The Ultimate Saddle Rehab: Reflocking

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Restuffing, also called reflocking, is the process of replacing the filling in a saddle’s panels. Saddlers unstitch the panels, remove the old stuffing and replace it with fresh filling. “Topping up” or “flocking up” refers to a saddle having wool added when the original wool compresses after riding.

Timing
Knowing when to restuff a saddle depends partially on the make of your saddle. Some have panels that you can put a lot of stuffing in and support the rider’s weight, and others have harder panels that break down more quickly. Your saddler or the saddle manufacturer will know which yours is, but you’ll notice differences in the panels yourself.

Riders who find themselves feeling off balance, suddenly too far behind the horse or in front of the motion may have a saddle that needs to be restuffed. The saddle may tip forward or backward, and the horse may be reluctant to move forward.

If the horse is getting pinched at the shoulder area, and he won’t give the rider his back — lift his back up under the rider — it might be time to check your saddle. A saddle-fit problem that seems to pop up for no reason — your horse hasn’t changed muscle shape or weight or had other problems that might affect saddle fit — may be due to your saddle being out of whack.

In an older saddle with years of use, the bottoms of the panels may feel lumpy, have a hollow spot or bumpy places. Panels that feel hard or have valleys are also probably ready for some work.

Restuffing can be the fix when your saddle seems to have lost its balance. When you saddle your horse, step back and look for the most level part of the seat. If it’s tipping backward, check the back of the panel to see if it’s too flat or uneven.

Rocking is another symptom of a saddle that needs restuffing. When a saddle starts to get low and rock, it will cause a lump right under the cantle right where the leg comes off of the seat. Stuffing will start to build in various places, and that will make the panels look like they are rocking.

The Fill
Saddlers disagree somewhat as far as what makes the best stuffing both for new saddles and those being reworked. Saddles are typically stuffed with wool, polyester or a mix. Cotton wadding has a reputation for lumps and inconsistency. And, according to Corky Corcoran, who repairs saddles in Stilwell, Kansas, some wools are prone to the same thing.

Corcoran says that restuffing requires a long-fibered material for more memory. He uses a polyester fiberfill that has long-memory material on the saddles that come with polyester stuffing. On saddles that use wool, he uses a wool and acrylic combination that comes from English carpet-weaving mills and also has a long memory.

Ann Mary Bettenson, a saddler in Powhatan, Va., who belongs to the Master Saddlers of America, recommends only wool. She says that wool has a bouncy, elastic resilience, and that some artificial materials can be too dense and harden swiftly. Many saddlers that were trained in England tend to prefer wool.

The Professional
Restuffing isn’t a do-it-yourself job, and prices vary depending on saddler and area of the country. However, you can figure it should run $150-$200. Ask your saddler to look at the overall condition of your saddle and its tree to be sure it’s worth the cost of restuffing. Remember that you may be charged for the analysis, if you decide not to restuff the saddle. Frankly, if the saddle’s in poor shape, you’re better off with a new saddle.

Saddles may also be limited in how often they need to be restuffed, although this is far from an annual job. In addition, restuffing has its drawbacks for later repairs. Walt Schaaf, who owns Schaaf Saddlery and Leatherwork in Cincinnati, says that when he takes a saddle apart to replace billets, if it has been restuffed it pops open and is difficult to get back together again with all the contents.

Some saddlers believe riders expect too much from having their saddles restuffed and should work harder to buy a quality saddle in the first place. Schaaf says that sometimes saddles come into his store that have been restuffed, and the owner wants to know if it can be restuffed yet again since it is lopsided. It’s not always possible to restuff a second time.

Of course, sometimes these saddles may have been ruined by a poor restuffing job or they may not have been suitable to be restuffed in the first place. Although the filling on some old saddles, especially ones used without a saddle pad, gets compressed and looks like it needs new loft, a rider might be better off sticking with a slightly flattened saddle that fits his horse properly rather than having it worked on.

When you are choosing someone to restuff your saddle, ask for references. Schaaf reports finding a saddle in which the wool stuffing was supplemented with a couple of big chunks of styrofoam, and Bettenson reports finding bits of socks in some previously restuffed saddles.

Try to find someone with experience in your make of saddle. Call the saddle manufacturer if you’re not sure or ask your local tack dealer.

You can also ask around for names — you may have seen a friend’s saddle and liked how it looked when she got it back from being restuffed. It’s important that your saddle restuffer also understand proper saddle fit well.

If you’re starting from scratch, check out the Master Saddlers’ website at www.mastersaddlers.com. This site lists saddle makers who have been trained to restuff saddles.

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