How Much Do You CAIR What’s Inside Your Saddle? (Includes Pictures of the Secret ‘Flock Sock’)

How curious are you as a horse owner? Do you want to know how things work, what they look on the inside, and if they’re as good as the makers say – right the way through?

The guts of any piece of equipment are usually less pretty than the exterior, but nevertheless, we’re often happy to take the manufacturer’s word on trust.

Yet when the marketing message is that a particular brand is actually healthier for the horse’s back on account of its inbuilt ‘systems’, it’s definitely time to take a closer look. Consider a message such as this:

“Naturally, horses will demonstrate a marked improvement in performance when changed to a saddle featuring CAIR®.” (13/3/2017)

That’s pretty grand, isn’t it? How wonderful if it were only true. But working in Australia, birthplace of Weatherbeeta, Bates and Wintec, and a chain of saddlery stores that sells and fits these saddles, which is owned by that same company, I do find much evidence that persuades me otherwise.

At this point, I must make my usual disclaimer: I have no problem with any saddle that genuinely fits the horse. I do have a problem with misleading claims, intentional or otherwise, as expressed in my earlier article, Debunked: The Lie That’s Told About Adjustable Saddles.


CAIR for the Horse – or EASY-Marketing?


Easy flock? More details below…

Google CAIR and you’ll find it described as the “revolutionary CAIR® Cushion System for the ultimate performance panel”.

Navigating a range of websites, you might also discover that it is accompanied in saddles by the EASY-CHANGE® Gullet System and the EASY-CHANGE® Riser system.

Together, these three comprise the EASY-CHANGE® Fit Solution.

Confused yet? No matter, as you can read all about it on the EASY-CHANGE® website

Crazy as I find the labelling, and let’s be honest, the brand marketing department has gone a bit nuts, what really bothers me is that these much vaunted systems are not doing what it says on the packet. Nowhere near.


The Problem with Systems…


In my view, systems often evolve to the benefit of the people who operate them. That is fine: they make problems easier to understand and easier to navigate – and saddle fitting is certainly a problem when you can’t find the right fit for your horse.

So if a system results in a better saddle fit and, as the website suggests “your horse’s absolute comfort and your peace of mind”, all well and good.

But where systems go wrong is when the function of making life easier for people is given more importance than the problem they were originally intended to resolve.

Or, indeed, when they become an effective way of achieving increased sales through the handy marketing push they make possible.

And this bugs me because the horse’s much vaunted comfort is usually by this stage sliding further and further down the importance pile. Like a growing number of equine professionals, I’ve taken a look inside these saddles, and something simply isn’t adding up between the message and the reality.

At this point, I will say no more, but instead present some of the website content I’ve been reading this month. Alongside it, you’ll find some photos that I and others have taken.

Beyond the photo captions, I’ve made no comment until the last section on flocking. I found that had no choice, because the ‘secret flock sock’ is so secret, I can find no website content about it… Let’s just say that seems a little unusual.


 © All text copyright of the author, Jane Clothier, No reproduction of partial or entire text without permission. Sharing the link back to this page is fine. Please contact me for more information. Thank you!


“The CAIR® Cushion System”


CAIR panels removed from a Wintec, 5 years ago. Manufacturer’s own parcel tape.

“Fluidly working with your horse’s muscles, the revolutionary CAIR® Cushion System replaces traditional fillings in your saddle with air. The cushioning nature of air encourages your horse to soften, relax and engage. Seated closer to your horse, you become simply an extension of one another. Transcend into a new world of opportunities through the power of true connection. Empower your horse with the ultimate in comfort, and explore your true potential together with the CAIR® Cushion System. ”  (13/3/2017)

“CAIR: The Power of True Connection”


CAIR panel on original board backing, sliced to show open cell foam inside. 

“Finally a panel system that understands the mechanics of the equine back and the impact saddles have on horse and rider performance. The revolutionary CAIR® Cushion System replaces the traditional fillings in your saddle panel with air. There are two independently sealed Air Cushions within each Saddle Panel. The concept of air, as the ultimate in cushioning for the horse is simple.” (13/3/2017)



Vinyl sleeve and parcel tape – the tape affected by Australian heat.

“Air being a fluid medium will constantly adapt to the horse’s working muscles. This means that your weight will be distributed evenly across the entire length of the cushion, virtually eliminating pressure points. This extraordinary comfort results in freer movement, better carriage and a happier horse. For such a simple concept the dramatic difference the CAIR® Cushion System makes to a horse’s comfort and performance is profound.” (13/3/2017)



Foam panel insert, now renamed the EASY-Change Riser System. 

“The award winning CAIR® Panel Insert System was launched to retailers and saddle fitters around the world. Together with the tree adjustability of the EASY-CHANGE® Gullet System, this delivered a whole new level of adjustability in saddles. The insert system enabled retailers and saddle fitters to make adjustments within the panel effectively, efficiently and to the highest professional standards.” (13/3/2017)




More recent CAIR panel – outer sleeve and foam insert. (Note: panels are opened, so no air is present in these images.)

“The challenge lies in developing an air system that limits any opportunity for human interference on the performance of the panels.

“The cutting edge Research and Development Team at Bates Australia have spent many years refining and perfecting techniques for incorporating an air cushion into a saddle panel, before reaching a breakthrough in manufacturing method.

The CAIR® Air Cushions are shaped and refined at the point of manufacture to provide an even thickness throughout the panel….”
whatIsCAIR/evolution.htm (13/3/2017)




Another close up of that foam.

“What is Inside an Air Panel?”

Air is captured at atmospheric pressure in an open-celled foam and sealed in the Air Panel. Once the air panel is welded the open-celled foam becomes irrelevant, as it is the air trapped in the panel, which is doing the work.

Furthermore, the balance of saddles with the CAIR® Cushion System is easily altered without compromise to the performance of the air panels.” (13/3/2017)


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“How adaptable are the saddles for achieving an optimal fit?”

The riser/shim, board, and CAIR panel combination.

“Extremely, Saddles that feature both the CAIR® Cushion System and EASY-CHANGE Gullet System are unsurpassed in the flexibility they offer for achieving an optimal fit.

Once you have selected the correct gullet size for your horse, the CAIR® Panel Insert System enables you to alter the balance of your saddle without compromising the performance of the Air Panels.”



“Official Fit Disclaimer”

The riser/shims, used to add depth to flat panels (between 2 and 12 have been found in saddles).

N.B whilst the innovative EASY-CHANGE® Fit Solution offers unsurpassed flexibility in achieving an optimal fit, no one saddle can claim to fit every horse. It is always recommended ongoing professional advice is sought on the fit and in meeting the unique needs of each horse/rider combination. Global patents and design registrations apply. (20 Sept 2015)



Newer CAIR panel.

“The Current Day…”

“Bates Australia has now developed a means of offering these saddle fitting systems in both saddles featuring high performance CAIR® panels, as well as traditional flocked panels.” (13/3/2017)



But Hang On… “Traditional flocked panels”… What are they talking about?


The current ‘flocking’.

OK, this is where I break my silence. This is where I introduce the flock panel insert.

The thing is that for the past 2-3 years, other company saddlers have been finding these rather strange, stuffed fabric panels inside Wintec and Bates saddles brought in by customers requesting reflocking.

These fabric sleeves, which are the same shape as the vinyl CAIR sleeve, are packed hard and tight, meaning that the usual benefit offered by flocking – ie, ability to mould to the horse’s shape – is lost altogether. You won’t hear about that though, because this is a manufacturer’s secret (shhhh).







Where Can We Find the Flocking Info?


The flock sock is well-packed with balls of  synthetic flocking. 

Oddly, and strangely given all the Easy web pages, this ‘flock sock’ doesn’t have its own page and isn’t photographed on any of the Wintec, Bates and EASY-whatever websites.

Why? I’d speculate that the sock removes considerable time and dollars off the manufacturing cost of flocked saddles, without adding much that’s positive at the horse end of the equation.


[ed note. I’ve removed the detail about pricing here, because I made a mistake with it. That obviously isn’t good enough. I’m sorry about that.]

So, why is nobody hearing about this little innovation? The company don’t want to add flocking to saddles as it’s less profitable, but is offering ‘flocking’ (or their own version of it) simply to satisfy customer demand. Unfortunately, with this inner working of the saddles kept out of sight, the customer simply doesn’t know what they’re paying for.

And how good is that for the horse’s interests, we must ask?




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Debunked: The Lie That’s Told About Adjustable Gullet Saddles


One of the best innovations in the world of saddle making has been the interchangeable gullet plate in the synthetic saddle tree. I mean, there’s no getting away from it, it’s brilliant. With the removal of a few screws, every horse owner can adjust their own saddle in minutes. Easy.

saddleWhy so good? Well, they can be fitted to a lot of horses. They can accommodate the changing shape of a growing young horse, as well as seasonal weight gain and loss, or the development of back muscle through training.

So what’s my problem with them?

Unfortunately, such saddles are often accompanied by extra inventions,
this time originating in the marketing department.

Before I go on, I must declare an interest here. I fit saddles. What’s more, I fit saddles with interchangeable gullet plates. I’m not going to say which brand, because that’s not what this post is about. I say this simply to demonstrate that I’m not against adjustable saddles.

My problem is very much with the misleading statements that are made in order to sell them, and in particular the notion that these saddles can be adjusted to fit any horse. Not just a single weight-changing or shape-changing horse, or a few horses in the same yard, but any horse.

They can’t. It’s not true. They simply can’t.


Back to the horse’s back

XchangeLet there be no doubt that many horses experience a lot of pain from ill-fitting saddles that are too tight, or too wide, at the front of the tree. Most people are familiar with the sight of horses with white hair behind the shoulder blade, and areas of mild to profound muscle wastage.

The so-called wither profile is incredibly important for this reason. Gaining a correct fit across the gullet (and I mean gullet in the Australian sense – referring to the front of the saddle tree only, rather than the entire channel) is a highly important aspect of saddle fitting.

Yet it isn’t the only aspect. Astonishing as it may seem, horses are 3-dimensional organic structures. Yes! And they have many profiles in that area where the saddle sits.


S/W Ver: 96.66.76RThink about horses’ backs. The gullet plate matches the profile across the withers. But what about the profile along the withers, as well? Withers have different heights and lengths…

There are other profiles, too. There’s along the spine. There’s across the back at the rear of the saddle area, close to the last ribs. All of these profiles have both lengths and angles.


This is one of the reasons why many experts in the world of saddle making and fitting refer to the 9 points of saddle fitting. Several of these points involve the length and angle of the profiles I’ve just mentioned.

genesisGoing back a few years, the common view was that there are 5 points. Times have moved on, anatomy and biomechanics are better understood, and saddle design has evolved dramatically to reflect more recent ideas about how a saddle should interact with the horse’s body and movement, as well as the rider’s. And yet…

Fitting saddles isn’t like buying a pair of socks

Going by a single measurement might be OK for some things, but it isn’t for saddles. There’s more than one measurement involved, and I’m not just talking about the rider’s seat size. Think again about horses’ backs.

  • We have high withers, middling withers and rangy tabletops. High withers can extend way back into the area of the saddle.
  • Looking along the spine, we can see dippy backs, straight backs and bumpy backs.
  • Looking across the spine, we can spot angular A-frame backs and smooth, flat and pudgy backs.
  • It’s easy to spot uphill and downhill backs.
  • Not to mention short backs and long backs (or, to be more accurate with saddle fitting, rib cages).
  • And spines may have wide spinal processes or narrow ones.
  • And how about round rib cages that spring out nearer the spine, or narrow, flat-sided rib cages that drop sharply away, and everything in between?
  • This is before we even look at damaged backs, uneven shoulders, laterally curved spines, and all manner of physical issues affecting the horse, rider and the saddle in between.

Horses have a combination of these features. Many horses have one or two that can make saddle fitting a bit tricky.  Some have combinations that make saddle fitting an utter nightmare.

The saddle’s tree must reflect all those variations. It’s what makes saddle fitting such an interesting challenge, and occasionally a very hard one.

© All text copyright of the author, Jane Clothier, No reproduction of partial or entire text without permission. Sharing the link back to this page is fine. Please contact me for more information. Thank you!


But what about adjusting the flocking?

Well, what about it? Adjusting flocking is the saddle fit version of fine-tuning. It is not changing the overall fit of the saddle.

Adjusting the flocking when the tree is the wrong shape is like (ahem) whistling in the wind.

It’s like adding an extra hole to your belt in an attempt to make a pair of jeans fit, despite the fact that the waist is a size too narrow and the legs 6  inches too short.

Adjusting the flocking only works when the tree is already a fundamentally good fit. The same goes for any flocking substitute, such as risers or wedges inserted into the panels. It is not enough to make a saddle fit the horse, when the tree is the wrong shape.


screwdriverThe message is being massaged

Adjustable gullet plates are now free of the original designer’s patent restrictions and a number of companies are now using them.

As already said, that’s great, providing the saddles are fitted well.

And who determines that? It can be hard to be sure when certain departments continue to make this ongoing, inaccurate claim about their brand of saddles being adjustable to all horses.

It’s marketing at its worst. It’s not just misleading, it’s plain untrue. Worse, it’s willful mis-education that leads horse owners into the mistaken belief that because they have the right gullet plate, then their saddle fits and their horse can’t possibly be in any pain. 

It bugs me that people are being misled. It bugs me far more that horses end up being the silent incumbents of a problem with so much potential to lead to back pain. (And I have worked with the results first-hand.)

As I said earlier, when the saddle fits, FANTASTIC. In fact, FANTASTIC with bells on.

And when it doesn’t, it’s the horse who suffers, no matter how many professionals are saying that black is in fact white, and that with the right ‘system’, an adjustable saddle can be made to fit any horse.

It can’t.


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