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It is Rocket Science: Synergist Saddles
May 18, 2010
“Excuse me,” the tall woman behind me at the UPS store said,” are you sending that box to Synergist Saddles in Wyoming? Sorry to listen in but I heard you say it’s a saddle form and I just knew it had to be for a Synergist Saddle!”
We chatted about how much she loved her Synergist Saddle and she said, “I remember the day I mailed my EQUImeasure form off, I was walking on air!“
I know how she feels. I’m almost through the process myself. We’ve measured my horse, heated and fit the patented EQUImeasure form on him, measured parts of me that don't see the sunshine and sent everything back to C.J. and Dave Di Pietra at Synergist. As soon as they got my package, C.J. called to walk me through the dozens of options available to custom design my saddle. When was the last time the owner of a company called to help you personally? This is only part of why a Synergist Saddle is different. Let me share with you my perfect saddle journey.
I got my sweet Palomino Gelding Quarter Horse Drifter in November. The rigid western roping saddle I had used on an Arabian to chase cows at the ranch would not fit him. It looked like a top hat sitting there on his back. Kinda silly and definitely wrong. I was not mounting up. I needed a new saddle for him. Where to begin?
Everyone has a saddle story. You might still have your first show saddle, or perhaps you can’t let go of a treasured antique from grandpa. But have you analyzed the fit? Way back in the old days saddles were carved out of wood, wrapped in leather and rigged up. It didn’t matter how it felt on the horse. You just added enough pads and blankets to fill in the spaces and hopped on. Well not anymore. I wanted to a saddle that would not only fit me but be kind to my horse. Now where to look? Tack shop purchase or custom made? I had so many questions, And there are so many choices but I was determined to make the right one for my horse and me. It was time to do the research.
I started with saddle trees. Some are made of pine and cedar, some poly-resin or polyethylene and even molded PVC. They come covered in leather or synthetics or a combination of both. A few have metal gullet inserts and gel seats. There are endurance saddles, English and Australian saddles, equitation saddles and trail. Reining and roping and cutting too. I wanted an all- around saddle I could use trail riding and for arena work (I love to post!). The closer I looked, I became more aware that there were huge differences in construction and in theory. So I consulted the usual suspects: trainers, coaches, veterinarians and barn friends to find my dream saddle.
A few months ago at my barn I met Steve Ensign LMT, CVCP. He was performing cold laser therapy on horses to relieve a variety of ailments. My own Drifter has a slightly higher right hip that my vet told me might be from an old injury. While he worked on Drifter, I asked him about the saddle related injuries he sees in the course of his work. Here is his opinion on the consequences of poor saddle fit to share with you:
“Having done manual therapies on horses for 20 years, I can tell you without a doubt that improper saddle fit is one of the most common causes of sore-back in horses. It is one of the primary reasons people call me. Just as a pair of improperly fitted shoes can cause structural problems in people, poor saddle fit causes a multitude of structural problems. Riding a horse with an ill fitting saddle, even for a couple of rides, can cause your horse to show signs (ranging from) mild soreness, to gait problems, and even cause open sores on their withers and back. Besides the pain, a visible sign is patches of white hair where the saddle rests on the withers or along the spine.
If a horse is ridden with a poor saddle fit for long periods of time, acute conditions in the shoulders and front legs can develop. If allowed to go on, these compensations can travel throughout a horse's whole body because the musculoskeletal “pulley system” that supports horses’ movements is being forced to compensate for the pain. A human with a foot or leg problem can tell you that the compensation patterns developed on the opposite side of their injury can be even more difficult to address than the original injury. Oftentimes those problems last for a long period of time and involve the entire body, not just the legs or feet. Shoulder, neck and low back pain will develop when the body is recruiting muscles to “protect” the injured area. The same goes for the horse. A poorly fitted saddle can cause a horse to be “off” throughout the entire structure.
When fitting a saddle, I urge you to consult with an expert. That could be a horse trainer or a saddle maker. Do the research, ask people who truly know the answers and you will be able to ride your horse for years to come with the confidence that both you AND your horse can enjoy the ride.”
When I asked Steve what he thought of a Synergist Saddle, his eyes lit up and he said, “I’ve been wanting one, a Synergist will be my next saddle!”
I contacted Donna Snyder-Smith a well-known equine author, performance coach, riding biomechanics specialist, national clinician, lecturer, and Lifetime Achievement Award recipient of the American Riding Instructor’s Association, and Jumper, dressage and eventing champion. As you have guessed by now, she had a lot for me to consider from her varied perspectives. Proper balance and saddle fit to both the horse and the rider were foremost, enabling horse and rider to work in sync. Here are her comments in her own words.
“I once heard someone say that saddle fit ‘wasn't rocket science.’ My thought was that while the person uttering the statement might have been a rocket scientist, he didn't know squat about the athletic horse/rider partnership!
The top of the saddle must match the rider. To allow the horse it's best shot at maximum performance, a rider must first and foremost be able to maintain the position of "neutral." This position only occurs when a rider can maintain a correct centeredness of the skeleton with efficient muscles groups on the ground, then maintain their alignment or their center of gravity precisely over that of the horse’s during any movement, at any speed, in any direction a horse might move WITHOUT GRIPPING THE HORSE WITH LEG MUSCLES (takes most riders a lifetime to master and many never do). Synergist saddles are built with well balanced seats, correctly positioned stirrup hang, correct form-to-function, etc., in order to provide the rider with a comfortable, neutral stage from which to accomplish the skill(s) of horsemanship.
Dave and C.J. Di Pietra of the Synergist Saddles place their focus on solving the problems presented by their goal of creating a saddle to accommodate not only the requirements of the living, breathing "multi-dimensional motion machine" athlete, the horse, but also to allow for a flawless connection between horse and rider which then produces that much-desired, dynamic winning partnership.
The horse, without the rider is capable of balancing itself. When the rider is added to the horse's equation, the rider's balance becomes a paramount issue to the horse. The bottom of a saddle must match the horse's contours but must not be restrictive in design, as the horse's muscle definitions are not static, even when the horse is standing still. Since there is a huge range of athletic postures a horse can assume performing in the various sports, a saddle needs to anticipate and accommodate some (a specialist saddle) if not all (an all-purpose saddle) of those potential physical geographical anomalies in the horse's back and body when it performs.”
There are several top-notch saddle makers that employ the balance and fit model in their saddle build. Interestingly there are just as many ideas on how to achieve this end using a varied array of materials and design. I studied many of them and when possible sat in saddles at shops and horseshows. I was more confused than ever. On the internet one day, I found custom saddle maker Synergist‘s website and sent for their free DVD. After viewing the DVD, I was impressed.
You are not going to find a glossy branding campaign with Synergist. No glamorous spokespeople or copywriters. What you will find are hardworking, honest craftsmen and a small family company that works directly with you start to finish ensuring your satisfaction. They are master craftsmen using science and a combination of 21st century materials wrapped with the supple beauty of leather. When was the last time you encountered a superior "made in America" product (with the exception of their English Saddle) with people that stand behind it?
Donna Snyder Smith has worked with Synergist to create a DSS Synergist English model. Here are her comments on their collaboration and the team at Synergist:
“Dave and C.J. listened carefully to my suggestions about how and why I wanted them to alter their English saddle...keep what was good (the seat and panels) and redesign the flap shape, making it over in the "all-around" style which would allow a rider to shorten the stirrups for riding in steep terrain and speed work. They agreed that the design I wanted seemed to make sense and I assured them that since the saddles were being made in Europe, their saddle maker wouldn't have any problems with the design as it would be nearly identical to saddles made there for the cross-country phase of Eventing. I sketched in detail what I had in mind and soon had the prototype to test ride. That is how their English endurance saddle was "reborn." I have ridden several of the DSS models over the years and have had many clients as well as other endurance riders both buy them and tell me how much they loved riding in them; all coming back with comments about how comfortable they were and how easily they could find their correct balance (torso over foot) in the saddle.”
Synergist Saddles was started by Dave’s father John Di Pietra when he was unable to find a saddle with updated technology and the special features he wanted to compete in his sport of Endurance racing. Located in Cheyenne, Wyoming, both Dave and C. J. are riders. If you can believe this; when I called around to speak to many saddle makers, some didn’t even own a horse!
Donna Snyder Smith shares a bit more on Dave, C.J. and Synergist :
No saddle is a "perfect" fit for "every" horse (or rider); not the DSS Synergist or any other and that brings me to perhaps the truly most important reason I have recommended Synergist Saddle Company and sent clients there for over 15 years. The personal ethics of Dave and C.J. are reflected in the way in which they do business and those ethics are the highest in the industry (without any discipline or product distinction). When I began to focus on the endurance discipline, early in the 90s, there was a very popular endurance (stock not custom) saddle designed and sold by a well known female endurance rider. Problem was, if you bought one of her saddles and it didn't fit...too bad, you just had to suck it up and hope you could resell it to someone else. There was only one saddle maker that stood behind their product: Synergist. If they couldn’t make it work for the rider and the horse they refunded the customers money! Over the years I've known them to "rework" a saddle more than once to figure out why a saddle which met all of the customer's specifications wasn't working the way it should. We've had discussions on issues like the rider's seat position in a saddle relative to their thigh bone length and the placement of the stirrups on the saddle tree. In short, this couple does everything they possibly can to turn out a TOP quality product for both horse and rider, but doesn't stop with that level of effort. Instead they insure a happy outcome for their customers, an almost unheard of policy, especially in today's world of ‘buyer beware.’ "
What then is a Synergist? Synergist has may styles and options but the basic concept is a close contact saddle. Owner Dave Di Pietra says, "...it is built for balance. Our saddles offer a combination of a Dressage style seat in a more secure Western tree. The stirrups are hung underneath you and aligned with the seat to promote a ‘centered ‘ or balanced position in the seat in order to distribute your weight evenly over the length of your horse’s rib-cage.”
Dave has written an excellent e-book on saddle fit and it is available to you to download free of charge. “It’s not Rocket Science!” makes the case for the proper fit and alignment Synergist delivers. Go to their website and click on it. (www.synergistsaddles.com/Horse-Saddles/horse-saddles.htm)
I think my Synergist is just what the doctor ordered. I know it’s what the massage practitioner and the master coach and trainer recommend. And once you try one and experience the difference correct balance will make for you and your horse, you might just be “walking on air too!” Contact Synergist at www.SynergistSaddles.com or 877-595-0115. Be sure to tell C.J. that Michelle sent you!
New Synergist owner Audrey on Rabi on the second loop of the Sandhills South Carolina Spring Fling Endurance ride. “My mare loves the new Synergist! Oh my!!! the way she moves out and collects up is incredible! I am so totally amazed at how the horses move so much better off leg in the Synergist. It turns riding back into fun!!! I am loving it!”
Synergist Saddles is the proud sponsor of "Ride the World with Michelle"
Drifter-Bob loves his custom built Synergist www.synergistsaddles.com