cleaning regimen, your saddle will be just fine!  Just watch out for the lightening, and hail!