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Why we use a Saddlecloth

Melasól x Sportsfreund – The Talk: Truths about Saddles, textile competence, consumption and is luxury even allowed?

Katharina from the leather manufactory Melasól and Veronika from Sportsfreund Studios have jointly designed an exclusive collection of saddle cloths with fish leather decoration.

When two designers get together, the result is something very chic and classy. But is there actually more to the collaboration than the good looks of the product?

Katharina and Veronika had a talk:

Veronika
Dear Katharina, we have known each other for a while, but last year you approached me with the idea of decorating the Sportsfreund wool saddle blankets with Icelandic fish leather piping. It didn't take you long to persuade me to do something so beautiful.

Katharina
Yes, you were in straight away and requested the first model in your factory.

Veronika
I always knew that you were a saddler form your bridles. But only recently did I realise that you are, as the word suggests, a saddler, i.e. someone who knows a lot about saddles. Tell me about your career.

Katharina and Draupnir

Katharina
I have a degree in environmental engineering. But that wasn't really what I wanted, so I started looking around at the same time. I have always done a lot of handicrafts and painting. In reality, I'm more the creative, crafty type.

Veronika
Oh yes, that is a deep imprint. I also loved to do handicrafts from an early age.

Katharina
There is a deep satisfaction in creating something. I thought about doing something with horses. I quickly put veterinary medicine out of my mind. Then I sewed my first bridle with youtube and increasingly expanded and refined my "leather crafting". When I finished my studies, I registered my business. I trained as a saddler and finished as the best in NRW. I continued my business on the side, I specialised in bridles.

Practising the usual saddlery trade with repairs, reworking, changing girth straps, upholstering soon wasn't creative enough for me and didn't really fulfil me. I wanted my Melasól Bridles as my main job.

But of course I went to customers a lot for fitting appointments. My boss always let me have a look myself first. So over the years I have accumulated a lot of knowledge about saddles. Today I'm always asked at the stable if I can have a look.

Veronika
So you've got all the skills you need as a saddler. However, your main focus was always on working with leather and decorating.

Katharina
That's it!

Veronika
We're not talking about the huge subject of saddles now, but we should discuss a few basics.

Because you are, after all, the best saddler of the year in NRW, you know a lot about saddle fit and can tell me why it is only logical for you to help design and release a saddle cloth.

Katharina
But first tell me about yourself!

Veronika and Dagfari

Veronika
I also have a strange background. I'm actually a technical translator, but I quickly realised that although I like the intellectual approach to language, it's far too lonely. It's a direct path to social isolation. In the workshop you can listen to the radio or podcast, make phone calls, send voice messages back and forth. That's not possible when translating. I then worked in a publishing house for many years. At the same time, I returned to my craft roots and spent more than 20 years designing other people's walls with paint. There I could cultivate my love of colours and painting. At home I was always crafting, painting and sewing. I sewed my first doll clothes with my mum and grandma. Later, I made my own clothes and even historical costumes from the Rococo and Empire periods. That's where my intimate relationship with textiles and love of good materials comes from.

Why do you ride with a saddle cloth, because you can pass so much bling-bling and shish-boosh on it or because you, as a trained saddler, also see practical benefits in it for you and the horse?

Katharina
Of course! For me as a saddler, one thing applies first: The saddle cloth is - as already contained in the name - primarily there for the saddle. To protect the saddle from sweat and dirt. Theoretically, you can also ride without a saddle cloth, but then you have to take good care of your saddle. Unfortunately, very few people do that.

Veronika
A saddle is also quite expensive and deserves to be looked after regularly.

A saddlecloth should primarily serve to protect the saddle.

Katharina
For me as a saddler, the first thing that counts is the protective aspect for the saddle, but a saddle cloth can also do more or less, depending on its construction.

Firstly, it should be as thin as possible. The prerequisite is always that the saddle fits. It has to have a certain stability, keep its shape, not wrinkle under the saddle, not slip, be made of good material, carry the sweat to the outside.

I am very critical of the widespread "I only use a pad" in the Icelandic horse sector. Have people ever put the rubber pad on their bare skin or head? I find it so disgusting and unpleasant. It horrifies me when I see the pad being placed directly on the fur. It pulls and hurts! It sucks for the skin, it sucks for the hair, I can't understand where the trend comes from. They say the saddle won't slip any more. If the saddle slips, then the saddle doesn't fit. Then have the saddle adjusted. I could be upset for hours!

Veronika
That's passion! Who wants to wear a silicone or gel cap?

Katharina
There are also correction pads that have their justification. But then please use them properly and put them between the saddle cloth and the saddle. Or a pad made of wool or a material that does not hurt the skin. Then the pad can also be used for difficult back lines etc. but please use it consciously and consult a saddler. Or the saddle blankets with the foam rubber balancing thing and all that ... actually totally unnecessary.

Veronika
How do you see it, some pads feel more like mattress toppers, with the promise that they cushion particularly well. But aren't the saddle panels responsible for the padding?

Katharina
The saddle tree distributes the rider's weight and transfers it to the saddle panels. If the panels are correctly fitted, they transfer the pressure evenly over the entire length and width of the panels. Then there is neither more pressure in the front nor in the back, nor does a bridge form. Of course, there are horses for which a saddle fit is very difficult because of a low back, etc. In these cases, the compensating pads also serve a very good purpose. In this case, compensating pads also serve a very specific purpose, but generally stuffing 5 cm of padding under the saddle does not help, it only makes it worse. Because you are further away from the horse, you have less possibilities to influence the seat, because so much spongy material is wobbling underneath you. Your aids arrive unclearly or even somewhere else than they should, with the result that your horse doesn't understand you. The saddle panels are, so to speak, interfering with the clean work.

Saddle pads are not responsible for distributing pressure, the panels are.

Veronika
I can just see the Princess on the Pea, who no longer feels the pea, but is swaying on top of her mattress tower.

Katharina
But we want to feel the pea when we ride!

This is the contradiction that we want to feel as much as possible when riding, but are no longer able to because of the different supports.

Veronika
The padding is therefore not primarily there for a soft bedding but for the even distribution of pressure, because our buttocks do not press evenly either - keyword is ischial tuberosities, stirrup suspension etc.

Katharina
The tree distributes the pressure first and the saddle panels absorb the distributed pressure and pass it on evenly to the horse.

Veronika
So it is not the job of the saddle cloth to distribute the pressure?

Katharina
Exactly, it should primarily protect the saddle and, if it can do more, carry the sweat away from the horse.

Veronika
... and that's when we come in with the wool. For example, my stomach turns at the sight of wet saddle areas. When the pad comes down and the hair is standing in all directions, preferably against the grain, with this typical nap imprint, and the horse is then put away like that. You can often still see the imprint the next day because the hair is so sticky from sweat. In cooler weather, the sensitive muscles of the saddle area get really cold.

Katharina
… nice

Veronika
I feel so sorry for the horses that I at least want to fix their hairs. This brings us back to our theme of appreciation.

Katharina
It definitely has something to do with respect. The horse does something for me and I am so ungrateful that I don't even groom it anymore. I think grooming after riding is super important to distribute the remaining sweat, massage the skin, it's a bit like stretching after exercise.

Veronika
After all, you want to let a nice event come to an end. And not rush on immediately. The best thing to do is to throw a fleece blanket on it and put it in the paddock. The next day you are surprised that the blanket is broken and soaked with pee. Then it's the blanket's fault.

Katharina
And what can a saddle blanket made of wool do better than others?

Veronika
Wool can absorb an incredible amount of sweat - up to 30% of its own weight - and thus ensures a dry saddle area, which in turn cannot cool down. On the other hand, it never feels cold and clammy; you can put it on the horse even when it is damp. If it doesn't dry properly in winter or you get caught in the rain, that's no problem at all. In summer, wool also protects against overheating under the saddle because it always maintains a neutral temperature. Even if it would be too warm for us in the summer with an Icelandic jumper, that doesn't apply to the horse, because it doesn't wear the wool on its bare skin. Cotton saddle blankets always have a polyester filling that is neither absorbent nor temperature regulating.

Katharina
What's inside your saddle cloth then?

Veronika
This is actually the best thing about the wool saddle blanket. The padding is a pure new wool with a minimal addition of maize fibre to ensure dimensional stability and washability. There is nothing else in it. Only wool from sustainable sheep farming in Austria, Switzerland and Norway, processed in Bavaria. A really great modern product that I am totally grateful to have discovered. A polyester filling would have led the wool product ad absurdum and would have been really dishonest. Even though the outer material is the best and most beautiful Bavarian loden.

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Katharina
But isn't wool said to have a lot of abilities?

Veronika
There is indeed a lot of research going on in order to scientifically substantiate empirical knowledge.
Another nice side effect of wool is that it doesn't take on any odours, which is really nice for horse equipment. This is due to its antibacterial properties. Horses with sensitive skin benefit greatly from this. Just think of the stuffy, sweaty climate under a rubber or silicone pad. Cue pustules in the saddle area. It is also said that wool stimulates circulation and at the same time relaxes the muscles. In the meantime, there are many medical applications, but I can't say to what extent the successes have been proven.

The advantage over lambskin is that the saddle cloth is easier to care for.

Katharina
Lambskin is often too thick. Your saddle blanket has the advantages without the disadvantages.
It is thin, but stable.

It offers the protection for the saddle, the advantages for the horse, the beautiful appearance, the regional processing and origin. The saddle cloth combines so many good points, a really good overall concept.

Veronika
Thank you very much. I am also very proud. It is almost a favourite product that I love to use myself.

Katharina
I've also had them for two years and don't want to do without them. And I recommend them to everyone who asks. Nothing else.

Veronika
All the nicer that we have come together.

One last thing: A pad is often a thoughtless fashion accessory. I think the younger female riders find a saddle blanket uncool and more a product for old women like me. A pad is cooler in terms of look and identification with the sport riders. The style in the iclandic Horse world likes to be sporty. I've seen a lot of young women who understand that their pad doesn't do the horse any good at all, but still can't bring themselves to wear what they see as an old-fashioned saddle cloth. They can't stand it in terms of style. We have to work on a new trend here.

Setting a new trend with saddlecloths

Katharina
I generally find it difficult in the Icelandic horse scene that there is a lot of brand dependency, either only one or the other brand in the whole stable.

Veronika
And the things are always black anyway!

Katharina
I can't stand that at all. The brand of saddle is not a statement in itself. I need a good fit. We still need to educate. You can't just buy a saddle on the internet. Based on a brand recommendation.

It is important to ask a lot of questions, inform yourself, form your own opinion and not chase after trends.

Unfortunately, we are often forced into a creative corset, limited by what is economical and what clients dare to do. I can only really let off steam very rarely. Making something is satisfying in itself, but it also has to bring in money.

Veronika
Keyword "confidence". In Germany, people are very timid when it comes to design and colours, actually they have a desire for colours, luxury, opulence in the process.... I often ask for the Wildest Dreams from the gut. Where does your heart call out Yaaaa inside? And then it's just grey or beige. Not standing out, the fear that it will be too much, the inner question of whether I'm allowed to have it, it's my right. That sounds like puritanical self-mortification. But it's so nice to indulge yourself.

Deep down we are creators and designers, it's like a very strong play instinct.

Katharina
You could do so much more. But many clients are afraid of that because it's too unconventional. Then they say you can't do it that way. And I say: JUST DO IT!

Veronika
Why should I buy something for my horse that also has golden fish leather? Doesn't something simple do the job just as well?

With the first Swarovski collection of sweat rugs I got a huge shitstorm on Facebook about this "cover adence".

Katharina
So much money for so much shit

Veronika
There was so much hostility and malice. "Once you roll in the mud, the beauty is gone. "I just thought to myself, "You're a pig yourself".

Absolute luxury - a cooler rug covered with rhinestones

Katharina
I think that's where envy comes in and then the cherries are too sour anyway. Actually, I think it's cool, but because I can't afford it, I think it sucks. No question, some people have more money than others. But that's not the only reason.

Veronika
Sure, those who can't afford it, no question. That's none of my business and I respect it completely.
But there is also an inner judgement about decadence, impropriety, immorality or one's own fear of arousing envy.

But dear Katharina, why can I afford something luxurious for my horse?

Katharina
I think it's important. Horses are our hobby, it should be fun. It is often enough overshadowed by fear and illness, horses die, get injured, are put to sleep, someone has a riding accident. That's exactly why I think you should make the hobby as fun as you can. It makes a difference whether I put a saddle blanket and a cheap snaffle on the pony and say it fits, it serves its purpose. Or how it feels when I put on my beautiful bridle with the fine fellows jewellery and the rainbow piping and the matching wool saddle blanket from us. It does so much to me, which is also transferred to the horse, because I am proud, because it looks great, because I feel comfortable with it. That is an important aspect beyond practicality. I also make myself beautiful when I go to a wedding and don't come in a shower hairstyle and sweatpants. I'm happy that I look good and I radiate that. You can do the same with horses. Of course the horse doesn't give a shit either - but...

Veronika
but... - I have to smile because you made such a great plea - of course the horse doesn't give a shit on the surface, but you can communicate something to the horse with your inner attitude. Every woman who has made herself beautiful feels hornier and more confident. And when you have dressed up your pony, the same thing happens. He can feel that.

To this day, I find it amazing in that I have a horse. My childhood dream fulfilled by myself. Being with the horse is a small holiday for me every time. And so I want to dress up nicely to mark this high occasion and so does the horse. I am a mediocre rider with a mediocre horse, but at least earn myself a 10.0 on styling. I admire my horse for its natural beauty and out of gratitude I groom it and make it even more beautiful with fine equipment.

Luxurious and handmade: The bridles from Melasól Photo: Ponyliebe Fotografie

Katharina
That also has to do with respect. The horse would get along wonderfully without us, we want something from the animal, we have taken it out of its natural habitat, if I ride you, then I will take care of you and clean you of dirt and brush your long hair.

Veronika
The horse can even suffer because we are not skilled enough. Unfortunately, one has to admit that.

But what makes it better for your horse if you sit like shit and put a gold saddle blanket on him? It changes my attitude. Horses are so social and feel it when I admire them or when others look at them. I want to make my horse beautiful. Of course, one goal is to make him beautiful while riding or through riding, but because I have limited possibilities, I can at least celebrate him like this.

And you also want admiration for your horse. And when others say to him how beautiful he shines, how fine he looks in his xy, then I believe that this communicates to him.

Katharina
I think so too. Horses don't care why they are admired, but they sense when you become a little proud yourself, and that is transmitted. And they like and enjoy attention. A beautiful, elegant and well-groomed appearance and what it does to people is reflected back to the horse in any case.

Veronika
Do you know our blog article "Tradition of horse decorating"?

Katharina
In the past, it was even more special to have a horse not only for the field, it was a fierce status symbol. And the relationship to materials was different, there was much less of everything, everything was more precious, you had to deal with things differently, you couldn't order three thousand cheap leather bridles in three weeks. That's where we should go back to. I only buy one bridle or saddle blanket now, but it's so good that I only need one...

Veronika
Of course, we all have to curb our consumption. So, the customers should buy less elsewhere and more from us! Of course, we are the exception...

Katharina
... that's it. I don't buy a cheap new bridle or blanket every year because it breaks anyway and then I hang it up or throw it away. I'd rather spend a bit more money to have a piece that is so good that it will last the life of the horse. The same goes for clothes ... don't buy 30 million jackets and trousers but think more about what I'm going to do with them, do I even need that much ... 2-3 cool outfits for the horse should be enough. It would be much nicer to buy more consciously, and of such high quality that I can use them for a lifetime and always enjoy them. Or at least I can still sell them on well, because the things simply don't break or can always be repaired easily.

A 100% sustainable product: Wool Rug BAVARIA from Sportsfreund

Veronika
This is an important aspect of sustainability, consumer behaviour as a contribution to a better ecological balance. In our case, one could even say that the purchase of luxury items, which are sometimes so frowned upon, promotes greater sustainability because they are treated with more care due to their appreciation. I treat a Melasol bridle that I helped to design with greater appreciation. Hopefully, a Sportsfreund product does too.

By the way, Dagfari has an extra riding rug for special days. Olive green with light gold-green rhinestones. It reminds me of my childhood, when drops of water glisten in the sun on the moss after rain in the forest. The sight always made me happy. Until today, because I make an imaginative story around it and already have fun preparing for the ride together like this.

And because I'm so happy, I ride a whole lot looser. Smile on the horse!! My riding partner looked at me as if I didn't have all the bridles in the cupboard when I showed her the riding rug for Dagfari.

Katharina
That's the way to do it! Think more! Water more consciously. This is an emotional value and an expression of love for these wonderful creatures.

Veronika and Katharina have always been horse girls. Katharina's first words were daddy, mummy, horse, at the age of five she started at the riding school, at nine she got a riding share on an Icleandic horse and since 2019 she has her own Icelandic horse, the gelding Draupnir. Veronika had to wait longer, as a child she drew horses longingly, admired them from a distance and cried when riders rode past her. Then, at 38, she thought "it's now or never" and booked riding lessons at an Icelandic horse farm, then ventured out on her first ride in Iceland. Today, together with her daughter Marie, she has three Icelandic horses, and her own gelding is called Dagfari.

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