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Info Barefoot Saddlesystem
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Barefoot Physiologic saddlesystem

Over the span of a lifetime, the back of a horse has to bear a lot – giving the reason for a closer look at it from a physiological standpoint: The back of the horse is not naturally created to carry rider and saddle.
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Only correct training under a well-fitting saddle enables a horse to arch up his back and reach far and powerfully underneath his center of gravity. By doing so, the necessary muscles are formed which stabilize the columnar vertebrae – eventually turning the horse into a riding-horse. The thoracic vertebrae are most stable between the withers and the 15th vertebrae. Here, the horse can equilibrate the weight of rider and saddle the best.

This is where we come into play:

 

Comfort and healthy back for the horse

All Barefoot Saddles are designed anatomically to follow the horse’s topline and they are flexible in all dimensions – without a rigid tree. They adjust themselves ideally according to the horse’s back and allow powerful strides out of the shoulder as well as arching of the back. Columnar vertebrae as well as withers stay free of pressure; also the shoulder and the loin area aren’t restricted. The Barefoot saddle positions the rider into the perfect saddle area, between withers and 15th vertabra – thus aiding the horse in equilibrating his weight.

Comfort for the rider

The Barefoot adjusts its shape to all kinds of different stages be it due to training, age or feeding. The necessary restuffing or even buying of new saddles is omitted. The Barefoot saddle allows a close contact feeling, making it ideally suited for beginners and even riders with handicap. The seat is comfortable and cushioned – ideal for a long ride. These saddles can be fitted onto 99% of all horses, making them ideal for riding stables. Even the rider’s back is comforted thanks to the soft and elastic way the horse’s movements are transmitted.

Barefoot Saddlesystem with VPS

 
Construction of VPS Systems:

 
Upper Material (Leather or DryTex)

restraining PU-Foam-Layer

pressure absorbing elastomer, Level 1

pressure distributing polymerlayer

pressure absorbing elastomer, Level 2

leveling fleece lining

Barefoot Saddle

A combination of elastic, low rise and dimensionally stable materials such as pressure absorbing elastomer and leveling polymer distributes the weight of rider and saddle ideally and along the largest possible area. The construction of the panels to the left and right of the columnar vertebrae ensures a distinct space over these and the withers. Even when standing in the stirrups (posting trot), the weight is evenly distributed – so there is no limit to rider’s weight. We use solely topsmooth materials which adjusts evenly without punctual hardening. The kodel fleece lining towards the horse levels small bumps.


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Using a pressure measuring device on a moving horse it is easy to estimate where and during which phase peak pressures occur caused by the saddle. Judging the pressure distribution of the saddle is thus possible. We have put all Barefoot Saddle through the test – by objective and independent institutions. The analysis is shown by a graphic diagram – sensors underneath the saddle measure the weight along a specific area. All Barefoot Saddles have achieved optimal results in regards of weight distribution: even when used by a heavy rider and at a posting trot there are no peak pressure points. Punctual weight distribution in the area of the rider’s seat bones, the horse’s shoulder as well as bridging is obviated. All saddles allow a free withers as well as spine canal. And: all pressure points are in the green zone!

Barefoot Pads

Pads confectioned especially to fit under each Barefoot saddle, our pads complete the Barefoot saddlesystem. Barefoot Physiopads are designed for specific demands when it comes to absorbing and distributing pressure – be it during long rides, usage by heavy riders or on horses with visible columnar vertebrae. Barefoot Specialpads complete the Barefoot Saddlesystem in regard of absorbing and distributing pressure in the daily routine. Additional comfort is established by the downward side close to the horse as it levels out temperature and dehumidifies plus reduces slippage. All pads can be padded individually.

What makes the saddle horsefriendly?

Every horse has a different back. Additionally it changes shape constantly due to age, training and / or season. Even during the ride, the back moves and takes on different shapes, depending on the collection, sideways bend and position of head. 
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(The picture shows the same horse, simply with a different head position)

When the horse moves with his head up high, the back automatically curves downwards. Is it ridden long and low or correctly on the bit, this curve changes and will actually arch upward. This is a result of biomechanics, so it is true for every horse and pony: the nuchal ligament is the main connection between the cranium and the entire back, all the way to the onset of the tail. In combination with the muscles of the rump a difference of 5 cm in height is often noticeable – depending on the individual horse. Most saddles are too rigid to adjust to these changes. The flexible Barefoot however can follow the anatomic changes and the line of the back at all times.

Optimize the muscle development

Good riding in addition to a well-founded schooling of the horse is essential for the horse’s back. It’s not so much the name of the riding style that’s being used, but the needs according to anatomical and physiologic basics. The thoracic spine of the horse is not naturally created to bear a riders’ weight. It follows, then, that the goal of training must be to enable the horse, by developing its muscles, to carry our weight without sustaining damage.
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In order for a horse to truly become a 'riding' horse it must learn to lift its back while being ridden. Through this arching up, this flexing of the thoracic spine, the spaces between the vertebrae open wider, the muscles get better blood supply, and the true sideways bend of the thoracic spine becomes possible. Should a badly positioned, stiff saddle disturb this sequence of movements, or the rider sit too far back in the saddle, this goal cannot be reached and all sorts of damage ensues. The Barefoot Saddle positions the rider above the horse’s center of gravity (thoracic vertebrae 9-14) and liberates the area further back (t.v. 15/16) where the vertebraes already bear a higher risk of toughing. This creates optimal conditions for horsefriendly riding. It can not however replace the right way of riding!

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Before - After

Kindly provided by one of our customers, two photos taken of the same horse. The photo above was taken prior to the use of the Barefoot Saddles. The photo below was taken only a few month later. The comparison clearly shows the overall change of muscle condition under the Barefoot Saddles: the back shows improved muscle tone and the neck is stronger. The hollow behind the withers and the tummy have disappeared - altogether the horse appears more compact, stronger and can therefore carry weight on his back without causing any damage.
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Barefoot Saddles do not restrict the horses movements and therefore allow for their backs to be arched. This means optimal conditions for muscle build up and improvements are noticeable after only a short period. 'Stefnir' 24 years old, by the way, is a clear example of that!

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Stefnir prior to the use of the Barefoot Saddle Stefnir about 6 months later

Thermo graphic camera

Pictures taken by a thermo graphic camera have become common aside from x-rays and ultrasound. This is interesting for us to, as the camera does not only reveal anomalies of the horse’s body because the diagnosed body area shows different temperatures, but it can also be used to show how well a saddle fits and moves along. The picture shows the temperature which is radiated by the horse.
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Blue area show the coldest parts, red means the area is warm, up to white. Any irregularities are revealed by interrupted areas which are then not continuous. We have had the Barefoot tested:

The picture shows clearly how smoothly the bottom side of the saddle matches the horses. The spine canal remains free of pressure.


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Healthy Horse Back thanks to VPS System

What does VPS® mean?

VPS stands for 'vertebrae protecting system'
It is a combination of several different materials, which either distribute or absorb pressure. 
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All materials are completely flexible, so the saddle can adjust to the horse’s movements at any time. Thanks to the dense and low build-up, the communication between horse and rider is ideally possible.

Why VPS®?

VPS® distributes the rider’s weight ideal and on the largest area possible along the part of the horse back, which may be be loaded to carry weight: between the withers and the 15th/^16th vertebrae. As proven by several measuring peak pressure is eliminated. The construction of panels to the left and right of the spine create enough space for withers and spine. Even when standing in the stirrups (posting) the pressure is spread along the entire length of the seat – there is NO LIMIT regarding the rider’s weight.

DruckmessungPosting Trot, left Hand

 

 
Aufbau des VPS Systems:

 
 Upper Material (Leather or DryTex)

 restraining PU-Foam-Layer

 pressure absorbing elastomer, Level 1

 pressure distributing polymerlayer

 pressure absorbing elastomer, Level 2

 leveling fleece lining

 

Noticeably elastic sandwich construction made of pressure absorbing elastomer layers and pressure distributing polymerlayer.

All materials have a smooth surface. We do not use padding materials which settles unevenly, so punctual hardenings are avoided.

 

The fleece lining towards the horse back levels out any small unevenness.

A saddle which adapts

These images clearly show how the Barefoot Saddle moulds to the horse. At first use (image 1) the saddle still perches above the horse's back.

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Sattel neuNew Barefoot Saddle

Sattel neuBarefoot Saddle after approx 2 weeks use


After a few hours of use the saddle has nicely moulded to the horse, the padding has settled and the seat has deepened (image 2).
A Barefoot saddle does require a little time to find its shape, however, due to its flexibility, it is the saddle that adapts to the horse's topline and not the other way round.


Even in professional circles we unfortunately hear that a young horse will only develop a saddle area during the breaking in period. This simply means that, pinched by the (not optimal!) saddle, muscle atrophy occurs - usually visible through the often seen hollows on either sides of the withers. Whoever considers the term ''development of saddle area' a positive, actually harms the horse. A horse ridden with a Barefoot Saddle, does not show any 'development of saddle area', on the contrary, muscle build up of the trapezius occurs where you usually see the hollows - prove of the horse-friendliness of the Barefoot Saddle Systems!

Difference Barefoot - conventional saddle

Not only due to its appearance but also thanks to inner qualities – the VPS® System - a Barefoot Saddle can hardly be mistaken for a conventional saddle.
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The Barefoot Saddle is the most flexible one in the world, so he can easily adjust to the back of the horse at anytime. The training, different seasons, and the horse’s age lead to changes along his back. But even when being ridden long and low, the back changes – see above illustration. No saddle with a rigid tree can follow this movement – it will restrict at least part of the muscles and inhibit the muscle development, in the long run possibly leading to atrophied back muscles (just think of the “typical holes” next to withers!). Ridden with a Barefoot Saddle, a horse can relax, move forward long and low without encountering pressure from above. Being ridden is possible without pain – and after all it is supposed to be fun for the horse as well as for the rider!

Very often we notice how the entire speed is improved, covering more ground at the walk automatically. Horses reach further underneath, gaited horses will tölt more easily. Whatever a rider has asked his horse to due along months of training, it will suddenly offer automatically.

Difference Barefoot - treeless saddles

Nowadays, the number of treeless saddles is next to countless. Treeless has become a popular synonym – to the rider’s and even more the horse’s regret. Many riders believe: “If I buy a treeless saddle, nothing will squeeze – and my horse is happy.” The truth lies somewhere else. There are treeless saddles which are not backfriendly at all or just well-fitting on a certain type of horse while a differently shaped one suffers from the saddle because it lacks flexibility and / or anatomic shape.
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Some copycats enjoy this fad as they expect to make much money out of it and throw saddles onto the market, which can only be considered alarming. Unfortunately, many of these saddlemakers lack the knowledge of the horse’s anatomy and his way of movements, so warnings of treeless saddles can be heard.

The Barefoot Saddlesystem has been tested several times with pressure sensor systems and proven to offer a real horsefriendly technology – and on completely different shaped horses. Also, completely independent (thus: not paid by Barefoot) horsephysiotherapists have confirmed this (see link: opinions). 

Additionally we don’t define our system as truly treeless, as the word “saddletree” has not yet been defined and we believe that the VPS System inside our Barefoot Saddles can actually be called this – only more up-to-date and with the horse’s wellbeing in mind due to its flexibility.

Long Distances

Especially when used on long distances it becomes noticeable whether a saddle creates harm to the horse.
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Therefore we like to orient us to the endurance sport, where numerous horses are disqualified because of backaches due to misfitting saddles (We like to say “Thanks!” to the endurancesport, which is one of just a few horse sports worldwide in which the wellbeing of the horse is checked by veterinarians – something that one can unsuccessfully search among Western as well as Classic Events, where the mistreat of horses can often be seen in the practice area.)

The Barefoot Saddlesystem is very welcome among long distance riders. The user of a Barefoot saddle is rarely disqualified and their horses win regularly.

Put through the paces: in the year 2009 twentysix riders used Barefoot Saddles for a ride through Mongolia; more than 700 horses were being ridden on a trip of 1000 km. And we are proud to say: EVERY horse went its sections (the horses were changed after 20 – 40 km) without saddle sores, covering dusty deserts as well as flooding rain – all being checked and commented by experienced veterinarians. All riders claimed that they enjoyed the comfort, versatility and durability of the Barefoot Saddles – and believe it to be the only saddle to be used for such an event!

Barefoot - who is it for?

In general, a Barefoot VPS® Saddle is great for every rider with his horse in mind and who believes that good performance is not achieved by psychological or physical pressure.
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To most riders, sitting in a Barefoot saddle feels different compared to a treed saddle. A Barefoot saddle doesn’t force the rider into a specific position. It is constructed to place the rider above the horse’s center of gravity and enable him to communicate with his horse via subtle cues. Only a rider with an independent seat can actually develop a fine riding. We sometimes hear that riding in a Barefoot saddle feels strange at first. Some riders actually have to train their independent seat – and a more liberal seat actually demands and trains muscles formerly unused.

Give it a thought: does your present saddle give you the ease of movement to allow fine riding? Or does it squeeze you into a predetermined position which looks nice from the outside but actually covers a faulty seat?

Riders who suffer from back problems can often ride again without pain in a Barefoot, because the horse underneath travels more softly and lets the rider sit more comfortably – and all movements are transmitted smoothly, reducing punches to the columnar vertebrae and spinal disks.

For a beginning rider, the Barefoot saddle is ideal as it gives a secure and close contact feeling allowing him to feel and adapt to the horse’s movements easily.

Short Backed Horse?

The Barefoot Saddle particularly suits short backed horses/ponies as it distributes the rider's weight in an entirely different way to other saddles: The rider sits between two molded shapes (at the front the exchangeable pommel, at the back a cantle), inserted in 'pockets' inside the saddle.
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These molded shapes made from flexible polyurethane do not hinder the horse's movement, but move with the horse as no or very little pressure is applied to them through the rider's weight. It is, therefore, possible and recommended placing the Barefoot over the horse's shoulders, as the scapula (shoulder blade) can still move freely with no pinching of the muscles. This saddle position will also automatically place the rider in the correct position, above the horse's center of gravity.

Even though, the saddle extends back further due to the two molded shapes, there is very little pressure caused by the rider's weight under the cantle at the back of the saddle.

This can easily be checked : Whilst seated on the Barefoot Saddle you will still be able to lift the saddle in front and behind you. Proof of the total freedom of movement in these areas. Try it on a conventional saddle!

With less ideal horse/rider combinations (horse a little short in the back and rider a little more robust), the Barefoot Saddle might appear a little too large but is still the right choice. Do not choose a saddle that is too small as the rider should always fit between the two molded shapes.

Barefoot for a young horse?

Since the Barefoot Saddle is constructed completely flexible, it can adjust to the horseback even when it changes tremendously. A freshly started colt changes quickly, the muscles increase, fat is reduced… hence a conventional saddle doesn’t fit for long, even if had been fitted correctly – the Barefoot Saddle saddle can grow along. Without restriction to his movements, a horse enjoy being taken for a ride.
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Forming of Saddle area:
It is a widespread misbelieve that it is normal for a saddle area to exhibit hollow spots next to the withers – and the saddle seems to be imprinted on the horseback. Some so called experts still call this „Molding of saddle area“, however it is a clear sign of muscle atrophy (reduction of muscles)! This means that underneath a rigid, illfitting saddle the muscle doesn’t have enough space to develop, the oxygen supply is restricted – it hardens and starts to shrink. Depending on the severity, the reconstruction of this muscle is next to impossible, but at least a long-lasting and difficult endeavour. So please – in order to prevent this from happening – use a Barefoot Saddle which doesn’t only prevent from muscle atrophy but actually helps improve the development of muscles, which enable the horse to carry the rider and to balance themselves.

Size of saddle

The Size of your Barefoot saddle mostly depends on the rider’s figure. Most manufacturers of saddles use just the weight of the rider to evaluate the right size, however we find this to be somewhat imprecise, because after all a person who is 1.80 m tall and weighs 55 kg has a completely different “impact” on the saddle than a person with the same weight but just 1.60 m tall.
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Therefore we recommend saddle sizes according to clothing sizes.

We suggest:
Size 0: Youth and petite adults up to size 36
Size 1: Ladys size 36 -38/40; Gents 44/46
Size 2: Ladys size 40 – 46; Gents 48 – 54

The saddle Nevada:
This model is offered in one-size-fits-all for ladys 36 – 44 and gents 46 – 56
In case of doubt, prefer the larger size. It is important that the rider is placed correctly in the saddle in order to feel comfortable.

The Barefoot places the rider ideally over the center of gravity of the horse – and since there is no rigid tree which restricts any movements, the overall length is not that important – very much to the contrary of a conventional saddle.

Which pad?

We haven’t just checked our saddles severa be use the numnah is not anatomically shaped or reduces the gullet space too much – and sometimes it’s just the surrounding inseam which causes abbreviations.
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RückenIdeal sweat imprint after a ride with the Barefoot saddle system

Our saddle pads have been tested under the Barefoot and found to work ideal. The additional pressure absorbing effect is a great plus especially on longer rides and under a heavy rider. So the pads actually complete the Barefoot saddle system and they also enable an additional padding in order to adjust the saddle to a difficultly shaped back.

Additional Shims

When should I use additional padding in the saddle pad?
On a large majority of horses the barefoot saddle can be used with a pad without additional pads inside. The saddle can always adjust itself ideally to the horse’s stage of training etc. 
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It is important that the saddle lays level on the horse when viewed from the side, meaning that front and rear gullet should be at the same height. Also when standing right behind the horse though the saddle should be in balance.

Therefore it can sometimes be necessary to insert an additional piece of rubberfoam in parts of the pad: i.e. in case the horse is higher at the croup, you simply use a second layer of padding, whereas a horse with broad shoulders needs a lift-up in the rear.

In case of questions don’t hesitate to contact us: our schooled horse-physiotherapists enjoy helping you – always with the wellbeing of your horse in mind. In order to evaluate your horse’s saddle area, simply send us a picture of it viewed directly from the side and standing all four limbs equally with his head in normal position.

Does the saddle slip?

Very often we are being asked whether the saddle slips.
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Actually a Barefoot Saddle nestles up against the horse’s back within a short period of time. The large supporting area doesn’t only eliminate towering over the horse but also helps keeping the saddle in place on fairly round horses. The inlays in front and back pommel stabilize the saddle even more, with the front pommel being exchangeable to fit horses with a high withers as well as those with a broad shoulders. Due to these inlays and with the rider’s weight on board, the saddles don’t slip.
However: for the sake of the horse we still recommend to use a gitty-up help at all times!

Vegetable Leather tanning

For the production of our Barefoot Saddles, only vegetably tanned nubuck leather is used – on the contrary to rather stiff so-called smooth leather. The open-pored nubuck leather can adjust to the shape of the horseback, similar to shoes made of the same material, which adjust to the wearer’s feet as well as the terrain.
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Information on the Barefoot Quality Leather:
All Barefoot Leather materials are hand sewn using only leather which has been vegetably (=made from plants) tanned, so it is chrome-free and non-toxic. The leather is solid-coloured. A subtle and brilliant shine as achieved by our surface treatment, which also helps make the leather dirt- and water repellent.

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What’s the plus of vegetable tanning?
This treatment is 100 % organic as it doesn’t contain poisonous or chemical additives. After all we are all responsible for the future of our children! Vegetable-tanned leather is more durable, flexible, and heavier, for horse and rider it is more pleasant to use because it is noticeably softer than chemically tanned leather.

What’s the difference to chemical tanning?
Chemically tanned leather shrinks rapidly during the tanning process and so loses its elasticity. This means it will become brittle and weak sooner. The chemicals used (heavy metals, etc.) also pollute the environment, and can cause allergies where the leather touches skin. Allergens like Cobalt(II) chloride, Potassium dichromate and Sodium sulfite are not used in the manufacture of any of our materials.

All Barefoot articles are solidly hand-crafted, so every one is unique. Our leathers are true products of nature. This means the surface will turn out a bit different every time. Please do not regard natural characteristics like scars or insect bites as faults but proof that the materials are genuine.

Leather care

Leather goods:
Leather is a natural product. Scars, dark pigmented spots, roughness, unevenness or variations in colour, especially bleaching from sunlight, are all possible and considered normal due to environmental influences, and are not covered by warranty. Please note: Naturally tanned, open pored leather can initially lose some colour. We therefore recommend not to use light-coloured riding wear for the first uses.
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Lederpflege

Leather can change with use. That’s why we recommend checking if all leather is intact before every ride, also all seams and metal parts, especially at the billets and stirrup attachment. Do not use saddle if any damages are found!

Care of your saddle:
The saddle models “Cheyenne”, “Lexington”, “Cherokee”, “Nevada”, “Barrydale”, “Arizona” and “Atlanta” are made of Nubuck leather, the Barefoot “London” is made from soft leather. Nubuck leather has the grain layer partly sanded off; this makes it softer and gives it its characteristic velvety feel, reminiscent of peach skin. Soft leather has a smooth, soft surface; it is especially pliable and very comfortable to sit on. Both kinds of leather feature a soft, pleasant feel and a gentle grip. This suppleness allows the saddle to adjust perfectly to the horse’s back whilst providing good stability, comfort and long-lasting quality.

To take care of Nubuck and soft leather please do not use any oils or wax as they may clog the pores of these leathers.

Please bear in mind that solvent-based cleaners may damage the vegetable tanning. We recommend testing leather care products in an inconspicuous spot. We cannot accept any liability for the consequences of improper handling.


Care of Asseccories:
All leather accessories can also be cleaned and protected with the Barefoot Leather Cleaner and the Leather Care Cream. All our leather goods are quality tested and treated with a leather protection product before being shipped out. We recommend you to re-impregnate all leather goods with a conventional agent (e.g. for shoes), especially before riding in the rain.
Care of Barefoot DryTex™ products:
The DryTex™ material can easily be cleaned with a damp sponge. In case of excessive dirt, use a drop of rinsing agent. Slight abrasions of the DryTex Material are possible – if this is of concern, please choose a saddle made from leather

Care for Barefoot Saddlepads:
Our saddlepads can be washed in the machine at 30 ° C. The inlays can remain within the pads for washing. If the Physiopad is just slightly dirty, simply wipe it off with a wet sponge and a mild detergent to remove dust, debris and hair. The fur lining can be brushed with a smooth brush in order to loosen up bonded strands of hair.