By CJ Millar for iselltack.com
When it comes to saddles, everyone has a preference, and with today’s options there’s so much to choose from. Seat size, saddle flap size, length and position, leather options, and so much more. Yet underneath all of these options, there’s the fundamental question of saddle flocking – do you prefer wool or foam, and why?
I know which team I’m on, based on not just experiences with saddles, but actually a background in ballet that included dancing point into my teenage years. You see, when you dance pointe, you need stuffing in your pointe shoes to protect and cushion your toes from the extreme stress of carrying your body weight while you balance gracefully on them. We used two kinds of padding for this purpose – foam and wool. The wool would go around your toes and you could get either loose wool or shaped toe pads. I preferred the loose wool. Then the foam toe pads went over the wool around your toes to add another layer of cushioning. The foam was great because it lasted well and offered resilience, while the wool would warm up with your sweat, wick the moisture away, and conform perfectly to the shape of your feet.
This relates directly to saddles, where there’s of course the concern of proper cushioning while also making sure that the saddle is able to last through multiple rides. The characteristics of foam and wool are consistent, regardless of the intended use, so I’ve outlined them below.
Characteristics of Wool
- Uses the body’s heat and sweat to conform to the body exactly
- Compacts very quickly
- Less resilient
- Able to be removed and reflocked as needed
Characteristics of Foam
- Conforms based on heat and pressure
- Compacts somewhat quickly, but can regain original shape and takes longer to break down entirely
- More resilient
- Also able to be removed and reflocked, but not as easily as wool
Swanky Saddle nameplate.
Now, going back to the ballet example, I did use both wool and foam. That’s not an option in most saddles, and the deciding factor for me is that I don’t have the funds or means to regularly reflock a saddle with wool. Because foam is more resilient, it needs to be replaced much less frequently than wool, and is a much longer lasting option in saddle flocking. While it’s great that wool conforms completely, my personal experience with it was that once it conformed, it didn’t regain its original shape, and I’d throw it out after every dance. Some days, especially in recitals such as when we performed Swan Lake (I was a swan), I’d go through several rolls of wool in a night. The foam pads lasted longer, and I was able to use them more frequently. While for dance, the foam wasn’t enough on its own, this was back in my teenage years, and the foam used today in saddles is much more technologically advanced to last far longer and offer the cushioning benefits needed in saddles (and I’d assume ballet as well, but I haven’t danced in years!). Today’s foam has better shock absorption properties, with even more resilience and less breakdown than some original foam flocked saddles which in the past had been prone to issues.
It’s great that wool conforms completely but what if my horse has a muscle knot in his back one day, or lost topline from an injury and comes back into work and builds his back muscles back up? The way foam flocking is made in today’s saddles makes a huge difference for me, as I ride a lot of horses (I own 8!), and they’re all in varying levels of training and conditioning. It’s important to me that I have a saddle that doesn’t need to be reflocked and can hold up to multiple horses, multiple rides, and last me a long time. I am #teamfoam all the way!