November 14, 2019

Saddle Fitting #4: Eq Saddle Science (Reactor Panel)

Brand: Eq Saddle Science (English saddle sister company to Reactor Panel)
Cost for Fitting: $95 for two week trial and remote fitting, including shipping both ways
Number of Saddles Tried at the Fitting: 1
Number of Saddles Trialed: 1

After former CWD saddle fitter best friend Mary gently helped me come to the realization that nothing in CWD's lineup was made for the way I want to ride Dressage now, I was taken aback.  I realized two things. First, MW is more counter-culture than I realized, at least to saddle makers, and, second saddle makers are making what the general riding public asks for, and what people ask for isn't always the most biomechanically sound.  Therefore there are a lot of saddles out there that aren't biomechanically sound.

So I sent an SOS to fellow biomechanics nut Kate and asked what saddles she loves and she had a few ideas, but her resounding recommendation was Eq Saddle Science.  Her words: "never fallen in love with a saddle more in my life".

Yes, it's weird as f*** (This saddle has three billets because it's a demo.  Once purchased, the third billet would be cut off after you determine which two you want to use.)
Because it's so weird looking, I'll cut to the chase quickly: I LOVE this saddle.  I have never felt more balanced or stable in anything in my life.  Read on for more.

We do have a local-ish fitter (Cincinnati), but our schedules didn't line up, so I took advantage of the remote fitting.  First, you take lots of tracings of his back as well as photos from the side and above.  Then you physically mail the tracings and email the photos to ESS, and they build a saddle for you off of that.  After that, you schedule a remote fitting via Facetime/Skype/Hangouts/whatever to validate the fit, then you ride, then you call back and discuss (I also sent videos).

One of my fitting photos

According to Carmi, the founder and my remote fitter, they have about a 75% success rate of getting it correct out of the gate with this process.

It rides so much more like a regular saddle than you'd expect, and you don't notice the lack of flap in any negative way.  You don't feel the billets.  You do get the sensation that your horse is suddenly much narrower (a godsend for me on this horse!) and like it takes less effort to transmit aids.  I could easily get my whole leg on him top to bottom, when normally I have to decide between thigh or lower leg at any one time.  Even a monoflap doesn't do it for me anymore after riding in this.

Three cheers for a REPOSITIONABLE STIRRUP BAR!  Unusual length femurs of the world, unite!

The thing I love most about it?  The balance is just incredible - and they have a published study to back this feeling up.  It feels like it gives me body control that I normally don't have, without locking me into place.  I feel so stable and in control in while in the saddle.  And all that is with a block configuration that I'm not sure yet is perfect for me.

If you're wondering why he looks like crap in these videos, this was hour #5 of back to back saddle fittings with a steadily falling temperature (it was 25 degrees in this video).  It's a testament to his kind nature that he wasn't flat out saying "NO" at this point!
I included the unplanned down transition at the end just to show you how stable I stayed even when he plows onto his forehand like a ton of bricks.
I'm showing you this direction because it's my right lower leg that tends to swing wildly at the posting trot in most saddles, while the left remains stable.

The negatives?  This thing looks weird af.

Half a saddle for my "haffie"?  Where's JenJ when I need her?

I didn't prepare my poor trainer for this one, and she was like "What IS that?!" when I pulled it out of the box.  The panels are a combination of foam plus a proprietary rubber disc:


You'd think it would have a concentration of weight under those discs, but the heaviest part of the saddle isn't under the discs at all, and ESS has the pressure pads to prove it.  They are also preparing to publish more research on this as well for the true skeptics - and I do consider myself one, even though I love this saddle.  I challenged the founder on the weight distribution over the phone and she was delighted, saying she could always tell it was an intelligent, thinking individual if they questioned the panels that much, and she dove right into the research and panel mechanics with me.

This configuration also means it's user-adjustable, although they recommend you not touch it without guidance from a pro, either in-person or over video chat.  They recommend taking tracings and assessing fit regularly, in part because it's actually possible for you to adjust, unlike a wool or foam saddle.  This is a big selling point for me out here in saddle fitting no man's land, where I'm lucky if I see a saddle fitter yearly when someone makes their "big trip" up from Florida or the East Coast.

All of the stuff it shipped with (minus my whip, plus some webbers (not shown))

It comes with thin flaps that get attached to the saddle with Velcro, either for regular use or just for shows, where it's illegal to show in a flapless saddle:

Shown with flaps that I don't think I had attached quite right

Finally, it also comes with a special two piece Toklat III saddle pad made specifically for this saddle - and by two piece I mean each SIDE is completely separate.  They have regular colors and then you can also custom order any color combination you want. The pad has Velcro pockets that the ends of the foam panels slip into, which makes it look (slightly) more like a normal saddle.  This also has the added benefit of making it impossible for the pad to slip, the saddle pad and the saddle become a single unit.

Totally separate.  I do love that there's no binding to tighten against the withers or spine.
They also sell a quilted panel cover that goes over the strangest looking parts of the saddle to make it look more normal, so that you can then ride in your regular saddle pads, as well as pocket pads and full pads that are wool fleece or sheepskin underneath.


I really, really didn't want to like this.  It would be so much easier to hate this, but I don't.  I have to say it's my current #1.  All of my dislikes about it are rooted in fear - of being weird, of losing money - none of it has to do with the saddle itself.  It feels absolutely amazing.

Short List: Eq Saddle Science Flapless Dressage

Likes

  • Everything about the way it rides - it makes riding easier.  It's the first one I've looked forward to riding in a second and third time.
  • The way it fits Connor and really moves with him
  • Science.  ACTUAL PUBLISHED SCIENCE!
  • The way I can get my whole leg on him and not be forced to choose between thigh and lower leg
  • The repositionable stirrup bar
  • Carmi's commitment to "Getting it right or we won't take your money"
  • Remote fittings and user-adjustable parts mean I'll be able to check saddle fit more than once a year 
  • The way the saddle pads don't have any spine binding whatsoever

Dislikes
  • Much smaller resale market and therefore resale value won't be good
  • New saddle pads would be an additional cost
  • The thin flaps are such poor leather I thought they were plastic.  Maybe that would get better with conditioner?
Outstanding Unanswered Questions
  • Am I really ballsy enough to show up in this saddle to clinics and shows even if I love it?  
  • If I ride flapless in the summer will my legs get sweaty?  Not something I can test in the dead of winter!

23 comments:

  1. That is so weird and amazingly cool! I think it looks pretty normal with the flaps on!

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    1. It's definitely closer to normal with the flaps on, especially when you're sitting in it.

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  2. Honestly, now I want to try a jumping version... and I would 100% show in it with zero regrets if it worked for me. Hahaha. I have no shame, but I think both of us have tried enough saddles by now to know that if it works, you just buy it. ;-)

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    1. I'm honestly not sure if I'd go for this in a jump saddle to be honest. It works really well as a Dressage saddle, but I'm not sure about it in a higher impact sport. It's worth a try though, damn, at $95 for two weeks plus shipping, it's the cheapest by half out of all the fittings I've had so far.

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  3. It reminds me of the old McClellan saddles; just the basics but probably alot more comfortable! Personally I like the science portion (I'm pretty analytical) that backs up the bio-mechanics and easy riding. Anna

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    1. JenJ said something similar except she compared it to a 15th century saddle. Much more comfortable than those!

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    2. McClellan and similar styles of saddles are very popular in endurance, and this looks very similar. (Specialized, Holmbros, Pandora,Liversage et al). Billets that go to the back of the saddle, lose the flaps, provide moveable shims/panels. Riding 50 miles will REALLY show you where a saddle doesn't fit so I guess they're onto something, and it's interesting seeing similar principles move into other horse sports.. I can see that saddle raising a few eyebrows in a dressage arena though.

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  4. What an interesting saddle!! Another "pro": less saddle to clean and condition :-P

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    1. HAHA can't believe I didn't think of that, but you're so right.

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  5. This is so cool! I have a friend who I haven’t seen in awhile , because she moved out of state, that had a reactor panel many years ago and loved it.

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    1. They are apparently very different now than they were back then, but that's still good to know!

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  6. The customer service at RP is really fantastic, and Cami is great! The flapless ones are super neat and something I would love to try.

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    1. I don't mind the RP stuff, but it's the flapless I really love. I wish I could get a regular saddle without flaps.

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  7. This saddle looks fascinating! Very interesting concept. Especially that you could do some remote fittings yourself (I also live in an area that has very few fitters so remote fittings is very cool!)

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  8. I'm fascinated! Didn't realize RP had a sister company like this. I'm familiar with them via endurance. Flapless saddles do seem like an easier way to ride to me. I've always felt like riding bareback was so much easier and this seems to marry saddles with bareback more seamlessly than other options.

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    1. Yes it does, it very much feels like that. I don't like bareback or treeless due to the lack of weight distribution, but since this does have a tree but still rides like a bareback feel under your legs, I think it's the best of both worlds.

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  9. I love the idea of this saddle and say if it works for you then who cares if it's weird looking! I'm curious about the quality of the leather? The only thing that bothers me about the saddle are the flaps that attach for shows. It would seem to put you at a disadvantage - your horse is used to having a really close connection and then that vanishes at shows.

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    1. The leather of the saddle itself is nice and soft, it's no Antares, but it's not bad. The flaps are godawful, and you're echoing my exact thoughts there. It would be a different story for me here if the flapless thing was legal (and for the record, I think it's stupid that it isn't).

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  10. Are there options to have the flaps made in different leather? And/or are they pretty basic? Maybe any leather worker could make something for you that's softer. It looks really interesting! Reminds me a bit of the Butet practice saddle. Which isn't totally flapless, but similar.

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    1. I'm sure they could, it's literally just a piece of flat leather with some Velcro in two places. It's very similar to the practice saddle, but with the addition of the Velcro flaps it's meant to be used both for practice and show. That's a good thought.

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  11. We had one of these at our MW clinic and it didn't stick out as much as you think with the flaps on. With a rider in the saddle, few will notice and most will think your pad is the weird thing.

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  12. The no flap thing is weird to me. I would think that your legs would rub on the billets. But i like how balanced you were.

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