Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Barefoot Fleece Bareback Pad: Initial Review

I've been drooling over the Barefoot Fleece Bareback Pad for possibly years.  I'm not even sure exactly why because I don't ride bareback that often and I have a perfectly nice pad already (see this post).  Perhaps it is the fleece or the thigh blocks or the cantle, but most probably it is the combination of the girth not running over the back of the pad and the incorporation of Barefoot's Physio half pad.  I have a similar half pad that I use with my regular Barefoot saddle and it is a pocket pad, which allows inserts of whatever material you can cut to fit (or you can use one of the two choices that Barefoot provides) and it has a Sympanova underside.  The Sympanova material (also used on some of the Haf pads) is growing on me, mostly because it is so easy to clean:)  And I love being able to use inserts to accommodate an asymmetry or adjust the material.

All of this is most definitely overkill on a bareback pad, and the price of the pad ($380) kept me from really considering it.  But then Black Friday rolled around and Action Rider Tack had a pretty decent sale and well, now you get a blog post to read:)

The pad arrived literally as I was walking out the door to go to the barn this afternoon, so I quickly unboxed it and took a few pictures for you before heading to the barn for a trial run.

The pad is actually two pieces:  the top pad, which looks like a bareback pad and then a bottom pad that looks like a half pad.  The two pieces connect to each other with Velcro.  The top of the top pad is sheepskin (real, not fake) and I'll show you that in a bit, but here's a picture of the bottom of the top pad, which looks like felt.

The two black rectangles are Velcro
The bottom pad has a cotton quilted top and a Sympanova bottom.

Cotton quilted top of the bottom pad
Sympanova bottom of the bottom pad
The pad also comes with two sets of inserts that fit into the pockets of the bottom pad.  One set of inserts is open cell foam (the kind that squishes easily) and the other set is closed cell foam (the kind that is much firmer).  Both sets of inserts are about a half inch thick.

Open cell foam inserts.  The closed cell inserts look pretty much the same and they were already in the pad, so no picture of those.
 This is what the whole contraption (including the closed cell foam inserts) looks like on Nimo:

Nimo can be an awesome model when he realizes it gets him out of work:)
The picture is a bit dark, but note the really, really long billet straps.  Seriously, on a normal horse, you would need like a 5" girth because they are so long.
I tested the pad out two ways tonight.  I started out using both the top and bottom pads with the closed cell foam inserts in the bottom pad.  My first impression when I got on was that Nimo was actually a very large elephant and I was not going to be able to ride him.  The extra padding, which is supposed to prevent one of the common complaints about bareback riding - the rider's seat bones digging into the horse's back and creating pressure points, actually created a new issue for me.  My already abnormally wide horse felt even wider.  It took me a good 10 minutes to adjust to the new feel (never let it be said that I don't give things the old college try!) and after initially (once again) questioning my sanity at spending so much on horse tack, the pad started to feel a bit better.  The sheepskin was warm (it was about 40 degrees out, so extra warmth was nice) and the thigh blocks and cantle did provide at least the illusion of extra stability (there is nothing like a nice wide pair of endurance stirrups, though, for really helping a person feel secure in the saddle).  I ended up spending about 20 minutes riding before taking a break and modifying things a bit.

I decided to try the pad without the bottom pad, so I pulled that off and strapped the top pad on and tightened the girth.  (Note, I would not recommend doing that if you planned to really ride unless you put some kind of protection underneath the top pad because the velcro strips could irritate horses with sensitive backs.)  I wanted to see how the pad felt without all the extra foam underneath.  As it turns out, it pretty much felt like the Skito bareback pad I already have, which is to say that I could definitely feel Nimo's spine through the pad, and I kind of started missing the extra padding.  Again I rode in the pad for about 20 minutes to give myself time to adjust to the new feel.

Here is my conclusion.  In terms of value, the pad may or may not be worth it to you.  It's real sheepskin, which is meaningful to a lot of people and real sheepskin is expensive.  The rest of the materials look appropriate for the pad.  Everything is washable, including the billet straps, which are made out of synthetic leather on one side and nylon on the other.  But, unless you ride bareback frequently or can find the pad used or on sale, the cost/benefit analysis doesn't support a purchase in my mind.

In terms of comfort, the pad was definitely comfortable.  I was toasty warm and with the foam inserts, I felt no pokey spine from Nimo and hopefully Nimo felt no pokey seat bones from me.  I got the 1-2 size, which was listed as the adult size.  There is also a 0-1 size if you are small-framed or a child.  I ride in a western seat size 16" and an English size seat 18-18.5".  I found the thigh blocks and cantle to work well for me, but I think if you ride in a western seat size larger than 16", you may find this bareback pad too confining.  Alternatively, if you are slender or have a small frame, you may find the pad feels a bit roomy. 

For those of you who like measurements, I took a few in case it is helpful.  The seat measures about 11.5" from the back of the thigh block to the front of the cantle.


And the thigh block measures about 15.5" in length.  The measurement from the top of the thigh block to the bottom of the flap is about 18 inches, although the angle I used in the picture below doesn't show that very well.  (I chalk it up to taking pictures at 9:30 at night after two glasses of wine...)


In terms of adjustability, I don't think you'll find a comparable pad, with the exception of the other Barefoot bareback pad - the Physio Ride-On pad.  The Physio Ride-On pad is much less expensive, but it lacks sheepskin, thigh blocks, and a cantle.  I really like the idea of being able to experiment with different materials as inserts or just use the half bottom pad without inserts for a tiny bit of extra cushion without extra bulk.  I think after having a couple of saddles that have so much adjustability, I am now looking for the same in my bareback pad.

And finally, in terms of how it felt to actually ride in the pad, I will say this.  I just rode Nimo at the walk, but I did continue my Science of Motion work with him (using the hackamore too!).  SOM practioners generally do not approve of riding bareback because of one of the issues I mentioned above, which is that it may be uncomfortable for the horse due to pokey seat bones or even just an uneven or small distribution of weight as compared to a treed saddle.  I disregarded that perspective and worked him anyway, because I can be contrary like that.  I felt like he responded as well as he did with my saddle (but not necessarily any better - no miracles occurred and angels did not sing).  I got 1-2 seconds where I felt him lift only the right side of his back, which is something I've never felt before in my life on any horse and it is exactly what I was trying to accomplish.  Nimo followed that right-sided lift with a more general shoulder lift in a halt to walk transition and I called it a night because that was a pretty awesome result and what I had been asking him to do.  Perhaps I could have accomplished the same thing in a treed saddle and bit, but one reason I periodically ride bareback is because I feel like it renews my connection with Nimo in a way that cannot happen under saddle.  So, I'm valuing this purchase as priceless because of the really cool connection I got tonight:)

11 comments:

  1. The Physio is way cheaper? It cost me a fortune! Gotta catch up with you cuz your posts are spinning in my head lately, very very important stuff.

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    1. Would love to know what you are thinking about, lytha:) Feel free to send me an email at scrappychick11@gmail.com if you want to have some more in-depth discussion.

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  2. I don't understand the value of the sheepskin being on the rider's side and not the horse's. Sheepskin seat covers never worked for me because they were just sponges in the Seattle rain. Of course the Physio has a weird mix of sheepskin and sympanova. Why? I understand completely what you say about eliminating the pressure points, that is what is great about these pads - they are incredibly thick. And the girth thing, I am a believer in their formula for distribution of pressure in a pad. I loaned my Physio out to someone who wants to learn what it feels like to ride with a pad, and I keep it because if I ever have a saddle fit issue, I've got the solution while we work out the saddle. So many people have the Physio pad in this new barn, I had to identify mine. I put my Toastmasters International lapel pin on it, cuz I was such a great Toastmasters speaker (joking).

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    1. I'm actually the opposite when it comes to sheepskin. When it is on the horse's, it absorbs so much sweat. Even the sheepskin girth cover that I have weighs 1,000 pounds after a summer ride. But I love the warmth of it in the winter when I can sit on it:) Of course, I grew up in ND, which is dry and freezing cold for much of the year, so that might explain our different perspectives:) But I agree that the concept of the pad is great and it is a really helpful pad to have in one's collection.

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    2. I've been meaning to talk to you about your mention of trainers who have hurt your progress. The ones you who said damaged your drive.

      I never could have dreamed a trainer could do such a thing, cuz aren't they the ones we pay money to to help us?

      I know you understand, and I know you've already read my awful stories about the 2 trainers I've had with my new horse Mag. And the other crappy one I had with my mare Mara.

      I stand here today with the questions playing over me, why, and I see two trainers in a row who wrecked my confidence, because they are profis and I'm just me.

      And they both refused to ride my horse for either the 1st time or the 2nd, respectively.

      I cannot say he was outside their comfort zone, but I saw them begin to fail with him, and I saw Lukas get off when Mag started to behave other than compliantly. Rewarding him for misbehaving, the worst thing you can ever do with a horse.

      These two trainers convinced me that they could not handle him, because of his rambunctious behavior.

      And told me to send him away for profi training, which I cannot afford.

      I hope I can manage him better than the professionals I've paid by the hour, I hope that I am correct, that I only need an enclosed area and people, friends, all around me, repeatedly, who are engaged in helping a young horse learn to be a mature horse.

      Why have I taken up so much space on your blog today? ummm oh ,yes, cuz you took up half my day with your ideas about nutrition. Please, continue. : )

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    3. Lytha, you are always welcome to comment as much as you like!:) I struggle with the notion of using trainers more than ever. I feel like I absolutely must have a riding instructor now, to help me as I learn a new way of thinking about riding, but my core belief is that the rider needs to develop a certain level of confidence on her own. (Easier said than done, of course!). I have to watch myself carefully when I take regular lessons so that I don't begin to rely so heavily on what the trainer is saying that I lose my ability to see that things aren't working or ask questions about what doesn't feel right. I also want to feel comfortable riding my horse on my own, without someone guiding my every move. My current solution is to ride with an instructor once a month. That gives me a regular "calibration," if you will, so that I can get feedback on how my work with Nimo is going, but not so often that I stop thinking for myself.

      I don't know the full story with your horses, but based on what I'm working through now, I would say misbehaving under saddle is a potential red flag for either a physical issue or a communication issue. It might be a good thing that your trainer got off when your horse started to misbehave. At least the damage was limited. Of course, I don't mean you shouldn't work through the issue, but if your trainer didn't feel comfortable, he probably wouldn't have been able to deal with the situation very well anyway. I've come to believe that it's OK for horses to express their feelings, even if they are expressing frustration. And the bigger the reaction from the horse, the longer he has probably been trying to communicate the problem.

      I do have confidence that you will be able to work through Mag's issues because you are so thoughtful and always researching and asking questions. I think that is the only way to be with horses. And definitely having friends who can give you eyes on the ground while you ride (maybe even take video?) and be available to bounce ideas off of will be a huge bonus. I don't really have anyone at my barn now that can do that for me, and it would be so helpful, I think!

      I also have come to believe that ground work and building trust when I'm not in the saddle can help improve things in the saddle, so you may find it helpful as well.

      Good luck!

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  3. Here is a video of that ride (scroll down). I turned off the camera the moment Lukas started to dismount.

    I believe the reason Mag was refusing to go forward and turn right was that Lukas was asking for a bend through his body and bending is hard and Mag doesn't like things to be hard.


    http://horsecrazyamerican.blogspot.de/2016/06/lukas-rides-mag-first-time.html

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    1. Part 1: I watched your video, lytha, and I do have some thoughts. They are just my opinions, though, and I am far from a horse trainer, having made more mistakes with my horse than I can even remember:)

      First, the use of leg yield is controversial in the dressage world. It is a fairly new movement and its supporters claim that it is a great way to teach young (or horses new to dressage) to go sideways from a leg aid. I'm not sure I've heard the supporters identify any other reason for teaching it, but there might be one.

      Those who disagree that leg yield is useful argue that it creates a conflict in the bend of the horse (head and poll are flexed in one direction while the horse's body moves in another) and that this conflict is not a good idea.

      I have schooled leg yield with Nimo for years and he has generally been quite good at it. And now I am paying a price for that ability (as well as other mistakes too, I'm sure). I am now quite firmly in the latter camp that believes leg yield has nothing to offer because of the conflict in bend.

      It also can allow energy to escape through the outside shoulder if the head and poll are flexed too much, and that it is what I see in your video. If I were going to teach leg yield, I would do it on a straight line, so I could be certain that the poll was flexed only slightly away from the direction of the sideways movement. And by slightly, I mean that you should only be seeing your horse's eye, not his whole head. Otherwise, it is really impossible for the horse to maintain the movement. Overflexing/bending creates a situation where the horse's shoulder almost has to pop out and any engagement that could have benefited your horse is lost. Obviously, when a horse is just learning the movement, there will be failures, but I don't think using a circle gives the horse the best chance for success.

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    2. Part 2: In terms of why Mag was not relaxed and became reactive, I'm only speculating. You know your horse much better than me, but I would say that Mag was not relaxed and became upset because the movement was hard and your trainer overdid it. When teaching a horse a new movement, I find it helpful to ask for a couple of strides and then take a break and then a couple more and a break. And then maybe do something else he knows and come back to it later. While some horses do seem to really enjoy an intense, dedicated effort, most do not and asking for something new over and over and over can create both physical discomfort and mental fatigue.

      I do think your trainer was right to stop schooling the movement when Mag began to fuss. I would not have gotten off, though. Instead, I would have walked him on a loose rein to help his muscles release the tension brought on by the movement and apologized for having overdone it. And the next time I rode, I would have asked for less. It is important to end on a good note, but it is even more important to listen to what your horse is telling you, and if Nimo starts to fuss at me because I've overworked him, I will give him a break or call it a day because the fault is actually mine and not his. I have never found that way of thinking to cause any escalation of behavior issues. Horses do seem to have a sense of fairness and can recognize the difference between a rider saying, "I screwed up and asked too much, so I'm giving you a break or calling it quits for today" and "I'm letting you get away with being an idiot because I'm too lazy to address it."

      I think you would be fine to start work on shoulder-in and half pass instead of leg yield. Those movements offer much better gymnastic benefits, although they are still hard. (Sylvia Loch has some awesome DVDs on teaching them if you have access to them.) You might only get the feeling of the movement without the actual manifestation of it for awhile (days or even weeks), but if you work on it for short periods of time several times a week, it will come. And make sure that you do not ask for the fancy show ring version of the movement, because that will not be helpful. Just ask for a bit of shoulder-fore to start with and then when you get it, hold the shoulder-fore and ask for the smallest bit of sideways movement by rotating your upper body (including hips) and pressing a bit more with your outside leg for even just one step and go from there.

      And now, for what I've been dying to say - your property is the most gorgeous thing I've ever seen! Those trees! OMG! Just stunning!

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  4. I agree with absolutely everything you typed here: ) That is exactly what happened and what I experienced. I was like, Why the heck would he school such a difficult thing on his FIRST RIDE? Why couldn't he realize the horse needs to learn to just walk forward in the woods and be relaxed?

    I was shocked when he jumped off and my first thought was, "Why couldn't he have just asked me to go to the horse's head and help if they were having trouble?" and my second was, "Why couldn't he have let it go and just given Mag something easier that he could feel good about?" WHY!

    And then the guy told me I need to send the horse away for professional training, and that he would no longer be helping me. !!! I felt so hopeless, I put my tack away in the attic.

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    1. I'm sorry you had such a bad experience, lytha. It sounds like you have really good instincts, though. I think one problem that can occur when we work with trainers is that we shut down our inner thoughts because we don't think we could know as much and we feel like whatever we are feeling couldn't possibly be right. But when you care about an animal and work with him and truly know him, I think it is possible to know even more than a professional who either doesn't know your horse as well or is desensitized to what makes him unique. I really hope that things work out for you and Mag - he looks like a very nice horse:)

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