Equine Ergonomics studies the interaction of working horse and rider in motion utilizing theory, principles, data and evaluation techniques.
The goal of the Equine Ergonomist is to maximize the health, well-being, performance, and productivity of both horse and rider in motion, taking into account equipment design, abilities and limitations of horse and rider, and the saddle as interface. Proper ergonomic design helps to prevent injuries which may develop over time, possibly leading to long‐term disability.
Riders and horses come in all different shapes and sizes, with different capabilities and limitations – strength, age, speed, judgment, and skills. When sitting in a saddle, the main part of the body weight is transferred to the seat, and onto the horse’s ‘saddle support area’. The proper transfer of weight is the key to a good saddle design. When the areas are not properly supported, sitting in a saddle can result in unwanted pressure and pain to both the rider’s and horse’s back.
For riders with physiological challenges or horses displaying symptomatic signs of discomfort, pressure which seems insignificant for some, may be very painful to others, even rendering a saddle unusable. Ergonomically designed saddles (to horse and rider) are recommended for the prevention and treatment of issues and pressure‐related chronic pain.
The trade of Equine Ergonomics is recognized in Germany as a viable and necessary part of the “circle of influence” around the horse. Unfortunately, many career paths within the equestrian industry remain unregulated, with no local, state, or federal guidelines to determine common learning requirements. The exception to this is Schleese Saddlery Service, which registered the trade of saddlery with the Ontario government and operates the only authorized training facility and apprenticeship program in North America.
Although riding is an inherently dangerous sport, many equine professionals working with horses are not required to present proof of their educational background or demonstrate the credibility of their expertise. The trade of saddlery itself is for the most part, a non-registered and a non-regulated trade, and this proliferation of “DIY” learning can have potentially dangerous ramifications.
Evaluating Saddle Fit to Horse and Rider
Equine Ergonomists use the principles of equine ergonomics to conduct comprehensive diagnostic evaluation of the fit of the saddle to horse and rider in both static and dynamic phases. The 80 point Saddlefit 4 Life® diagnostic evaluation (25 points to rider/ 55 points to horse) examines the factors and variables of each unique horse and rider partnership (sex, rider’s physical attributes, discipline, horse’s age, physical condition, demands, equipment – size, shape, and appropriateness).
Saddle Ergonomists or Saddle Fitters analyze the Saddle Fit Evaluation (provided by the Equine Ergonomist or perhaps conducted by themselves) using 2 approaches in making the necessary saddle fit adjustments – either a reactive approach (fixing a problem caused by something else) or proactive approach (taking corrective action to improve or prevent potential issues).