VPS® stands for "vertebrae protection system". It is a combination of several different materials, which either distribute or absorb pressure. The Barefoot´s build in VPS® system also ensures even pressure distribution on the rider´s weight along the whole lenght of the saddle with no pressure points.
The VPS system Design is protected and may only used in original Barefoot saddles.
VPS® distributes the rider’s weight ideal and on the largest area possible along the part of the horse back, which maybe be loaded to carry weight: between the withers and the 15th/16th vertebrae. As proven by several measuring peak pressure is eliminated. The construction of panels to the left and right of the spine create enough space for withers and spine. Even when standing in the stirrups (posting) the pressure is spread along the entire length of the seat – there is NO LIMIT regarding the rider’s weight.
The ‚panel construction‘ left and right of the spine allow for a distinct spinal clearance over the spinous processes and guarantee constant spinal and wither clearance.
The VPS ® System is noticeably more narrow than a conventional saddle panel and therefore allows for very subtle communication with the horse which leads to much finer riding. The rider can feel the different areas of the horses back muscles work under the saddle.
The VPS ® System distributes the rider‘s weight in an optimal way over the largest possible area of the back.
Due to its flexibility and adaptability Barefoot Saddles work on just about any horse‘s back. Inserts in different sizes and materials guarantee optimal fit to the horse‘s shoulders. To avoid pressure points in the loin area, the Barefoot Saddle has a soft cantle which is flexible in all directions: sideways and up/down.
Due to the VPS ® System standing in the stirrups is possible without a problem as the rider‘s weight is distributed over the whole length of the saddle. The trapezius muscle will not be bruised and can develop.
Noticeably elastic sandwich construction made of pressure absorbing elastomer layers and pressure distributing polymerlayer. All materials have a smooth surface. We do not use padding materials which settles unevenly, so puntual hardenings are avoided. The fleece lining towards the horse back levels out any small unevenness.
All Barefoot saddles from the 2008 production year are equipped with the VPS® system.
WHY HORSE FRIENDLY?
How you sit on your horse is not only determined by the shape of your horse's back, but also by how the saddle fits and last not but least, the rider’s seat. It is common knowledge that only a relaxed horse can become supple and step under. Relaxation is an important step training a horse, if not THE most important step!
Relaxation is the first step - and every experienced trainer will agree – towards suppleness.
Relaxation, however, requires two factors:
1. mental relaxation
2. physical relaxation
A tense horse which cannot relax under its saddle is never supple. Without this, the next stages in training – bending inward, contact, stepping under, collection - will be impossible to reach.
A horse can move free of pressure under the flexible Barefoot saddle, because the saddle moves along with the muscle movement of the horse, does not restrict the blood circulation and allows muscles to build up.
the Barefoot saddle is flexible in all three dimensions
Horses often snort in satisfaction when they are ridden with a Barefoot saddle for the first time - a sure sign of relaxation and well-being, encouraging and increasing receptiveness for riding aids in the absence of negative influence from tension or pressure.
Horses notice the change immediately, and, as the shoulder relaxes, the head will automatically move downwards. In the absence of any pressure from the saddle, the back will arch upwards, allowing unrestricted movement. The horse begins to step under its hindquarters because its back can move naturally without being restricted by the saddle.
These photos show the same horse only with different head positions:
When being ridden, a horse's back is constantly in motion and its form permanently changes according to the degree of collection, and how much it bends or steps under.
Due to its anatomy, a horse’s back will automatically sag more and show a more pronounced depression as soon as it starts walking with its head raised. The horse pushes its back away. The vertebral bodies are then too close together, limiting blood circulation and preventing suppleness and bending.
If, instead, a horse’s motion is forward downwards with its head low, this curve changes; its back is bent upwards and the spine stretches upwards in an arch. As it happens for biomechanical reasons, this process can be observed in every single horse or pony; it is caused by the long neck band/back band, which connects the occipital bone to the lumbar vertebrae, acting in combination with the back and abdominal muscles. The resulting "height difference" of the horse's back is clearly visible and, depending on the horse, can often be in excess of 5 cm.
The bottom line is that most saddles lack the flexibility to compensate for this difference whereas the Barefoot´s flexibility allows it to constantly adapt to any changes in the horse´s back line.
Advantages of training with Barefoot
A good rider in combination with proper training is especially important for the horse's back. In this respect, it doesn’t matter so much what kind of riding style we choose as long as the anatomical and physiological needs of the horse are our main concern.
The aim of training must be to enable the horse to carry our weight without harm by building up the correct musculature. Therefore, first and foremost, a saddle horse must learn to arch its back upward. This arching, this flexion of the thoracic spine, opens up the vertebral arch joints, leads to a better blood supply in the muscles and allows the lateral inclination of the upper part of the spine.
However, if the correct movement pattern is prevented by an ill-fitting, rigid saddle or by a rider who is sitting too far back in the saddle, this goal cannot be achieved. The Barefoot saddle positions the rider exactly over the horse's centre of gravity (Vertebrae 9-13) and leaves the rear part of the thoracic spine free where the spinous processes converge (Vertebrae 15-16). This creates an ideal basis for horse-friendly riding.
In combination with correct training methods, the Barefoot saddle promotes muscle development:
Before - After photos after one year of correct riding with a barefoot saddle
However, the Barefoot saddle is not an alternative to correct, pressure-free training methods!
BAREFOOT MAKES THE DIFFERENCE
What sets Barefoot apart from all other saddles?
There are now countless different types and brands of treeless saddles on the market. The word "treeless" has become a popular catchword since the Barefoot saddle appeared on the market at the end of 2002 and was greeted enthusiastically by the horse world as the new, horse-friendly and affordable saddles for riders.
In the meantime, "Barefoot" has become a synonym for treeless in the same way as "Kleenex" has for paper handkerchiefs.
But please do not make the mistake of confusing treeless with Barefoot!
There are now many suppliers of treeless saddle systems. Unfortunately for many riders and above all for many horses, “treeless” has become a buzzword. Many riders think: "If I buy a saddle without a tree, then there will be no strain or pressure on my horse’s back and everything will be fine.”
But this is far from the truth. There are treeless saddles that are not back-friendly or, for example, only suitable for a special type of horse - but other horses with a different build will suffer under this saddle because it lacks flexibility and/or the correct anatomical shape.
Since equestrian equipment suppliers are constantly on the lookout for innovative products - after all, there is money to be made - saddles appear on the market that can only be described as questionable at the least. Unfortunately, many manufacturers have no basic knowledge of a horse’s anatomy or its movement pattern, resulting in products which will not fulfil their purpose or may even cause serious problems.
There are imitations on the market which are very similar to Barefoot at first sight, so take a close look: Only our Barefoot logo (the feather plus the stamped identification number) on the product guarantees you the real thing.
In tests, the Barefoot saddle system has undergone pressure measurements and its construction has been proved horse-friendly - on all horses tested without exception. These tests were carried out by completely neutral horse osteopaths, i.e. not financed by our company, so the results are honest and objective. (for more details, see “what experts say about Barefoot” and our customers’ reviews).
We tend not to call our saddles ‘treeless’, as there is no exact definition of what “treeless” actually means. In our opinion, the VPS® system in the Barefoot saddle could be regarded as a kind of tree, but, because it is really flexible, more modern and adapted to the well-being of the horse.
More information can be found here:
Barefoot makes the difference
The difference to conventional saddles:
The difference between Barefoot saddles and conventional saddles is immediately apparent, not only in their outward appearance, but also in their inner structure, primarily in the function of our VPS® System. Under a Barefoot, the horse can relax, arch its back upwards and thus allow a real lateral inclination of the thoracic spine. The horse can bend without having to avoid pressure on its back.
The Barefoot is the most flexible saddle in the world, which allows it to constantly adapt to changes in the horses musculature and physiognomy.
A horse's back changes mainly with the change of seasons, during training or due to age. But the above illustration shows that the biggest changes in the shape of the back are induced by the horse adopting a different posture, i.e. a forward-downward movement.
No conventional saddle can accommodate this forward downward movement completely without blocking part of the dorsal musculature, preventing muscle development and even causing muscle atrophy (e.g. "typical" hollows to the left and right of the withers). Under the barefoot, however, a horse can become supple, relax its muscles and move forwards/downwards without pressure from above. Thus it learns to move without pain and that moving under a saddle can be fun!
We often observe that horses improve their propulsion, covering more ground per pace, start working through their hindquarters, or spontaneously start to tölt…. The horse suddenly starts to do things the rider has been trying to achieve in training for months.
The Barefoot saddle gives the rider a slightly different riding position and a somewhat wider seat, allowing more freedom of movement. Some riders are critical of this and it does often take a little getting used to. But given the choice between a supple, relaxed and contented horse which can build up good musculature and move freely without pressure from the saddle, albeit at the price of adapting to the new Barefoot-style seat, or remaining in your old, familiar conventional saddle with its large knee rolls and which hides some of your seat errors, just because this is what you are used to: which alternative would you chose?
Riders who have already developed a stable and independent seat usually have no problem adjusting and begin to feel at home after a short time in the saddle. Others take longer, feel insecure at first, and need time to adapt to the wider seat closer to the horse, have difficulty keeping their legs still and feel like they have forgotten how to ride! But don’t worry, after 2 or 3 hours you will notice that your body has begun to adapt to the new position.
Tip: Our Hip-Saver gives sensitive riders a narrower seat and cushions the buttocks more comfortably.
All riders who have changed to a Barefoot saddle have one thing in common: after a few weeks in the saddle they find riding in a conventional saddle uncomfortable, far away from the horse, rigid, hard on their back and uncomfortable - so changing really is worth it!
Initial phase with a new Barefoot saddle
Barefoot saddles adapt very well to the individual horse's back, ensuring a perfect fit, as they do not sit rigidly on top of the horse, but form themselves around the horse's body. After a so-called initial riding-in phase, during which the new Barefoot saddle needs time to adapt to the form of the horse's back, the saddle will fit perfectly and no longer slip, even in difficult terrain. Our unique spine protection system (VPS® System), which consists of various flexible materials, has two functions: a) it absorbs pressure from the rider’s weight and b) it distributes this pressure evenly over the horse’s back, so that there is no pressure on the spine.
During the first few hours of use, the Barefoot saddle system will gradually adapt to the form of your horse's back.
When starting out with a brand-new Barefoot saddle, it may seem a little wobbly and the rider may feel like he is sitting enthroned above the horse. With use, the leather will become suppler and the padding will gradually settle down. You may also find the saddle slipping occasionally during this period. We therefore recommend taking it easy for the first few hours; walking only will be sufficient to start with. After every ride you will notice that the saddle has settled down a little more. Our materials are selected to allow the saddle to shape itself round the hose's back whilst still retaining their stability.
New Wellington saddle Wellington saddle after three weeks of use
A Barefoot saddles retains its flexibility, so it can be used on a different horse and will re-form and itself round the new horse’s shape.
If you change from using a treed saddle to the treeless Barefoot saddle, it may take a little getting used to at the beginning. Your seat in a Barefoot saddle will be a little wider than in a conventional saddle, and you will also feel the horse’s movement more distinctly. This too, will take a few hours to get used to.
The Barefoot saddle will give you a slightly different position to a conventional saddle; because you will be sitting nearer to the horse, you will probably have to spend some time finding your ideal seat again. Your will find your seat on the Barefoot wider and less restricted. This is ideal for beginners, because, from the beginning, the rider learns to balance himself and develop an independent seat.
SHORT BACKED HORSES
Does the Barefoot saddle also fit horses with shorter backs
The Barefoot saddle is particularly suitable for horses/ponies with a short back, as it distributes the rider's weight completely differently to conventional saddles: In the Barefoot saddle, the rider sits between two moulded parts (the exchangeable pommel at the front, and the rear restriction). Because these pre-formed parts are made of flexible plastic and do not carry any of the rider’s weight, they can move with the horse without restricting its movement.
As a result, the Barefoot may be saddled over the horse's shoulder, because the scapula (shoulder blade) is free to move underneath the saddle and the musculature will not be constricted. This type of saddle allows the rider to sit directly above the horse's centre of gravity, in an optimal position.
Due to this construction, Barefoot saddles often look bigger than conventional treed saddles, especially on smaller horses. However, the Barefoot saddle may extend beyond the horse's 18th ribbed arch as it does not restrict the horse’s back in any way, or distribute the rider’s weight onto the rear part of the back.
To experience this at first hand, you can sit in a Barefoot saddle and push your hand behind the rear end of the saddle and lift it. You will see that the Barefoot is so flexible that it can be lifted - this proves that although "the saddle is there", there is no pressure and therefore no problem can be caused by the saddle. If you try the same thing in a saddle with a tree, you will quickly feel the difference. Many people however are unaware of this difference and therefore assume that the weight distribution is exactly the same as in a treed saddle.
In cases where we have a very short horse ridden by a sturdier person, the Barefoot saddle may appear to be too big and look rather out of proportion. It is nevertheless the right choice, because the rider should fit between the shaped parts and not choose a smaller size which will then be too tight.
RIDING YOUNG HORSES
Backing using a Barefoot saddle
During the initial phase of a young horse's training it is very important for the saddle to be flexible and adapt itself to the horse’s shape, as the whole body - including the horse's back - is reshaped in this process. A constricting saddle can lead to muscle hardening during this time. The result, typical depressions to the left and right of the withers, are sadly quite common. Unfortunately, many "professionals" will also argue that the saddle area is formed during the breaking in phase - catastrophically this phrase is often used to describe musculature atrophy in the saddle area.
This does not have to be the case. It is possible to develop strong trapezius muscles under a saddle and at the same time avoid these typical “hollows” – we experience this when horses are trained with our flexible saddle system. They do not form a "typical saddle area", but build up muscles instead.
The Barefoot is therefore very suitable for riding in young horses, because it distributes the rider's weight in a completely differently way to a saddle with a tree. The rider sits in the barefoot between two moulded parts, which are inserted into "pockets" in the saddle. Because these pre-formed parts are made of flexible plastic and do not carry any of the rider’s weight, they can move with the horse without restricting its movement.
As a result, the Barefoot may be saddled over the horse's shoulder, because the scapula (shoulder blade) is free to move underneath the saddle and the musculature will not be constricted. This saddle position allows the rider to sit directly above the horse's centre of gravity, enabling young horses to balance their own weight and that of the rider more easily.
Since the Barefoot saddle is completely flexible, it can adapt itself to the horse's back, even if the horse shape changes considerably. Horses’ shapes change very noticeably during the breaking in stage – muscles are built up, fat pads disappear... As a result, a conventional saddle will no longer fit, even if it is adapted - but the Barefoot can 'grow' with the horse.
Horses feel comfortable under the light Barefoot right from the start because their movement is not restricted.
OPTIMAL SADDLE POSITION
Position of the saddle
The function of Barefoot saddles differs from that of conventional treed saddles: In order to avoid pressure on the horses back, we decided to position a seat limiter in front of and behind the rider, which functions irrespective of the rider's weight. The one disadvantage is that the saddles look bigger and covers more of the horse.
Advantage: The saddle gives the rider the same sitting position as he/she would have when riding without a saddle, namely on the part of the horse’s back which is best able to carry weight and not further to the rear. Although the Barefoot saddle also covers this area, this part of the saddle merely supports the horse and does not carry the rider’s weight. Read more about
"the horseback and saddle" in our free knowledge brochure.
The horse spine can carry weight best between the withers and the 15th thoracic vertebrae
The rider sits in the Barefoot between two moulded parts (fork and pommel); whereas the rear is quite flexible, the front gives only slightly, as it is intended to keep the withers free and give the saddle its shape. This front part (the exchangeable pommel) moves freely on the horse’s shoulder without inhibiting the shoulder’s freedom of movement. This is why the Barefoot saddle can be placed directly on the shoulder. Anatomically, saddling over the shoulder is only possible on horses with short, flat withers, which is often the case with many compact leisure horses.
Here you can see the correct position of the Atlanta saddle on a horse where the withers are short and flat
A horse with prominent withers reaching far into the saddle position - which is generally the case with thoroughbreds and warm-blooded horses - cannot be saddled directly on the shoulder for anatomical reasons. In this case the optimal saddle position is behind the shoulder, as you will be familiar with from conventional treed saddles.
Here you can see the correct position of the Wellington saddle on a horse with long withers
SLIPPING BAREFOOT SADDLE?
Customers often ask whether our saddle system has sufficient grip on the horse's back. Riders doubt that such a flexible saddle offers the same safety as conventional saddles.
A new Barefoot saddle with vps system® (stands for "vertebrae protecting system") should be individually fitted and will require an initial “riding in„ phase during which they adapt to the horse's back and the padding has time to settle down and form around the horse’s contours. After this phase, the saddle no longer sits on top of the horse like a rigid form; it will have settled down and adapted itself perfectly to the shape of the horse's back.
After this initial phase, the saddle sits so firmly that it will no longer slip, even when riding in difficult terrain. Horses benefit greatly from our special spine protection system (vps® System), consisting of various flexible materials, which absorbs pressure and distributes the rider’s weight evenly over the horses back and at the same time gives the spine complete freedom of movement. After this initial phase, the saddle sits so firmly that it will no longer slip, even when riding in difficult terrain.
Horses benefit greatly from our special spine protection system (vps® System), consisting of various flexible materials, which absorbs pressure and distributes the rider’s weight evenly over the horses back and at the same time gives the spine complete freedom of movement.
Click here for more informatin about the vps-system.
The Barefoot saddle therefore adapts to the horse during initial use - this process takes a few hours of riding to achieve. When the saddle is put on the horse for the first time, the rider may experience a slightly wobbly feeling and seem to be sitting “enthroned” on top of the horse for a short time, but the materials we use allow the saddle to shape itself to the horse's back without losing its stability within a short time.
Otherwise the Barefoot saddle would be comparable to a bareback pad and would lose its shape immediately when first used.
We recommend the saddle pad Physio for horses with flat withers (suitable for use with various saddle models in our range). The underside has a layer of special material (Sympanova), which keeps the saddle firmly in place even on difficult or very round horses after the initial riding-in phase.
ADJUSTABLE SADDLE PAD
The Barefoot saddle pad system allows the saddle to be easily adapted to each individual horse's back for an optimal fit. The saddle system consists of the Barefoot saddle, exchangeable front pommel inserts for insuring the correct shoulder angle of the saddle and the correct saddle pad (special or physio). Barefoot saddlepad: Link
In order to complete the system, Barefoot has developed suitable pads for each of our models. They have a tunnel in the middle in the area over the horse’s spinous processes plus pockets to the left and right into which individual padding can be inserted, further reducing pressure on the spine.
Thus, the saddle system forms a vertebral canal, although this is not as wide as in conventional saddles. This gives the rider closer contact to the horse’s back and pressure is distributed more evenly over the entire back. This is often noticeable immediately after changing to the Barefoot System; horses begin to relax, their movement is freer and they also lower their heads, a sure sign of less tension.
A Barefoot saddle should always lie balanced on the horse's back. The saddle can be adapted to the horse's back line by inserting additional padding in specific areas as required, according to the horse’s individual build.
INSTRUCTIONS SADDLE UNDERLAY
WHICH SADDLE SIZE?
How can I be sure which seat size is right for me?
The Barefoot saddle is generally available in 5 different seat sizes (size X0, 0 and size 3 are available in specific models only):
Clothing size (German size)
up to child size 140
from childrens size 152 to ladies size 34
ladies size 36-40, mens size 44-48
ladies size 40-46, mens size 50-54
ladies size 46-50, mens size 54-58
Please ensure you choose the correct seat size for both you and your horse. If more than one person is riding the horse, you should select the seat size which will best suit the largest rider. In some cases, the saddle may seem to be too long for your horse: This is not a problem, as a Barefoot saddle can be longer than a conventional tree saddle, i.e. it can go beyond the 18th rib, without causing problems. (Read more about saddle length under the chapters entitled: "Physiological saddle system" and "Horses with Short Backs").
At this point it is important to say that the saddle should always fit the rider, which means customers should make sure that the seat size they choose is large enough. A small rider can and may ride a saddle whose seat size is too large for him/her, whereas the opposite, a large rider in a saddle which is too small, will lead to problems. The movement of the flexible Barefoot saddle would be restricted if the seat size were too small. If the rider is too tall, he will obstruct muscle movement under the horse's shoulder, as his thighs will block the front pommel. This is unpleasant for the horse and could even lead to pressure points in the long run.
If the saddle is too small, the rider’s seat will suffer; the pelvis would be permanently tilted backward, creating a hollow back and increasing the pressure on the thighs. This makes riders tend to clamp -the result is a forward tilted, clamping seat - the split seat.
Your clothes size acts as a rough guide as to the right seat size. But, since both people’s build and clothing sizes are often very different, other factors must also be taken into account. A taller rider with long thighbones, who also prefers riding with longer stirrups for example, should choose the next larger seat size. This is especially true for saddle models with larger rolls, such as the Barrydale, Lexington, Wellington or Merlyn.
Riding will only be a pleasant experience for both horse and rider if the saddle fits both. Here you can see a Nottingham in size 3. The rider takes size 46/48.
Care instructions for saddles and accessories
Leather is a natural product. Pigment spots, scars, unevenness and colour changes, in particular due to sunlight, are possible as a result of environmental factors and are not covered by any guarantee.
Please note: Open-pored leathers tanned with vegetable dyes can easily give off colour at the beginning - please do not ride in light-coloured clothing for the first few times. The use of purely vegetable dyes can cause rapid colour abrasion when the saddle is used, e.g. in the area of the stirrup leathers.
Leather which is subjected to frequent use can also change over time. We therefore recommend checking the leather itself, all seams and metal parts - especially the girth straps and stirrup suspensions - before every ride. For safety reasons, please do not use any articles which appear to be damaged.
Care of accessories:
Accessories made of leather (straps, fenders, stirrup leathers, headpieces) can also be cleaned and nourished with Barefoot Leather Cleaner.
All our leather goods are checked for quality and impregnated before leaving our store. Leather can, however, change over time, depending on the degree of use. We therefore recommend checking the leather, all seams and metal parts, especially the girth straps and stirrup suspensions before every ride. For safety reasons, please do not use any articles which appear to be damaged.
Care instructions for Barefoot saddle pads:
Our saddle pads are machine washable at 30°. The foam rubber pads can be left in the blanket for washing. If the Physio Padding System is slightly soiled, please use a damp sponge and a gentle detergent to remove dust, dirt and hair.
The fur underside of the Special Saddle Pad can be brushed off if necessary with a fur brush to loosen adhesions.
Click here to receive our more detailed care tips as a PDF file
BAREFOOT - WHO IS IT FOR?
Is the Barefoot Saddle system suitable for every rider?
In general, it can be said that Barefoot VPS saddles are suitable for any rider who has his horse’s well-being in mind and who understands that good performance cannot be achieved under psychological or physical pressure.
The feel of a Barefoot saddle is somewhat different to that of a conventional treed saddle: The rider’s movement is much less restricted, as its construction enables the rider to sit over the horse’s centre of gravity and thus use much finer aids to communicate with his horse.
Only riders with a truly independent seat can use fine aids. We often hear that riding in a Barefoot saddle feels strange at first because it does not restrict the rider nearly so much. Some riders even need to learn to sit independently again. The advantage of this is that, by sitting more freely, other muscle groups are also activated and developed. These muscles must therefore first be reactivated.
Think about it: Does your current saddle really allow you the freedom of movement necessary for fine riding? Or is it more or less forcing you into a predetermined seat that looks good from the outside, but actually only conceals your errors?
Good to know: Barefoot saddles allow riders with back problems to ride again without pain, since a horse under a Barefoot saddle will be more relaxed: its movement becomes more fluid and the rider’s spinal column and intervertebral discs are therefore not subjected to jolts and sudden movements. A huge advantage for anyone with back problems!
Beginners will also feel comfortable in a Barefoot, as it provides support and closeness to the horse; increased awareness of the horse’s movement makes it easier to go along with the horse’s motion sequence.