The half tree is a very popular choice in Newmarket as a race exercise saddle. Riders find it very comfortable allowing them to sit deep in an almost ‘dip’ position. They say they can ‘feel’ the horse underneath them better. For trainers its light weight and cheap. But it is not what it seems – it provides no protection to the horses back and damages the horse’s whole body. A half tree does not fit a horse in anyway and provides no protection to the horses back. It also effects the horse’s whole way of going.
The half tree creates 4 pressure points – 2 either side of the withers and 2 underneath the rider’s seat. The saddle basically sits directly on the spine (this is what the riders feel). As the horse is ridden the saddle generates a bumping effect producing inflammation which eventually develop into calcified lumps. The thoracic spine under the saddle is where most of the rotation of the spine occurs Saddle slippage/movement has shown to be involved in hind suspensory injuries.
A horse will then begin to stop utilizing these muscles creating unbalanced movement. He will be in pain – his back will be tense and contracted. His back will dip, pulling on the spine causing the tips of the vertebrae to touch – leading to calcification – kissing spines. When the back muscles get tighter they will affect the pelvis – any rotation of the pelvis will put strain on the Sacroiliac Joint.
To fit a half tree saddle riders place it on top of the horse’s withers – forward. This will also place the girth directly behind the front leg. This will completely restrict movement of the scapula and shoulder and reduce range of motion of the front legs.
When a horse is uncomfortable or in pain they will change their behaviour. A half tree effects the bio mechanical movement of the horse so muscular and skeletal problems will develop. When a horse feels pain their behaviour will change, they may refuse to go on gallops – ‘jibbing’, buck, rear, become aggressive, depressed or disinterested.
Pressure on the withers and narrow gullets will also put pressure on Cranial Nerve 11. This nerve is vital for survival – a stallion can bring a challenger to his knees by biting in this area, or prevent a mare from moving so he can mount her safely. A predator attacks this area to bring its prey down. The nerve signals to the brain that the upper arm and shoulder blade be prevented from moving, then the back muscles contract dropping the back causing the vertebrae to come close together, and finally, the pelvis is rotated forward and open in preparation for mating. All these reactions will result in reflexive immobility for the horse. Pinching or pressure on this point from saddles will give same result – riding a horse we want the opposite, a supple back working from behind – not on the forehand – so ensuring correct and comfortable saddle fit is vital.
If a saddle is positioned too far forward the horse’s weight and control will come from the front. The racehorse will develop over-muscled shoulders and weak back and quarters. His shoulders will be forced to provide the impulsion and drive and also the direction – they will be working over-time. The racehorse’s power will be reduced by 2/3. This is when muscle and skeletal problems begin to develop.
Muscle compensation = incorrect postural movement = injury
Racing relies on extension and power yet most trainers are restricting their horse’s stride reducing performance.
Stride Free saddles have developed a modern 3/4 flexible race exercise saddle that is both comfortable to the rider and the horse. It sits comfortably behind the scapula allowing the horse free movement. The horse can work correctly employing the power from his quarters efficiently
Racing needs to lie up with other equine sports regards the importance of tack and Stride Free have provided a new and better choice for the racehorse trainer.