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Why a flexible panel-system ?  

This question is easy to answer. Experts tell us that approximately 80 to 90% – perhaps even more – of all horses have back problems. Unqualified riders may cause some of the problem, but the overwhelming majority are due to ill-fitting saddles. Some riders may think this figure too high, but this is probably because many riders are completely unaware of the problems their horses are suffering from. Saddle pressure is still often equated with the appearance of white hair, swelling, edema and dry spots.

By the time these symptoms appear, saddle pressure limits may already have been exceeded and irrevocable damage already been done to the horse’s tissue. Saddle pressure begins much earlier. To recognize it (and to be willing to recognize it), the rider must observe the horse and judge its actions and reactions. A little prodding and probing of the horse’s body will give the best chance of finding and localizing problems. This procedure of physical palpation is far more advantageous than anything on the market. It is more accurate and economical than any computer measurement. It is easy too. It is hands on, right now, right there with your horse.

Some riders choose not to acknowledge these problems, for if they did, they might have a troubled conscience – not to mention problems with animal welfare legislation. But there are also many that recognize that their horse has some sort of problem with its existing saddle. However, instead of addressing the cause, they soothe their conscience with a variety of products such as; wonder pads, gel pads, air-ride pads, layers of sheepskin, shock absorbers, and many other forms of "fixes." Clearly the rider is trying, even if the effort is halfhearted.

To find a real solution, one must deal with the root of the problem. We begin with purely theoretical considerations about the effects of an inflexible object, like a saddle on a horse’s very agile back. Logically, how can we expect that a stiff object such as a saddle be able to fit a free moving horses back ? 

Satteldruck bei Biegung des Pferdes Satteldruck bei Pferd im Trab
When your horse turns, one side bevomes shorter and the other longer. A conventional saddle cannot adapt to this movement. This results in increased pressure at certain points. As your horse stands, with its head up he has a slightly bent back, which a rigid saddle may bridge, leaving a gap in the center of the back, puttinmg pressure on the four corners of the saddle. 
A horse with its head lowered has a relatively straight spine. As with a horse that move down hill, more pressure is place on the front edges of a conventional saddle.

Therefore conventional saddles will always produce certain pressure points-at some time -at some point, depending on the basic shape of the saddletree. Fact.

Have you ever considered fastening two wooden boards on your back ? Imagine this if you can and after you have tied them nice and tight, just try to bend and move in all directions. You will find that - no matter how wonderfully your boards are cut and shaped - you will , no doubt, be very uncomfortable. This is no different from what you are expecting from your horse. Worse still, you pile weight onto your horse. Sit on your horse sometime without a saddle and ride a short distance. Look down and notice how the scapula rotates, how your horse´s whole back flexes and chnages shape with each step. Now think back about those imaginary boards. 

Now take your present saddle ( without any extra pads to hide a true fit ) and slip your hand right under the supporting surface, (for example an the front, rear and center ) while having someone sitting in the saddle. You will probably pinch your fingers and it will be uncomfortable. The situation for your horse is exactly the same as for your fingers ! What you feel is what your horse feels.  

This realization should make it clear to everyone that something like a saddle can never really work together with something very flexible like a horse´s back. 

But this is only the movement-problem. Problems begin much earlier. They begin with the fact that horse backs com in an infinitely number of shapes. With different shoulder parts, different withers, different muscle-structure, etc...This is why the saddle-industry has produced different saddle-tree patterns, nearly all are ready-made-sizes. But will these ready-made tree sizes really fit your horse ? Take a look how many different horse types you can see in the pastures, regardless if they are the same breed or not. Do you really believe a saddle-manufacturer or saddle-tree-manufacturer could provide for all that variation ? Truth is they can´t. They only offer a handfull of saddle-tree patterns, at best, to choose from, and from that your horse must conform. That is like saying, that you must only select a pair of shoes from only four sizes. Really are you so sure that your horse will fit into that one tree-size ?

Now that we have established the fundamental variation in horsebacks, we have the problem of how the horse changes during movement. We still have another point: the same horse is continiously changing over the course of its life. As the result of growth, aging, training, feeding etc...its contours are constantly evolving. This last point alone means you need to alter a production saddle or acquire a new one six to twelve times over the course of a horse´s life. A very costly matter indeed.

If all of this was not bad enough, another structural problem now arises: the pressure load on the horse´s body resulting from the rider´s weight. From medicine we know, that pressure of more than 105 grams per square-centimeter damages and can destroy organic tissue. Let´s take a look for example at an English saddle: an average English saddle has a supporting surface on the horse´s body af approximately 440 square-centimeters. Now we put another 75 kg onto the saddle - the rider. This gives us a load of 170 grams per square-centimeter. Acceleration, gravitation etc. may at least double this value during movement, producing a load of 340g /cm².   

Let´s repeat this sample calculation with a western saddle. An average western saddle has a supporting surface of 620 cm². Let´s take our 75-kg-rider again, giving us a load of 121 g/cm², or 242 g/cm² during movement.

These values are valid for a contact over 100% of the supporting-area. As we know however, the horse alters its shape during movement, making this impossible to attain. Even if you add at least 1/4 to the load, your calculations will be still be very much skewed in favor of the saddle. Now think back to that 105-gram-limit once again.

So what is the solution to all theses problems ?

A flexible saddle-tree ? For us, that was out of question since we did not see how it solved the basic problem of the fit. At the same time - in our opinion - it is important to keep the saddle stable. It should not ne like sitting on a sponge. But that would be the logical consequence if the saddle were to actually follow the horse´s movement. Another effect would be a sagging of the tree, which would in turn concentrate the weight on certain points. If we choose a somewhat harder tree, this "merging" effect would vanish. A saddle tree is simply a large inert mass. The next point was, that it would not have the supporting surface large enough to meet our - or rather the horse´s - needs.

An adjustable saddle (bars and gullet) ? Well yes, not such a bad idea but here again we would still be subject to the basic constraints fitting it to the horse. Also any adjustments reaches a limt at some point, not to mention that in this case the "normal" rider is always dependent on assistance from others (saddle dealers). In addition, we did not want something that is calibrated but something that changes continuously. First because there are almost infinite variations among horses, but also because these variations are gradual and not divided into standardized sizes. These comments also apply of course to these interesting variations of "saddle systems" that work with individually padding.  

Custom-made saddles ( saddle-trees ) ? On the basic of all these considerations we rejected the idea of custom-made saddles just from the beginning. Even a custom-made saddle can only in the best-case scenario fit the horse 100%,....only in a standing position....without movement....and only with respect to the horse´s present state.

A treeless saddle ?  Also not such a great idea. With this, there is no need to take the traditional fit-parameters into account. But there remains the problem of uneven, selective weight didtribution. And the added problem of pressure load on the spiny processes, because a treeless "saddle" cannot keep this area clear.

The solution is brilliant if not quite simple

We need a saddle in which the supporting surface is independent of the saddfe-tree, automatically conforms to the greatest variety of horses, is able to adapt to the horse during movement and its large enough to distribute the weight over an area that is more than sufficient.

This was the beginning of the American-Flex panel-system. We have a massive, inflexible tree as a "chassis" to give the rider desired stability. Mounts are attached to this tree to connect it to the panels. These mounts are shaped to allow the panel to move in all three dimensions ( up, down, side-to-side ) - independently of the tree ! In order to guarantee that the weight is distributed over the whole panel, we have choosen a material that is very smooth and flexible. At the same time, it is strong enough to distribute the force over the entire surface. This was very important to us, bevause only in this way will it work as a whole. Of course, there are many saddles "out there" that resemble our system, where the panels give way in the front and behind, but they are not really able to actually distribute the weight. All other saddles - whether flexible or traditional - have one thing in common: you ride these saddles on the bars of the saddle tree, which is the source of the problems.

By the way: our development was so unique and new that we got an international patent on it. Of course during the years there came many others who tried to copy or just try to tell the customers they have the same working system with their saddles. But you can be sure: the origin American-Flex-panel-system with all its origin advantages is only build by the inventor: by us, nowhere else.

Finally we would like to repeat the calculations we have just done of the load per square centimeter on the horse´s back. Our saddles have an average supporting area of 2088 cm². This means that the calculations result in values of 35 or 79 g/cm². And since our panels join in the movement, we don´t need to make any reductions in the supporting surface. We are obviously far below the 105-gram-limit.

As you can see, it is quite easy to build a saddfle that is truly horse-friendly.   

The construction and operation of the American-Flex system 

In this section we present the "inner lives" of our panels in simple sketched form. The ilustrtions are partially schematic, intend to merely show the basic principles of our construction. We have omitted representations of the padding, etc. The operational principal is based on simple exploitation of the laws and physics and is essentially quiete simple and logical. Nevertheless, the the application of these simple physical laws to saddle construction has requiered many years of intensive development work. The result is a unique saddle system, which you will find exclusively under American-Flex saddles.

Die American Flex Trachte ungebogen Die American Flex Trachte in der Biegung
This is a cross section showing how our panel is constructed. You can see that it has a multi-layered structure. This is very important, because only in this way is it possible to distribute the load over the entire surface. A single-layer panel, as found under other flexible panel saddles, is flexible only in the ends. It looks nice, but it doesn’t distribute the rider’s weight. You ride such saddles – like any other saddle – on the bars of the saddle tree. If connected with joints, a single-layered panel could even have disastrous effects. The joints could push through and cause uneven loads in certain places. With our saddles, the tree and supporting surface are independent. Although panel and tree form one unit, they are isolated from each other. This means that the supporting surface on the horse can assume a shape quite different from the shape of the tree.
When placed on the horse’s back and carrying the rider’s weight, the panels follow the laws of mechanics and are forced to conform to the horse’s contour. This will result in flush contact over the entire surface with even pressure distribution, and even during movement the panels adapt to the constantly changing shape of the horse’s back.

American Flex Panel gerade American Flex Panel gebogen American Flex Panel gebogener Rücken American Flex panel Schulterfreihet Anformung Widerrist
Shown are the panels in initial condition, with no load.  Notice the huge weight bearing area. Above you see a simulated representation of how the panel conforms to a horse’s bent back The panel ends are extremely pliable so as not to hinder the horse’s lateral movements and turns...... ...this also prevents interference with the scapula... ...also with the wither. 

Gelenke des Trachtensystem Schmales Pferd Breites Pferd Lamellen der Trachten Nähe zum Pferd
With a hinge-like connection to the saddle tree our panels can also adapt itself to the different widths of the horse. The panel is creating the classic fitting-parameters such as gullet width, twist, rocker etc. itself. In addition, the inherent flexibility of the material helps to conform at any rounding, contour and shape.   The panels adapt itself to a  slender horse... well as on a wide horse.
And - of course - all sizes between this.
Each little "finger" of the panel conforms to wither and shoulder and gives the horse freedom in movement. Quite far away from the horse ??
No !!
Despite the flexibility is the distance between the panel and the tree minimal. The small piece of wood in the picture has a thickness of 8 millimeters. Do you know how thick the panel of a English saddle are ?

Darstellung American Flex Panel The special design of the panel

In the front area (1), the panel is built in the form of slats. This permits an extra soft shoulder rotation. The slats extend as far as the withers area (2), so horses with extremely wide withers never feel too much pressure on this area.
The second layer of the panel (3) overlaps with the slats from the first layer. This permits a transfer of the forces to the subsequent layer and also a simultaneous distribution to the center of the panel.
The remaining course (4) of the panel construction guarantees an optimal distribution over the entire surface. The distribution thus takes place in several "stages." In this way, we for example prevent leverage on the panel from causing excess pressure on the opposite side for horses with very wide shoulder areas. This gives us an even fluid distribution of forces. Through the choice of different material strengths for each layer, we also avoid the possibility of partially appearing pressure points.
We have developed a particular design for each layer in the rear area (5) as well. This special shape guarantees an optimal weight distribution over the entire panel – even in the middle.


For those horses for whom this is still not enoigh, we have developed our "Adjustable System". With this system, you can adjust the panel mounts for height at all for corners. The system allows a height different of several centimeter. With this system, you can optimally balance the saddle and yourself. It also permits you to compensate for your horse´s anatomical peculiarities to the milimeter. For example, horses with extremely unusual confirmations or horses with one shoulder larger than the other. This system will - no doubt - be needed only one horse in a one hundred. Our panel by itself is already so efficent that it can automatically compensate the most issues. Look at the "Adjustable System" a little like the airbag in your car. When you really need it, you´ll be happy it is there.

Pferd asymetrisch Vier Gelenke im Baum Gelenk eingedreht Gelenk herausgedreht
The panel can take a different position and angle on each side. So it compensates many asymmetries by itself. In the saddle tree are four joints embedded,  each one can be varied in height. This is a front-joint in "normal"  adjusting.... it is adjusted a little bit out.

verstellbare Gurtung Adjustable American-Flex rigging.
Horses are not the same. Also girth-areas can be very different. Therefore have we developed our adjustable rigging. It has the form of an "Y", what gives your horse freedom at the front-leg and - at the same time - holds your saddle stable on the horse´s back. It is adjustable in seconds to the individual girth-area of your horse. 

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