Definition of Terms
What is Equine Ergonomics?
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.
What is the difference between an Equine Ergonomist, a Saddle Fitter and a Saddle Ergonomist?
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.