Test Log

Here are my comments from testing Bua saddles on various horses. We're having a horrible winter so we're getting brave and creative to get rides in. Upcoming plans include going to an open ride night at a local arena so several people can try the saddle on as many horse conformations as possible. When weather improves, I'll start some formal testing with a Port Lewis Impression Pad and if all goes as planned, in a couple months, I'll have an electronic sensor pad for saddle testing.

A little background. I am 5'2", currently weigh 140. My structure puts me best in a 17" seat with stirrups well under me. I was a little concerned I'd be uncomfortable in a 17.5" seat with smooth leather and flap blocks a little more angled than I'm used to. But I do ride with a shorter stirrup on my horse Ava and longer with the others, so I'll get pics on multiple horses over time.
Last update 5/8/17

Initial Rides 

1/25/17 - I receive my first Bua yesterday. Later today I'm taking them to a trade show in Portland OR, but had to get a ride in before that. It was snowing and horribly windy and our 2' of snow has melted/compacted down to 6" on the road around one of my pastures. So I saddled Ava in the hay barn and tride to ride there. Not big enough for information so I took her onto the little road. Footing was safe around 3/4 of it (other side was pure ice) and we were able to walk and do a short trot. Not a real ride, but enough for me to know 1) I felt comfortable enough to do a 50 mile ride and 2) the saddle felt great on my bouncy horse as we short-strided the trot which usually drives me nuts.

Since I'd just received the saddle, I used it as sent, which is dressage model with thicker panels and rear riser shim, over a thick HAF pad. It looks quite perched and did from horseback also, but it was very stable and I'm balanced so I rode anyway.

2/5/17 - Because our footing conditions have worsened with melt/freeze cycles, I dug out my trailer and visited a friend with an indoor arena. This was Ava's first time in an indoor (and first time in over 4 years in any arena) and first time she's been ridden in 3 months, plus she's been buried in snow and not excercised as much as is normal for her. I should have used her bitted bridle. She spooked at the walls, let alone the obstacle course inside, and was even less impressed when the wind started flapping the plastic on the ceiling. I'm posting pics and feel free to laugh - I'm not an arena rider and some of them were after she leapt forward, but they're included since I was actually pretty thrilled at my stable position through her antics. We only walked and trotted as the circumstances weren't safe to canter. I started with the cantilever ratched down and between my feel and the visual from my husband, the Bua acted like any standard english saddle. Little to no vertical motion of the seat although I could feel gentle squeezing with my hands as I weighted one side or the other. Then we loosened the ratchet all the way and let my pogo-stick trot again. Now the seat movement could be seen and felt, but only in a very comfortable way. There was no smacking of my butt against the saddle, no launching or additional vertical motion from the seat motion, just the seat moving a bit upward with me. Again, I felt very comfortable and quite confident I could do a 50 - I'd even put my breast collar, water bottle holter and extra carabiner on the saddle. 

I was quite happy with the thigh block angle of the dressage model on this horse. I'll have to experiment more with the cantilever ratchet when I can get into a big trot on the trail. And my horse was happy. She lets me know when she's not happy with a saddle, won't drop her head (for her - she's an arab!) or will clamp her tail. The saddle didn't feel perched at all, it settled very nicely into position on  her back and I felt the saddle was very balanced which is something I've fought with her since her shoulders are narrow and she's a touch downhill.

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2/13/17

We were finally able to get back on the trail - sort of! Still 6+ inches of snow in most places, but I was able to trot in allowing my little mare Csavannah to catch up with my husband's much bigger horse. Although on the way back, she was a monster plowing through the snow and he had to trot to keep up! So I got to experience slow walk, medium trot, and power walk. Csavannah is uphill where the saddle contacts due to her longer back with a bit of dip. I rode out with the cantilever loose and then tightened it down on the way back. I was equally comfortable as she's a smooth horse. She's also a bit wider than Ava, so I could feel the motion of the seat with respect to the flaps when the cantilever was loose. It wasn't unpleasant at all, I think it contributed to the feel of the horse moving underneath me. She's a reactive horse and I was always very in tune with what she was doing. I felt comfortable enough that I really, really wanted to ask for canter, but since the snow depth was variable, I played it safe to avoid an ass-over-teakettle moment.

Csavannah is also very sensitive to anything she doesn't like on her back. She will turn an bite at my leg if she's not happy. On a previous saddle, I used a padded protector for long billet staps and she hated it. Very much a minimalist. She also hates when I use legs and pins her ears and swishes her tail. Not only did she never bite at my leg (which she is capable of doing at a full trot), she was responding to leg aides. I noticed that late in the ride. It usually takes little more than a pinky twitch to steer her with the bosal, but on this ride, I was hardly using reins at all and guiding her toward what I hoped were the nicest routes through the snow with primarily my legs. Very interesting!

 
Csavannah is a 14.1H arab, she's filled out
a lot since this pic and is a bit fat right now
   

 2/14/17

Interesting ride today. I rode Pico, a 14.3H Egyptian arab with asymmetrical shoulders because he scissors when he eats off the ground and is high/low on his front hoof angles. He's 5-6 degrees different at the hoof and so the shoulder has followed. His stride length at the walk is markedly different, but his trot feels fairly even and I can post both diagonals w/o forcing it. He will also pick up both canter leads on his own which many "normal" horses don't. In the past, I've had to fight him to walk as it's not comfortable for him, particularly because a treed saddle is always pushed sideways. I've been equally uncomfortable at the walk. He did much better in a treeless saddle without any special shimming, so I wasn't sure what I'd get with Bua.

He had no complaints walking and was responding to me asking him to round about as good as in an arena (he's pretty forward on the trail, hence our current goals of working on the bending/rounding), so I very pleased with that. I think the saddle sits back far enough that it wasn't interfering with his shoulder motion as other treed saddles have done. I did notice the saddle wasn't perfectly balanced looking down at his withers, but I felt very nearly evenly balanced on him. At the time I started thinking about this, I had the cantilever ratcheted down. So then I got wondering if I loosened it, would it allow me to be tipped more or would it absorb the remaining asymmetry.

I think the answer (for this horse at least) is that if my weight in my stirrups were more even (start of the season, I definitely need to work on my leg strength on the left side for a while), loosening the ratchet would do a great job of finishing the balancing job. But because of my weak left leg (and Pico's big left shoulder) and because of the next topic discussed below, I felt less balanced if I didn't work hard at putting more weight in my left stirrup. Really interesting effect!

So the other thing I realized later into the ride was that I wasn't balanced front to back. I was definitely tipped back and I started to feel this in my knees which I need very much directly under me. When I looked at the pics of me riding and of the saddle on the horse before mounting, this is pretty obvious. Pico has fairly broad shoulders although he has the same 90 wither/shoulder angle as both of the above mares. So for him, I would definitely use rear shims to lift the back of the saddle. I might also put something on either the entire right side or just at the front of the panel to further perfect the balance on him. But all very easily doable. I might get a later test ride in this configuration, but Pico may be leased soon, so I might not get the chance. But I will play with the rear shims on both Csavannah, the bay above as I was also a bit tipped back, and also on my husband's horse who is built uphill.

Aside from the focus on balance issues, I got to do even more trotting that previous ride and felt great overall.

2/25/17

I've now done two 8 mile rides, one on Csavannah, the
bay mare, the other on Ava, the gray mare. I put some
1/2" rear shims inside the panel sleeve, which is really
slick, easily accessible via a zipper. This really helped me
fit the saddle better as I was then moved forward over the
rear stirrup bars and the narrowest part of the seat. So
nothing that affected the horse, but really helped me. The
ride on Csavannah was steady trot with frequent canter to
keep up with Stace's horse. The ride on Ava was a combination
of walk, trot, and a bit of canter. All felt comfortable. I did
played around with the cantilever ratchet and have settled on
mostly tight with just a bit of motion allowed. Feels shock
absorbing to the horse (I think) and doesn't allow too much
motion between my lower leg and the flaps. 

And isn't that a gorgeous blue dressage saddle?!

2/28/17 - not a riding test, but today I measured the range of angles Bua can easily fit. Here are some pics. I'll still be trying to gather
information on broader horses as well.

80 degrees 90 degrees 100 degrees 130 degrees

5/8/17 - Ok, I'm a bit behind, but yay, I've been out riding! I sold my mare Ava, whom I thought was the best (only?) horse best for the Bua, and I was getting ready for our first endurance ride of the season, so sticking to the Ghost for Csavannah since she's done so well in it. After that ride, I got serious about figuring out how to get more rides in the Bua. I really need a 17" seat with my stirrups beneath me or my knees kill me. Given my background with adjustable saddles (both intentionally adjustable like Free'n'Easy and naturally adjustable like the Ghost) of course I started playing. For someone like me, Bua is really brilliant! The panel covers unzip so you can wash them, but this also allows you to alter what's inside. I raised the back of the saddle which put me better over the stirrups and also balanced the saddle correctly for my horses. I could have also changed the curvature of the panels if needed.

Now here's where I'm going to do things most Bua owners wouldn't. You can also remove the seat and unzip to reveal the seat foam! I did 2 things. I changed the twist as I really prefer a narrow twist and this worked beautifully (it's a one way trip though!) and I added a 1/2" felt spacer at the back of the seat. I put it between the tree and the seat foam so it's really not visible nor can I feel anything unusual. Voila, a 17" seat.

I did all this to my lovely blue leather saddle and this past weekend did a 25 mile endurance ride with lots of up and down as fast as my little girl has ever gone. She did brilliantly (2nd place) and I felt wonderful. I might still play a bit with the seat foam at the pommel since I have moved my body forward and since I like a long stirrup, I had a bit more contact with the pommel trotting down hills than ideal. But no knee or back pain, the twist was perfect and my horse's back felt awesome.

So for those of you who don't like playing with your saddle fit, I can do some things for you. With tracings of your horse (I will be taking some pics of what I need soon), I can set the panels up for you. If you need a narrow twist, we can do that. And Bua is working toward having more seat sizes. A bigger tree is coming first, later a smaller one. I really enjoy working with this company. They want feedback and to provide well tested options to help a large number of horses and riders. 

Oh! The best part. There are two very important aspects to this saddle One is how well it frees up the horses shoulders and pretty much every one who tries one notices that. The other is the cantilever design which can be tightened into a sport mode or looser for more motion between seat and horse. I like mine fairly tight, but so I can still feel the shock absorbing qualities. And I truly could! It's impossible on an endurance ride with varying terrain and other horses around to ride perfectly for every stride and it felt awesome to have the cantilever soften any hard hits to the seat without transferring the shock to my horse's back. And for whatever reason, cranky little Csavannah responds to leg aids better in this saddle than others. She was amazing this ride, I could almost agree with those who say riding isn't work, you're just sitting there!

Last Updated: 5/8/2017