Fairfax testing protocol

At Fairfax Saddles our aim is to improve your horse’s performance by producing equipment that will enhance his freedom of movement. We can only know for sure that we’ve achieved this by means of thorough, independent and scientifically-proven testing.

Fairfax product designer Vanessa Fairfax uses a combination of Pliance pressure mapping and Centaur Biomechanics gait analysis throughout the development process in order to accurately assess and develop her products from a horse's point of view.

"Using technological testing enables the horse to tell me exactly how every design change impacts on pressure and freedom of movement," Vanessa explains. "It removes all subjectivity and any improvement in performance can be recorded and measured accurately. When I am testing a design alteration I want to know exactly what effect it has on limb extension and joint flexion. This testing protocol tells me what the horse is experiencing and that’s what I need to know."

Pressure mapping

Pliance pressure mapping is the industry-standard method of assessing pressure on the horse’s body. In the case of a saddle for example, a sensor mat with more than 200 sensors is placed on the horse’s back and sends readings to a computer using Bluetooth. The results are displayed as moving graphs and a colour image on the screen where coloured areas indicate potentially harmful pressure points. Pliance can gather data through all paces including jumping. It is operated by Mark Fisher on behalf of the Society of Master Saddlers and the British Equestrian Federation who jointly own the system.

Gareth Hughes testing for Fairfax

Gait analysis

Small spherical markers are placed on the horse's skin at the centre of key joints. The horse is then photographed in movement at a rate of 300 frames a second - approximately 25 times faster than the human eye. The images are processed by a computer program that provides detailed information on the horse’s joint and limb angles. This allows Vanessa to see and, more importantly, measure the difference in his extension, flexion and freedom of movement.

Vanessa works with Russell Guire of Centaur Biomechanics. The accurate data he provides remove all doubt about the extent of any changes a rider might think they can feel. Russell’s analysis tells Vanessa exactly how much longer or shorter the horse’s stride is, or precisely how much more a joint is extending with each change she makes to a piece of tack.

A winning combination

Pressure testing is great on its own, of course - if we can reduce pressure on a horse’s back, head or girth area, that’s got to be a good thing, right? Absolutely. But the ideal would be to gauge – from a scientific point of view – exactly what effect this pressure reduction has on the horse’s way of going – instead of just relying on the rider’s personal feedback. Well that’s what the combination of Pliance and Centaur Biomechanics provides; a precise and undisputable measure of improvement in performance. This knowledge and understanding is the driving force behind every item of equipment we develop at Fairfax.