nothing works harder than
Watching a top horse and rider at the top of their game is always a breathtaking experience. The partnership, athleticism, strategy and practiced execution of seemingly impossible feats manifesting before your eyes is artful and powerful. Every detail must be attended to, analyzed and executed. From the moment the horse softly steps into the ring, the synchronized efforts of a team produce what every spectator is hoping for, a spectacular, winning ride.
“When the horse you ride is right there with you, mind, body and spirit, it’s a rush like no other” says Olympic Gold Medalist Will Simpson. “Sometimes it takes you by surprise, other times, you gotta fight for it. But when a horse works with you, wants it as bad as you do, well…What a Hoss!” smiles the seasoned show jumping legend. Simpson is the first to applaud his whole team, from his grooms to his sponsors in making sure he and his horses are ready to compete. “Everyone works hard to make this happen, and nothing works harder than good equipment. Equipment is key, the right equipment, FITTED CORRECTLY, allows me and my horse to perform at our best.”
For a rider, there is no better feeling than when all the pieces flow together. Perhaps the most obvious piece of equipment on a horse, the saddle can make or break a ride. More often than not, the saddle is detrimental if poorly designed and ill fitted, and is overlooked by many riders, simply due to a lack of education on what really makes a saddle comfortable for a horse. “Many riders ride what feels good to them, and they pad up or down depending on the horse they are riding. Riders have ‘their saddle’, but few horses have a saddle they can say feels just as good to them. Back soreness due to poor saddle fit is a huge issue in the show ring, from World level on down..” says Dr. Steve Engle, former US Team Veterinarian. “One of the most common things we see watching a horse in a saddle that does not fit is behavior while competing that is written off as a training issue or attitude, like rushing fences, swapping leads or bucking on the landing side.
More often than not, horses are expressing discomfort and pain, and many times it is due to saddle pain.” An advocate of County saddles, Dr. Engle has watched horses transform from un-rideable to adding years and earnings to their competition careers. Married to Olympian Margie Goldstein Engle, he recalls a particular horse they had horrible pain issues with. “Alvaretto was a Grand Prix horse, 15.2 at the wither, but about 14 hands in the middle of his back. So swaybacked you would never believe he could jump at all, but being all heart, the horse produced a massive, tremendous jump. Plagued with horrible back pain, he would be almost evil when having his back examined. Kicking and biting, he made it clear he did not want his back touched. There was simply no saddle we had tried that worked for this horse.” During this time, Margie won a County custom fit saddle while competing on another horse, and Steve (Dr. Engle) suggested they have their win fitted to Alvaretto. Gene Freeze, the owner of County Saddlery was contacted, and Freeze created a saddle for this horse that changed his life. Dr. Engle recalls the change in the horse: “Over the next few weeks and months, Alvaretto’s back changed at least 2 inches in height as he was able to now lift his back and his back pain dissipated dramatically. He went on to compete in seven World Cup events with my wife Margie. He retired sound and solid legged, although still swaybacked as hell..” he laughs. “The relationship my wife Margie and I have with County saddlery began with that horse, and it continues to this very day”. Margie has ridden in County ever since, and counts a huge part of her success to the County saddles her horses use. Her recent horse, 2018 Horse of the Year ‘Royce’ is another testament to the comfort of a well fitted County saddle.
“I had heard a lot about The Dude, he was a crowd favorite and I had seen him compete before. He was known not only for being a fast horse, but also one to buck and play wildly about on course, adding to the entertainment. My husband (Isauro Flores) and I were stabled next to Will, and when The Dude walked by, Isauro, a professional rider and extreme horse advocate, noted the difficult saddle fit conformation of the horse, and suggested to Simpson he try a County Saddle, which he rode on a mare with a similar back.”
Will Simpson has experienced this firsthand, while competing his famous mount, The Dude. It is what led him to switching to his current saddle sponsor, COUNTY SADDLERY. Ingrid Brown, MSA certified saddle fitter and Show jumper herself, reflects on the day Simpson first sat in a County saddle on The Dude. “I suddenly found I had lost my ‘rider hat’, and was compelled to put on my ‘saddle fitter hat’. After working with The Dude and determining what would be the optimum fitting saddle, Will took the horse for a flat session. Impressed by the difference in the horse, Simpson asked if he could try jumping in the saddle. I had no idea he meant in the CS104* Nations Welcome.” Simpson later quipped: “That is something you never used to be able to do, just climb on a new saddle you never tried and get around well in a big class. I LOVE that about County.” “ I can’t say I remember the exact course design, but the moment seared into my memory is The Dude coming through a vertical oxer one stride, and scoping over the oxer to then land calmly and carry on down a bending line to a tall vertical, only to have one rail. Changing saddles before such a prestigious class was unheard of.” He expressed to me how he had expected The Dude to land from the massive oxer, buck, drift and perhaps buck some more…and had walked the course over and over anticipating what he knew this horse to always do. Instead the horse had landed in balance and quietly cantered on down the vertical and the distance Will had planned for disappeared. Will saw it for what it was, the horse was comfortable, and it changed the ride. He didn’t suck back, he didn’t buck, but landed in balance and recovered his stride so well the vertical came up faster than expected. Simpson asked if he could ride the saddle again, this time in the Friends of TBird Grand Prix. This time, I was ready for the butterflies. Watching Will Simpson and The Dude in that jump off was thrilling, and his victorious win so very sweet!” County Saddlery is represented in Southern and Central California by Tamara Solange, a Master Saddle Association certified saddle fitter. “The west coast is slow to the party”, she laughs, “County is a HUGE name in Europe and on the East Coast, and it is fun watching the tide turn on my home turf. I expect great things in the next year, and cannot wait to see it unfold. I am ecstatic to be part of the County team.” Ingrid Brown and her husband Isauro Flores live and ride out of Langley BC Canada. www.osjs.com www.jumperprospects.com
Gene Freeze, Owner of COUNTY SADDLERY Hans Hans Hans Peter Peter Peter Edward Edward Edward Gal GalGal has designed saddles for many of the world’s leading riders in all three Olympic disciplines: Minderhoud Minderhoud Minderhoud on onGLOCK’ GLOCK’ on GLOCK’ ss s TRIPLE GOLD MEDALIST, EDWARD GAL OF THE NETHERLANDS, on onGLOCK’ GLOCK’ on GLOCK’ ssToto Toto s Toto Jr. Jr. Jr. Total Total Total US US US
U.S. OLYMPIC TEAM GOLD MEDALIST, WILL SIMPSON
U.S. OLYMPIC TEAM MULTIPLE BRONZE MEDALIST, ROBERT DOVER, U.S. OLYMPIC TEAM BRONZE MEDALIST, LISA WILCOX, U.S OLYMPIAN MARGIE ENGLE, TEN-TIME AMERICAN GRAND PRIX ASSOCIATION RIDER OF THE YEAR Gene is a member of the British Society of Master Saddlers and is the current President and Chief Instructor of the Master Saddlers Association in the U.S. Gene contributes to leading magazines and lectures on saddle design and fitting worldwide and was invited by the University of Zurich to lecture at the Swiss Veterinary Conference to over 300 veterinarians and riders from all over Europe. He has also lectured at the School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, Wisconsin Veterinarian Center, and throughout Europe. Gene’s overall design perspective has been influenced by his involvement in many aspects of sport horse competition including riding at Selection Trials in the U.S. as a three day event rider. Resisting the trend toward low cost production methods using foam panels and plastic trees, County saddles continue to be painstakingly handmade on our laminated beechwood trees, covered in the worlds finest leather, and flocked with pure wool to maximize your horses’ comfort and fit. As one of the few saddlery companies in the world which actually make their own trees, County sets the industry standard in design for the rider and comfort for your horse. Our traditional methods take longer and require a higher degree of craftsmanship, but once you sit in a County, we know you will agree that the results are clearly worth it. Although we custom make saddles for many of the world’s leading riders, our commitment to quality and detail is reflected in every saddle we make, including the one we have made for you.
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