During Martin Ryan’s (designer of the Bua Saddle) final year of university, studying product design, he had an open brief to redesign a product of their choosing. The saddle was an obvious project for Martin, as the basic saddle design was relatively unchanged for decades, if not centuries. So many other great sports, including golf, skiing, tennis, car racing, and all sports that rely on technical equipment for performance, have advanced so much by embracing the latest technologies and materials, but not equestrian sports. Martin had the right training in product design, and when combined with an understanding of horse riding, Martin wanted to re-evaluate the saddle from first principles. Martin spent many hours in veterinary libraries reading up on and researching the bio-mechanics, muscle groups, and gate analysis of horses, amongst other things. To help him break free from traditional approaches to saddle design, he re- imagined the saddle, as though it had never been designed before. He asked fundamental questions like ‘how should the rider be transported on a horses back’?, where exactly should they sit?, what does the rider require from a saddle when jumping and riding other disciplines?, and so on. Two key conclusions were most notable; for the rider the saddle is necessary to provide support and balance, central to achieving this is the tree design; for the horse the saddle must distribute the rider’s weight evenly across its back while at the same time offer flexibly so as to minimise any restriction to horse stretch and freedom. Of course there are many more considerations, but these were fundamental.
The solution was a bit of a ‘eureka’ moment, and the cantilevered tree was born. However, in design a solution often comes quite easy once you are appropriately informed around the problem area. This was the case for the saddle. Martin was able to free himself from long established assumptions of how a saddle should be made because he had never made one. When you manage to free your thoughts like this, really innovative ideas often arise. The concept of a cantilevered seat seemed logical. By its natural shape it affords a separate and customised shape specific to the horse and the rider which, ultimately leads to better comfort for both. By the natural c-shaped structure of the saddle it further offers dynamic flexibility which moves with the horse while still supporting the rider in a balanced position.
While the central idea came quick, moving from concept to product has taken many years. This design poses big questions of modern production and materials. For this reason it has taken many years of prototyping and testing and a whole lot of help from many brilliant people and organisations.