MOST modern horse riders understand the importance of a correctly fitting saddle, seeing the benefits for both horse and rider. Gone are the days where any old saddle will do, with savvy riders now looking to maximise the comfort of their horse and improve their own balance and position in the saddle. However, not too many riders develop such an intense interest that they go on to start their own saddlery business, designing their own saddles and importing other carefully selected brands from across the world. But this is exactly what VH Saddlery founder Dr Victoria Hamilton did.
As a veterinarian, international competitor and dressage coach, Victoria has always been fascinated by how riders and saddles directly and indirectly impact a horse’s natural movement. To improve the well-being of her own performance horses and retain the natural beauty of their movement whilst being ridden, Victoria was driven to find better solutions in saddles.
She admits to being a “total saddle nerd” spending hours researching the development of different saddle trees and reading studies on how various saddles affect horses.
“I think it is due to my own passion of developing horses under saddle and my love of biomechanics,” Victoria says.
Dissatisfied with the options available on the Australian market, Victoria, a veterinarian and international dressage competitor, initially used her vast knowledge of equine anatomy and rider biomechanics to research and develop a range of dressage and show saddles that are fully customisable for both horse and rider.
“There weren’t many options for custom-made saddles in Australia when I developed the VH Signature Range,” Victoria said, “And I had a horse at the time that was particularly difficult to fit, so I was trying to find the best solution for him and others struggling with similar issues. “Also, I am quite a petite person who rides some very wide horses and am not prepared to compromise on either horse or rider comfort.”
“The VH Signature Range features soft, flat, generous panels and wide channels, which provides superb freedom for the horse, allowing their hindlegs to swing through and their backs to lift. This gives the rider an incredible feeling underneath them. And the fact they are custom-made means they can be made to suit almost any horse and rider combination.”
Recognising all riders have different preferences, with both horses and riders having unique needs when it comes to a saddle, Victoria began researching other saddle brands to give Australia riders more choice. After stringent testing and quality control, Victoria began importing the Ryder and Discovery Saddle ranges and has recently added Max Benz One and Jeffries saddles to the list.
“When I am looking a new brand of saddle I am particularly interested in the saddle trees and how they differ from what is already available,” Victoria said. “Ryder saddles for instance offer a wide selection of trees, to suit all different shapes and breeds of horses, which is like having access to a whole range of different saddle brands.”
While she is interested in new technologies and innovations, Victoria is wary of gimmicks which pop up from time to time.
“We need to look at everything with open eyes but we also need to be sensible” Victoria says.
“I also play around myself with developing trees and have been trying some very novel ideas. I am very excited about one in particular!”
Victoria has always been interested in saddles that will allow horses to move better and saddles that allow riders to better communicate with their horse.
“This will help all horses and not just those in a particular group,” Victoria said.
“I really like finding saddles to help horses with particular traits that may limit their options in saddles.”
While many people may consider these horses “difficult to fit”, Victoria doesn’t particularly like the phrase, maintaining there are now many saddle options available for all horse and rider combinations.
In an ideal world, every rider and horse combination would have a custom-made saddle such as a saddle from the VH Signature or Ryder ranges, but there are various factors, with budget being the main one, that impact a rider’s ability to get a custom-made saddle.
“I started importing the Discovery range of off-the-shelf saddles because they offer incredible quality at affordable prices for riders of all levels and disciplines,” Victoria said.
“One of the most notable features of the Discovery saddles is the uniquely shaped and flexible tree, with two tree options making them more suitable for a wider range of horses and riders.
“They use modern techniques and carefully selected materials so they can produce a top-quality product while keeping them affordable for as many riders as possible.
“As the sole importer of Discovery Saddles to Australia, I feel so fortunate to be able to offer these incredible saddles to the Australian Market.”
In order to offer more options at that lower price point, Victoria continued to research new ranges, recently adding Jeffries and Max Benz One saddles.
“Jeffries is one of the best known and most respected names in the horse-world, with their British saddles made from the finest leather, laminated wood trees and pure wool flocking,” Victoria said.
“Again, the tree of the Jeffries is something that makes them completely unique, with four different trees available in the dressage range.
“The trees vary in the spaciousness of the head and the angle of the rails, as well as in the stitch lines, making them an ideal fit for a wide variety of horses.”
Max Benz One are another well-known and respected saddle brand across the world, creating quality and attractive saddles, with some notable features.
“The tree in the Max Benz One saddle is slightly longitudinally flexible, allowing movement to flow across the saddle,” Victoria said.
“And for riders that appreciate the look of a saddle, you cannot go past the elegantly and eye-catching appearance of a Max Benz One.”
Despite the flawless reputation of the saddle brands selected for the VH Saddlery shop, Victoria always tries every saddle on her own horses and a range of others before deciding to stock them.
“I look for quality in all part of the saddles, including all the fittings and tree structure, as well as the visible parts such as the leather,” Victoria said.
“I also look at the history of the company and the people involved, the ensure they have a long history of producing high quality saddles.”
As a vet, Victoria always has the comfort and welfare of a horse in the forefront of her mind and as a coach also cares greatly about helping riders to improve, so they can achieve their dreams.
“I find great pleasure in helping nervous riders to feel more secure, elite riders to experience the feeling of their horses natural and powerful movements beneath them, empathetic riders to find a comfortable saddle for their horse, and all riders to improve their own riding in order to reach their personal goals.”
By offering five brands of saddles, which include a range of dressage, jump and all-purpose saddles, Victoria is confident VH Saddlery can find the perfect saddle for all horses and riders.
By Victoria Hamilton. Published in Perth Rider June 2015.
.By Dr Victoria Hamilton BSc, BVMS(Hons)
Published in Hoofbeats Feb/March 2015. www.hoofbeats.com.au
This is an interesting topic and one that will undoubtedly be debated for many years to come.
The majority of veterinarians believe that most upper body muscular sorenesses in the horse are secondary to lower limb lamenesses.
The majority of equine body workers believe many gait abnormalities and eventual lower leg lamenesses are from primary muscular problems.
As a veterinarian with a special interest in myofascial pain in horses I believe that on the whole both are correct for the horses they see at the time. I also believe that both upper body muscular issues and lower leg lamenesses will not only result in but also result from biomechanical gait changes and crookedness.
By Dr Victoria Hamilton BSc, BVMS(Hons) , published in Hoofbeats Feb/March 2006 , www.hoofbeats.com.au
So often the most successful trainers are not the best riders but are the best managers of their equestrian partners, primarily because they are skilled in 'listening' to them by watching out for signs that something is amiss. Early detection of problems and being brave enough to do something about issues rather than ignoring them in the hope that they will go away is what managing equine athletes is all about.
By Dr Victoria Hamilton BSc, BVMS(Hons), published in Hoofbeats August/September 2002, www.hoofbeats.com.au
An interesting discussion on what boldness means with regards to horses and how it can be developed or unfortunately destroyed through training and life experiences.