Comparison of Heart Rate in a Horse Using Tad Coffin Performance Saddles and a Steuben Saddle
Prepared by Melissa Holland, DVM, DACVA June, 2017
The following study of three saddles was undertaken based on expansion of an existing model used by the designer/manufacturer of the Tad Coffin saddles. Two saddle models were utilized, the A5 and the TC2, both close contact saddles designed for use in hunter/jumpers. In the data attached these saddles are referred to with the symbols TC. The third saddle was a Steuben, all -purpose saddle with a deeper seat, originally purchased for the fit of the tree, then classified by the manufacturer as a narrow tree.
Based on the designer’s preliminary data on equine heart rate while wearing the TC saddles, a small study was made comparing resting heart rates between the two saddle types. The horse was then ridden in one or the other saddle for a 30 minute period. This procedure was followed for a minimum of 5 consecutive days for each saddle.
Subject and Materials
Horse – 15 year-old thoroughbred gelding; 17 hands, with typically prominent withers; show hunter; sound cardiovascular, respiratory and musculoskeletal systems prior to and throughout the experiment.
Observer/experimenter – Horse’s regular rider, a retired equine veterinarian with background in physiology and pharmacology specific to anesthesia, trained and certified in animal chiropractic with several years of practical experience in this discipline with the horse.
- Tad Coffin Performance Saddle A5 and TC2.
- A Steuben all-purpose saddle with narrow tree width selected from a number of saddles for this particular horse. This saddle is the observer’s normal, everyday saddle.
Girth – Professionals Choice nylon backed with neoprene panel, elasticized on both buckle ends (this horse’s everyday girth)
Padding – Standard, contoured cotton quilt under pad and a Mattes fleece half pad (this horse’s usual padding)
Heart rate (HR) was measured by digital palpation of the left facial artery as it crosses the medial surface of the mandible. The study was begun each day in the horse’s stall. The horse was not tied or cross tied at any time but allowed to move freely around the stall. The horse was groomed as usual in preparation for the day’s ride. Heart rate was measured, noted as elapsed time zero (0) in the attached data, and then the saddle was applied and positioned as normal for this horse. The girth was applied so that a finger was easily slipped between the horse’s rib cage and the girth. Heart rate was measured thereafter every 5 minutes and recorded for a total of 20 minutes.
The horse was then ridden for a total of thirty (30) minutes. For the first 10 minutes, the horse was allowed to walk on a loose rein with contact gradually taken for the latter half of this warm up period. The last 20 minutes consisted of trotting and cantering. Occasionally low verticals were jumped. At the end of the 20 minutes, the rider brought the horse to a walk, dismounted immediately and took the first heart rate measurement. This point is noted as elapsed time 50 minutes in the data chart and table attached. At elapsed time 52 minutes, 55 minutes, 60 minutes, etc., the heart rate was measured. At approximately elapsed time 55 minutes, the saddle was removed. At approximately elapsed time 60 minutes, the horse was given a bath with tepid water to assist cooling (as usual post-work for this horse during warm weather). Heart rate was measured for a minimum of 60 minutes after the end of the horse’s work (last measurement at elapsed time 110 minutes).
Data was gathered over a period of five riding days for the Steuben saddle and eight (8) riding days for the Tad Coffin (TC) saddles. The median heart rate for each elapsed time period from 0 to 110 minutes was compared.
As can be seen in the table and chart that follow, the horse’s median resting heart rate was consistently 36 bpm at time zero. The application of both the TC2 and the A5 saddles produced a significant reduction in heart rate. The heart rate dropped approximately 30% by the first reading at 5 minutes after saddle application and remained at this level throughout the 20 minute pre-ride period. The Steuben saddle produced no change in heart rate pre-ride.
Return to resting heart rate, 36 bpm for this horse, occurred on average, within 3 minutes post ride for the Tad Coffin saddles. For the Steuben saddle, 11.7 minutes was required for return to the horse’s resting heart rate. Interestingly, the horse’s heart rate continued to drop below the resting rate for the Tad Coffin saddles and consistently stabilized at the pre-ride- with -saddle -on rate of 28 bpm. The rate remained at this level for at least one hour (60 minutes) post ride. This phenomenon did not occur with the Steuben saddle.
This experiment began by determining the effect on heart rate, if any, between either the Tad Coffin A5 or TC2 and the Steuben saddle. The Tad Coffin saddles produced a significant reduction in heart rate and this effect was prolonged. This suggests that repetitions of this study should provide that the order of saddle placement should be such that the Tad Coffin saddle is the second saddle tested. In other words, apply the non-Tad Coffin saddle first to reduce the possibility that the horse’s resting heart rate will be inaccurate.
The effect on the horse’s heart rate recovery produced by variations in ambient temperature and humidity could not be isolated in this study. Nor could the influence of respiration be easily correlated with changes in heart rate. Respiratory rate post exercise was elevated, and even more so as humidity, in particular, climbed. These findings would be expected intuitively, but there was no consistent correlation with heart rate. Post exercise cooling was assisted by hosing with tepid, not cold, water. The application of water to the skin areas supplied by the great veins of the neck and legs and then to the entire skin surface is a common method used to speed cooling in horses post exercise as is application of circulating air, usually supplied with fans. Fans were not used for cooling in this study.
In general, the horse was alert during work, though he seemed almost sedated in the stall. This is a quiet individual under most circumstances, so this latter observation may have nothing to do with the effect of a saddle. Interesting side note: this horse does not love horse showing. He seemed much less ‘worried’ about the whole horse show experience after riding in the TC A5 each day. Real or imagined? See discussion on cortisol below.
Measurements and trends with the two Tad Coffin saddles were fundamentally similar. The TC2 was first evaluated. The rider returned to the Steuben and measured heart rate for 5 rides. Then measurements were made with the A5 saddle. Riding in and out of these saddles at these weekly intervals was subjectively interesting. The horse’s way of going in the TC saddle seemed to ‘hang over’ into the time spent riding in the Steuben (say around 4 rides). Once returned to the second TC saddle, the A5, there was a period of about 2 days when the horse seemed to be ‘testing or experimenting’ with the saddle change. Again, on about ride number 4, he settled back into the TC frame and way of going (difficult to describe other than to say better balanced and more efficient self-carriage in all gaits; the sense that the rider must remember not to over-ride. Communication is more efficient?)
Suggestions for Further Study
The mechanism for the heart rate changes and differences in recovery to resting heart rate post exercise produced by the Tad Coffin saddles is unknown. The recovery to resting heart rate after exercise was significantly faster with the Tad Coffin saddles (median 3 minutes) than with the Steuben saddle (median 11.7 minutes). Even more curious is the initial drop in heart rate produced by the Coffin saddles pre-exercise and the persistent lower than resting heart rate eventually reached post-exercise.
Further monitoring of the post-exercise heart rate would be helpful. How long does this ‘sub-resting’ heart rate last? On two occasions where measurements were made, the heart rate remained at this level for at least two hours post exercise in the TC saddle. This effect was also evident at competition (horse show). The heart rate and heart rate recovery results were similar to those observed ‘at home’.
It would be interesting to measure cortisol levels. Cortisol is the stress hormone. Both heart rate and cortisol levels are affected by the balance between sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system function. Sympathetic is the fight or flight system. Heart rate goes up. Parasympathetic acts as a counterweight to the sympathetic system. Heart rate comes down. One could measure levels of resting cortisol and heart rate in the horse in the pre-exercise condition. Measure resting cortisol and heart rate, then after 20 minutes in the non-TC saddle, measure again. Repeat for several days. Then do the same experiment for the TC saddle. Does the heart rate decrease with the TC saddle correspond with a change in blood cortisol levels? This might be a tricky study to do. Baseline blood cortisol levels would have to be well documented in the study subjects such that any changes which accompanied the application of a saddle would be measurable without too much artifact. In order to minimize the effect of outside influence on the horse’s cortisol levels, observers would most appropriately be the subject horse’s regular rider and the horse should be in a familiar environment with regular routine.
As an aside, the rider feels the sensation that the horse seems more comfortable and willing in his work in the TC saddles. Is this real or imagined? Is it just because the rider is in better communication with the horse through this saddle that the horse is more comfortable at work? Or is it something physiologic as well? No doubt, this is a system with many moving parts, subject to the influence of many variables.
Based on the results of the study described herein, other studies that would be of interest include:
- A study comparing effect on heart rate by saddles where the saddle design/manufacturer is unknown to the observer and where the saddles are substantially similar in appearance
- A study measuring heart rate while stimulating acupuncture points along the bladder meridian where saddles typically are positioned on the horse’s back
The effect on heart rate produced by saddles designed by Tad Coffin (TC) Performance Saddles and a Steuben saddle was measured in a fit, 15 year old thoroughbred gelding both at rest and after 30 minutes of exercise at the walk, trot and canter. The TC saddles produced a 30% reduction in heart rate at rest and a return to resting heart rate (36 bpm) post exercise in significantly less time – 3 minutes for the TC saddles vs. 11.7 minutes for the Steuben saddle. Further reduction in heart rate below resting level post-exercise was produced by the TC saddles, but not by the Steuben saddle. Application of the Steuben saddle did not produce a reduction in heart rate at rest nor did this saddle produce a post-exercise reduction in heart rate below resting heart rate.
Notes on the table and chart
The accompanying chart has a gap between elapsed time 20 minutes and 50 minutes. This gap corresponds to the 30 minutes of riding where measurements could not be taken. The first measurement is at the end of the ride. The total elapsed time at this point is 50 minutes.
The pale green dot just above 35 on the heart rate axis is the resting heart rate pre saddle application with each saddle. This horse’s resting heart rate of 36 bpm is consistent from day to day. The heart rate decrease to 28 bpm with the TC saddles is noted by the red boxes. Heart rate in bpm for the Steuben measurements is represented by the purple X’s.
Heart rate measurements for each time point in the table are the median rates in bpm for the 5 days spent riding in the Steuben saddle (ST) and 8 total days in either the TC2 or the A5.
Olympic gold medalist Tad Coffin’s SmartRide™ technology featured in Voltaire Design’s newest model — the “Blue Wing”
Ruckersville, VA, January 26, 2016: A perfect pairing of cutting edge technology from America with the leading edge of French styling for saddles will benefit horses and riders.
Brice Goguet of Voltaire Design puts it this way: “We approached Tad Coffin due to his expertise on trees. We quickly realized we share the same vision: making the best saddle to unleash the horses’ potential. Tad’s horsemanship and understanding of tree technology were well beyond our expectations. Our collaboration and transparency with each other has been fantastic, and we just wish we had met him before.”
SmartRide™ technology refers to the most significant re-engineering of saddle tree and panel technology in history. Conceived, designed and developed over a 20 year period by a consortium of experts, this exhaustive effort included a broad range of engineering and fabrication expertise, coordinated in a horse – centric environment under Tad’s direction.
Tad said: “Brice Goguet is a forward thinking individual who is unafraid to seek new truths about the role saddles play in horse performance”. “It is this mutual pursuit of something significantly better for horses that has brought us together. In this Olympic year, it might take a daring young Frenchman to raise industry and consumer awareness of genuine performance improvements in the most obvious and overlooked place – inside the saddle”, Tad noted.
For the first time, in addition to musculoskeletal benefits, SmartRide™ technology has consistently demonstrated a neurologic benefit for horses. “In just 20 minutes of having this technology on their backs even without a rider, horses show greater relaxation, pain reduction and reduced anxiety”, explains Tad. A team of veterinarians at UC Davis is planning a study in the coming months.
SmartRide ™technology was developed around the needs of the horse’s back in motion. Principles of geometry, advanced computer technology for design and machining and advanced material composition have been combined to meet the complexity of the task. The tree, an alloy reinforced and tuned with an array of carbon fiber is formed on a technically advanced tooling system and has well over 20 distinct axis of flexion. The panels use a range of advanced materials machined to exacting specifications and laminated together. When wrapped with leather, they mimic the shape, elasticity and tonality of healthy equine muscle tissue.
The results of this effort demonstrate the previously untapped potential of the saddle to benefit every element of horse performance from relaxation and freedom of movement, straightness and stride length, jumping style, soundness and longevity.
“After 20 years of listening, engineering and innovation, a saddle technology that speaks ‘horse”.
What makes a Tad Coffin saddle…a Tad Coffin saddle?
Is it our proprietary saddle tree design? Is it our best-in-class research and design facility? Is it our team of experienced engineers and designers? Or is it our understanding of horse anatomy and movement?
While all of these factors contribute to delivering a superior product, it’s actually our beliefs that make us the most unique.
The Secret Ingredients of a Perfect Saddle
The following four beliefs guide our every action at Tad Coffin Performance Saddles:
Belief #1: I believe that, of all the tools available to a rider, the saddle has the most untapped potential to improve the components of good performance: relaxation, freedom of movement, balance, straightness, ease of carriage, jumping style, soundness and longevity.
Belief #2: I believe that performance horses share a common shape in athletic motion; a dynamic posture that has specific motions and gestures that must be accommodated by the saddle for a horse to perform at his athletic best. The quality of this accommodation is the essence of “saddle fit.”
Believe #3: I believe that a saddle, specifically designed, engineered and crafted to accommodate this dynamic posture and the needs of the moving back will not only improve performance, but serve a spectrum of back conformations equally well.
Belief #4: I believe that all facets of good equitation, the rider’s seat, balance, feel, symmetry, sense of rhythm and timing will improve when the needs of their horse’s back are fully accommodated.
The Result: SmartRide™
These beliefs have guided us to develop SmartRide™ technology. The following presentation summarizes how our beliefs have shaped the saddles that we design.
Where do thoroughbreds go when their careers are over? The lucky ones end up at one of the many Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation (commonly referred to as “TRF”) facilities. Caring for over 1,000 horses nationwide, the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation is the largest equine sanctuary in the world.
Montpelier Farm, one of the TRF’s facilities in Virginia is a beautiful 200-acre retirement facility located on the estate of former U.S. President James Madison. Montpelier Farm began serving as a thoroughbred retirement facility in 2003 and houses some of the biggest names in the industry, including Correggio, the 1996 Eclipse Award winner. The farm is run by professional horseman, Kim Wilkins.
A Ringing Endorsement for Tad Coffin Saddles
Naturally, we were honored when we learned that Kim published an article on the organization’s website, titled “Go buy a Tad Coffin Saddle.” The article recounts our recent visit to Montpelier. The first sentence pretty much says it all:
“Go buy a Tad Coffin saddle. Don’t ask why, just do it. Your horse will thank you.”
~Kim Wilkins, Trainer and Operator of TRF’s Montpelier Farm
So why is Kim such a believer in Tad Coffin Performance Saddles? The answer is simple. Each horse experienced a significant improvement by using a Tad Coffin saddle. Take for example “Roy” (Wild and Royal).
“I handed him lame horse after lame horse. I even dragged in Roy who hadn’t been ridden since September. . . Roy had a stifle issue, we thought. He never limped, but after several months of (take my word for it) very light riding and steering practice, he had so contorted himself that he threw my back out.
Twenty minutes in the TC (Tad Coffin) saddle and Roy went sound. What? Kidding me?”
Kim’s positive experience was not limited to a single horse. In fact, several other horses had similar results. Even Bailey, a horse that has had a history of spine problems and had been turned out for 5 years, was put to the test. Prior to being turned out, Bailey had been given injections, robaxin, and virtually every other remedy imaginable – but to no avail. Bailey was decidely fracious while awaiting his turn and yet moments after putting the Tad Coffin saddle on his back, the horse gained his composure and kept it. After picking up both leads handily Bailey made it clear he was ready and willing to leave retirement.
Twenty Years of R&D Provides Hope and Changes Horses’ (and Their Riders’) Lives
Through our discussions with hundreds of clients, we find Kim’s experience with our saddle to be quite common. We’re truly honored to have received such a glowing recommendation from Kim Wilkins at the Montpelier Farm.
We’ll close this article with Kim’s parting thought, which sums things up nicely:
“What you spend on the saddle you will save in vet bills and heartbreak. Do it. Call Tad Coffin.”
I am excited to launch our new Tad Coffin Performance Saddles website! I have a passion for discovering the full potential of the saddle, and I hope this site will help inform and excite you about our saddles.
Our saddles are being used nationally and internationally by riders in every Olympic discipline. We have developed our own tooling, enabling us to use special materials and allowing our production to have unmatched quality, consistency and symmetry. We have a unique ability to take a concept, develop a prototype, and test it by riding and measuring performance with our control group of horses.
If you would like more information, please fill out our contact form or call us at 434-985-8948.