An uneven or lumpy saddle panel can prevent your horse from giving of its best.
After two or three years of regular use the flock, or stuffing, inside the panel can become hard and uncomfortable. Lumps can form without you noticing. However, your horse will!
Vets and chiropractors will tell you that uneven saddle panels are one of the main causes of back trouble in horses.
Reflocking a saddle involves total replacement of the contents of the panels with new white flock. (This is a great improvement on brown flock found in 99% of saddles.)
The results may show immediately in your animal's movement and general behaviour.
Why not get your saddle checked soon? It could make all the difference in the jump-off - see below!
The flocking used in saddles may be white, brown or grey in colour. White flock is preferable because it is more likely to be natural wool than the other colours. It is more expensive but because it is a natural product, sweat will allow it to bed into the shape of the horse's back. Real wool flock is a first-use product of the woollen industry. It is made up of fleece from different breeds of sheep and blended together. A scouring process cleans and removes the grease. The wool is then carded through rollers containing small needles which tease out and comb it to produce a material that is soft yet resilient. The wool is then ready for use a flocking in the saddlery trade or alternatively it may go through more processes such as spinning for yarn.
Real 100% white flock contains long fibres. It has a superiour springiness and resilience, which enables it to recover quickly from compresssion over many months. While in the panel it will soak up oils and moisture from the horse. This enables it to bed in, over a few months' use, to form a well-fitting panel which is firm, yet conforms to the horse's back. Brown or grey flock is formed from carpet factory waste and contains a high percentage of acrylic fibres. This means that while it is in the panel it will not soak up moisture and may turn hard and lumpy. After two or three years in a new or re-flocked saddle this flock will emerge as it went in: in small, dry, individual pieces.
Continual use of a numnah can have a negative effect on what happens to the flock. Most riders use a numnah at all times in order to keep the saddle clean. It comes off when dirty and goes on again immediately after washing. Consequently, the rising sweat never gets a chance to do its work on the flock in the panel and there may be areas where there is little flock at all. The well-known saddlers Stubben recommend that a new or newly re-flocked saddle should be used without a numnah for at least the first 21 hours.
A Comfortable Irishman
The telephone rang - it was Mrs. Stirrup. Could I re-flock her saddle. Murphy (the Irish x Thoroughbred) was beginning to fidget and was losing some hair from under the cantle. "Its that time of year again" I thought as I put the phone down.
I arrive five minutes early and find Mrs. Stirrup staggering under the weight of two large saddles, girths, leathers and irons. I check Murphy's back with my flexi-curve looking at his conformation. His ears go back and the muscles spasm as I touch a sensitive spot. I notice a few dips, bumps and the white hairs just behind the withers. "That was the saddle that came with him - got rid of it" she grimaced.
I try the wider of the two saddles on Murphy. He's a big lad but has a good, long back, a decent wither and looks even along the backbone. It's a good saddle and not a bad fit though the panels are horribly hard and lumpy. The lumps correspond to the tender areas on his back. I show Mrs. Stirrup the saddle and get her to run three fingers along the panels, pressing hard. A new experience for her.
"I'll need it back before Saturday" she says. "OK, I'll do my best " I say half an hour later, leaving.
I'm back in two days with the panels filled with 100% British Wool flock. The saddle sits a little high at first but after checking the fit I get Mrs. Stirrup up on top using a mounting block and after fifteen minutes good hack around the field it's settling down nicely. Murphy can't believe his luck and even Mrs. S. says she feels more comfortable.
"Sure to God that feels better at last" Murphy whispers as I slap his neck.
David May - Cumbria School of Saddlery