The Philosophy of a Great Saddle
Development of SmartRide: Decades of Inspired Research
Tad has committed 25 years to an ongoing research and development program that has led to many surprising conclusions. These offer a new narrative in our conversation around saddles and how they are designed and manufactured.
For Tad, the decades of research, engineering, and testing saddle structure and design has been a labor of love and one that stems from his own time as an Olympic rider. “In every other sport, there have been endless hours of research and technology developed in search of finding the best shoe or the best swimsuit that allows athletes to reach their full potential.” Tad points out that “we have ridden horses for thousands of years, yet we have never seriously explored the saddle as a tool.” In fact, when comparing saddle trees from different points in time over the last century, one can see that little has changed, with the majority of saddle trees today remaining technologically unevolved.
Saddle design has changed little over the last one thousand years.
Tad’s insights over the years has led him to consider an even more radical idea—“as improved equipment has changed performance expectations in other sports, does the same possibility not exist for riding? We are breeding more phenomenal equine athletes all the time. Are we short changing their true abilities or leaving such promise unrealized because we’ve overlooked the modernization and technical development of our most significant tool; the saddle? I am persuaded that we’re formulating performance expectations, training methods, therapies and veterinary practices based, at least partially, on horses’ responses to a piece of equipment that has hardly evolved and certainly has never been given a serious, well-funded, long term concerted effort to explore it’s potential benefits.”
When riding, the saddle is your greatest tool. It should be the most advanced tool it can be.
The saddle tree is the foundation of our research and development, initially with a wood version with smooth metal reinforcement and very different in terms of ergonomics. This version gave way to the next iterations, trees with a wood and carbon fiber laminate, and then to the generations of the SmartRide Technology culminating in SmartRide Rx. SmartRide Rx trees begin with an ergonomic, thermoformed acrylic alloy core that employs many elements of geometry to accomplish specific motion and strengthening.These engineered features were developed after many iterations and experiments to determine what horses respond to best. This core is then further reinforced and fine-tuned with an array of carbon fibers and carbon elements in order to refine motion, strength, and durability.
Our Smartride Rx saddle is the result of 25 years of making the saddle "the most advanced tool it can be."
We have focused on three guiding principles to evolve our saddles. The first is ergonomics, as it is crucial for the tree to have the right shape to correspond to a horse’s back in correct motion.
The first principle in saddle development is ergonomics- shape it like the horse.
The second is one that we have been pushing hard on for years—sympathetic movement. The tree and panels are engineered to have specific axes of motion that evolve and correspond to the dynamic needs of the horse’s moving back underneath.” Tad likens the notion of sympathetic movement to that of an excellent rider’s seat—complex, specific, and highly toned, allowing the rider to sit quietly on a moving horse. “Saddle trees with high degrees of flex and bending are the equivalent to a rider with no core. Horses don’t want a rider flopping around on their back, they want a rider who has just the right amount of flexibility in just the right places to sit in complete harmony with the horse. The same concept holds for saddles and to achieve this presents a very different engineering challenge.”
“I don’t call it flexibility, because this idea often implies a non-descript bending or folding. I am persuaded that our long standing notion of flexibility is not really what the horses appreciate. I have come to believe that."
The second principle in saddle development is sympathetic movement- move it with the horse.
The third guiding principle is durability. “Good riders and athletic horses put enormous stress loads on saddle components and we are engineer our saddles to accommodate the highest stress loads in a dynamic riding environment.” This however, is no easy feat, as “when you think of having something that has motion in it, and something that has a tremendous amount of durability, those two concepts are in tension. The strongest things we know of going back to the Roman ruins are not particularly flexible, and the things that are the most flexible, are not particularly durable. So, we are walking the fine line between what is sufficiently robust to handle dynamic stress loads while simultaneously serving the horse’s needs in motion.”
The third principle of saddle development is durability- outlast the horse.
The panels of our saddles are the result of an intense R&D effort made in the early years of our company. They are unique in their ergonomic design, material composition, symmetry, performance and comfort. We use non-standard materials, CADD design and CNC machining and proprietary assembly meathods. They are durable, holding up under years of hard use and must not be altered in any way in an erroneous effort to alter saddle "fit". The manner in which the panels transition to the sweat flaps is a unique and patented feature that allows for seamless weight transference and an extraordinarily close feel.