HOW TO MAINTAIN A STUFFED PANEL SADDLE OR A FLEECE-LINED SADDLE
By Colin Dangaard,
Maintaining a saddle is no different to maintaining a car. First it needs oil, then it needs love and care. There are two basic types of Aussie saddles. the traditional style with stuffed panels, and the modern style, that I developed in the early '80s. I did this out of frustration with trying to fit stuffed panels on American Quarter horses that, 40 years ago, were very round. So I ripped off what I liked in American saddles, namely:
Fleece on the underside, so the saddle would sit lower on a round horse, and give the rider more contact.
The Big D Western system, making a firm cinch much easier than the traditional Australian buckles.
The swing fender, a great aid in keeping a dry leg and not getting your calves pinched with leathers.
But I kept what makes Aussie saddles so remarkable: the poleys, the web-suspended seat, the narrow twist, and the a stirrup suspension bar in the dressage position.
However, the old stuffed panel still has a place with horses in America that have medium to higher withers -- which, surprisingly, now includes a lot of Quarter horse stock. The big old round Quarter horse is fading away!
Saddle makers have been stuffing panels for centuries. Originally, doe hair was used but as that became difficult to obtain, hair from more commonly slaughtered animals grew popular. Today stuffing materials include a range of acrylics. There are pluses and minuses to using natural fibers versus man-made fibers, a piece of animal hair liberates a small amount of heat, which is why sheep can be cool in scorching heat! For the same reason, people living in Middle Eastern deserts wear wool to protect themselves from the sun! Another plus to animal hair is that it conforms more quickly to the shape of the horse - the basic reason stuffing is used in the first place. The down side of natural hair is that it requires maintenance - fairly regular "AWLING" to make sure it does not pack down hard. Because once it does pack rock-hard, it must be replaced. The upside of acrylic flocking is that it does not pack asquickly (but it, too, if left unattended will pack like concrete). It requires less awling. Another plus: acrylic is lighter than animal hair, thus reducing the overall weight of the saddle. The down side of acrylic flocking is that instead of LIBERATING heat, it acts as a barrier to heat. Which is why, in the building trade, it is commonly used in various forms for insulation. Another plus, as far as saddle manufacturers are concerned, is it costs much less than natural hair, and is more readily available.
Stuffing also comforms to the rider, who is actually sitting on two pillows under the saddle.
Awling should be done to balance the saddle, or to simply prevent the stuffing from going hard. If for example, the saddle drops down in the front (common from aggressive riding, where the rider is taking a lot of stirrup weight) the stuffing should be awled forward, to lift up the front, and thus return the saddle to its original balance. If it goes down at the back (very unusual) stuffing can likewise be awled back to lift that section. Stuffing can also be moved to make the saddle fit better. If the saddle is "bridging - meaning a palm can be slipped up under the center when it is on the horse's back - then stuffing must be awled into that low area to fill the gap. But awling is more like fine-tuning. It cannot correct a hopelessly fitting tree.
If you do not have access to a proper saddler's awl, then make one from a thin-shank Phillips head screwdriver. Grind it down until it has a smooth extremely sharp point. Use fine-grain paper to finish the job. A common garden weeder makes a reasonable stuffing rod.
For Precise Instructions on the art and technique of Awling contact us. Expert information free.
A 6" Phillips heads screw driver, with the end carefully shaped to make a long fine needle. This is called an awl. You can also buy them ready made, from a saddle supply shop, but they are just as easy to make yourself for a few dollars.
A long stuffing rod. A common garden weeder can easily be converted to make this. All you need is some kind of rod that, when pushed through the slots up between the flaps, enables you to push to stuffing forward in the panels. The stuffing in these saddles is mostly is mostly wool shavings, or horse hair.
1/ AT TOP LEFT, lay the saddle on its back. Insert awl half an inch from the lowest leading edge of the panel, and turn clockwise, being careful to take the pressure on the thumb, so as not to rip the serge. What you are trying to do is hook the stuffing under the serge and pull it up and forward. Use the thumb of the free hands to aid this action. Continue along the leading edge, moving forward every one inch or so. Gradually you will feel a "valley" developing as you move stuffing forward, and progress back toward the center of the saddle. Stop when you get to the center, then "sight up" the saddle to make sure one panel is not higher than the other. Sometimes stuffed panels need to be awled from the back forward, but not often. They tend to crush down in the front.
2/ Go from one side to the other until the panels are correct. At this point, you might want to now "sight up" the horse being fitted. Stand behind and look down the dorsal strip and see what side is higher than the other (they are almost NEVER even) then take the opportunity now to stuff up the low side.
3/ Take this opportunity now to sit the saddle on the horses and see that it is fitting level. If not, the low side can be stuffed more as desired.
4/ All the above action will have created an area in the center of the saddle that now has little or no stuffing. These pockets must be filled with either acrylic wool, real wool shavings, or horse hair. It does not matter if the new stuffing material is different to what is in the existing saddle.
5/ Most saddles come with a slit about three inches long, in the soft leather pouch that is the top side of the stuffed panel. If there is no slit in the saddle you have, make one, reaching up with a suitable knife (a box cutter is excellent) and make a slit 3" to 4" long, into which you can insert the stuffing rod. Before you place in the new stuffing material, use the rod to "firm" up the stuffing you have moved with the awl. At this point you will sit the saddle on the horse check to see if it is sitting level. If the front is down, more stuffing needs to be moved to the front. If it is sitting too high, awl the stuffing back.
Your final step is to make sure there are no big lumps in the stuffing. Slap them down with an open palms, or break them up with the awl.
The slit you have made in the leather pouch does not have to be closed with stitching, or any other means. The slit by its nature will hold in the stuffing.
We now have, for the first time ever in the USA, a complete kit for awling a traditional Australian stock saddle. Traditional Aussie saddles have under panels that are either blue or gold wool serge. They are stuffed with either wool, or acrylic, or, in the very expensive saddles, horse hair. They best fit high to medium withered horses, but adjustments can be made to make them fit exactly right in even a wider spectrum. The kit contains the following:
1. A hand-made stuffing rod, with the correct "bill" to move horse hair stuffing, wool flocking or acrylic flocking.
2. A hand-made awl, to do fine-tuning in migrating the flocking.
3. A gallon bag of genuine horsehair, to add re-stuffing to your saddle panels. Horse hair is the most desirable stuffing, and can be mixed with either wool or acrylic that might already be in the saddle.
Cost of package: $99.00