IBERIAN SADDLES


Baroque saddles and the corresponding riding culture along with its equipment , are presently experiencing an unexpected popularity. Independantly of race, today one sees from pony through warm-blooded to cold-blooded with a Spanish riding equipement and they all look good. Not only because of their appearance but also because health function, ever more horse lovers are choosing saddles from house BENTAIGA.

Iberian saddles, to which Portuguese saddles also belong, can be divided into two main types. The first are rigid saddles, with conventional saddle tree of wood or synthetic material; the second are the so-called Vaquerasaddle in which the tree is flexibly built from different layers of straw, artificial material or rawhide.
Here you see two typical representatives of Iberian saddles. Above: the “Portuguesa”; below: the “Espanola”.

SADDLE WITH WOOD - OR SYNTHETIC TREE

An essential difference between the Iberian saddles with their inflexible saddle tree and the well known English saddles is the much greater support area with its better weight distribution. A second difference is the flat, deep seat as well as the more or less large pommel and cantle, according to classical pattern. The Portuguese saddle has a special place among these inflexible saddles whose very large pommel and cantle literally “frame” the rider. The less well known Portuguese “Relvas” saddle gives the rider more space without loosing its typical representative Portuguese look..

The many different names of Spanish saddles should not mislead you. They are all variations of the same basic model. For example, “Riano”, “Espanola”, “Potrera” and “Jerezano”, to name just a few, all have more or less the same rigid saddle tree. More recently different, so-called elastic models from Italy and Spain are appearing on the market. Externally they are similar to the “Portrera” or the “Espanola” saddles. These saddles are so pliant that they fold in upon themselves as it were, and thereby their weight distribution amounts to nothing.
The English saddle tree made of wood or synthetic material
The Iberian saddle tree made of wood for most models except “Vaquera”

"THE ORIGINAL VAQUERA - FLEXIBLE BLESSING OR NIGHTMARE ?

The so-called “Vaquera” saddle is probably the best known, and for many, the most typical of the Iberian saddles. Many people know this saddle only from stories or from photos. Others, on the other hand, have come to know this saddle on long journeys as the most comfortable and safest saddle. Arriving back home, they did not want to give up this unique seating experience and decided to buy such a saddle.
However, in most cases, their disappointment was very great. In fact, what they get is a monstruous weight which sets the rider usually 10 cm above the horse, not to speak of the lack of thigh contact.
People have heard that one has to become used to these saddles; however, the seating comfort that one gets with a well worked-in vacation saddle doesn`t come even after months. The horse also doesn`t appear to find the saddle particularly comfortable, because it is much too long and because it pinches the shoulders as well as the kidney area. Very quickly this exotic saddle would become a mere piece of decoration or a curiosity in the saddle closet.

To explain this phenomenon, we unfortunately need to expand a little.
The “Vaquero” saddle is worldwide one of the most original saddles and, in its original form, is about four hundred years old. Even today it is used by Spanish steer cowboys – the “Vaqueros” – in their daily work.
There is nothing trendy on this saddle; every detail has proved itself and fulfills its purpose. Beginning with its base and continuing through the V-formed pommel and the cantle mostly made of steel, which reaches well into the shoulder area, this constitutes together with straw and linen the foundation for the later saddle. Then the whole thing is covered with wet rawhide and heavy leather. Each of these layers is separately, very stabily sewn and produces the foundation of the saddle. The extremely large support area consists usually in a padding which is filled with a mixture of horsehair and cotton. The actual seating area only appears at first to be a simple sheepskin; in reality, it is an artfully padded doublelayered cushion.
So made, this saddle is an indestructable work instrument for the “Vaquero”, built for horse and rider, who sits in the saddle up to eight hours each day.
Particularly during the first weeks, the saddle of the „Vaqueros“ is in practice never dry. The horse`s sweat and heat shapes the saddle. Therefore, at least during the riding-in stage, no blanket or foundation will be used, so that the warmth and the moisture can flow unhindered into saddle. Also the rider, through his own seat, forms the saddle according to his own anatomy. Only in this way does the saddle shape itself completely to the horse and the rider.
The normal rider, who rides each day for an hour and then hangs the saddle in the equipment room, will, even after years have passed, not have truly “sat into” the authentic “Vaquero” saddle.
Because the pommel and the cantle are rigid and do not give a single millimeter, the original “Vaquero” saddle must often be custom-made. The sunny vacation feeling, the southern flair, a clever seller and a good price tempt many to buy such a saddle. The exaggerated promise that every Spanish or Portuguese saddle will automatically fit the horse, unfortunately is seldom true.

Thus an actually fantastic saddle becomes a constant vexation.

The foundation of the “Vaquero” saddle consisting of special straw and linen.
Afterwards, the base is covered with wet rawhide. Here is an antique model in daily use for one hundred years.
Just before the sheepskin saddle-cushion is attached, the saddle is covered once more with strong leather.
The “Vaquero Original”, constructed in the old way conceived for decade-long use, this is a real heirloom.

"VAQUERA - LIGERO" A CONTEMPORARY COMFORTABLE SADDLE

It is not easy to get a traditional, master saddle-maker, who is deeply imbedded in his own culture, excited over new ideas.
Through our good Spanish contacts, we finally found a small saddlemaker whose enthusiasm for new ideas and developments matched our own. This saddle-maker was willing to construct “Vaquero” saddles in the traditional way, with the form of an old, worked-in saddle, yet lighter.  Without decreasing its advantages, the saddle is produced without the massive use of materials. Now  however, the rider is much closer to the horse and this includes the position of the thighs.
“The Vaquero-Ligero” is today, even in Spain, a very desired saddle.
Here you see the “Vaquero-Ligero” as Mixta with a forward gallery It is a true “son” of the original. An extremely popular saddle, it is also often used by Spanish toreadors.

"CAMPO FLEX"

The success of the „Vaquera-ligero“ generated a richness of ideas. The extremely long and rigid forward pommel of the original and of the “Ligero”, constantly caused problems. With changing training situations of the horse or upper shoulder action, the pommel squeezed the horse enormously in the shoulder area.
The very first attempts to significantly shorten the pommel, and thus to make the saddle more flexible in the shoulder area, were sensational. Here, we can learn something from the English. The iron head of the “Campo Flex” is formed in almost the same way. The saddle thus becomes still lighter and can be built shorter. The freedom for the withers is maintained in this model; the extremely flat padding is unusual for a “Spanish” and promotes contact with the horse. Even traditionalists praise this saddle for its contemporary originality.
Because the saddle can be adjusted by a professional without the cushioning being removed, this saddle is suitable even for the most complicated horse. Up till now we have been able to fit or construct this saddle-type literally to every horse. In our shortest construction form - ultra corta – it measures exactly 50 cm and thus fits short horses very well, e.g. Andalusian horses, P.R.E., Frisian horses, Arab horses and ponies of all kinds. Through our three standard sizes – ultra corta, corta, and normal – we can satisfy the needs of every kind of horse – from pony to cold-blooded - and every rider.
The “Campo Flex” can be thought of as the “grandchild” of the original, without the typically long pommel of the “Vaquera”. Thereby, it is also flexible in the shoulder area.

BEWARE OF CHEAP IMITATIONS !

But beware ! Not everything that looks like a “Vaquera” or that has a sheepskin cover possesses the advantages mentioned above.
In the meantime especially in Spain there are terrible “Vaquero” imitations, external look-a-likes. These cheap or export saddles are known in Spain as “Vaquero” economico or as “Vaquera light”.  Of course, these saddles cannot be ridden in, and most of them are not flexible. Others, on the other hand, are so soft from the very beginning that they soon no longer accomplish the actual task of a saddle, namely to distribute weight, and this can hurt the horse significantly. The best they are good for is decorating the rider`s cabin. Most saddles which find their way to us here in Germany, or which are offered in equestrian stores, are standard factory saddles of well-known brands, with all the familiar advantages and disadvantages. In addition to these there are still saddle-makers who build traditional saddles of the highest quality, also including saddles made-to-order.
Cheap imitations are outwardly hardly distinguishable from the original.