500 Kilomètres à cheval pieds nus

…les aventures de randonnée en France

Equipment – Tack

Barefoot saddles:
Selle Barefoot CheyenneNathalie : model Cheyenne in leather with Barefoot ‘Spezial’ pad and Barefoot ‘Stretch & Breath [sic]’ girth.
Selle Barefoot ArizonaTimothy : model Arizona with Barefoot ‘Spezial’ pad and cotton weave cinch.

Not a single wound, neither on the horses nor us (not even a pimple on the bottom!). Incredibly comfortable.
Remained in place on the horses’ backs on all but the most severe gradients, partially caused by the horses losing weight (no more tummy!) and the weight of the saddlebags.


Note : Since saddlebags are never perfectly waterproof, all contents affected by water were protected in plastic bags or bin bags.

fonte_barefootBarefoot (nylon) pommel bags.

Difficult to fix to either type of saddle. Small items such as fruit, cereal bars, gloves etc. easily accessible…but a bit too small for long treks. And above all, too fragile.
Two different problems : for Nathalie the seam down the side of the zip fastener gave way after a few days; for Tim, the attachment on the underside detached.

sacoche_barefootBarefoot Trail 2 in 1 (nylon) saddlebag behind Tim’s saddle.

Relatively handy to use with a convenient size (did not get in the way when mounting). On the contrary, the attachments are not at all well thought out : they are poorly positioned and the clips are too large to pass through the rings on the saddle. Furthermore, the seams are too fragile. After eight days, Tim disposed of the panniers, replacing them with…

sacoche en cuirLeather saddlebags

sacoche sens devant derrierepurchased at Equi-Sport in Estancarbon. Placed -back to front- on the seat of the saddle (being leather, that made no difference to the comfort of the saddle). Well made and wholly practical, both in placement and use. Big enough even to take the iPad…

sacoche en polyesterDouble saddlebag in polyester form Padd for Nathalie

placed on the seat of the saddle after one of the bottom attachement ripped off following a collision with a tree! No other problems, good size and light.

boudinCantle bag, home made from deckchair canvas

fixed behind Nathalie’s saddle for carrying clothes. Supple and light on the horse’s back, tough, but not very practical for accessing the contents..

The Pack
Selle synthétique, avec arçon
Homemade construction based on a lightweight synthetic saddle, with tree, that Nathalie had used prior to purchasing the Barefoot. Naturally, we removed the stirrups and their straps. We did not wish to buy a true pack saddle since it would not be used with any regularity..

Plus points : light; it was easy enough to adapt for the attachment of saddlebags; a cord for fixing a crupper had already been added for previous treks.
Minus points : a three-point attachment would have added considerably to the stability of the set-up; the tree injured Vermeil’s back when he slid (pinch effect); additionally, the saddle was lightly deformed (possibly on this occasion) and has remained slightly twisted.
For the next pack-saddle, we will use a treeless saddle!

Sangle 'Norton'Since the girths we already owned were old and/or somewhat damaged, in order to avoid injuring the horses, we purchased a new Norton girth a few days prior to departure.
At Padd, Toulouse, we were interested in an ‘anatomic’ girth in the form of an S. Hévéa is easily injured at the back of her elbows. The saleswoman suggested a different, straight, girth –for the same price– have had nothing but good reports from her customers. We therefore followed her advice.

Unfortunately, we should have looked for a girth much sooner in order to try it out before our departure since, after less than a day’s trek, Hévéa already showed signs of injury with her elbows all blown up and the edge of the girth had started to peel in two places! Clearly this girth is too thick and too rigid for our horses since Vermeil too was catching his elbows on it the next day. It was replaced as soon as possible by a replacement bought en route at Équestra in Portet.
Black mark for Padd – Toulouse : when we returned with the Norton girth to explain our problem –not even with the intention of claiming a refund or similar– their response was that we were the only ones to complain that that our horses must be very strange indeed! Not a single expression of sympathy nor excuses for well-meant but incorrect advice. And naturally, no sign of a commercial gesture…

Sangle 'Waldhausen'At Équestra, we found girth strap extensions and a short Waldhausen girth, very supple with a silicon sleeve

This girth served perfectly for the rest of the expedition. Hévéa’s elbows started to go down rapidly and the small associated wounds  healed well despite six to seven hours a day under the saddle. The extensions were particularly functional –in fact, they could easily have been longer– since the paniers extended the length of the flaps making readjustment of the girth difficult.
The new girth has not shown any sign of wear despite intensive use. However, one of the extensions did break just before the end of the expedition; fortunately enough strap remained to allow the use of an adjacent hole for the buckle.

tapis original'amortisseur' en feutreWe started with an ordinary saddle blanket with a ‘numnah’ made from a thick sheet of felt, previously used for a pack-donkey, and cut at the withers to accommodate the curved back of the horse.

The poor balance of the pack at the beginning led to excessive pressure on one side of the withers which the blanket and the felt could not sufficiently cushion : an inflammation and a wound appeared both on Hévéa and on Vermeil. Additionally, Vermeil’s back suffered from an injury caused by the saddle tree following his fall. We decided to change the blankets, for which we stopped at Équi-Sport in Estancarbon.

NouveauTapisWe chose a trek blanket, well filled and anti-slip, plus a second hand saddle cushion of extremely high quality (belt and braces!).

AmortisseurA good choice : the wounds healed and the discomfort disappeared. The cushion needed to be placed directly onto the horse’s back, not between the blanket and the saddle, since the somewhat rigid seam at the rear of the blanket rubbed on the spine and would have ended up by causing a wound.
Two problems, nevertheless:
1) the cushion had the tendency to slide backwards on sharp inclines.
2) the porous structure of the blanket’s upper surface is very susceptible to catching pine needles…which can end up traversing the  blanket altogether.
The blanket did show some signs of wear: the anti-slip surface began to tear towards the end and the girth loops needed restitching (essential for keeping the blanket in place).
The cushion showed absolutely no signs of wear whatsoever.

Bricole et avaloire sur un bidonIn order to prevent the saddle from sliding during the long steep ascents, we added a synthetic breast collar, directly attached to the girth (the collar comes from a driving harness that we already had). For the descents, Vermeil had a breeching, from the same harness, attached to the girt with a crupper and crupper dock, fixed to the back of the saddle. The crupper dock was removed for Hévéa because of the melanomas under her tail. The crupper served simply to stabilise the loin strap.

A little bit of a hindrance when not in use, that is to say, the first nine days: we were worried about unnecessary rubbing while on the flat; on reflection, we could have undoubtedly used the harness from the very start. Particularly had we been aware at that stage of the ‘talc trick’ (cf. Pharmacy).
Extremely useful, easy to tighten and loosen depending upon the terrain, even without dismounting. Did not appear to hinder the horses but insufficient for Hévéa  on long steep descents due to the absence of the crupper dock: the girth remained in place but the saddle advanced nevertheless over the withers. This necessitated repositioning the saddle back onto the breast collar. In practice, we ended up entrusting the pack to Vermeil whenever a major descent was forecast.

The Pack Saddle Bags

Nathalie reused equipment already used for previous treks and adapted them to the pack saddle:
Bacs en plastiqueIt consists of two bins made from ±25 litre plastic jerry cans. Their rigidity aided the organisation of the contents, avoided them being crushed should the horse trot, and protect them from bumping against trees (numerous in the beginning). They also protected the content against the rain with the help of a bin bag pulled over the top.


Two small holes bored in the bottom of the bins allows any fluids that may collect to escape. Finally, a length of string attached on each side at the top forms a handle, not only for carrying the bin but also to aid verification of the balance between the two sides.
sacoche toile transatThe bins were fixed to the pack saddle by means of a double panier made from the same deckchair canvas as the cantle bag. The middle section was placed upon the seat of the saddle and was fixed with strap under the flaps and behind the cantle. The paniers remained affixed to the saddle. Both compartments are slightly larger than the bins allowing them to be inserted and removed easily, and even to slide a 1¼ litre bottle of water down the side.
sac à dos 60litresA 60 litre rucksack, used principally to carry long items, was placed on top of the panier and transversely over the saddle seat. The rucksack was tied down with a strap which passed longitudinally around the saddle through the space created by the tree cushions. A second strap passed along the length of the rucksack and the paniers, transversely around the horse through the silicon sleeve of the girth.
A tarpaulin made from an old piece of lorry tarpaulin, cut and folded to the size of the bins and sacks, and fixed over the entire structure, protected against the rain an branches. It was held in place by two straps fixed to the girth straps.
The combination of tensioning straps and the tarpaulin stopped the bins from bouncing around and guaranteed stability of the load…assuming it had been well balanced before departure.

To increase the stability of the load, it would have been better to have larger bins and/or sacks suspended at the sides rather than a large sack on top of the saddle. As we went along, we modified the distribution of the contents to leave just the bare minimum in the 60 litre rucksack : tent, tent poles, fence poles and two sleeping bags. We decided to take a rucksack to allow us to carry equipment ourselves if it was necessary to relieve a horse or to be separated in case of emergency (injured or immobilised horse…). Happily, the situation did not present itself and in the end, the rucksack was a hindrance thanks to its generously padded belt.
Although a little complicated to make, the tarpaulin was indispensable. It ensured our things remained dry all the time despite the constant rain during nine of the first twelve days. It was a little heavy and stiff but that was more of an advantage, not being able to flap about in the wind and being tear-resistant. We needed a few days to find the best method of tying down. It also served as protection for the saddles at night.La bâche


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The pack-horse also had a cord halter and was led with a ±5 metre lead rope which allowed for variations in tempo and gait particularly when negotiating obstacles. The excess length was held in the hand –making sure not to create a dangerous coil. We took it in turns to lead the pack-horse.

Our horses are always ridden bitless and they very much appreciate the lack of a foreign body in the mouth (as do all horses). They all wore their regular tack.
On the contrary, all three did have to learn to lead and/or be led on a lead rope: not to overtake the leading horse, to start at the same moment, not to get tangled up in the lead rope if it dangled, not to react to the lead rope if it tapped against the legs or the croupe…
The cord, on the other hand, did get trampled, either when walking or during the pauses when we left the horses at liberty with just the said rope trailing on the ground (at such moments, Fleur had the –identical– reserve lead rope  and the other ridden horse simply had the reins –also rope– detached at one end). Vermeil had the greatest difficulty in learning not to pull on the rope but rather to back up, when he trod on it.
The cord halters held up very well and did not injure the horses. Fleur’s head collar, also very comfortable, did suffer from an inattentive moment: one of the clips attaching the reins to the headpiece broke (but was repaired with a leather tie).