Seating Arrangements: Why we use a variety of saddles and pads

The English Saddle

The English Saddle
Many of our clients ride in the English saddle.  English saddles are lightweight, which makes it easier for our clients to tack up independently.  The saddle is flatter and less bulky, so the client can do exercises in the saddle that involve a lot of movement.  However, these saddles can also be challenging for the client because there is not as much support as a larger saddle.  These saddles require more trunk strength and balance.  We will almost always use stirrups with the English saddle for the additional support they provide.

The Western Saddle

The Western Saddle
The Western saddle feels more secure, with the high cantle in the back and high fork in front.  An instructor would choose this saddle for clients with less trunk strength.  The client may especially like the security of holding onto the horn and fork in the front of the saddle.    The client’s legs will hang down longer in a Western saddle, which may be helpful for those whose legs are less flexible.  This saddle may also be preferred for the above-the-knee amputee, because of the deep seat.

The Australian Stock Saddle

The Australian Stock Saddle
The Australian Stock saddle has a deeper seat than an English saddle.  Some of our Australian Stock saddles have large handles attached –this encourages the rider to keep hands wide apart and enables them to stabilize their upper bodies.   This saddle can also have supports and blocks placed on each side of the leg to keep the leg in place.   Our Australian Stock saddles are made of synthetic material, which provides a better grip for the client (leather can be slippery!).

The Dressage Saddle

The Dressage Saddle
The Dressage saddle also allows the client’s legs to stretch down longer, and is for riders who have less flexibility.   Proper leg position in these saddles is close to vertical.   A Dressage saddle also has a deeper seat than the English saddle.

The Western Pad with Surcingle

The Western Pad with Surcingle with Handle
For some clients, we don’t even use a saddle.   Using a Western pad with a handled surcingle can be very beneficial.  The client sits on a soft seat and their legs hang long.   The large handle encourages the rider to keep hands wide apart and enables them to stabilize their upper bodies, as with the Australian Stock saddle with handle.  Clients concerned about chafing from a saddle (for instance, a paraplegic client) might be more comfortable in the Western pad and surcingle.   Clients with tight adductors (one of the thigh muscles) or spasticity (tightness) benefit from the horse’s warmth, and it allows movement without the bulk.  The client feels much more of the horse’s movement, and it can help those clients that need a lot of sensory input.  Stirrups can be used for more sensory input.    Riding with just the Western pad and surcingle requires theclient to engage core muscles, and it also encourages the client to correct his/her balance and posture.

The Hippotherapy Pad

A sincere thank you to our instructors for assisting with this latest blog!

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What Makes a Great Therapy Horse?

A client enjoying her ride on Tucker, one of our therapy horse stars!

Therapy horses are special.   They allow our clients freedom.  They challenge our clients.  They create a special friendship with our clients.   When Marge Kittredge founded Windrush Farm, she knew horses would be able to make these connections.  Her horses were the first to be used for our unique therapy, but where do our therapy horses come from now?   We often receive a phone call from a horse owner that is looking to donate.  Every once in a while we find a rescue horse that finds a home with us (what a win-win situation!).  Some horses come to us after a successful previous career as a show horse.  Or they are someone’s “backyard pony” and are ready to start something new.

Of course a therapy horse has to deal with distractions well!   The instructor might ask the client to throw a ball into a basketball hoop or drop a beanie baby into a bucket (one that might look suspiciously like a feed bucket!).    Sometimes music is playing.  Or a client whoops in excitement or yells out in frustration.   The seasoned therapy horse accepts it all.

Horses, as a general rule, are skittish animals.   They are historically prey animals –the worry  that “something out there might eat me up!” has been bred into them over thousands of years.   Here at Windrush that might be the giant spider web or perhaps the foam noodle curtain on the sensory trail!    Or what about those rustling bushes and swaying trees as we walk down a trail?  The therapy horse understands and trusts his environment and will not overreact to sights, sounds and smells.

We had over 120 volunteers in the fall session with over 100 clients.  By definition, each horse is handled by several different people each day.   One might groom and tack.  Another leads the horse through the class with two additional volunteers as sidewalkers.    Therapy horses need to be flexible enough to adjust to different voices, faces, hands and bodies around them.

Throughout the week, each horse will carry a variety of clients.  One client is quiet while another wiggles for most of the lesson.   Another might clench their legs tight around the horse’s belly in apprehension.  Yet another client’s legs hang loose and long.   Some clients are well balanced while others might struggle with balance.  One of the more amazing things I’ve seen is when the therapy horse immediately reacts to a client’s imbalance.   A great therapy horse comes to a dead stop with an unbalanced client so that the client can re-adjust!

A good therapy horse has a smooth, even gait.  The horse should have a slow relaxed walk as well as an energetic forward walk.  And you all know the “Windrush Shuffle”: a slow maintained trot that the rider can adjust to easily.

A few years ago, we had a beautiful draft horse come in on trial.   Although we all thought he was quite sweet, we did not keep him here, because size plays a part in selection!   We realized that while he would be a great weight-bearer, he was just too big for our volunteers and clients.   What a stretch it would have been for those sidewalkers with their arms up high!  While a big horse might sound very useful, we need to consider our client and volunteer safety and comfort.    The majority of our horses are in the 14-15 hand range.  Therapy horse size is just like the three bears: not too big, not too small, but just right!

A therapy horse has a challenging job.  We are so lucky to have a wonderful group of horses and ponies who work very hard for us.  Thank you Woody, Seth, Bucky, Cadance, Klancy, Bearito, Spike, Brecon, Chief, Emma, Larka, Nick, Wanda, Tucker, Traveler, Squash, Sky, Guiness, Judge, Clifford and Dusty!!!

Welcome to the Windrush Farm Volunteer Blog!

We are so excited to provide a blog just for you, our wonderful volunteers!  We hope to provide you with all sorts of information that will be interesting and helpful to you.

Upcoming weekly blogs include links to STRIDES magazine articles, information about the tack we use, what makes a good therapy horse, and how games=therapy.

Now is your chance to speak up — what would you like to learn more about?  Please feel free to comment and put your requests in.

Thank you to all of our volunteers at Windrush Farm!  We couldn’t do it without you!

Regards, Gina and Jess

Remember, “We are all capable of more than we think.”