California Riding Magazine • February, 2013

Saddle Fit Epiphanies
ReactorPanel rides a swell of acceptance.

by Kim F. Miller

Promoting a saddle that looks unconventional has been a long haul, admits Carmi Weininger, owner of The ReactorPanel Saddle Company. But she doesn't regret a minute spent explaining how the saddles' shock-absorbing, completely adjustable panels react (hence the name!) to the horse's back and the rider's weight, and do so even more while both are in motion.

Carmi was a professional hunter/jumper trainer in Colorado when her current career was first foreshadowed in the 1990s. She was working with a difficult off-the-track Thoroughbred who launched her with remarkable frequency.

"I'd get on him, walk 20 feet and he'd turn into the Incredible Hulk," she recalls. "He'd get huge and fire me up into the rafters. I'd get back on and make him go to work. Three months later, I learned that my saddle had a broken tree that was poking into his spine. It suddenly dawned on me that to make him work, I had to be worse than the saddle."

The experience was the first of many that caused her to reshape her thinking about the saddle's impact on the horse.

She discovered the ReactorPanel saddle while struggling to solve a mare's mysterious back problems. At the time, the saddles were made by a boutique saddle maker in England. Carmi came upon them after exhausting a variety of veterinary and alternative therapies. Thousands of dollars, sixteen months and four saddles failed to help the mare, but the ReactorPanel did and made a convert of Carmi in the process. She bought the company in 2000 and quit her training business to focus full time on the saddles in 2001, when she relocated to Oakland.

In the intervening 12 years, Carmi has gone from hearing "I have to choose between my trainer and your saddle because it looks so weird" to "My trainer is thrilled with how my horse is going in your saddle."

How It Works

In truth, the ReactorPanel saddle only looks a little different and it's mainly because its panels extend beyond those seen in traditional english saddles. But it is, indeed, very different in its construction and performance.

The panels on traditional english saddles are permanently attached to the seat and filled with wool, foam or air for padding. Conversely, the ReactorPanel system consists of pieces that are custom-assembled for each horse. The underside of an RP saddle is covered in Velcro. Two individual panels, shaped to conform to the horse's spine and rib contours, are connected to the underside of the saddle by disks. Available in half-, three-quarter and one-inch widths, the disks facilitate infinite customization to the horse's shape and they absorb shock. Operating independently, the soft, flexible panels broaden or narrow in response to the horse's wither, shoulder and back conformation and way of going, enabling the horse to comfortably carry the rider's weight.

From the rider's standpoint, RP saddles' construction facilitates close contact and a secure position because the seat nestles down nicely between the disks at the front and back of the saddle. At RP, rider comfort is just as important as the horse's comfort, and the company's policies back this up. It's impossible to buy a ReactorPanel saddle without a two-week test ride – which is free.

Horses who carry their rider's weight comfortably carry their own bodies comfortably and the result can be a revelation. Carmi has experienced, witnessed and heard about remarkable way-of-going transformations for thousands of horses. Problematic behaviors disappear, strides lengthen, bad attitudes do 180s. She's heard it all and, although she's no longer surprised by such success stories, they still make the charismatic RP president happy every time.

Saddle Fit Savvy At Horse Expo

Educating customers is ReactorPanel's best sales tool. "Based on pressure testing, most saddles don't fit, and many of these are custom-made. We hope consumers will learn enough to demand different criteria for what is OK to put on a horse's back," Carmi says. As this learning curve continues, she believes "our saddles will wind up on the short list" for those who really want to understand how and how significantly saddle fit affects the horse. She's enjoying a hard-earned sea change toward broad acceptance of the ReactorPanel system. Endurance riders were quick with the math on how increased freedom of movement would affect their performance. "Imagine what an extra inch or two per stride translates to over a 100-mile ride," Carmi notes.

Dressage riders are another group that's especially receptive, but there is much education left to do. The horse's inability to speak up hinders the process.

"There's a huge amount of ignorance that persists because the horse doesn't protest," Carmi asserts. Behavior and attitude problems can be forms of protesting saddle-related pain, but she believes that a huge number of horses just suck it up. "I've come to believe that we teach young horses that riding hurts. The youngster has to stay in professional training until it becomes stoic enough to be safe for an amateur." It's not an arbitrary idea. "It comes from years of experience fitting horses with saddle-induced damage from atrophy and spasmodic pain to galls and open sores. The advent of pressure testing means that we can document the problems and hopefully begin to convince people that these problems are real."

There are more reasons a horse might not protest the pain of poor saddle fit. "Often it's because the pressure of the rider's signals makes more noise than the pain of the saddle." Genetics play their part. "The horse limping at the back of the herd is the one targeted by the predator, so there's hard wiring to ignore pain, too."

"Consciousness is shifting," Carmi reports. "It was going slowly for many years and now it feels like it's more of a wave." Horse Expo Pomona's recruit of Carmi as an educational speaker at this month's show at the Pomona Fairgrounds is the most recent of many signs of acceptance for the ReactorPanel concept.

She won't be talking specifically about her company's saddles, but that doesn't dim her enthusiasm one bit. On Thurs, Jan. 31, Carmi's topic is Saddle Fit For The Rider: An Essential Component of Partnership and Harmony; Friday, Feb. 1, it's Conformational Challenges and Solutions for Hard To Fit Horses; and Friday, it's Technology Versus Tradition, Mythbusting for Better Saddle Fit.
Candid with her saddle fit philosophies, Carmi is sure to make her Horse Expo presentation educational and entertaining. For those who can't make it, ReactorPanel's Oakland-based staff and team of saddle fitters are well equipped to advance her educational mission. If they sell a few saddles in the process, all the better!

For more information on The ReactorPanel Saddle Company, visit www.reactorpanel.com or call 888-771-4402.