Understanding and knowing what’s in your saddle and how it’s made helps in the buying process, so the saddle you buy is perfect for you and your horse. Depending on you and your horse the filling of the panels and design will need to be considered. This article is a brief overview, intended to simply give you some foundation for a decision.
Types of Panels
Dropped / Trapezius Panel
This design has extra depth below and behind the wither, made for horses with a larger shoulder and slight dip or a conformational hollow beside and behind the wither. The panels are deeper in these areas for extra comfort and so ensure maximum contact between saddle and horse.
Even deeper than the Trapezius Panel, this panel is for a high or ‘shark fin’ wither, as it fills an even greater area and is deeper under the front half of the saddle. It is made to provide greater depth and therefore balance for horses that have a downhill or narrow wither but larger shoulders.
Rear of the panel is “swept up” rather than being squared off; gusset is sometimes quite shallow (compare with photo of regular gusseted panel below). Fitting option used for horses with short backs, or those that are croup-high, which complements the confirmation of the modern sports horse. This promotes maximum shoulder rotation whilst reducing loin pressure
Designed for horses with filled-out toplines and no hollows by the wither.
Rear gusseted panels are wool-filled panels and have a wedge-shaped piece sewn in under the rear half of the saddle, from the rear of the flap back, noticeable by the stitching from the center, outward on the rear panel. This broadens and flattens the weight-bearing area in the rear panel area.
Front gusseted panels and wither panels are additional tear shaped panels to fill small dips to the sides of the wither.
Do not have the rear seam and tend to be thinner and most often foam. Often a better choice for a horse with a dippy or “roof” back or croup high.
Each panel is a separate unit.
Wool, or synthetic, flocking is stuffed into the saddle. This is generally the softest of the panel variations and they break in more easily, usually flocking ‘slits’ are found under the flap where the flocking can be adjusted. Due to the nature of the material, adjustments often need to be made as the flocking breaks down or moves, the benefit, however, is that as horses undergo physical changes, due to diet, weather, and other circumstances, flocking can be added, removed or moved as needed. Wool is breathable and for that reason it is reputed to keep the horses back cooler. Fresh flocking also minimises the saddle bouncing and causing concussion to the horses back. For the rider, flocking can ensure you stay in the correct position in the seat with legs placed correctly on the blocks. The ability to make adjustments are a huge benefit to both horse and rider as needs change with comfort for both a major priority.
Foam does not pack down or move and does not conform to the horses back. It can be more accommodating to saddles that are used on more than one horse. Due to the thinner panels foam can also be an advantage to a broad backed horse because of the reduced bulk. Unlike wool panels, foam cannot be easily adjusted, only with pads and shims. An incorrect fit therefore can cause problems for both horse and rider. It does not break down and change in shape as wool does. Its ability to stay in shape and uniform is one of its key selling points, and absorbs shock effectively because foam has greater cushioning power – when made and fit correctly.
A hybrid combination of materials this panel is wool flocking encased in felt. Slight alterations can be made to these, similar as flocked panels, however, the lack of space often constricts any major adjustments.