Do foam saddles really change over time?

I am saddle hunting (again) because the used (but very high quality) foam paneled saddle I bought last summer turned out to not fit my horse after all. I event, so am looking for a good jump saddle. I prefer monoflap, but am open to traditional too.

My main question is…Do foam paneled saddles change over time? I thought that what you bought is what you got, and you couldn’t change them, so you had to make sure they fit. Whereas with a wool flocked panel, some adjustments can be made.

The salesperson who represents a wool-flocked saddle is telling me that foam is no good, and she’s implying that foam will change over time - yet lots of people ride in foam paneled saddles. Help!

Like most materials that are exposed to air, sweat, heat, cold, dampness, and dryness, foam can and does change over time. It doesn’t change in the way that wool does (packing down/forming hard lumps) but it can compress and lose its elasticity.

Many of the more expensive foam saddles can have their panels replaced with new ones, the cost is between $600 and $800 usually.

Saddle fitters of the traditional school are always going to recommend wool because it can be tweaked and replaced - however myself am done with wool because the second the fitter is done with it, it begins the neverending process of packing down/ forming to the horse and I’m already saving for a flocking adjustment in 6 months. My foam saddle sits on top of an infinitely adjustable pad that costs me $0 to change, and he and I are much happier.

I looked at a brand new Tad Coffin that was made 10 years ago but never used. Seller said that due to the special foam panels they had to be replaced even though they had never been ridden in. I passed, quite the skeptic.

Enjoy the ride, that’s very strange. I’ve had a number of tads through the years and the only one that really needed it’s panels done was a 2004 that I ride 5+ horses a day in for five years. The others that haven’t been used nearly as hard are fine. My most recent one is going back to be made into a smartride.

My prestige Eventer is a 2003 felt and foam.
Zero upkeep. I’ve used it on several horses.
I loooooove felt and foam. Its also lighter than wool.

My Prestige Meredith has to be about 10 years old. Foam panel. Also zero upkeep and used on many, many horses. No complaints and it hasn’t gotten hard or anything like that.

I think it depends a little bit on which brand it is and how old it is. My understanding is that the foam used has gotten better over the years and the stuff used now tends to hold up well, especially with the higher end saddles. Although, from a couple of the posts here, it seems at least some of the older ones held up pretty well already.

Foam has certainly improved and on the whole, has better resiliency and durability. Yet, it also depends on how it is stored and taken care of. I have seen older foam just disintegrate in my hands which is pretty “yucky”.

I’ve never owned a foam panelled saddle. But my old English saddle from the 1970s had foam in the very small knee rolls. It is clear that has just become some kind of powder inside there. Saddle is being used in a kid’s lesson program now, no one seems to mind! Saddle was a no-name Argentinian brand, entry level for it’s time. I am sure foam has improved greatly since then! But I can’t imagine any foam holding up forever under conditions of heat, damp, and pressure. Wool panels don’t; they need to be reflocked.

So… how do you guys approach saddle fitters about your foam saddles? I took my beloved Prestige Event to be checked on my mare, and it fits relatively well, but he wanted to do “saddle surgery” on it, and would eventually like me to have a wool flocked saddle. We achieved the fit issue he identified with a shimmed pad, instead, and mare and I are both happy. For all the reasons above, I love my foam saddle, but will hate having to fend off my very sweet fitter about getting a wool-flocked one in coming years… although he IS a prestige dealer, and they DO come wool-flocked, too, and theoretically at least, I may need a new saddle one day.

I don’t know if this is correct or not, but a saddle fitter once told me you cannot reflock a foam saddle with wool since the leather on foam saddles is thinner and stretched more than a wool flocked saddle.

As to your question, I think it’s more an issue of, once a foam saddle settles down and fits a particular horse, it stays that way while the horse continues to develop and change.

You can’t add or subtract flocking from the panels of a foam saddle, like you can from a wool saddle, obviously. You can only use shims or pads to adjust. That said, I"ve read that foam is a bit more forgiving than wool, so you can get away with a less precise fit. I imagine that the tree would still need to be a good match. I have never used one, so have no idea how forgiving they really are.

A properly trained saddle fitter would most likely have a bias towards wool flocked saddles, since that’s what they’ve been trained to work with.

As far as switching out the panels, it is true that some foam panelled saddles have panels that are smaller in volume/thinner than wool panels would be. Perhaps in some cases you might need to construct entirely new panels, as well as new filling. And that higher volume of panel might change the way the saddle sits on a given horse.

My very sweet saddle fitter would probably sigh and mumble, and then order me a shimmed pad of some variety, if I insisted on a foam saddle!

Foam is a bit more forgiving than wool, so you can get away with a less precise fit.

Like most things horse related, it depends.

I had a beautiful Stackhouse saddle with foam panels. It fit my TB like a glove when I bought it (used). Two years later it was making him sore. I also a Kieffer Norbert Koof FL (wool) at the time, and he continued to be fine in that. His back didn’t change that much so I was surprised how much he objected to the saddle.

I could have had the Stackhouse “repaneled” but chose to sell it on. At this point I’m sticking with wool. My fitter charges $75 -$125 to “tweak” the wool for a fit and often times my saddles don’t need any adjustments. I have them checked 2x/year.

I think that using a pad to shim/adjust fit is a decent strategy depending on your discipline. As a foxhunter, I don’t like to depend on padding because we’re out for a long time over varied terrain and pads can shift. I have certainly depended on shimmed pads as short-term solutions for saddles that needed a little help in between fittings, or for new/young horses that needed to muscle up a bit.

I think the trained saddle-fitte has a bias towards wool panels in certain circumstances because they achieve the requirements, not because we’re trained on them!

When the foam panel fits, it fits, and I’m all about using them when you’re not going to get the benefit of a wool panel. If it’s going on multiple horses, you’re not going to be able to fine-tune the panel anyway, so foam can be a great choice.

I have a very hard time getting sufficient depth of panel for a shark-withered TB type with a foam panel. This is where wool makes a difference - I can build up a good depth behind the stirrup bar to balance the tree and lift it above his wither, without having to put anything near his shoulder where it might impinge.

Now if you’re in that situation, we’ve just defined the most high-maintenance panel possible! Of course, that depth of panel will compact over time. Of course the wool will migrate forward. And, if we did our job well, of course your horse will move better and develop more bulk throughout that trapezius area.

That’s just one example of where a wool panel gets a bad rap for being high maintenance. Often times a successful foam panel is getting itself known as low-maintenance precisely because it’s in the low-maintenance role that it’s best suited to!

KateWootenAgain, Glad to see you back! Sorry about your unauthorized dismount off of Butterz. However, it does give you time to educate us about saddle fitting!

I know, isn’t it cool! Now I have time to do all the things I wouldn’t have time for otherwise ???

I want to talk to people about the economics of the saddle fitting business in the wake of the Indy-Equestrian debacle too. I might have to til I’m off the pain meds for that ???