Before Minnie got injured i rode her in a bitless bridle and a treeless saddle. The bridle is a Dr. Cook’s cross-under and the saddle a Barefoot Cherokee. Before she came to me, Minnie had been ridden in a three ring bit, with Grakle noseband and martingale. She was very high headed and braced, with a short choppy stride. I put her in the bitless bridle and she seemed to love it. Her head came down, her stride lengthened and I could feel her back begin to swing under the saddle. She muscled up and developed very nice hindquarters. Her massive spooks and pirouttes became less frequent as she began to relax. The saddle let me feel every movement she made and that helped me to anticipate a spook, as I could feel her put her back up before she actually did anything. I also found the saddle very comfortable, especially on longer rides. In my old GP saddle I used to get sore, even with a sheepskin seatsaver.
I like riding with very little or no contact and usually have my reins dangling in loops. When Minnie and I got to know each other she responded to very light aids and I didn’t really need the reins at all. We did a lot of very fast gallops and I would let Minnie go as fast as she pleased, revelling in the speed myself, the wind in my face and the feeling of her powerful muscles underneath me. Shifts in my weight would be enough to slow her and bring her back to a walk. We went for long rides and there the bitless bridle had many advantages. If we stopped for a break, the bridle worked like a head collar, the reins a long leadrope and Minnie could graze without being hampered by a bit in her mouth.
When I got Cassie, I tried her in the bitless, expecting that she would take to it as readily as Minnie had. At first, she seemed fine, but that probably had a lot to do with my style of “little contact loose reins” riding. However, any time I did take more feel on the reins, her head would come up above the contact and she would hollow her back. I decided to try her in a Rocking S bit. Mark Rashid, who’s ideas and work I like very much, describes how this bit works on his website. Cassie seemed to accept this bit, but I felt she didn’t like the noseband, so I took it off. I rode her a couple of times and she seemed relaxed in the bridle and lost her tendency to come above the contact. As I like the idea of bitless very much myself I decided to try her once more in the bitless bridle and give Cassie the choice. I did some in hand work with her, both in the bitless bridle and the bit. What I saw in Cassie and felt from her was very clear, there was no doubt that she prefers the bit and hates the feeling of her head being captured.
The Barefoot saddle, that worked so well with Minnie, turned out to have its own issues. Cassie has long strides and in trot her movement pushes me into the pommel. The pommel insert is made from fibreglass and so I end up feeling bruised. I tried a soft pommel insert, but it made the saddle collapse onto Cassie’s withers and I felt I was sliding forward onto her shoulders. Cassie has the arab’s conformation, she is short backed with wide shoulders and her hind quarters are slightly higher than her front. As she is only 5, she might still grow a bit and level off, but that remains to be seen.
My old Berneys GP saddle was the worst possible fit on her, so I am now in a position that I feel I have no choice but to get a new saddle for Cassie. The saddle needs to work for both of us, and the Barefoot is not the answer. I did a good bit of research and have ruled out any form of treeless saddle. Most saddles have some form of fibreglass pommel insert, and I have serious doubts about saddles that are completely rigid free after my experience with the soft pommel insert in the Barefoot. That brings me back to a conventional treed saddle. To me, there was really only one option. When I bought Cassie, her owner had an endurance saddle made by the Arab Saddle Company. It was an excellent fit on Cassie and it was one of the most comfortable saddles I ever sat in. So, although I shudder at the expense, I have decided I will get one made to template for Cassie.