Sam Dempsey - 3* Event Rider Bua Saddle Review Update - July 2019.
So… I guess this is a bit overdue! When I wrote my original Bua Saddle Review back in 2015 I hadn’t even received my saddles and promised an update when I had used them for a few months, I think 3 years is a fair test!
The headline is: I still love mine. I honestly believe the saddles have given Teldon, my 3* event horse, at least two extra years at the end of his career. We made two big changes going into winter 2015/16 when Teldon was starting to feel his age, his feed (moved to Redmills) and swapped him to the Bua saddle. In March 2016 we had our vet, Tim Watson, out to do Teldon’s pre-season performance check. Tim said he looked better, stronger and more supple than he had the previous year, and he improved again into 2017. Last winter I didn’t think he would do 3* at the age of 18, but he felt so good that we went back to Barbury for the CIC3*, unfortunately his rider let him down slightly but he loved every minute. People keep asking what my plans are for 2019 and I keep saying we will take it week by week, but probably not 3*. That said, he feels like a 12 year old, so who knows!
So, aside from miraculously extending my horse’s career, here are a few other findings from using the Bua saddles over the past three years.
I must have had the Bua saddle on 50+ horses over the past 3 years, and I can only remember three that it didn’t sit well on. All of them were very wide and flat, with nothing for the saddle to really ‘sit’ on, this meant the design and natural flex in the tree made it feel a bit unstable. On a handful I used an Acavallo non-slip pad to help stabilise it, again, usually wide horses, or those without much of a shoulder.
It is a funny thing how we obsess over the width of a saddle and whether it allows the shoulder to move. The traditional saddle seems to give a fitter challenges when it comes to the shoulder. The Bua on the other hand has ample cushioning from the panels behind the shoulder, and moves the tree back to where we want the weight to sit. The foam of the panel around the shoulder is therefore flexible and moves with the shoulder. This gives protection to the area behind the shoulder, which takes the brunt of the pressure exerted as we land over a jump, for example. This was really brought home to me when I had Pip Spratt of Simply Saddles bring her Medilogic Pad to analyse how well the saddle was fitting and distributing pressure. The pad goes under the saddle while you ride and sends live data to the laptop, so Pip can see the pressure per square centimetre while you ride and even jump. Seeing the increased pressure as the height increased was fascinating and I was pleased to see as the jumps got bigger, there was still a good, even spread of pressure right across the Bua’s wide panels. The pad did detect a pressure point behind Teldon’s left shoulder, only on the left side, so clearly a horse or rider issue, rather than the saddle. It was nothing serious, but worth looking at, and this is where the Bua’s accessible panels became invaluable. As we could access the foam inside the panels we took a spare set of neoprene shims I had (1-2mm thick) and cut a section to cover the area where the pressure was. With the Bua we could put this on top of the standard panel, under the tree, rather than having to add a pad or shim under the saddle which risks a ‘step’ and pressure point. Less than 5 minutes and I was back in the saddle and the pressure point was gone. This high-end electronic pressure testing is the realm of ‘marginal gains’ really, probably not necessary in most cases, but that pressure point would never be found in a normal saddle fitting and though it may not cause a problem, you can’t be sure. I now a keep a separate set of panels for Teldon, it takes 30 seconds to swap them off the saddle when I ride him and I know there are a perfect fit, at a fraction the cost of a second saddle!
There have been many small adjustments and improvements to the saddles since my last review, so it is hard to draw on what I wrote then to compare. Some of the key changes include:
A cut back tree for improved wither clearance,
Reinforced sections at base of flap to reduce wear and tear,
Narrower twist seat available,
Strengthened ratchet strap
More panel size options
Dual stirrup bars for dressage and jumping
Aniline traditional English leather Performance Jumping Saddle.
Wool flocked panels with easy zip access for flocking / service
My favourite addition to the range has been jumping flaps in a more traditional saddle leather. These provide far more grip and keep my leg stable without being locked in by blocks. I tested a pair of flaps in this leather with a small set of blocks and was really impressed, and I understand these are now available and in production. I am really excited to get my hands on one!
These new models will address what I would consider the biggest ‘issue’ with the Bua saddle. It isn’t really a fault and I understand why Bua have chosen this path, so I do hesitate to bring it up. In essence the current saddle is ideal for the horse. It fits like a glove, gives a better range of movement, distributes pressure effectively etc. Because of this the Bua has been the answer for many people with saddle fitting problems and horses with back issues, something I’m not sure the designers fully anticipated. Where I have always felt the Bua could improve is in the support given to the rider. Now, it is not to say the saddle is bad in this regard, I wouldn’t ride in it at 3* if I thought I wasn’t secure, but it could do more. I think saddles are always a compromise between what is best for the horse and rider, I have seen plenty of saddles that riders love but never seem to sit right on the horse, usually with a huge price tag! I believe that if Bua had gone down this route too early they would have ended up with a saddle that was too expensive for most people to risk that much money and such a new concept. So far, all of the design and resources had been primarily focused on a saddle for the horse and now with 3-4 years of real life testing, it is time to see what Bua can do for the rider. Designing a saddle around what a rider wants is arguably more difficult and requires more options as we all like different things, but again the modular system should be able to cater for these preferences, without dramatic price increases.
Other general points to note:
I am impressed at how my saddles have worn, the bits that did wear quickly have been addressed in the improvements above (such as the base of the flaps) and I enjoy the fact I don’t have to worry about the leather in the rain!
I did have the girth straps changed on my jumping saddle, something not uncommon after a few years of use (neglect, lol!), but was actually able to rivet on the new ones myself and didn’t have to re-stitch anything. I am continually impressed by how light the saddles are, the new leather flaps are slightly heavier, but still light by comparison to any traditional saddle.
I probably shouldn’t mention this, but I love the fact I can tweak and adjust the saddle myself! I mentioned before how the dressage saddle needed work to help the rider and Bua sent my some spare foam to have a play with and see what I could come up with. I cut and stuffed different parts of the seat and tightened up the travel in the seat to see what worked, some of it looked a bit frankenstein so not recommended, but I live having that control without upsetting the underlying fit for the horse...
I see Bua now recommend changing the foam in the panels after a certain amount of time, this is intriguing as every other sporting product using foam will say the same (for example running shoes, back protectors, helmets). I can see changes in my original panels (which get far more use than the average saddle) and gladly paid for a replacement set of foams last year. Interestingly no other saddle manufacturer tells you this when you buy, perhaps because it is expensive to remove and change the foam panels, or maybe they claim it isn’t necessary because they have discovered a new type of foam that has eluded the likes of Nike, Adidas and New Balance? Go have squeeze of an old foam panelled saddle and see what you think...
The Bua still feels different to sit in. I recently had a conversation with a well known eventer who shares my love of technology and has a real interest in saddle fitting. We both agreed that in 20 years time (or less) we will think the traditional style trees we see today are archaic. I think the future is a saddle that moves with the horse when it needs to and is solid enough to distribute pressure when needed (‘non-newtonian fluid’ filled panels anyone?), but if we were to sit in these saddles today we wouldn’t be able to ride in them. We aren’t used to something that moves with the horses back and we don’t teach people to ride bareback anymore, so many people have never felt that movement. Bua have take the first big step in 100 years in terms of saddle design, so if it feels different to a normal saddle, it is because progress will feel different. For some people the movement in the saddle is too much, some people like it and others barely notice it, from my observation this can be attributed to everything from where and how the rider sits in the saddle, to their weight and their basic skill and level of ‘feel’. The only way to really know is to sit in one…
Tahnee Nolan, Endurance Rider, Australia.
Hello! Just wanted to say a huge thank you, I took my Bua on it's first 80km endurance ride recently and it was a real pleasure to ride in. As my first 80km in some years and being a long way from ideal fitness I was expecting to be quite sore and sorry afterwards but was pleasantly surprised. The mare went nicely and got excellent scores. I took the opportunity to demo ride your saddle whilst visiting family in Ireland, then by sheer luck came across one for sale here in Australia shortly after we returned home. Ivor has been wonderful - where many other reps would've seen giving support for a buyer of a secondhand saddle as a waste of their time, he's been super helpful all the way! He's a great representative for your company.
July 22nd 2019.
Highly Recommend theses Saddles! I’ve had mine now for 2 years! It’s the best thing I have bought for my horses and have noticed a big difference in their way of going! I also find I feel very secure in it, so when we are having a ‘fresh’ day I know I’m moving with my horses and not against him! Thank you to Ivor Young for introducing me to these saddles and for the continued support.
Margaret Wright Eventing.
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