"Proven Products for Horse and Rider"

NOT all Panels are Created Equal
By: Cathy Sheets Tauer - B.S. Animal Science, E.S.M.T

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The Systems
By: Cathy Sheets Tauer
The patent numbers, dates, along with specific details on the various systems were obtained during one-on-one interviews with Cathy from Hill View Farms and other developers/owners on their own products.  A note on Patents:  After a period of 16 years] (depending upon when the patent claim was filed, when it was accepted, the country in which it was filed), a patent will expire allowing anyone within the market to copy it exactly.  Also, if the owner of a current patent does not file a claim of infringement within the statute of limitations (6 years in USA) to protect an existing patent, the patent then becomes an Abandoned Patent (prima-facie).  Meaning that the owner of the patent relinquishes all claims henceforth, therefore making it available to the public. As for new patents based upon earlier designs, they can obtained if the new design change is greater than 20%.  So the point to remember is, all patents have a limited life span and do not last forever. 
A registration mark ®  and a copywrite ©  however, can last over 50 years, but only if the renewal on the paper work is maintained.  On the other hand, a trademark  TM  simply means that the word or image is not able to be registered for the time being as it is  not unique enough to separate it from common terminology or it has not yet become a household name associating it with a company or individual.  Law 101 in a nutshell.

Delrin ® Panels are now available for saddle makers worldwide to use on their saddles. This material was developed by the space program and is currently used throughout all aviation aircraft and also within the medical field. These Delrin sheets were the panels that were the heart and soul for the patented saddle that the Original Ortho-Flex ® Saddle Company developed. There are many companies that use the word FLEX in their marketing to sell their saddles. Please do not take them at their word. Make sure you are getting the "Delrin" panel and not some facsimile of "flex", "panel", "rubber" or even rawhide, wood or plastic bars that are hinged on the fork and cantle. Remember a horse’s shoulders and back move with every step and the "flex" needs to move as quickly and as freely in all directions as the animal’s shoulders and back do, while distributing the rider’s weight evenly. Delrin material is such a product. It will not fatigue, misshape or wear out easily, and will last over years of riding. The way these sheets of Delrin are shaped, tiered and layered will make up your "Panel". One critical point to remember when buying a saddle is that the basic saddletree itself must be straight, and not hand made, where even the slightest variation will occur. The machines that make these saddletrees are key in the function of your saddle. To better illustrate the progress in technology represented by various saddle makers, I’ve put together a retrospective look at the different types of flexible panels as they evolved starting in 1982 and those offered to date. We begin with the foundation technology, from the Original Ortho-Flex 1 System, which subsequently led to Systems II, III, IV, V, VI VII, VIII, IX, X and the variations and extras.

First:  What is Delrin®?  Early in 1950 research director and chemists Frank C McGrew developed a tough and heat resistant material he called "synthetic stone." During the years of development, which involved a patent dispute, DuPont patented Delrin® in 1956. Delrin® (Polyoxymethylene) is an acetal homopolymer resin that is a durable lightweight crystalline plastic, which uses a breakthrough in stabilization technology. It has an excellent balance of desirable properties that bridge the gap between metals and ordinary plastics. This Delrin® which not only has memory (which allows it to return to it’s natural shape), but also has a unique combination of strength, stiffness, tensile strength, hardness, dimensional stability, toughness, fatigue resistance, solvent and fuel resistance, abrasion resistance, low wear, low friction, creep resistance under a wide range of temperature and humidity conditions, with high fatigue endurance, corrosion resistance and mechanical resilience. Due to these outstanding characteristics Delrin® is popular for its versatility within a broad use of industry applications, such as automotive, aerospace, electrical and medical applications. 

IN THE BEGINNING: The System I or Mock I patent (6/26/1986-USA) was the original system used when the Brown Performance Saddle Company started in 1982. Len Brown then incorporated his business and the Ortho-Flex Saddle Co. came into existence in 1986. This is the first and oldest system developed by the Original Ortho-Flex, and marked the beginning of the Ortho-Flex story. It is a relatively simple system, with one layer of Delrin in the panel. System I is capable of allowing enough room for shoulder rotation and fits a wide range of back types. However, it is not fully capable of following the full range of motion along the back, (and can not sink or rise in the middle, for example) as the panels are not fully independent of the saddletree. It is therefore necessary with System I to pay attention to the type of tree relative to the type of back, and is not as "user-friendly" as the systems to follow. The System I saddle can be regarded as a flexible panel saddle, as opposed to a flexible panel system fully independent of the saddletree. The panels are a single layer, with .093 of Delrin in the panel which attached to the tree about 6" inwards from the ends of the bars and were 1 ½" longer than the following System II. This created longer skirts (not good for short backed or deep backed horses). The panels are mounted by means of a wood screw with washer into the tree. The system had a few advantages, being less expensive to build, and a little easier to mount the panels. This system was eventually replaced by System II because it did not allow the panels to flex downward in the middle with the horse’s back, and the panel stiffness had to be adjusted to compensate for the increased rider’s weight. Tree shape was also critical for the system to function so custom fitting through tree changes was often necessary. The System I was a vast improvement over the traditional saddle in weight-bearing area but required a tree shape not adaptable to all types of riding.

THE SUCCESSOR: The System II or Mock II Patent (8/15/1991-USA) began in 1990. The Original Ortho-Flex developed a breakthrough in the existing technology. System II offers a mounting system for the panels, which allows the panels to conform to all three dimensions of motion dynamics, thus making possible an automatic fit, not only in the shoulder rotation, but also along the back. The backs of the panels are mounted in a track that enables the entire panel to conform to a radical range of back contours. With the addition of this sliding mount at the rear, the panels actually push down and away from the center of the tree with force that enables the entire panel to conform to a radical range of backs and most importantly, allows the panels to conform to the horse’s back profile while the horse is motion, completely independent of the tree. In System II the panels are moved away from the tree about 1/8" to 3/8" on steel rocker spacer mountings. The construction of these panels is 3 layers of Delrin at the mounting, where each one is successively smaller, creating what is termed as "progressive loading" or a load-distribution on the entire surface. This makes pressure points virtually impossible directly under these rocker spacers, and mounting the front mounts 4.5 inches back from the front edge of the panel allows for scapula rotation. In addition to its other advantages, System II can rise or sink with the back and so became the flagship system for the Original Ortho-Flex Saddle Co. Since the buyout of the Original Ortho-Flex Saddle Company by the Saddle Works Saddle Company, the System II mounting has been altered. The panels are now mounted 2.25 inches in from the front of edge of the panel. This modification has seriously stiffened up the panels in the shoulder area.

THE EXTRA: System III In the quest for further progress, the Original Ortho-Flex developed this panel. It was designed to address fitting the most difficult horses to saddle; those with very pronounced shoulders, or mutton-withered and broad. That difficult conformation is often exaggerated by a short back or croup-high conformation. It’s also seen some in warm-bloods. (For history, the "original" System III is patented as part of system or mock II (2/18/1994 -USA), and was based on three mountings, on either side of the saddle bars, allowing the panel to slide. But Ortho-Flex Saddle Company never built this system because it did not work. So there are no laws or patents to protect the current System III. This system was then modified based on the System II with a refinement in the front part of the panel; it looks like a giant hand with five fingers. These fingers allow the panel to conform itself even more closely to the shape and motion of the shoulder, thus offering more freedom of movement. Two results of this new construction is that it was only offered as an expensive option on some saddle models, and the use of rivets to stabilize the five fingers resulted in excessive stress which causes the fingers to either crack or break.

THE ADJUSTABLE: System IV Pro-adjustable  (tied into the extra system III patent) could be regarded as a high-tech breakthrough in flexible panel systems. The height of the panel mounting points can be adjusted quickly and easily with the use of an Allen wrench within a one-inch range, thus allowing the user to optimally balance the saddle and the rider, even on a horse with truly unusual conformational challenges.

THE LICENSE: This license from the Original Ortho-Flex Saddle Co. was sold to "Rocking R" who then changed their name to Timberline, which was sold to K-B Saddle Shop - who kept the name, SK Saddle, Watson Brothers Saddles (former Rocking R) for a time sold out to Ozark Mountain Saddles who since terminated relations with Richard Watson and the Saddle Ranch. This system is a hybrid of Ortho-Flex Systems I and II. These saddle companies do not feature the System II mounting method but do offer the track system at the back of the panel. Like System I, they are also built on a single layer of Delrin, but thicker (1.25 vs the .093) allowing for rider support. The saddletree selection is crucial to the panel/tree configuration and the choice of thicker Delrin enables this system to perform nicely. The panels are also capable of some flexing in the middle, although not to the degree that the higher systems offer. This saddle construction, like the System I, is more like a saddle with a flexible panel, than a real system. Due to the adjustable rigging, the saddle can be positioned to compensate for this difference most of the time and can be fitted relatively well to a wide range of back types.

THE VARIATIONS:  The Ultra Flex, Oakfield, Ultra-Flex Vario, Ultra-Flex Adjuster, Reactor Panel Saddle and lastly the Free & Easy Saddles all have a multi-layered delrin panel, and some have removable and or adjustable mounting spots to adjust for the limitations in the panel and tree design in regards to fitting the horses shoulder and back. Great skill and knowledge is required to achieve a good fit, due to the fact that these panels are truly not self-adjusting.

MODIFIED EXTRA & VARIATION: System VI or Mock 6, and the later System VIII  or Mock 8 by the Ortho-flex Saddle Works Company. This system has taken the rivets out of the fingers of the Original Ortho-Flex System III and replaced this design with a flower petal pattern in both the front and sometimes rear of the panel- resembling a 7-leaf clover. This pattern was first conceived in the Free and Easy saddle and then copied by the Ortho-Flex Saddle Works Company, which bought the original Ortho-Flex Saddle Co. and the rights to use the "Ortho-Flex" ® trademark name, (as Len brown did not stop making saddles because he did not believe in the system, he simply lost his company due to poor management). This design is also added to the rear of the panel, and offered on select saddle models as an upgraded feature.  This design can be used alone in a single layer delrin or is used conjunction with a multi-layer panel.  So regardless how many names of "systems" come from this single design is it all the same concept, just sliced up to make it appear as if there is more.

THE ULTIMATE: System V American Saddles-Grb (Patent in Germany only 3/9/2001-Europe # EP1292316A2): Represents another step forward in flexible panel construction. This new construction that improves upon principles seen in its predecessors and offers solutions to problems occasionally associated with other systems. Due to the uniqueness of this system and its high performance, it is currently patented, and copies no other. The front of the panel is made of three layers, with 15 separate fingers (and no rivets holding them together) in the first layer, which is mounted 5" from the front edge of the panel, providing an even softer fit in the shoulder, allowing complete freedom in its rotation. This construction extends to the area of the withers so even extremely high and wide withers are afforded complete freedom. This is then covered by the second layer with six fingers, overlapping the first and enabling an automatic and equal distribution of weight along the entire length of the panel, including the middle section, thus preventing the so-called "bridge-fit". After that comes a third layer with no fingers. Every layer is smaller than the layer before. Construction was also changed in the rear. This design has also three multi-layer construction; the second layer resembles that of two fingers flowing towards the center of the panel, to insure optimal weight distribution–including the middle section. This special design, using various sizes and thickness of Delrin, has been computer-calculated and curved, insuring that this system gives optimal distribution of weight along the entire length of the panel, both inside and out. Now even when your horse is in motion, bending and flexing, regardless of your horse’s shoulder width, height, holes and dips behind the shoulder and back, you and he will be able to move in supreme comfort and freedom.  The mounts and hardware used is of steel and the rivets used in the layering of the Delrin sheets are of aluminum. They call their saddle line American-Flex.

THE TECHNOLOGY CONTINUES: System VII (based on System V), American Saddles continued their quest for perfection. Research tests made possible an addition: the panel has more cuts (feathering in the top area along the spinal processes of the withers) and has a more rounded front. This made it more comfortable for those horses who have extremely high razor withers, and also for horses who have broad and wide withers. It will even fit those horses with "heart-shaped" backs where you can roll a marble down their spine. Overwhelming success during the 2002 confirmed what computer scans recommended. Both horses and riders are thrilled with the panel’s success.

COMBINATIONS: System VIII or Mock 8 Saddle Works Ortho-Flex has combined the single layer System I with the finger cuts of the System III and by cutting short the front of the panel in come versions,  all done in order to address the issue of excessive pressure at the mounting points in the saddle.  This really does not qualify as new system but modifies preexisting ones.  However, they are calling this combination System VIII, which still requires great care in fitting, due to the horses shape and selection of the correct saddle tree in order to achieve an acceptable fit.

A NEW DEVELOPMENT: System IX. In 2005 after 35 years of combined experience in repairing all of the earlier systems of saddles Eldorado Saddle and Tack along with Hill View Farms came up with a better panel design. Added to the rear mounts are stainless steel slides, making the panels virtually maintenance free. This feature is added to the already proven System VII panel. However, the rivets are of copper for better strength and performance than the aluminum used in the System V and VII, and the mounts are of steel.  So radical was the improvement in 2005 on performance of the preexisting System VII, that the 7E easy slide (as it was referred to during the experimental year of testing) needs to be in a category by itself, thus the System IX (9) was created.  Eldorado Saddle and Tack calls this line by a variety of names, Amera-Flex, Ameri-flex, 7E, Easy Slide and Eldorado saddles  

EVOLUTION: System X.  During the year 2007, when the Delrin panels alone were maximizing performance in earlier systems, several small but significant innovations made big changes in the overall panel performance, durability and fit.  Based on the System VII design and the slide plate of the System IX, the System X has taken the features of these and made the best design yet.  Several small changes together have made a major difference.  However this system must have a saddletree that is equal in design function for the panels to perform exquisitely.  The first of several changes to the panels are the rivets.  Gone are the copper and aluminum that were once used in the layering assembly of the panels.  New are the stainless steel and nickel alloy rivets that eliminate the work-hardening fatigue (the amount of flexing a metal can take before it breaks) seen with earlier systems (this fatigue results in pressure points on the horse).  Another improvement is the new pivot mechanism - again eliminating premature ware.  With the advancements in machining we can get a true ball-in-socket action.  By using different radii on the insert and the washer, this ball-in-socket joint performs with pure fluidity, providing maximum panel movement with closer contact.  With this new assembly the clicking and popping noise once heard during the break in period of earlier systems has been virtually eliminated.  Another hindrance in panel flexibility has been the backer and foam layer of padding used on the underside of all earlier systems.  This padding is what cushions the semi-rigid Delrin material, as well as, the mechanical hardware used in the assembly process, from direct contact with the horses back as well as eliminating the pressure ridges that occurred when inferior materials or assembly is used.  The improved backing is fingered to match the finger cuts in the Delrin panel it self.  Having this padding match the fingers allows for the little subtleties on a horse's or mule's shoulder, back and wither conformation– especially if he has an unusual or highly pronounced shoulder / scapula. On earlier systems the panels tended to fall into the dip or hollow behind the shoulder, creating excessive pressure from the over all rigidness of the front of the panel - especially in the western saddles.  These small differences have made so dramatic an improvement in the overall function of the panels by eliminating the dreaded ware out of the attachment points of panel to tree which in time could possibly create uneven pressure.  With the time, dedication and field testing starting in 1986 we are proud to introduce this new system.   System X will very unlikely be knocked off as the technical inputs are high and the return on investment is low.  Thus no room for traditional marketing avenues and the reason why we post JUST HOW these saddles are made on the web site.  System X delivers a performance difference, much like, if you had been playing the piano with mittens and then graduated to gloves.  System X is offered by Hill View Farms  for retail and wholesale sales.


Companies out of business or re-marketing:  2012: Rocking R, Watson Brothers Saddles, Ozark Mountain Saddles and Saddle Ranch are all out of business.  Eldorado Saddle & Tack (Amera-Flex, Ameri-flex, 7E, Easy Slide and Eldorado saddles) and American-Flex Saddles of Germany are now made by D-K Saddlery - who are using photo's of the Evolutionary saddle's fit on horses backs to sell their brand.  Unfortunately,  there are many other saddle companies doing the same thing of misleading their customers.   Do your homework and ask questions of the company to confirm the legitimacy of the products they produce. The act of copying another's photo's and writing is the act of a desperate person/company.  As for the person/company who's work was copied,  sadly it is a form of flattery.

Ortho-Flex Flex Bar System.  The New Ortho-Flex Gen II made by National Bridle.  In 2000 Len Brown released Ortho-Flex and Acie Johnson bought the company, changed the name to, The Ortho-Flex Saddle Works and moved to Arkansas.  In 2013 he sold the company to Chase Dodd who moved it from Arkansas to Tennessee and brought back the old name of the company "Ortho-Flex" and changed some of the terminology used to describe the panels from Mock to Systems. In May of 2013, the Chase Dodd family sold the company to Winners Circle (David Thomas) and who is a  parent company to a multi faceted organization that serves the equine community. David Thomas, turned over Ortho-Flex to its subsidiary, National Bridle (Bobbie Beach) located in Lewisburg, TN - the name has since been changed back to Ortho-Flex.  After great deliberation and looking at traditional marketing avenues, using existing materials from other saddle brands, they are conforming to a traditional build on one of the rubber type of Flex Trees.  This will allow for a fast and very profitable build in order to produce hundreds of saddles a year.  Gone are the panels.  So traditional saddle fitting practices must take place by using pads to address the horses shape as they age and change shape. 

What is next to come? You can bet that I’ll keep you posted.  Speaking of which, I have had inquiries regarding special saddles pads - as many companies are now producing them.  These pads have a white semi-rigid product in them that looks and performs similar to Delrin.  The plastic material is NOT Delrin but a flexible type of plastic - "like the kind you can nail through" (you cannot do this with Delrin) as told to me by Len Brown, developer of one of these types of pads called the corrector.  There is another pad, which I prefer, made by the CSI pad company that contains the Flex-Plate.  This plate is the exact design as the system 5 panel.  All of these saddle pads perform similar to an independent panel, free of the saddletree and work in conjunction with your current rigid tree saddle to aid in its performance and fit.  However you MUST already have a saddle that fits your horse fairly well.  These pads – which may require shims to achieve an acceptable fit –without question will help an ill-fitting saddle.  I have personally worked with these pads and they do have a place within the saddling industry, especially for those who have spent thousands on a custom tree saddle - made for their horse, only to find that the saddle really does not fit. As with any expensive pad, you must have the option to return it for a refund (if within the time frame offered and in a clean condition) if the product does not meet with the manufactures claims.

Remember to always get a trial period to test ride a saddle before getting trapped into product that will not serve the purpose you intended. If you cannot get this service, then you do not need the product.  Remember it is YOUR money and the manufacturersclaims to performance. 

Working always on the horses behalf.  ~ Cathy

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