Can the Saddle Fitter Help?

Can the Saddle Fitter Help?

Saddle fitting is a term with various meanings. As the interface between horse and rider, the saddle should allow the rider to sit and balance comfortably (in a gender correct saddle) in order to give proper aids without clamping the thighs, relying on hands, or being unbalanced on the back. The saddle needs to provide freedom of movement without restriction so the back muscles come up, move freely and accommodate the horse’s changing conformation. Sometimes saddle fitting is analogous to buying shoes – selecting which are comfortable, perhaps adding orthotics or inserts to ‘improve’ the fit. With a non-adjustable saddle (wood or plastic tree), the saddle fitter assesses whether a narrow, medium or wide tree provides the ‘best’ (not necessarily optimal) fit. Improvements are made through ...

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30 Years of Schleese - History of saddle maker and fitter illustrates company's leadership in an evolving field.

30 Years of Schleese - History of saddle maker and fitter illustrates company's leadership in an evolving field.

We have been blessed. Truly blessed – the statistics state that most businesses barely last the first five years of their existence, and here we are, celebrating 30 years of achievement and success. Although initially it was just Jochen and myself, over the past four decades we have grown globally to employ over 100 people worldwide – supporting 100 families. We have our wonderful and loyal clients to thank; we have our skilled and dedicated staff to thank. But we also have publications such as California Riding Magazine to thank for working with us and being willing to showcase what it is that we do – for the eighth year now. A lot has changed since we first opened shop in our little 100 square-foot workshop in the quarantine zone of the World Dressage Championships locale – held for the first time outside of Europe in 1986. The Pracht family (including Olympians Eva Maria Pracht – daughter of Josef Neckermann, the first ever World Dressage Champion in 1966 – and her daughter Martina) were instrumental in allowing us to establish ourselves in Canada. Although Jochen had been recently certified as the youngest ever master saddler in Europe at the time (1985), and was a successful internationally qualified event rider, coming over to North America was probably the luckiest decision we could have made...

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Swapping Dressage and Jumping Saddles - Is it Okay?

Swapping Dressage and Jumping Saddles - Is it Okay?

The question was put to me recently whether or not it was harmful to jump in your dressage saddle or ride dressage in your jumping saddle. Theoretically at least—presuming that these are not necessarily regular activities but rather just occasional ones—there should be no problem and there are no long-term ramifications. However, if you plan to make a particular discipline a regular activity, there are many good reasons to choose a saddle specific to that discipline, both for your benefit and your horse’s. Understanding the Differences ...

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How Can I Tell if My Horse in in Pain because of the Saddle?

How Can I Tell if My Horse in in Pain because of the Saddle?

The physical signs of saddle fit trauma are more easily apparent than the psychological signs. Signs that your horse is in pain include head tossing, bucking, stumbling, tongue issues, rearing, and resistance. White hair, dry spots, and muscle atrophy are also visual effects resulting from poor saddle fit. Each of these manifestations has as its origin an issue in a saddle that has not been fitted properly to the horse – either the gullet channel is too narrow, the tree points and gullet plate are not roomy enough at the withers, and the angle ...

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What Exactly is Muscle Atrophy and How Does it Differ from Muscle Definition?

What Exactly is Muscle Atrophy and How Does it Differ from Muscle Definition?

When a muscle has been trained for more than it would have normally developed naturally, and then not used for a while, it will naturally ‘atrophy’ back to its normal shape. It takes four times longer to develop a muscle than it does to lose muscle, which is why illness resulting in bed rest can have such a drastic effect on your muscles. Muscle atrophy also occurs when an unbalanced saddle puts too much pressure on a particular muscle, and the horse tries to avoid this pressure. He goes into ‘defensive mode’ by contracting the muscle in the area (as well as the surrounding muscles) and can even alter his gaits. Under the point of pressure where circulation is impacted (thus reducing nutrients and oxygen to the affected area) the muscle ...

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Saddle Fit and "the Old Folks"

Saddle Fit and "the Old Folks"

I’d like to introduce you to my oldest equine friend. He was a 48 year old (as confirmed by the vet!) thoroughbred X, living in FLA and no longer ridden, although he was active until just a few years ago. His name was Lucky (which he truly was!) and in human years he was apparently the equivalent of 96 years old (based on the calculation that apparently one horse year = 2 human years). I was gratified to see that his owner’s diligence in always using a properly fitting saddle on him paid off with regards to protecting him against long term back damage, lameness, and other physiological problems but unfortunately he passed away just his week – died peacefully in his sleep. He always used to watch me when I adjusted the saddles for our clients at his barn. He ran free all around the farm and made sure everything was in order. He did the due diligence for the other members of his herd and watched that I didn’t make any mistakes. This horse seemed to approve when we fitted saddles, which brings tears to my eyes. I find horses very spiritual beings; very intuitive – and they seem to know when ...

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Divergent Theories on Saddle Fitting

Divergent Theories on Saddle Fitting

There are many opinions and theories on saddle fitting. Occasionally we have even heard riders say “I have been using my saddle for x number of years. It fits me perfectly and fits every horse I use.” I have to really bite my tongue on that one but usually just manage to smile and say. “Lucky you”. Some people are unfortunately just not open to being educated on the facts that have been substantiated in recent years through MRIs, thermography, and fibreoptic cameras, and do not realize the possible damage they are doing to themselves and their horses. I am going to deal with two main theories on how to fit saddles properly, but there are probably several other variations on this theme...

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Saddle Fit and the Young Horse

Saddle Fit and the Young Horse

This is a fitting article (no pun intended!) to tie in with this issue’s theme of foals. Too often we hear of people not wanting to spend the money on a good (i.e. adjustable) saddle for a young horse until they are actually starting to show with them — but the truth is that you may end up doing more damage to the horse’s back by using a saddle that hasn’t been (or can’t be) fitted properly from the get go! It’s almost as bad as putting shoes on your toddler that are much too big (“she’ll grow into them”) or starting the horse off with piaffe before they’re ready. The damage may not be obvious at first, but trust me — it will manifest itself in later years! Let’s speak to the elephant in the room for starters: horses were never meant to be ridden. This is an artificial construct we have subjected them to over the years and really goes totally against their nature. Horses are flight animals...

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The Nine Points of Saddle Fit - Part II of III

The Nine Points of Saddle Fit - Part II of III

Part II of III - 4 FULL PANEL CONTACT Ensure that your saddle’s panels make even contact with your horse’s back all the way down to distribute the rider’s weight over an area that equals approximately 220 square inches and ends at the last rib. Test for even contact by sliding a pen or pencil (or your hand) in between the panel and their horse’s back. When rocking occurs, the panels at the front and/or back of the saddle do not make even contact with the horse’s back. Note that sometimes your saddle may be made with panels that deliberately flare up at the very back ...

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Saddle Fit and Jumping Saddles

Saddle Fit and Jumping Saddles

The art and science of saddle fit has become part of the importance of truly caring for your horse; of working together with every equine professional who is part of the “circle of influence” around horse and rider. Traditionally, it has been dressage riders and endurance riders who have been the most concerned with having a properly fitting saddle, because these are the disciplines where really matters how comfortable the horse (and rider) are – because performance can be visibly impacted. The design of jumping saddles has been primarily dictated by a certain ‘look’ that hunters want to achieve; little attention has been paid to (a) whether these saddles actually are ‘anatomically correct’ for the rider and (b) whether they actually fit the horse. If you look closely at any jumping saddle, you will discover that they all generally have narrow gullet channels and non-adjustable panels made of felt or wool. The paradox is that the ‘close contact’ the rider wants to achieve becomes pretty much non-existent after ...

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ask_watlter_bookI have known Jochen as a talented rider and master of his trade since 1986. It is easy to recognize how much Jochen Schleese cares about the comfort and well-being of the horse. Many rider errors have their origins in poorly fitted saddles—to either horse or rider. Too many times these issues are simply ignored and that is why I cannot thank Jochen enough for bringing them to our attention in his book, which every rider who loves his horse should own. He uses illustrations and descriptions not only to discuss what a saddle should look like and that it should fit, but also how it should be fit to individual horses. Only then can the animal carry the unaccustomed weight of a rider and the saddle without pain.  The horse is not really made to carry any weight on its back – which is the second most sensitive spot after its mouth.  It really only becomes possible to do so after its back has been properly strengthened and trained to do so using specific training and gymnastic exercises. All of this was taken into consideration by Jochen during his many years of training and studying with his master in Germany, and later as a master saddler himself while establishing his business in his chosen land [Canada]. Especially Jochen’s experience as a successful competitor in 3-day eventing allowed him to observe and feel the necessity for freedom of movement required under saddle in all three gaits.  His own training had taught him that only a correct seat will facilitate the right aids to the horse. What happens when the rider is even only slightly out of balance?  This is where the saddle comes into the picture: one often sees the rider react by holding his head somewhat to the left or the right. This is the first mistake in the seat; from this he may collapse at the same hip and shift his weight to the other side to compensate. This will of course put more pressure on one side of the horse’s back. Then the rider pulls more on the opposite rein, the whole other side comes higher, and so forth. The result of such seemingly inconsequential errors in position that may go unnoticed or uncorrected for years may be a crooked saddle. It will not fit the horse properly any longer and secondly continue to place the rider in an incorrect seat. One shouldn’t underestimate the frequency or speed with which this crookedness and unevenness can happen. Many rider errors have their origin in poorly fitted saddles to either horse or rider.walter Too many times these issues are simply ignored and that is why I cannot thank Jochen enough for bringing them to our attention in his book ‘Suffering in Silence’. Every rider who loves his horse should own this book. Jochen discusses what to look for in a saddle and how to ensure it will not cause your horse any pain. Horses did not ask to be ridden, which is why it is so important to Jochen that he protect our four-legged partners from poor saddle fit. He is ensured a measure of gratitude from all horses for making their lives bearable and comfortable with properly fitting saddles. I thank him on behalf of riders everywhere, and also his wife Sabine who played just as big a role in the writing of ‘Suffering in Silence’. Jochen teaches discuss what a saddle should look like and that it should fit, but also how it should be fit to individual horses. Only then can the animal carry the unaccustomed weight of a rider and the saddle without pain.

— Walter A. Zettl, Olympic Level Dressage Coach, Professional Trainer Extraordinaire, Clinician and Author of Dressage in Harmony and The Circle of Trust

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