If you’ve read my earlier article Panels, Panels, Panels & Why Your Horse Cares, you’ve learned why wool is the best filling for saddle panels and that not all wool panels are created equal. In this article we are going to talk about flocking, the most common adjustment we all have done to our saddles, and the most effective ways to get the biggest benefit out of it. Now I must warn you, this may ruffle some feathers and I apologize in advance… kind of, but the truth must prevail on this topic!
What’s all the Hubbub About Flocking Adjustments?
For anyone who is skeptical about regular (1 or 2 times a year) flocking adjustments or suspects it might be a rouse, I’ll give the 30 second explanation to the benefits. Horses are ever-changing, be it from varying weather, diet or training, they are always undergoing some physical transformation (even if that change is minuscule). And with these changes, the saddle fit will continue to vary, or degrade, depending on how they are changing. It is only fair to your horse to make sure his saddle fits as comfortably as it can, given what he is asked to do in training. If you have a child that is growing, you wouldn’t expect to stuff her feet into shoes she’s outgrown, and the same is the case for your horse. And from a rider’s perspective, flocking will keep you in the right position in the seat, and your legs placed correctly on the thigh/knee blocks.
What Does Flocking Fix?
For a rider, flocking can balance the seat from front to back (i.e. chair seat or bench seat), or it can balance a seat laterally that may be shifting off to one side. It can also alleviate pubic or seat bone pressure by rebalancing a seat that may not be perfect for a rider. It can even make your flaps feel more forward or more backward, depending on your need.
For a horse, flocking can do even more! Most importantly is ensures even weight distribution over the surface of the saddle by keeping it level with consistent contact. This makes flocking the first and most accessible defense against pressure points and soreness caused by a saddle. But it goes beyond that! It allows a saddle to work for one horse much longer because it offers the flexibility to adjust the entire underside as the horse changes. Flocking can also give you more flexibility in refitting a saddle form one horse to another, by adding or reducing wool where needed. Who’d have though shaving a lamb could be so beneficial to a horse!!?? (Ok, I won’t quit my day job to become a comedian).
Before we get to the real meat of this article, here are a few important definitions to understand what I am talking about for the remainder of the article:
1. Spot Flocking – adding or reducing wool to a fully intact saddle.
2. Panel-off Flocking – removing the panels from the bottom of the saddle to add, reduce, rework or redistribute the wool.
3. Full Reflocking – removing the panels from the bottom of the saddle, then removing all the wool from the panels and replacing it with new wool.
What Most of Us are Used To
In most cases from most saddle fitters you will be getting a spot flocking adjustment. This is because spot flocking is what saddle-sale companies mostly teach, and because it is by far the quickest way to do the work. Spot flocking is a great quick fix for minor saddle changes. My general rule of thumb is that spot flocking can safely get you up to about 5mm of adjustment, which is good for minimal changes. For example, if a saddle if rocking on a horse’s back and needs a small amount of wool removed from the center of the panels, spot flocking is great for this. Here is a saddle being spot flocked:
While the quick turn around time of spot flocking makes it a convenient solution, it does have some shortcomings and it is not always the right solution for the job. If you or your horse need more substantial changes, 10mm+, then spot flocking will likely not work for you (i.e. big balance change or refitting to another horse). Spot flocking can also run into trouble when a fitter needs to get deep into the panels to make the adjustment. For example, if a saddle is listing left and needs to be flocked up in the lower-front-left panel (see picture), it will be almost impossible to get a flocking iron down there without disrupting all the other wool in the saddle:
This is where panel-off flocking and full reflocking come into the picture.
The Rest of the Picture
If a saddle needs any of the following, it is usually best solved with a more intensive type of flocking:
- Wool under the tree points to lift the front of the saddle
- Wool in front lower panels to address lateral (left to right) shifts
- Removal of wool lumps
- Overall softening of the panels
While these adjustments are mostly all handled with panel-off flocking, I have included full reflocking to make it a thorough article, as occasionally a saddle needs so much work that all the wool must be replaced. Taking the panels off a saddle gives a saddle fitter full access to anywhere they need to work in the panels. And once the panels are removed from a saddle, the tension is removed from them and allows for much more space to work with to make substantial changes. Here are some of the ways the panels can be accessed once they are removed:
Having this “clean slate” to work with makes removing wool lumps a breeze. It allows a saddle fitter to make sure everything is symmetrical and filled evenly. And it gives a saddle fitter enough room to work so she doesn’t risk messing up the wool in one spot while trying to access another.
While there is no unilaterally “right” or “wrong” way to flock a saddle, the fact is there are different ways to do it properly for every situation. It’s my hope to have shed a little light on this subject so you can be more informed and know the right questions to ask next time you see your saddle fitter. If you have more questions or would like to know about your horse in particular, please send us an email at Care@TotalSaddleFit.com or just leave a comment here!