Phoenix Rising Saddles

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what is the best gaited saddle

  • Both the Imus 4-Beat and Phoenix Rising Legacy Saddles work great for both gaited and non-gaited horses. They are simply designed for complete freedom of movement and comfort--which is important for all horse types. Being comfortable under saddle makes for a happier horse with less fatigure and long-term soundness issues. It allows your horse to move naturally in-balanced, without forced collection or hollowing out of the frame. All the information below applies to both Imus 4-Beat and Phoenix Rising Legacy Saddles. 

    Saddle fit and saddle dynamics are two very important topics to consider when determining fit for both you and your horse. The links to the articles and video below outline the features and benefits of our saddles and we want those riding in our tack to have a full understanding of the how's and why's behind the design of the Imus 4-Beat® & Phoenix Rising  Legacy Saddles. 

    We find the more informed our customers are prior to purchase, the happier and more sure they are when they receive their saddle.If you are looking for the best gaited horse western trail saddle, you've found the right place! Our trail saddles work great for both gaited and non-gaited horses. They are designed to be comfortable for your horse, allowing complete freedom of movement, which is especially important not just for gaited horses, but any type of horse!

    In addition to the information below, we also provide individual consultations through phone or email and are happy to answer any questions you may have. We also provide post-sale support so if you have any questions or want to send pics or run anything by us we're here to help, and are pretty good at trouble-shooting if something seems off.

    Phoenix Rising Saddles Features

  • 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 refund (less 6% restocking fee to cover our initial shipping and partial unrefunded merchant fees). 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.


  • Supracor© Therapeutic Padding

    The Imus 4-Beat® Saddlehas a unique tree design (you can read more about that here) to allow complete freedom of movement and even weight distribution of the rider. However, we wanted to make absolutely sure that there was another layer of protection to eliminate the possibility of pressure points. Supracor© is very expensive but there is nothing like it as far as a light-weight material that will distribute weight and conform to your horse, allowing your Imus 4-Beat® Saddle a custom-like fit for your horse. The Imus 4-Beat® Gaited Saddle essentially has a high-quality built-in saddle pad. We also build Supracor© into the seat and stirrups for the rider to ensure the rider is as comfortable as their horse!

    The solution is to build Supracor© open-celled padding directly under the bars of the tree. Supracor© is phenomenal at distributing weight and is used often in the medical and airline industries. It is open-celled and looks like honeycomb so it is very thin, light, and breathable (you can see through the entire padding when you hold it up to light).

    The following information is available at the Supracor© Website

    Bees are accomplished mathematicians and architects. The hexagonal honeycomb structure they have chosen to build for the storage of honey in their hives allows them to store the greatest amount of honey with the least amount of wax required to create the comb. It is an extremely efficient design.”

    “Supracor© studied the nature-proven hexagonal structure and adapted it for commercialization. Developing a revolutionary technique of fusion bonding, we are able to produce the honeycomb cellular matrix without the need for adhesives. This has been possible due to an advanced class of materials called thermoplastics.”

    “Supracor© honeycomb and its ventilated Stimulite® honeycomb are fabricated from an extensive range of thermoplastics and thermoplastic elastomers (TPE’s). These materials combine the best properties of rubber and plastics for superior durability and performance in both dynamic and static applications. They are noted for their exceptional tensile, tear and compressive strength, resistance to puncture and their flexibility at low and high temperatures.”

    “Supracor’s © flexible, fusion-bonded honeycomb technology utilizes the same geometry as rigid aerospace honeycomb, eg. a cellular matrix comprised of alternating thick- and thin-walled cells with eight interior and exterior radii. This geometry allows the matrix to be both lightweight and anisotropic: having varying degrees of resistance in its length, width and thickness.”

    Supracor Technology

    “When compressed, the cells radiate outward, surrounding the object of compression. This characteristic is what makes Stimulite® cushions and sleep surfaces so comfortable.”


    “The sophisticated architecture of radiated double- and single-walled cells is what makes Supracor©’s fusion-bonded honeycomb anisotropic—having three different degrees of resistance or flexibility in the length (“L” direction), width (“W” direction) and vertically against the surface (“T” direction). This enables it to absorb energy or impact from different angles and to perfectly contour to the anatomy.”


    Supracor Technology

    Optimum Strength-to-Weight:

    “The alternating thick- and thin-cellular walls make Supracor©’s fusion-bonded honeycomb both strong and lightweight. Its cellular matrix is over 90% open space.

    Shock Absorption:

    The widespread use of aerospace honeycomb in structures of commercial and military jet aircraft attests to its excellent shock-absorbing capabilities. Energy from impact is absorbed and dispersed evenly throughout the honeycomb matrix. Because the cells are interconnected, when one cell buckles from impact the walls of the adjacent cells also buckle to absorb the force, similar to a ripple effect. Supracor©’s fusion-bonded honeycomb absorbs shock in the same manner, but has increased load-bearing capability as a result of its elastomeric composition. This makes it ideal for shock-absorbing bumpers on amusement park rides and blunt trauma protection in body armor.”





    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. (Circle Y, Big Horn, made our saddles in the mid-2000's for a short time and CCi has been making our saddles since 2010. You can read more about that HERE

    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 you (less a 6% restocking fee). 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