In the late 1990s, before we purchased the farm in Ocala, we boarded our horses at a barn in Winter Garden, Florida. One of the other riders at the barn, who also rode gaited horses, had the most beautiful, comfortable-looking saddle I had ever seen. I inquired about it and was told it was the best saddle she had ever ridden in. That was my introduction to the Ortho-flex endurance cutback saddle.
As the name implies, these saddles are made for long distance, endurance riding. And according to wikipedia, a cutback saddle is a special kind of saddle used in saddle seat equitation; they have a cut back pommel which is set back several inches to allow for the higher withers and neck set of the horse.
I was not interested in saddle seat equitation. However, I was serious about trail riding at the time and was looking for a saddle that would be ideal for that purpose. These saddles were different from any saddles I had ever seen before. Instead of being built around a stationary saddle tree, they are built on two moveable, flex panels designed to move with the horse in every stride. The panels are covered by removable booties when you are riding, or you can use a regular saddle pad.
The notion of moveable flex panels made sense to me; that would have to be more comfortable for a horse than stationary saddle trees. I also found out that Ortho-flex saddles are popular among riders of gaited horses. I ended up buying one and to this day I absolutely love it for trail riding.
Ortho-flex makes other models besides the endurance cutback. I also have an Ortho-flex stitch-down–another saddle that is popular with trail riders. And I used to have an Ortho-flex premier; those are popular with Paso Fino aficionados. But my all time favorite has to be the enduarnce cutback. Here are some recent photos of mine:
(Please ignore the dates on the photos; they are wrong.)
My saddle was built at the original Ortho-flex factory in Missouri. A couple of years after I bought it the company was sold. Ortho-flex is still in business and they have a website here. I have heard, however, that the saddles declined in quality after the company was sold. I do not know if that is true, but I do know that many riders still prefer the older Ortho-flex saddles that were manufactured in Missouri.
If you’re ever interested in purchasing one of these saddles, you should be aware that they are pricey. It’s not unusual to spend several thousand dollars if you want a new one. If I were interested in buying an Ortho-flex saddle now, I’d look on eBay for a used one. I also understand that a few other companies also make great saddles with flexible panels but I am not personally familiar with any of those companies.
Ortho-flex saddles are not favored in the world of dressage. I am not exactly sure why but since I want to be competitive I am using a conventional dressage saddle. I have been happy with it; when in Rome, do as the Romans do! As much as I love dressage, however, I’ll always enjoy a good trail ride. In my opinion, nothing beats an Ortho-flex endurance cutback saddle on the trail.