The term ‘ergonomics’ is derived from the Greek words ‘ergon’ (work) and ‘nomos’ (natural laws). Therefore, in the equestrian industry, ‘equine ergonomics’ refers to the Natural Laws for Working Horses. Ergonomics is very relevant to the equine industry, as it is concerned with human and equine anatomy, physiology and biomechanics as these relate to physical activity.

In principle, each of these designations is related – they should all have a basic understanding of equine and human anatomy, physiology and biomechanics. It is the level of diagnostic ability and then understanding how to use the available tools to make the necessary adjustments to a saddle to work for both horse and rider where the differentiation in the levels of education occurs.

Equine Ergonomist has been trademarked by Saddlefit 4 Life®. These are equine professionals of all areas who have taken the first series of courses and have learned to capably diagnose saddle fit issues based on symptomatic behavior experienced by the horse. They can measure and have had significant experience using the S4L evaluation forms in analyzing saddle fit. They will then refer the rider to either a retailer, saddler, or a saddle ergonomist, who will work with them to make the necessary adjustments or offer alternative solutions. They educate the rider to give him/her the knowledge to make an informed decision. The Equine Ergonomist is not trained to actually adjust a saddle at this stage, however are acting as advocates of the horse with an unbiased analysis of the situation to supervise the proper adjustments made.

Saddle Fitters have traditionally been trained either through ‘ad hoc’ apprenticeships working with professional fitters, or at various ‘schools’ in North America, certification through the Society of Master Saddlers in England or through the Qualified Saddle Fitter process in the US. They are sometimes tied to a particular brand, but are often unfortunately limited in the amount of actual saddle fitting that can be done because of the inherent properties of the saddles they work with. Most English saddles are still made with the traditional laminated beechwood trees and riveted gullet plates, which simply cannot be properly adjusted to accommodate the horse as he grows and matures. They may be adjusted over the gullet with a ‘self-adjustable’ tool to change the angle, but not the width; they may be able to be adjusted minimally once or twice but then may lose their integrity and break. For most saddle fitters, saddle fitting consists of reflocking, or in cases where the flocking has been changed to air panels, they will be able to adjust the air levels to change the fit.  Often, saddle fitters have been strongly indoctrinated with the principles of English saddle manufacture and fit, and can find it difficult to accept the science behind saddle fitting based on ergonomics.  There is usually no requirement for ongoing professional development and re-certification.

Saddle Ergonomists have been highly trained in all subjects in the philosophy of Saddlefit 4 Life ® global network of equine professionals working together to protect horse and rider from long term back damage resulting from poor saddle fit. Certified Saddle Ergonomists have studied human and equine anatomy and biomechanics in depth and are skilled in both static and dynamic fit for onsite adjustments. They are able to measure both horse and rider and offer solutions in saddles that will work for both – as they need to, to ensure optimum performance where the saddle is seen as the interface between the two.  They will be able to diagnose and evaluate fit issues and make suggestions for solutions, using their knowledge of available products on the market. They are unbiased, not working with any one company, but having the ability to make decisions to determine the best solution for horse and rider knowing what the market offers. Certified Saddle Ergonomists are to be considered the pinnacle of holistic saddle fit experts.   As graduates of one of the global Saddlefit 4 Life® academies, they are required to continue their professional training with ongoing attendance at regular workshops throughout the year as assistant instructors, with bi-annual re-certification requirements to maintain their licenses and standing within the community. Working with a Certified Saddle Ergonomist will ensure that you have a highly trained, well-connected individual whose education is based on current scientific findings, caring for you and your horse’s comfort and well-being.

Nowadays there are many so-called experts with various training and education working onsite with the horse and selling saddles (incl. retailers, saddlers, saddlefitters, salespeople, and Equine Ergonomists to name a few.) Saddlefit 4 Life® has taken this one step further and created a universal saddle fitting language based on science with consideration of the knowledge of our forefathers to protect as many horses and riders worldwide from long term back damage as possible.

The training to become a licensed certified saddle ergonomist can take up to two years. The S4L Academy maintains the highest standards of qualification in the equine industry; as such there are only a limited number of openings for training offered each year. The process includes a stringent selection process, focused theoretical and practical education, and a requisite re-certifcation requirement.

There is a theoretical and practical examination required for the application process. Qualified S4L trainers will make recommendations for certified equine ergonomists to take the next step in their professional development process. Final examinations for licensing of Certified Saddle Ergonomists are offered in the spring and fall at locations to be announced.

Licenses are valid for two years and will expire if the LCSE does not complete refresher courses and re-certification. LCSEs qualify for re-certification automatically at courses offered each summer. If the license is not renewed on a timely basis, the CSE will have to re-qualify working with an authorized S4L trainer to be admitted to either the spring or fall session for re-licensing.

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Equine Professional

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 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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