East Lothian based firm, About Tack, is developing a revolutionary new saddle that has the potential to significantly improve both the performance and welfare of horses.
New Zealander, Trace Ward, managing director of About Tack, recognised the limitations of existing horse saddles while working on the film set of The Last Samurai, with Hollywood star Tom Cruise.
"Humans have ridden horses for around 6,000 years and modern-day saddles are based on a design that has changed very little over the past 2,000 years. We had difficulties with saddle fittings on set because the people who make the horses' costumes had to produce 50 saddles, each fitted specifically for each horse. Of course, the horses' form changes during the year. With current saddles, there is little room for change, whereas my new saddle is much easier to adapt."
About Tack has spent several years researching existing saddles looking at both treed and treeless designs. Currently there is a small but growing body of excellent scientific research relating to the equine back, saddle design, fit, and function, which has helped to shape the goals of About Tack’s saddle technology.
Recent research reveals that horses are capable of bending more than 60% through the thoracic spine – which roughly runs from the withers to the loins. Sustained pressure greater than 4psi has been shown to impede blood flow, potentially leading to soft tissue damage, while results show that a direct correlation has been established between saddle pressure and stride length. As peak saddle pressures rise, a measurable reduction in stride length is generally seen.
Modern equestrian sports require the horse to have a high degree of athleticism in order to turn tightly, or jump a large obstacle. However, the frame inside a traditional saddle can restrict movement, and cause pain and injury.
On her return to Scotland, Ward set about making a new saddle which had to be strong and flexible allowing the saddle to redistribute a rider's weight to allow for the horse’s full natural range of movements without restriction.
The Business Challenge
Her new design made from Dyneema, a flexible fibre 15 times stronger than steel and most commonly used by Para gliders offers this combination of strength and flexibility, however her prototype models required further testing within a research environment, to ensure it was reliable, functional and aesthetically pleasing.
Requiring specialist assistance for the task, and initially gaining advice from ICASS and Business Gateway, Ward was referred to Interface – the knowledge connection for business. Interface quickly put her in contact with Dr Theresia Licka, a leading Equine Orthopaedic specialist at the University of Edinburgh and the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies.
Initial testing of the innovative concept saddle was undertaken using a pliance saddle system which measures the pressure distribution between the saddle and the horse using a thin mat with imbedded sensors. Quantitative analysis of data sets by the academic determined pressure distribution which can then be corrected in the saddle design.
The collaborative study costs were offset by a grant from EDTC Technology Gateway which is funded by Scottish Government and the European Regional Development Fund.
Ward recently won a John Logie Baird award in recognition of her hard work, determination and passion since the concept began.