Equine Affaire Bustling in Massachusetts

I spent Thursday at the Equine Affaire exhibition in West Springfield, Mass. It’s the third year I’ve gone and the third year that I haven’t had the chance to see any of the demonstrations!

I spent most of my time at the CANTER New England booth and was pleased by the amount of interest people had in the horses. Although Suffolk Downs has now closed for the season, there are still horses available, although luckily, the number is dwindling: in the past two weeks 73 horses listed with CANTER have sold!

I did have the chance to walk around the booths in the exhibit area and there was no sign of a recession. I saw people pulling wagons full of stuff down the aisles and there were crowds at almost every booth. I stopped to buy at only one place: Back on Track.

I’ve been coveting a pair of their no bow wraps (needed because Freedom has had some swelling in his left front) and a neck/shoulder wrap for me as I’ve had a lot pain lately in my upper back. Back on Track products use a special fabric which contains polyester thread embedded with a fine ceramic powder. Designed to reflect the horse’s own body-warmth, it creates a soothing far infrared thermal heat, which can help alleviate pain associated with inflamed muscles, ligaments, tendons and joints. Used for both injury prevention as well as injury recovery.

Back on Track Back Pad
Back on Track Back Pad

I bought one of the back pads last year for Kroni because he seemed to be stiff when I took him out. I was impressed by how much heat was reflected by the blanket and he seemed to start out with a looser back right from the get go.

I am tempted by the blanket and have bid on a few on eBay but they are popular items and go for top dollar even used!

One exhibit that really stopped me in my tracks was the booth with driftwood horses made by sculptor Rita Dee.

I’ve seen photos of horses like these in the past, and posted here about an English sculptor, Heather Jansch,  who also makes driftwood horses.

Rita Dee makes her horses out of driftwood collected from the Hudson River.
Rita Dee makes her horses out of driftwood collected from the Hudson River.

Seeing the sculptures is a completely different experience since some of them are larger than life. Dee’s sculptures differ from Jansch’s, both in style and in the type of driftwood. Dee’s wood is harvested from the Hudson River, where she lives. Her sculptures are assembled from many  smaller pieces of wood. The balance between art and structural integrity is amazing.

Another booth that I visited was the one for Ansur Saddles. While I’ve ridden treeless — at least some of the time — for the past three or four years, I’ve never had the opportunity to sit in an Ansur. Partially, it’s been a cost issue: I was able to buy several different treeless saddles used for less than $800, making it easier to try them and the resell if I didn’t like them. Ansur saddles generally are more than $1500 used. Plus, I knew several people who said their horses developed back problems after using the early models.

Ansur Konklusion treeless jumping saddle.
Ansur Konklusion treeless jumping saddle.

Still, Ansur is just about the only company that makes a treeless jumping saddle (the Konklusion and the Elite) and they still tempt me. I like the fact that the newer models have built in gullets. I think that they not only add stability to the saddles, but also make them kinder to the horse’s back. I just don’t know if I believe that they will do a sufficient job of distributing weight when you think about how much pressure is applied when a rider is in two-point or landing over a fence. I’m not a light weight rider and I don’t want to cause my horse to develop back problems.

My friend Beth and I had a lively discussion about this with the folks staffing the Ansur booth. They obviously love riding in these saddles and talked about how effectively the Ansur distributes the rider’s weight over a larger surface area. None of them, however, jumped and I still believe that there is a significant difference between how weight is distributed when you ride on the flat and when you are jumping.

To illustrate the difference between the Ansur and conventional treed saddles they had an old wooden tree and  talked about how it was impossible for a wooden tree to truly fit a horse that’s in motion. You know, I like treeless saddles, but even I found the comparison lacking in substance because the tree in a $3,500 treed saddle (roughly what an Ansur would cost given the custom options I would need) no longer looks like the one they had on display. I would have loved to walk over to one of the other saddle manufacturers and have them bring over one of their newer style trees and have a “bake off.”

I agree completely with their assertion that many horses are uncomfortable in treed saddles, but a lot of that discomfort has to do with the fact that many of those saddles don’t fit properly. I think that someone has to do a well-designed study that compares the treeless saddles to treed saddles that have been fitted by a competent saddle fitter before those conclusions can be taken seriously.

What I’d really like to see is the results of pressure testing. I know it’s possible and the fact that Ansur doesn’t offer the results of this type of test makes me wonder if they’ve either done it and don’t like the results, or don’t want to know. At the very least I’d like to have the chance to sit in one of their saddles on a horse. However, since I’m very long from my hip to my knee, I’d need a custom flap. Sorry, I can’t see committing the money to have one built for me so that I could try it for a week and return it if I didn’t like it. Maybe one will come up on eBay some day and I’ll get the chance to try one. In the meantime, you would have to pry my County Extreme from my hands!

One thought on “Equine Affaire Bustling in Massachusetts

  1. About the Ansur for treeless saddles – they have the best product on the market for treeless saddles these days. I have a very round horse that was very out of shape – She had minor withers (think rolly polly andalusian horses) and it worked great! I am very slight of build only 5’4 and less than 120 lbs – as she got more fit from the conditioning we were doing her withers became more pronounced, and the saddle that once fit great did not fit well anymore. I padded it up with the proper pads recommended and that helped for a little bit, three months. It became such a problem that she no longer looked forward to the saddle and after one ride the final straw was that the back of the saddle had rubbed through the gel pad and left a rub mark in her back that she still has three years later. The withers created an unequal balance for the saddle and rocked it back when I rode. I was crushed because A that is a lot of money and B, I rode bareback most of my life and I loved that saddle – being able to move and feel the horse like that but it was legal in the show ring! I would not purchase it again, and it is such a small group that the Ansur caters to that I am having problems selling it. I want to tell you what did work, the mare was very hard to fit with her build – a friend had their saddle fitter come over and try a few of their saddles on her and I. The company is Schleese which you can find used saddles for good prices on. He pointed out that one saddle will fit a horse through its entire life – the trees are adjustable, and even though it feels different than the Ansur saddle, I would not trade this one in for the world – it fits both the horse and myself. I get them to come out when the saddle, horse, or myself start to feel or ride “off” they adjust it and off we go back to training. I just wanted to let you know about my experience, I wish you good luck with your saddle hunt!

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