Flex Panel Saddles – Why the bad rap?

The Discussion that Started this Post

I recently had a brief discussion on a Facebook Group with the admin of the group about the Evolutionary Saddle.   

They were concerned about its functionality comparing it to any fixed tree saddle. Disagreeing with me because of the long history of poorly engineered panels or panels that broke down soring horses severely.

All legitimate reasons to be apprehensive.  Although to disregard the idea entirely because of these inferior predecessors is a shame.

Only because I can provide the science and the experiences to support my position.

I am a saddler that also rides in my own saddles on my horses and on any others as well.

The Invitation

I invited them to come ride with me in one of my saddles.  If they were not near enough, that if they ever get an opportunity to see or ride in one that they should take that opportunity to see for themselves the uniqueness that is the System X panel.

Planned, engineered and continually improved for the comfort and safety of both horse and rider.

My First Encounters

The first time I heard of a flex panel saddle was probably close to 35 years ago now at the Midwest Horse Fair in Madison, WI where an OrthoFlex dealer had a booth and was giving demonstrations all day long for small crowds.

I asked the same questions I am presented with a lot. What about the four posts creating pressure points that they claimed to alleviate? Those first generations were just a single layer of delrin and it provided minimal to what the panels are layered with now.

The panels didn’t move so how could that fit any better than any other saddle? The first Generation of Ortho-flex saddles was a panel bolted to the bottom of a tree. I struggled to see any real weight redistribution in that generation.

The weight distribution didn’t seem to reach the other parts of the panels from what I could tell.

What I Noticed

These first saddles were crude, built on fixed trees that were a bit wider but not designed to move with the horse or redistribute weight. At least not what I understand of basic physics.

Regardless, horses are almost always in motion, especially when we have a saddle on them. So how can any rigid tree that doesn’t bend or flex work any better with panels that don’t either? 

This only proved to me that were not there yet with a panel that would work for every horse. If this OrthoFlex panel saddle is such a great thing.  Then why is it still causing problems for so many horses? So when I ran across the Evolutionary Saddle I was very skeptical because I remember those early generations and had come to my own conclusions about their functionality.

The Discovery

Cathy Tauer came along and asked that very question of why can’t this be done better? There came a point when the other companies that started to make similar panel saddles didn’t want to continue to improve on their functionality.

Why can’t we really redistribute the weight over a bigger area of the panel? Eliminating pointed pressure that many of us noticed with those early versions of the panel saddle.

That’s when the early versions of the System X were developed and what the Evolutionary Saddle is known for.  The saddle that goes from one horse to another with little to no changes other than girth or cinch.

Realizing how improved my horses’ shoulder range of motion was, I compared it to the only other fixed tree saddle I’d allow on my horses.

The difference was noticeable both in gait and demeanor.

My First Experience

When I first purchased a saddle from HillviewFarms I had studied the saddle and the System X for several years prior and had been saving for this saddle.

I purchased the saddle in February of 2014 and had to wait a couple of long months to begin riding in it. Once I started that year, I rode not only all of my horses in it, but every single horse that anyone that would let me ride, in it.

I must have rode on 20 different horses that summer, of different sizes and shapes, just to see if I could. The Evolutionary Saddle never failed to impress me on how it fit.  Horses moved in it freely and the sweat patterns helped prove that when I was done.

Horses that were formerly cinchy were not with my saddle after a ride or two in it. It was like they knew when I put on my saddle vs when their owner rode them in their favorite saddle.

The Horse Drive

The next major test I took my saddle on was a horse drive in Idaho at the SilverSpurRanchIdaho.com.  Where I rode one of their ranch horses in my saddle for a week for twenty miles a day five days in a row.

Not one day was mine or my riding companion’s horses who were wearing the Evolutionary Saddles  sored our horses’ backs once that week.  They struggled with sore backs that week on the horses that were being ridden by other riders in the ranch’s saddles.

So while I do understand the apprehension of those that have only ever experienced or learned about the much older versions of the flexible panel saddle. The System X is an evolution in both design and function and it is worth a real examination by all riders that care about the well being of their horses’ backs, a deep secure seat for themselves.

The System X

So let’s look at how the System X panel works.  How does it redistribute the weight over the entire panel, not just under those four mounts to the tree?

It has to do with the unique layer and cut of the panels themselves. Delrin, commonly called by the inventor, “synthetic stone”, is a material that has memory.  It will retain its shape, yet is resilient to withstand the rigors of horseback riding.

The Delrin shapes are cut with matching fingers in each progressively larger layer.  Layered to redistribute the pressure wider as each layer is added.  Until you are at the full panel that extends from the front of the saddle to the rear, providing the last layer of protection for the horse.  This layering is under each mount to distribute the weight of the rider along the entire panel.

It doesn’t stop there, the front of the panel is cut with the fingers I was talking about earlier.  They can accommodate the shoulders’ movement, so that the scapula doesn’t just bump into the front fork as it would on a fixed tree saddle. These fingers easily allow the scapula to move freely without inhibiting movement.

The Conclusion

Then there is the rider with the thought that panel saddles give the feeling of sitting up above the horse.  Instead of the closeness that many dressage riders cherish and seek out in their saddles.

This stuck with me as I purchased the saddle.  Desperate for a saddle that would fit my mare, I would get used to anything.

Again, I was amazed as I rode all those horses and not only did I not feel as though I was on a perch as it was described by some, that had ridden in other panel saddles.

Feeling the deep seat I experienced when riding a dressage horse.  Using the instructor’s custom made saddle with a deep seat that feels like the saddle put a seatbelt on.

This was a pleasant surprise to say the least! I chose a Soft Seat for my saddle and this narrowed the twist which is what I prefer in my saddles, probably because I grew up and learned to ride English even though I ride on a western endurance tree now.

Preferring no horn, but liking the seat of a western saddle, if it can provide a narrow twist. I ended up with the best of both worlds.

This is why the Evolutionary Saddle has always been designed and crafted with both the rider and horse in mind.

I have come to the conclusion over a lifetime of riding that regardless of what discipline or style of riding you prefer, be it showing, endurance, ranching, rodeo, or just cruising down the trail, spending time with your horse and riding your horse should not only be comfortable but fun for you both.

This is what Evolutionary Saddles focuses on, function, form and comfort for both horse and rider.

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