5000 miles of hope

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Orthoflex saddle panel modifications


I started using the old Orthoflex Traditional at mile 970 of my trip.

As I mentioned in a previous post about using memory foam as a saddle pad, I was getting some chafing in the rear loin area at about 700 miles into the new saddle.

In Louisiana, at mile 900 with the new saddle I began using a memory foam under the booty pad to help recovery.

A few days later, after haven been given DMSO by a host, I tried it out one night, all over Roxys back.

The next day was hot and Roxy ran hard, she felt good. Unfortunately, she had a pressure bump behind and lower than the withers at the end of the day.

I thought it was from the DMSO burning her. I didn’t use it again.

I have been treating that bump for 13 weeks now. It inflamed once in South Texas at mile 2600, and then again at mile 2800.

That’s when it clicked. The area that this was happening is where the orthoflex panels connect to saddle tree via 2 bolts, 1 on each side. The 3 times I had inflammation were 3 times the saddle was really tight.

I also noticed dry spots in those areas some days.

When old Orthoflex panels get worn out they become brittle and can break at the pivot point. Then the metal bolt can protrude ever so slightly thru the panel.

It was time for me to come up with an alternative.

I have a Gen 1 Orthoflex Traditional from around 1986. Before the Gen 1 were sold, Founder Len Brown used a prototype on a long ride across America. He used zap straps/ zip ties to pivot the panels on the saddle tree of his prototype. I have no clue how or where he affixed them, but I read somewhere that zap straps were indeed used. Here is a link to some interesting interviews with Len Brown on the long riders guild website.


At mile 2850 I did the zap strap mod. I removed the bolts and made an extra hole for the zap straps and fed it thru and tightened it on the outside of the saddle tree.

I found that with the zap straps affixed at the pivot point there was way more flex, rotation and movement away from the pivot point. With about 1 inch of movement in all directions, this creates a totally different set up than the original Gen 1 saddle I had. Way way way more flex.

The pivot point was now inset as compared to the rest of underside of the panel, before, it was slightly outset, probably due to wear over the years. This inset means that they will no longer be a pressure point on Roxys back.

I also noticed that the delrin plastic on the side of her back that got the bump was broken around the bolt.The way I affixed it got rid of that problem

Roxys Reactions:

She moved out huge up and downhill. She moves out at a trot way more readily.

I should have done this months ago.

Try this cheap and easy DIY repair on your old Gen 1 Orthoflex, before sending off for a $150-300 repair.

Keep in mind, the slight bump on her back has been kept in check over 1400 miles and 15 weeks. Although it never fully healed until I removed the pressure point, I was able to continue riding with no lameness. The vet check in Hondo, TX, was a 2 thumbs up- “Excellent”! That was with the small healing scar, 7 weeks after it first formed.

THE ONLY REASON I WAS ABLE TO CONTINUE RIDING SUCH MILEAGE WAS BECAUSE OF THE 1.5″ MEMORY FOAM SADDLE PAD I USED UNDER THE SADDLE BOOTIES. I am sure that otherwise, the friction from the fleece booties would have rubbed that area raw, preventing further travel. Using the memory foam that compresses to 1/10 its thickness provides a soft, frictionless buffer.

Cinch and Latigo update:

I’m using a weaver air flex cinch and I quite like it. The first set up was with center fire rigging. I also used a modified crupper.

I got rid of the crupper at mile 1900 or 1000 miles with the “new” orthoflex.

In February I was in Louisiana and it was flat, so I didnt need it. Also, it was causing pressure in the area just below the tail.

For February, March and April I used this set up. In February, I also changed the látigos from one large one connecting the front and back center fire rigging to 2 one each side, one from the front, one from the rear. I could adjust each one on the fly.

What did I use as material? Canvas kids belts, $1 each at a dollar store.

I knew that the mountains of Mexico would require me to set up something to prevent the saddle for slipping forward if I wasn’t going to use the crupper again.

I saw how some of the horse riders in hilly country used a double girth, but a small one in the rear, and very tight.

I made some modifications to my set up.

I took the two longest belts and put them together as a substitute back cinch. I used one each as a Latigo for the front girth.

The double girth set up, along with the memory foam under the saddle and booties, works pretty good at preventing the saddle from slipping too far forward.

Combined with the newly reattached “super flex” panels, I’m looking forward to finishing the trip with a healthy, happy horse.

Orthoflex saddle panel modifications

2 thoughts on “Orthoflex saddle panel modifications

  1. Hello, Lisa (Brown) Stewart–former co-owner of Ortho-Flex. I’m not sure where the idea that the prototype Ortho-Flex on our 3,000-mile ride involved “zap straps” (zip-ties?) but it did not. The thick leather skirts were screwed into the tree. They were never really meant to pivot as later designs when we returned home were. They merely were an effort to triple the weight bearing area in as flexible a way as leather might. The mark I see on your horse does not correspond with the mounting points. It corresponds with the stirrup straps. If it only is on one side, then your horse likely is low on that side and your leg is swinging a bit, causing the pressure and friction. Check to see if he is not lower on that left side, and if so, build up the pad on that side throughout its length. You’re right, I suppose it is possible you had a combination of the panel being broken right there along with pressure from the stirrup strap. But I am not at all convinced that the location of that mark truly corresponds with a mounting points. Please be sure that the stirrup straps are rigged to go between the panel and the tree and not against the horse. Sorry if that is an insulting remark. I don’t mean to suggest you wouldn’t know that, but stirrup strap pressure is an amazing force, especially at that point in the horse’s rib cage where to extends outward, especially when the horse is thinner. Thanks, and good luck. Lisa. “PS, what is meant by “super flex” panels and where were they obtained, if you don’t mind my asking?

    1. Hi there,
      Great feedback Lisa. Thank you.
      I swear I read that zap straps were used, but I have no source that I remember. And you were there, so I stand corrected! Ha!
      As for the mark, it is line with the pivot point. I ride with the saddle way back on Roxy. I have with every saddle I have ever used on her. She prefers it further back, it helps with her movements
      Some Morgans have wide back ends, narrow front ends, but wide elbows. She is one of those.
      The stirrup leather may be adding to the problem, not sure. Sometimes I see a ridge along the spine a few inches down from the spine. It disappears after a few hours. I do know there is a slight white mark area on the right side that corresponds to the area on the left side where the little wound was. (Right side pivot point.). The stirrup leathers go thru the tree then over the panels.
      After removing the nuts and bolts, Roxy moves out way better.
      That’s the most important for me, that she feels good, moves out easily and readily, and with ears forward all the time.
      I called it Superflex just as joke. The material hasn’t changed, just how the panels connect to the saddle, which give way more flex from the pivot points then before.

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