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gaited horse saddle fitting

  • Brenda Imus camping with her main mare and trail dog

    Brenda with Moriah and Gilly camping

    Written by the late Brenda Imus

    I trust many of you have perceived that our primary goal in this endeavor is to equip people for working with their gaited horses in an effective and humane manner, and to encourage you to have a good time with this process. As I've become increasingly involved with the gaited horse world there have been many factors that contributed to the creation of this program, and to the expansion of my work in this field. I have been deeply, deeply gratifited to note the evolution in gaited horsemanship, and to know I have had some small role in that.

    To learn how I got started on this amazing journey. . .

    One of the first facts I learned as I researched the various gaited breeds for the book HEAVENLY GAITSduring 1992-1994 is that the culture of most gaited breeds is rife with horse abuse, both intentional and inadvertent. Gaited horses of all types throughout history up until the present have suffered at the hands of trainers trying to paste a certain type of unnatural saddle gait onto them–usually, but not exclusively, for the sake of the show ring. Some breeds were encouraged to move with exaggerated length or height of stride while others had their gait ludicrously shortened.

    Many were cranked into tortuous bits. Burning chemicals and chains have been applied to their pasterns, ginger stuck in their anus’, heavy weights and high pads nailed to their feet, firecrackers exploded under their bellies, and fetters linked from leg to leg. Their tails have been broken or surgically altered, their feet trimmed excessively long or short-often too long and too short on a single hoof or from fore to hind. Horses have been imprisoned in small indoor stalls for years at a time, and then when allowed out were forced to walk on ball bearings, nails, and other painful devices pressed into the tender soles of their feet. All of this barely touches on the various cruelly creative methods of abuse that have been routinely inflicted on horses of all kinds, but most especially for the ‘benefit’ of enhancing the action of gaited show horses.

    It was easy right from the start to recognize these practices as abusive and publicly condemn them–many wonderful people have been fighting the good fight against these forms of abuse for decades, and I heartily applaud their efforts. Frankly, I believe that as long as there are show horses, there will be show horse abuse. It’s inherent to the territory. (That is not to say all people who show horses are abusive–but there will always be those who will set artificial standards and/or go to any lengths to win. I also am not suggesting that conscientious horse people not show their sound, well gaited horses–God forbid! Who then would publicly uphold appropriate standards?)

    As I became more personally involved with the various types of gaited horses, I discovered there is a more subtle brand of abuse practiced regularly even by people of good intent. People like myself. OK, even by myself. This abuse is inflicted on our accommodating, sweet natured equines in the most casual manner, while they carry our weight in discomfort or outright pain over many miles, usually with stoic tolerance. This isn’t just because they have a natural inclination toward docility–it’s also because they’ve learned to expect punishment if they complain. After all, a horse can’t turn his head back toward his rider and say, "Hey, my back is sore, my neck is cramping up, and my loins and hocks are killing me. Do something!" The only way they can express themselves is through action, or the lack thereof. When they act up in an attempt to communicate or avoid pain, we tend to attribute their behavior to bad manners, and ‘fix’ the problem by disciplining them for it. Who taught me all this? Horses, mostly.

    One early example: I rode a 16.2hh Tennessee Walking Horse gelding for several years. I didn’t intend to ride him for that long. Though I loved his beauty and quirky personality, I never considered him a very safe or trustworthy mount, which placed me in a dilemma. I couldn’t very well sell such a powerful and unpredictable horse to some other unsuspecting rider, yet at his best he was a phenomenal horse. I was determined to figure out what caused his problems and retrain him before passing him on. This gelding had no shortage of problems: unexpectedly rearing, whirling, bolting, bucking, shying–you name it, and he was likely to do it. I tried to correct him using every method I could find or dream up, including changing to a newly introduced gaited horse saddle. To my chagrin, his issues became worse. Though the saddle apparently fit, his behavior worsened.

    To make this long story short, the problem wasn’t just saddle fit, it was lack of saddle flexibility that made this horse miserable and difficult to ride. His long strides required freedom through the back and loins, and any saddle with a rigid tree simply didn’t permit that much flexibility, which resulted in soreness. Since I’m a rider who insists on strong forward impulsion in good form, he couldn’t take mincing little steps or stiffen up to help alleviate his discomfort. Unlike most other horses, this strong willed guy didn’t tune out or resign himself to pain, but went to increasingly stronger measures to communicate his unhappiness. This forced me into pinpointing the problem and finding a solution, which ultimately turned out to be a good thing for both of us (since I miraculously survived). He was saved an ignoble fate, and I learned a valuable lesson that became part of the foundation of the work I do.

    I learned this problem wasn’t exclusive to that particular horse. Because of my books, I gained a reputation for being the ‘go to’ person for gaited horse problems. As I did my best to help people who came to me, it became increasingly evident that many of their horses shared similar problems. Invited further and further afield, I was regularly confronted with animals who simply could not make substantial progress until they were made more comfortable in both bit and saddle. I was amazed, once I became sensitive to the issue, at how many horses were in distress. Most of my riders rode stock saddles. These not only do not allow flexibility through the back, but the trees are designed for a much different type of animal, which dramatically affects the fit. (Imagine going on a long hike with a heavy backpack wearing ill-fitting wooden shoes.) Some rode english saddles, with too forward a seat for gaited equitation (the back pack is sitting in the wrong spot). Still others rode in ‘trooper saddles,’ many of which might well be renamed ‘torture saddles.’

    Saddles weren’t the only problem. We also came across the usual gamut of traditional gaited horse bits. Regardless of the breed tradition, I discovered that the most commonly used bit was bound to be the most severe. People who tried to get away from these often were riding in stock horse type bits they had been assured were mild, but which in fact were holding their horse’s jaws in a virtual nutcracker grip (Tom Thumbs being one such offender). A few people–bless their hearts!–resorted to simple little snaffles or curbs, or to hackamores or bitless bridles of one sort or another. While these offered a higher degree of comfort for the horse, they didn’t enhance the horse’s ability to perform a smooth saddle gait in good form.

    Ah yes. . .good form. Herein lay another great challenge. Traditionally (there’s that word again), it’s been an accepted gaited horse trainers’ concept that horses can’t gait when ridden in a collected frame. Poppycock! I’ve worked with every kind of gaited horse you can imagine, and never found a single one who couldn’t learn to gait well with an appropriate degree of collection. By collection, I’m not suggesting that a horse should be able to perform a piaffe or any other high level dressage movement in gait. A horse that is properly collected, or engaged, is simply one that possesses well balanced movement with impulsion generated from the hindquarters being transmitted through its entire body to the bridle, and thence to the rider’s hand.

    What is true is that it is easier and faster to produce a smooth saddle gait by encouraging the horse to hollow out its back and move with its head up in the air, or stiffened into a false headset. In such a form it is easy for the rider to throw the horse slightly off balance so that the timing of a two beat gait becomes unsynchronized–voila! You now have a 4-beat gait. What’s more, the horse doesn’t have to condition and use his entire body correctly in order to perform his gait in this manner, so results are attained in a relatively short time with very little real sweat. A professional trainer’s dream.
     
    This method, however, is based on riding in very bad form–and bad form is bad form, regardless of the animal. You can’t break fundamental concepts of physiology and not pay a price for doing so. Can a person who performs repetitious lifting for a living expect to do so in bad form and get away with it indefinitely? No–sooner or later such a person’s body will break down. The same is true of horses. Riding any kind of horse in bad form results in physical problems over the long run–most commonly problems along the spinal column, hocks, and/or stifles. It is not therefore coincidental that gaited horses have a reputation for suffering from unsoundness in these areas.

    Common gait training methods, while expedient for us and easier for (not on) horses, have been abusive to their bodies. I am distressed whenever I learn of yet another gaited horse trainer or clinician who is still passing on these fallacious training concepts as acceptable practice, to which I can only say, "Shame on you!" Our horses are not exempt from the standard conventions of good horsemanship just because they perform intermediate saddle gaits.

    OK. So my assistants and I start carrying several different types of saddles, saddle pads, and bits to clinics. Most of the time we’re able to find some combination of tack that alleviates the horse’s distress so we can start gait work, but it’s a real hit and miss project. It’s finally dawning on me that even the best of these saddles are not working well for the majority of these horses. I’m also realizing that what is needed is simple, and obvious: a saddle that evenly distributes the rider’s weight, that is designed to fit a gaited animal’s unique conformation, and that permits flexibility across the loins and back.

     

    I had one problem that took some time to figure out.  I knew that saddles already on the market with flexible tree bars sometimes collapsed on the horse's back, under the rider's weight.  A solution arose in the form of a type of "suspension bridge" running across one tree bar, and strategically attached to the other side.  This modification required some other slight modifications - all leading to a true, state of the art new saddle.

     

    Some saddles we tried did give an acceptable fit, but design and positioning hindered the horse's movement. With the right kind of saddle pad I knew we’d be able to save some horses some misery - and their owners a lot of money. This was before I realized that the features that were lacking in most saddles could not simply be accommodated without compromising the horse, and that in the end, buying a truly functional, well-fitted saddle was the best way for a horse owner to save money in the long run.

     

    I now understood exactly what kind of bits worked best. All I needed to do was hunt around to find bits that would fill the bill. With tens of thousands of equestrian products on the market, this should be simple, yes?

    No. Not simple. I scoured horse expos, tack shops and trade shows, collected every equestrian catalog known to man, and bought more products to try out than anyone ought to purchase in a lifetime. I tried products on my horses and those of my friends’ and acquaintances, and then toted the most promising of the lot to clinics where we could test them on a wide variety of animals. I found only a very few items that help to produce the comfortable, fluid gait action that is always my goal. In most cases, I’ve had to go to the drawing board and design tack that meets my criterion for ‘humane, and effective.’

    In spite of my best efforts–and though it didn’t seem like a very tall order–I never found an existing brand or type of saddle that worked well on a majority of gaited horses. While one or two saddles did come close in fit for many horses, they lacked the prerequisite flexibility, or the suspension to accommodate that flexibility, that is so important.

     

    Representatives from more than one saddle company wanted to work with me. Unfortunately, they weren’t interested in designing a saddle for the gaited horse, and then marketing that saddle. They wanted me to endorse saddles built to fit stock horses to my gaited horse clientele. Problem was, I already knew these saddles didn’t work. No one wanted to first design and build an appropriate gaited horse saddle before offering it to the gaited horse market. I wish more of these folks were as serious about the comfort of the horse as they are about the size of their bottom line. I did sign on to work with one saddle company for a season. . .but problems with that saddle concept became apparent over time, so I drew back from this well-meaning company as well.

    After studying saddle design, fit and action for so long, I realized the only way I would get a gaited horse saddle to work the way I knew it should would be to design one myself. So that’s what I’ve done. I contacted a highly reputable saddle tree maker, and found a local young Amish saddle maker who is nothing short of fabulous. He built some early prototypes for me with the special tree and materials I provided. Together we've worked at improving the design until it met–and in some ways exceeded–all of my criterion for a gaited horse saddle.

    To meet the needs of even more horses, I started producing the Imus 4-Beat saddle on both a standard and a wide flexible tree. This was no small feat for a true "on a shoestring" new business!

     

    These are the kinds of products I've created, and intend to create more of in the future.  Though my product line will grow, it will always consist of items that have been thoroughly tested and approved on a wide variety of horses, and that meets my approval. 

     

    Please understand one thing: I am not in the business of selling saddles and tack. Rather, I feel I've been given the gift of seeing, and understanding, horses.  With that comes the responsibility - calling, if you will - of sharing what I have been given, for helping to improve relationship and communication between horses, and their riders.

    ~~

    Our mom Brenda Imus passed away in March of 2013. She was and continues to be our inspiration. We would have never endeavored to do this had it not been for our unwaivering belief in her philosophies and the products she developed to fix some of the 'unfixables'. She was and is amazing and I wish all of you reading this would have had a chance to meet her if you hadn't already. She's still with us and teaching us♥

    WATCH OUR TRIBUTE TO OUR MOM

    brenda imus tribute

     

     

     

  • To watch the video explanation of the Imus 4-Beat® and Legacy Saddles' Tree CLICK HERE

    Traditional Saddle Tree VS Imus 4-Beat® Saddle Tree Placement

    Our saddle trees are made by Steele Saddle Tree Company, who make trees for many saddle companies. In some of those saddles’ trees, the same material and general model of the type of saddle tree called Steele Equi-Flex® is used. However, with our saddles, that’s about where the similarities end. We have our own tree bar specifications that are used only in our Imus 4-Beat® and Legacy Saddle, and also hand-build a special ground seat into the saddle to allow the tree to perform its best.

    The tree is designed so that the front edges of the bars of the tree cup around the shoulder with little to no contact. This allows complete freedom of movement for full shoulder rotation without uncomfortable contact with the front edges of the bars of the tree. This unique placement also moves the saddle more forward, preventing interference with the loins (another common area to see pressure points from saddles).

    The placement is also designed so that it places the rider directly behind the withers, in what we refer to as the bare-back riding position. This is the position that most rider’s naturally assume when riding bare-back, which is the strongest point of your horse’s back and also where the rider is most naturally in-balance with their horse. (Read more about the rider position in the Imus 4-Beat® and Legacy Saddle HERE)

    The foundation of the tree of the Imus 4-Beat® and Legacy Saddle is molded of a specially developed elastomer. This state-of-the-art material has a precisely calculated resilience for ideal weight distribution without pressure points. It has memory to maintain correct shape and retains nails better than wood. The molding process ensures that every part is uniform and symmetrical. Trees are always square, level, and without twist.

    Our saddle craftsmen then build in a leather suspended ground seat that is vital to the proper function of the tree. We craft a hand-made leather ground seat with the webbing underneath the ground seat. The leather ground seat allows an even distribution of the rider’s weight over the bars of the tree and allows the tree to flex without collapsing under the rider's weight.

    Some companies will put in a hard fiberglass or polymer ground seat to prevent collapsing but doing that interferes with the function and effectiveness of a flexible tree. Also, many suspended seats are built right under the seat leather, which can push you away from your horse's movement, but we place ours so it sits between the ground seat leather and the tree, so your weight causes the seat (and you) to move closer towards your horse. It’s not too thick so ensures a nice close contact with the horse.

     

  • If you were going on a long hike, carrying a heavy backpack, what would you prefer to wear on your feet: wooden shoes, or well-made, flexible soled hiking boots with padding for the soles of your feet? Since the answer to this question is so obvious, I can't help but wonder why so many of use took so very long to realize the same principle holds true for our horses . . .

    The best trail saddle will allow complete freedom of movement, which is important for any horse, gaited or non.


    So you're having saddle fit problems with your gaited horse? I can sympathize. Several years ago I had a good horse go 'broncy' on me. It turned out to be a saddle fitting problem-and I had just invested what was, for me, a small fortune in a new 'gaited horse' saddle. Because I'd invested so much money, and also because the saddle was comfortable for me, I decided the problem was with the horse. It took me several months to acknowledge the real problem-and even then, I tried to 'fix' the problem with padding, rather than make a realistic assessment and start over with another saddle altogether. That is the event that originally started my study into saddles and the gaited horse. The great news is, all my products work great on gaited and non-gaited horses. The best trail saddle will allow complete freedom of movement, which is important for any horse, gaited or non.

    As I studied out how to fit my gaited horses, I began to realize this was a much more complicated process than anticipated. Since then I've fit many, many horses, and have learned much in the process. One of the first things I learned is that my experience wasn't just a fluke: just because a saddle is touted as a 'gaited horse saddle' doesn't make it a good saddle for most gaited horses. The second thing I learned is that most people honestly don't know when their horse is uncomfortable. If it acts up, they think it's a behavioral problem. If it fails to gait, they assume it just doesn't possess a good natural gait. It rarely occurs to them that the only way a horse can communicate discomfort is through its action, or inaction.
     


    Fitting gaited horses for saddle is almost as much art as it is science. A rigid tree rarely is a good fit. Even when it seems to fit like a glove when the horse is standing still, the horse's back and shoulders change dramatically as its gait action is transferred up through its loins and back. This is true whether your horse is ambling, fox trotting, run walking--or whatever. (A rare exception: a low slung walky rack horse may have very little action through the back.) You might liken this to trying on a pair of shoes: they might seem to fit perfectly when you're standing still, but be uncomfortable as (heck!) once you actually start to walk in them.

    Gaited Horse Action Presents Special Challenges

    When a horse is gaiting, every single foot moves independently of every other foot. This requires an unusual degree of flexibility across the back, loins and shoulders. If a saddle has no flexibility, then the back action is restricted, and so is the gait (to say nothing of associated discomfort to the horse). Because of this, the only good way to know if a saddle fits the horse is to actually put it on the horse and watch/feel how fluid he is in motion. When a horse goes from an uncomfortable, rigid tree saddle to an appropriately made flexible tree saddle, the change is amazing!

    The Gaited Horse Seat an Important Consideration

    The last couple of years I had a number of customers work out of a particular brand of flex tree saddle. It did actually fit the horses quite well, and was comfortable. But there were important issues I needed to see addressed. What was the use of fitting a gaited horse to a saddle, unless the saddle really did help the rider get, and keep, the horse in gait? Like most western saddles, the saddle we were using most placed the rider too much in a 'trotting horse stock seat equitation' seat. I had to try to teach the rider how to ride in a way that was contrary to the seat of the saddle, which certainly doesn't make for comfortable riding. I wanted to see my riders with less stress on their knees, slightly behind the vertical on top and with their foot slightly forward of the vertical. (I do mean slightly!) Rather than sitting on their (excuse the expression) crotch, I wanted them to have more weight on the lower end of the buttocks, slightly tucked. Some folks call this the 'balanced saddle' seat position. Saddle seat riders have known for generations that this is the kind of seat required for a gaited horse.

    While this seat may take a short while to adjust to, once you do you'll feel better balanced and more secure, and there will be less stress placed on your ankles, knees and hips. I'm convinced that our gaited horses move better under this kind of seat--and it's nearly impossible to obtain and maintain in a typical stock saddle, especially for women.

    Creating a Saddle with NO 'Pressure Points'

    Another problem was that if the saddle was even a tiny bit 'off' in fit, then the action of the horse's back caused pressure points and soring. Fat saddle pads only made the fit too tight, and the problem worse. Since few saddle trees can fit every horse absolutely perfectly, it became apparent that we needed some kind of proven THIN cushioning material to prevent pressure spots, while at the same time allowing the rider to have close contact.

    I found this wonderful material in the open cell pressure cushioning that we've added right into the saddle bars of my 4-Beat saddle. The padding was originally produced and marketed for mattress tops for bed-ridden patients, to prevent pressure sores. I liked the material so much that I also included it in the seat, for the rider's benefit. (I even use a pad of it on my office chair!) It's somewhat like a durable, permanent bubble wrap material. While this padding is extremely expensive--a saddle pad with this material inside costs $350+--we're buying it wholesale, in sheets, to keep costs down.

    This is how I designed the Imus 4-Beat ® Gaited Saddle that will absolutely never cause pressure soreness. This last point is nearly as important as the first (flexible tree, remember?).

    Different Configurations

    Another important item (or perhaps it's two): not even a very good 'average' sized flexible tree will fit all gaited horse conformation types. There are also a number of people who prefer different features in their saddles: horns, no horns, fenders, stirrup leathers. . .or any combination of these. How could we, a small operation, build saddles to suit our customers' requirements? In this case it turned out that being small is an advantage. We are setting up our saddle sales page in such a way that you can essentially build your own saddle to your own unique specifications. When you go to Build Your Own Saddle, you are presented with several options: color, configuration, border types, cantle options and more.


    Comfortable, Close Contact, Unsurpassable Quality

    I realized it wouldn't help to fit the horse if the rider felt uncomfortable. Stiffness in the rider results in stiffness in the horse. This is why I didn't want the rider to have to work at breaking in a new saddle for a year or two before it became soft and giving. So we use Wickett and Craig vegetable, vat-dyed leather. My saddle makers are the finest craftsmen I've ever had the pleasure of working with. CCi saddle makers are so fussy about quality and attention to detail that they even makes me--who wants a perfect product--sometimes feel impatient! The combination of these factors has made for a top quality, comfortable saddle that is unsurpassable for placing the rider in optimum seat position for encouraging gait. What more could you ask for?

    I'm taking the time to share all this with you because I've worked enough with these horses to know that you could be in for a very long time of frustration and heartache when you start looking for a saddle to fit your horse. Now you know specifically how, and why, our saddle is the superior choice for gaited horses. Give the Imus® 4-Beat saddle a try, because I've 'been there, done that,' and have instituted every possible measure to make these saddles the best for gaited horses. 

    Imus 4-Beat ®Saddle Fit Guarantee

    In spite of all the choices, we're aware that there's still a chance that the saddle you have built will not fit your horse. This will be rare, but it will surely happen from time to time. When it does, we don't want customers thinking that just because they've made a relatively expensive purchase that they, and their horses, are stuck with the wrong product. Our goal is to get you and your horse in a saddle that is right for both of you.

    Once again, we're offering attractive options! If the saddle you purchase doesn't fit your horse, you may return it within 14 days for a full refund of the purchase price. Or if you prefer, we will exchange for an Imus 4-Beat ®saddlethat more closely meets your specific needs. You can also watch my gaited horse saddle fitting and equitation video here.

    The only regret we hear is "I wish I'd ordered it sooner!" Don't wait! Order your Imus 4-Beat ®Saddle now. Need assistance fitting your gaited horse? CLICK HERE

    --6 months no interest financing available through PayPal (details at checkout)

    --All major credit cards and PayPal accepted

     

     

  • A big topic of discussion is the best gaited horse saddle and tack for your gaited horse. Brenda Imus advocated for the sound training and riding techniques of the gaited horse. She developed a gaited saddle that has unique features that allows horses to move with complete freedom of movement, which is the cornerstone of developing an evenly timed 4-beat gait in good form. Gaited horses require an unusual degree of freedom of movement from back to front through their back, neck and poll. This presents a variety of challenges when fitting a gaited horse. In this saddle fitting video, Brenda Imus discusses gaited horse saddle fitting,  conformation, different types of saddle trees, and how equitation affects your horse's movement. Discusses features of the Imus 4-Beat Gaited ® Saddle. (22 minutes)

     

     

    gaited horse saddle fitting video

  • gaited horse saddle fitting video

    Brenda Imus explains unique needs for saddle fit for gaited horses.

     

  • Back to the full Imus 4-Beat Info Library 

    We are often contacted by those who are looking to purchase a used Imus 4-Beat® Gaited Saddle. Generally we’re asked about the tree and seat size and also by whom it was made. The 4-Beat Saddles have been hand-made since 2003 by a few different individuals and companies, which we’ll outline below.

    We are not able to authenticate any 4-Beat saddle prior to the ones we have built, since we have come across a few counterfeits over the years, but chances are the used 4-Beat you are looking at is authentic. Below, we’ll provide as much information as we can to help you make an informed decision.

    No matter the year or by whom it was made you can expect many years of use out of any 4-Beat Saddle. The overall quality has varied over the years, but never fell below ‘very good’. There are just a few things to keep an eye out for during your hunt.

    Any horse that is comfortably fit in our saddle, new or used, is a win in our book. Please keep in mind if you purchase new, you will benefit from our pre and post-sale fitting support and troubleshooting, and our no-strings-attached 14 DayTrial. We wish you the best in finding the perfect saddle for you and your horse!

    Amish Made Imus 4-Beat®: 2003-2007—Original Cost $1299--Hand built by a few different Amish craftsmen. The quality was excellent on most of these saddles. The front of the seat was not secured as tightly as later 4-Beat Saddle and you can lift the front with your fingers. This did not negatively affect the seat or the longevity of the saddle. Stamp indicating tree and seat size is located under the rider’s left seat jockey, right by the front rigging ring. The 3 digit number does not indicate sizing. The number below that 3 digit number should be either 15, 16, or 17, indicating seat size. If there is a “W” stamped, that indicates it is a wide tree. Sometimes they stamped an “S” for the standard tree 4-Beats, but usually not. No letter after the seat size should designate the saddle as a standard tree. Block type stamps were used. Standard cantle only was available (no Pencil or Cheyenne Roll Option)

    used amish 4-beat saddle

    Circle Y Made Imus 4-Beat®: 2007—Original Cost $1595--Probably what we consider to be the lesser quality of all the 4-Beat Saddles, the leather used was full grain but not the top quality of the Wickett and Craig leather always used in the saddle. Stitching was not as tight and pulled together in some areas around the seat. The seats in these saddles had a higher rise than any other, aside from the very early Amish-made 4-Beats. One thing you want to make sure of is that the saddle has a leather suspended ground seat. You can look on the underside of the saddle, along the open channel and should be able to see and feel leather as the supporting structure of the rider’s seat. This helps distribute the rider’s weight and allows the tree to flex evenly. Some Circle Y 4-Beat Saddles were made without this important feature. Stamped with a number, usually under the rider’s left seat jockey and beginning with a 2007. We do not have any records and their numbering system gives no indication of seat or tree size. These saddles all had the Pencil roll on the cantle with white thread used to sew it. 

     

    used 4-beat circle y saddle

    Big Horn Made Imus 4-Beat®:  2009--Original Cost $1599--When National Bridle Shop first began solely distributing the Imus line of products, they contracted Big Horn to make the 4-Beat Saddles. Big Horn went out of business shortly thereafter, and did not make too many saddles (although the number is unknown). Quality of these saddles was very good. The only stamping we’ve been able to find is on the latigo keeper and is a 4 digit number beginning with a 4 but there is no indication of seat or tree size that we can help determine. Supracor was always built under the bars of the tree but was optional in the seat. Supracor has a crinkly feel to it, so you can tell if it has Supracor in it as opposed to a smooth foam type padding. Pencil Roll option was available.

    used 4-beat saddle

    CCi (Colorado Correctional Industries) Made Imus 4-Beat® for National Bridle Shop:  2010-2011— Original Cost $1599--National Bridle Shop contracted with CCi to make the 4-Beat Saddle. CCi has an award-winning inmate trade program where the inmates learn a trade while making at least state minimum wage that goes to support their families. Theirs are the only ones we have seen that have been up to par with or surpass the Amish saddles. Although the NBS 4-Beat Saddles were great, there were inconsistencies with quality. Mostly, we believe, due to the saddle shop learning to build a new type of saddle where there was a learning curve. There is one serial number stamped in one of three places: under the pommel, under the rider’s left seat jockey, or sometimes underneath the saddle in back, below the crupper ring. The number is a 5 digit number beginning with a 2. We can help determine the year and specs of these saddles. Sometimes there was a seat and tree size stamped below the serial number. Supracor was always built under the bars of the tree but was optional in the seat. Supracor has a crinkly feel to it, so you can tell if it has Supracor in it as opposed to a smooth foam type padding. Pencil Roll option was available, including silver conchos and additional tooling around the pommel.

    used 4-beat saddles cci

     

    CCi (Colorado Correctional Industries) Made Imus 4-Beat® for Phoenix Rising Saddles:  2013-Present— Original Cost $1595--Finest quality 4-Beat Saddle to date regarding both craftsmanship and material. When we first launched Phoenix Rising Saddles, we put into place a quality control system of checks to keep the product consistently great every time. The quality control process we put into place ensures consistently well-crafted and balanced saddles. Our saddles have 2 serial numbers on them—one we assign the saddle and one our saddle shop assigns it. The 5 digit number begins with a 2 or a 3. These can be found in one of three places: under the pommel, under the rider’s left seat jockey, or sometimes underneath the saddle in back, below the crupper ring. We can help determine the year and specs of these saddles. Pencil Roll option was available, including silver conchos and additional tooling around the pommel along with the Cheyenne Roll option. Rough-out seat option became available along with the CA Twist (pre-turned stirrups) option. 

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    In this video we break down a few of the key features of the Imus 4-Beat and Phoenix Rising Legacy Saddles. Discussed are the flexible tree, leather suspended ground seat, and Supracor material built under the bars of the tree and skirting. Our 14 day trial and expert fitting benefits are discussed.

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    Author and Gaited Horse Trainer Brenda Imus (© 2005)

    After working with gaited horses of every description for a few years, it became increasingly obvious that one of the primary detriments to a fluid, comfortable 4-beat saddle gait was poor saddle fit–or perhaps more accurately, poor saddle dynamics. As I analyzed saddle fit and gait action, the factor that proved troublesome, over and over again, was lack of adequate give in the saddle tree to accommodate the action of the horse’s back as it attempted to move each leg independently of the others, at speed.

    Regrettably, there is a widely accepted gaited horse training truism that gaited horses can only gait when ridden in this stiff, hollowed out fashion–despite the fact that such a riding style commonly results in long term soundness problems. I came to the conclusion that this just wasn’t necessary. When a horse is ridden in tack that permits supple action throughout the loins, back, neck and poll, then there is nothing to prevent that animal from performing a comfortable 4-beat gait in beautiful form.

    Imus 4-Beat® Pecan Western FloralThis action is requisite to performing a correctly executed 4-beat gait. I noticed that as the movement of the legs transfers up through the loins and back, a rigid saddle tree seriously restricts that action. (Imagine taking a hike in wooden shoes.) The animal’s natural response is to stiffen up. This causes the gait to deteriorate into a 2-beat pace or trot, and/or the horse hollows out its topline to avoid painful contact with the saddle.

    At about this time western and endurance style saddles with flexible bars in the trees were just hitting the market. (Thank you, Ed Steele.) Imagine my consternation when my crew and I started carrying many different types of ‘flex tree’ saddles and therapeutic saddle pads to clinics, only to discover that in spite of our best efforts, many of the horses coming through still weren’t well fitted at the end of a clinic. I more closely scrutinized actual saddle tree designs and construction to compare them to the shapes and actions of the horses with which we work. That’s when another ‘aha!’ discovery was made: most of the western/endurance trees on the market are designed for ‘western’ (aka: Quarterhorse) back conformation. The bars of the tree are set at the wrong angles, and too far apart–among other problems–to suit the topline conformation of a majority of gaited horses.

    By now I’d already been disappointed in the results of using so-called ‘gaited horse’ saddle trees, as these not only had rigid bars, but the extra long flared front edge of the bars tended to restrict, rather than enhance, the horse’s ability to rotate the shoulders for adequate front action. Plus, there was generally too much ‘rock’ in the bars, as they were designed to fit gaited horses whose topline had become swayed due to. . .the traditional manner of fitting and riding gaited horses.

    Besides all this, saddles on the market are specifically designed to place the rider in an extremely vertical ‘ears/spine/hip/heel’ alignment that in recent years has been widely espoused as the only ‘correct’ equitation seat. My observations and experience indicated, however, that gaited horses tend to move better–and their riders are much more comfortable–when the rider is positioned in a seat more akin to that used for bareback riding. This position places the rider’s seat immediately behind the horse’s wither, rather than farther back toward the loins–as is the case with most saddles. The rider’s heel tends to drift slightly forward, as the shoulders settle slightly behind, rather than on, a true vertical line. While the ears, spine, hip and heel are still in general alignment, that alignment no longer falls on the vertical, but is slightly diagonal.



    Again, it only made sense to conclude that if riders of all persuasions naturally take this seat in order to stay in synch with their horse when riding bareback (and they do), then it is because this position enables humans to achieve optimum balance on a horse. You can’t, after all, depend upon placing your weight in your stirrups when riding bareback, but must place your entire body in a position that permits it to move naturally in balance with the horse. Otherwise, rider fall down, go boom!



    As an experiment we began to ask riders to ride their horses bareback. Without exception, this slightly diagonally oriented position is the one each person naturally assumed. Also without exception, when we asked these riders to move a bit farther back, and assume the traditional ‘centered riding’ upright seat–both horse and rider stiffened up significantly. This proved to be such dramatic proof of what I had concluded regarding optimum seat position that I’ve had clinic and expo participants perform this bareback riding demonstration in front of audiences all over the country. When a person sees evidence that his or her instinctual manner of wanting to ride a horse is actually better and more functional for both horse and rider than the more upright ‘correct’ position they’ve been taught, the reaction is usually one of great relief. (Those more steeped in and conditioned to the traditional manner of riding do still strongly object on occasion–which is certainly their right.)

    I call the seat position we teach and demonstrate "Liberty Equitation™," as it permits greater comfort and liberty for both horse and rider. What we’ve learned is that equitational kinesics are unique to each horse and rider pair–as every horse and rider ‘fit together’ in a totally unique physical relationship. Riders need a saddle that offers them enough liberty to ride in a fashion that best suits their particular body style and manner of communication with any given horse. It is counter productive to place a rider in a saddle that dictates the ‘heels directly under the hips’ position, as it forces the rider to assume an artificial, uncomfortable seat. How many of us have ended a day long ride with sore hips, back, ankles and (last but not least) knees? This is the direct result of saddles being designed and built upon faulty riding precepts.

    OK. Back to the saddle saga. Another thing concerned me regarding the saddles we were trying to work with. Aside from a token layer of fleece, there was usually little to protect the horse’s back from the hard edges of the saddle tree digging in under the weight of the rider. Thick saddle pads weren’t a great solution, since they tended to alter the fit of the saddle and complicate matters even more. Also, since even a great tree fit is usually not a perfect tree fit, it seemed obvious there should be some additional type of thin, lightweight, porous padding that would work in much the way as the insole of a good sports shoe. This padding should help distribute the rider’s weight more evenly across the horse’s back, while protecting the horse from any pressure soreness where the saddle tree might tend to rub.


    I knew exactly what material would do the job: Supracor® therapeutic padding. I had used Supracor® saddle pads successfully on many hard to fit horses, and was extremely impressed by the effectiveness and durability of this remarkable material. Originally designed to prevent pressure sores on severely compromised, bed-ridden patients, it had found its way into the equestrian market as a marvelous therapeutic saddle pad material.  While not cheap (read: downright expensive!), this material was–and still is–by far the most effective on the market for our purposes.

    Oh yes–did I mention that by now I was determined to design a saddle specifically for gaited horses that would resolve all the issues we were dealing with out in the field? Well, I was.

    I spoke with Ed Steele, who agreed to produce a flexible tree to our company’s specifications, for our exclusive use. This tree would be made to fit the topline conformation of the ‘average’ gaited horse. (Later on we added a wide tree to our line-up, for those horses who don’t fit the average category.) He also agreed to produce them in western and endurance configurations.
     

    Enter Eli, a young Amish man who has a well known saddle making uncle, and had by now built a few saddles himself for local people. Eli was working full time at a local Amish sawmill, and producing several saddles each year on the side. I went to visit him, and we discussed my ideas. He proved to be an agile thinker, as well as a superb craftsman. He built our first prototype saddle. . .and then another. . .and then, another. With each saddle we made improvements and modifications. For one thing, I decided to use only the best top grain leather hides for our saddles. This not only adds to their durability and beauty, but allows them to soften and ‘break in’ much faster than if we used stiffer, more traditional full grain leather. We quickly realized that the fiberglass ground seats that came standard with the trees hindered the ability of the bars to flex with the horse’s movement. So Eli began to hand craft a web suspended, leather ground seat for each saddle. (Our saddles are as impressive on the inside as they are on the outside.)

    Most significantly, after several prototypes and several months of sales, I decided to institute a 3/4-fired, three way rigging system on the saddle. This excludes the need for a back girth, and allows us to position the saddle farther forward so that the fork of the saddle gently ‘cups’ the horse’s wither and shoulder, allowing the rider to be seated more forward, closer to the horse’s true center of gravity, while permitting the animal’s shoulder complete freedom of action. Also, since gaited horses tend to have more lift and/or reach in front, saddle galls at the girth right behind the elbow are common. Our rigging system allows the cinch to settle at the least active point of the barrel of the horse, virtually eliminatig galls.We positioned the free swinging stirrups slightly more forward, thus eliminating stress on the rider’s ankles, knees and hips while encouraging a more comfortable and practical,"Liberty Equitationtm," seat. We placed Supracor® padding between the saddle tree bars and the fleece–and then decided "what the heck!" and placed it in the seat of the saddle to give the rider unsurpassable comfort as well. We like this material so much, in fact, that we also chose to use it as padding in the optional matching tooled Imus 4-Beat®™ stirrups!

    I knew perhaps better than anyone that there is somewhat of a ‘saddle glut’ in today’s market. This isn’t a bad thing, since it shows that people are taking the responsibility to properly fit their horses very seriously. The Imus 4-Beat® Saddle introduced so many revolutionary new concepts that we had to ask ourselves: How do we convince people to give this genuinely revolutionary new saddle a try?

     


    Brenda Imus- Gaited Horse Trainer & ClinicianClinic and expo participants and observers were our first enthusiastic customers. To ride in a saddle, or to see the dramatic improvement it makes in a horse’s manner of going, is all the ‘proof’ we needed to offer. Word of mouth from these first satisfied customers spread so quickly that by the end of our first six months of saddle production the problem wasn’t how to sell a saddle, but rather, how to keep up with demand! Eli hired on some help, and proved he could adapt his business to meet most of the new demand, and we sought out the services of another Amish saddle craftsman from Kentucky to help take up any slack. We love the individual hand crafted quality of our saddles, and are committed to working with conscientious and knowledgeable craftsman, rather than going to an ‘off the assembly line’ product.


    There’s just one more thing you ought to know. We’re fitting the hardest-to-fit horses in the industry, with an amazing percentage of success. However, no saddle in the world will fit all gaited horses. This is true of the Imus 4-Beat®™ Saddle as well. While we offer four tree configurations (standard and wide, each in western and endurance models), there will be the occasional horse that simply can’t be fit with any of them. We’re not in the business of selling saddles, but of fitting horses. If you buy an Imus 4-Beat®™ saddle from us, ride it, and if you decide within two weeks that it isn’t meeting your needs–then return it to us, and we’ll either replace it with another model, or refund all but your shipping charges (nominal $9.50). No hassles–just the best saddle fit guarantee in the business. We'll also work with you during your trial if you have questions or would like assistance determining fit. We're great at trouble-shooting!

    So if you’re thinking it might be time to purchase a new saddle, you have everything to gain, and nothing to lose, by ordering your own Imus 4-Beat®™ Saddle.

    "When in doubt. . .ask the horse!"

    Brenda Imus

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    Jamie discusses some of the main comfort features of Phoenix Rising Saddles Legacy and Imus 4-Beat Saddles. Our western and endurance trail saddles have unique features that ensure a custom-like saddle fit for your horse, that allows complete freedom of movement. Our flexible tree, leather suspended ground seat, and therapeutic open-cell Supracormaterial built under the saddle combine for an exceptionally comfortable ride for you and your horse. 

    All horses attempt to communicate with us. Whether we listen with our ears, our bodies, our hearts (or all three!), if we simply listen, we can hear them. Does your horse act like a gem on the ground, but seems a totally different horse under saddle? Often behavioral problems are attributed to bad attitudes or dislike of being under saddle. Often the case is they are simply uncomfortable when being ridden--either under saddle, in the mouth, or both.
    Horses have a strong fight or flight response and this kicks in when they are in pain or discomfort. Horses expresses this by fighting with you under saddle (fight), rushing/barging, bolting, or being exceptionally reactive and spooky (flight).
    If you haven't lately, whether your horse is displaying these behaviors under saddle or not, don't you owe it to them to make sure you aren't inadvertently causing them pain or discomfort under saddle? Click for simple, logical tests you can run yourself to check to see if your saddle is a good fit. Your horse will thank you.