The Total Contact Saddle (TCS) would probably be described by some as not really being a saddle. It does not have the conventional look of a saddle that most equestrians are accustomed to. It would in fact be classed as treeless, which may automatically put people off. I have to admit I was sceptical to start. Being an equine bodyworker there were many thoughts running through my head. Unlike treed saddles a portion of it does sit over the spine and then you have the stirrup bars, all areas that could create detrimental pressure to your horse. This is why I have been using the TCS for over a year before writing this review. I wanted to test it out to see if there were any long term detrimental affects on my horses. Currently there has been nothing.
Is a 20 year old 16.3hh Irish Sport Horse (TB x ID), with a long back and neck. He is the boss of the herd and loves to jump and gallop when the ground is soft.
Is a 10yr old 16.3hh Irish Sport Horse (ISH x Dutch Warmblood). I took him on as a project horse that potentially would end up just being a field companion. He was deemed dangerous to ride as he frequently offloaded people when out hunting. I ended up with him because he was a client of mine and the hunt didn’t want him to be passed around. He is a lovely soul. This horse despite being 16.3hh is quite short in the back and I believe he may have suffered some sacroiliac issues.
So why did I even contemplate using a TSC?
It was because of Ritchie and making him more comfortable and relaxed. It worked. Straight away I could feel him relax under me. It felt like he needed that close contact to gain confidence. So long I stay relaxed he stays relaxed, which sometimes is easier said than done. In regards to Travis his traditional saddle fitted him well but it was too big for me so moving him to the TSC was more for me than him. Travis moved more freely in it but he has a big stride so I did find rising trot harder to get used to, unlike on Ritchie.
The good and the bad!
To be honest I haven’t come across anything bad just modifications to take into account how different a TCS is to a traditional treed saddle. Firstly have a good mounting block that allows you to hop onto your horse. There isn’t a lot to grab onto when mounting so a good mounting block helps. Secondly choosing what works underneath the TCS. I currently use a wool lined numnah with a gel half pad . However due to recent research I am thinking of changing this to a closed foam pad instead with the wool numnah as this is meant to distribute pressure better.
In regards to pressure I have not experienced any negative impact. I have been riding both horses exclusively in a TCS for a year and found no tightness through their backs in fact it feels looser. There is no muscle atrophy or any areas of pain and discomfort. I check there backs regularly. I will add I hack, jump and school both boys in the TCS.
I did find that I had to take a bit of time to get used to riding in the TCS, not so much on Ritchie but definitely Travis. I looked awful in trot but canter felt amazing and way better than in a traditional saddle. A little bit of time and I was all good in all paces. I love jumping in the TCS and only found that when the jumps got higher I did need to put the stirrups up a hole.
So the reasons why I wouldn’t go back to a conventional treed saddle
- I can feel my horses and they can feel me, which seems to relax them more. I can feel when they tense or are going to spook so I can deal with it before it escalates.
- I feel very secure in it. I don’t slide around like I have in treed saddles, which gives me a better seat.
- It makes you use your core muscles more and does not let you hide any issues you may have with your seat. In the long run making you a better rider
- It is lighter to carry for you and your horse
- It is loads of fun
- If your saddle slips you can still sit down and ride your horse without coming off (I have put it to the test at speed!)
- It doesn’t need to be fitted by a saddler and can be used on multiple horses
- Lastly and least important it is not expensive compared to other saddles
As a bodyworker I was quite sceptical of the TCS and was cautious to start. I made checks before and after every ride for the first 6 months to make sure my horses were not experiencing any discomfort. Neither did. I have also noted that Travis who can throw the odd buck in has not and has been very happy jumping just under 1 metre in it. Ritchie has progressed well to the point that he started jumping and working on his canter with no sign of wanting to offload me. I will admit we have taken things slow with Ritchie but I don’t feel I would be at this stage with him without the TCS.
The TCS is a great saddle especially for horses that are finding traditional saddles not quite right. The only thing I would caution about is taking your time as a rider to get used to it. You need train your body to get used to it so take things slow and your horse will benefit. The TCS is a lot of fun so worth having if you want something to challenge you as well.