Companies that out of business or re-marketing
There have been a lot of changes in the flexible panel saddle industry in the past 40+ years. Here is a brief synopsis of what has happened and where things stand today.
2012 - The Status of the Flexible panel saddle makers
Rocking R, Watson Brothers Saddles, Ozark Mountain Saddles and Saddle Ranch are all out of business.
Eldorado Saddle & Tack, which is a combination of Amera-Flex, Ameri-flex, 7E, Easy Slide and Eldorado saddles, and American-Flex Saddles of Germany are now made by DK Saddlery. Which have used photos of the Evolutionary Saddle's fit on horses backs to sell their brand.
Unfortunately, there are many other saddle companies doing the same thing of misleading their customers.
Do your homework
Ask questions of the company to confirm the legitimacy of the products they produce. The act of copying another's photos and writing is the act of a desperate person/company.
As for the person or company whose work was copied. Sadly, it is a form of flattery.
Ortho-Flex Flex Bar System
The New Ortho-Flex Gen II made by National Bridle.
In 2000 Len Brown released Ortho-Flex, then Acie Johnson bought the company. He changed the name to, The Ortho-Flex Saddle Works then moved to Arkansas.
In 2013 Acie Johnson sold the company to Chase Dodd who moved it from Arkansas to Tennessee. Bringing back the old name of the company "Ortho-Flex" and changed some of the terminology used to describe the panels from Mock to Systems.
In May of 2013, the Chase Dodd family sold the company to Winners Circle, owned by David Thomas. A parent company to a multi-faceted organization that serves the equine community.
David Thomas, turned over Ortho-Flex to its subsidiary, National Bridle, managed by Bobbie Beach, located in Lewisburg, TN.
Now the name has been changed back to Ortho-Flex.
After great deliberation and looking at traditional marketing avenues, using existing materials from other saddle brands, they have conformed to a traditional build on one of the rubber type of Flex Trees.
Allowing for a fast and very profitable build in order to produce hundreds of saddles a year. Gone are the panels that allowed for the ever changing back of a horse in motion.
Traditional saddle fitting practices must now take place by using corrective pads and shims to address the horses shape as they age and change shape.
What is next to come?
You can bet that I’ll keep you posted.
Speaking of which, I have had inquiries regarding special saddles pads. Since many companies are now producing them.
These pads have a white semi-rigid product in them that looks and performs similar to Delrin.
The plastic material is NOT Delrin but a flexible type of plastic, like the kind you can nail through, you cannot do this with Delrin. As told to Cathy Tauer by Len Brown, developer of one of these types of pads called the corrector and then told to me.
There is another pad, which I prefer, made by the CSI pad company that contains the Flex-Plate. This plate is the exact design as the System V panel.
How do these pads perform?
All of these saddle pads perform similar to an independent panel, free of the saddletree and work in conjunction with your current rigid tree saddle to aid in its performance and fit.
The caveat is, you MUST already have a saddle that fits your horse fairly well, otherwise it will not perform as well as it should and could.
These pads, may require shims to achieve an acceptable fit and without question will help an ill-fitting saddle.
These pads do have a place within the saddling industry. Especially for those who have spent thousands on a custom tree saddle made for their horse. Only to find that the saddle they spent all that money on really does not fit.
As with any expensive pad, you must have the option to return it for a refund, if within the time frame offered, in a clean condition, if the product does not meet with the manufactures claims.
A new twist on panels:
"The Living Tree saddle". Uses a rigid tree, a carbon fiber shell over Styrofoam, with panels filled with carbon fiber tubes. Some interesting points, removable fenders and adjustable seat size. New item on market and not thoroughly field tested.
Make no mistake, this is a PANEL SADDLE.
Some final words
Always get a trial period to test ride a saddle before getting trapped into product that will not serve the purpose you intended.
If you cannot get this service, then you do not need the product.
Remember it is YOUR money and the manufacturers’ claims to performance.
I do hope that this has helped you understand how the flexible panel saddle has evolved over the last almost 40 years.As a rider what you look for in a saddle?