The New Language of Saddle Fitting Worldwide

Much has been written in the last few years about the many career paths in the equestrian industry and interest in becoming a saddle fitter has increased.

There are a number of training paths available to become a fitter. Some are affiliated directly with a company where fitters are trained basically only in one product. Others are independent and offer actual certification after an examination; perhaps one of the most well-known of these is through the Society of Master Saddlers in England, which designates “Qualified Saddle Fitters” or the MSA (Master Saddler’s Association) in USA, which graduates “Certified Saddle Fitters.” In addition, there are a number of ‘schools’ around the country which touch on some of the important points of consideration in saddle fit who become saddle fitters, who then go on to work for various companies. The one problem common to most of these associations is that they are limited in what their saddle fitters can actually fit, because of the materials and construction of most English saddles. Often, fitting a saddle is limited to re-flocking only, because the tree cannot be adjusted without damaging its tensile strength; or if the gullet plate can be altered, it will usually only be adjustable in its angle, not its width.

Saddlefit 4 Life® (S4L) an independent school founded by Jochen Schleese in 2006, teaches the science and art of saddle fitting and diagnostic saddle fit evaluation all around the world, primarily to equine professionals who are looking to broaden their expertise. The philosophy and curriculum of S4L is taught at the German National Riding School, the Berufsreiterverband (Association of Professional Trainers in Germany), to veterinarians in Brazil, and is also offered for USDF University Accreditation.

Saddlefit 4 Life® is becoming the universal ‘language of saddle fitting’ worldwide. Saddlefit 4 Life® does not train and certify saddle fitters per se; it trains and certifies Equine Ergonomists and Saddle Ergonomists – steps beyond saddle fitting – with knowledge to diagnose interrelated horse and rider issues, and make recommendations for solutions to correct the problem, before they lead to more serious health issues.

3 Curriculum Books

Course 1 is a 2-Day Professionals seminar “Recognizing Saddle Fit Issues” discusses the basic 9 points of saddle fit to horse, equipping every rider to go home and see for themselves whether or not their saddle ‘fits’. The seminar teaches students to recognize common equine saddle fit issues and signs of physical damage, and to understand how ill-fitting saddles may cause each issue. Participants will learn to recognize when behavioural issues may be due to poor saddle fit. The ‘gender of saddle fit’ is examined to provide understanding of the differences between male and female anatomy and pelvic structure that contribute to saddle fit issues (discomfort , pain, back and pelvic injury) for the rider. The seminar is open to all equine enthusiasts and is a pre-requisite for Course 2. Course 2 is a 3-Day Equine Ergonomics Course “All About the Horse”.

Students may apply for Course 3 after successfully completing Courses 1 & 2 within a 10 month period and having completed other prerequisites.  Course 3 is a 3-Day Equine Ergonomist Course “All About the Horse & Rider” – a comprehensive study of saddle fit diagnostics theory and practical techniques. After successfully completing a series of diagnostic saddle fit evaluations and meeting examination requirements, once certified, an Equine Ergonomist is able to offer comprehensive series of saddle fit diagnostic services for horse and rider. These include the 80 point Saddlefit 4 Life®  Diagnostic Evaluation (dust pattern analysis, saddle support area analysis, static and dynamic fit analysis to horse and rider, rider fit and balance analysis, complete measurements and assessment of horse, rider and saddle) – all performed on site.  Equine Ergonomists work with both saddle fitters and Saddle Ergonomist to find the recommended saddle solution, and perform the required adjustments to achieve optimal saddle fit to promote healthy backs and freedom of movement for both horse and rider.

Certified Equine Ergonomist (CEE) may apply to continue training to become a Saddle Ergonomist which will teach proficiency in actually making the required adjustments determined for proper saddle fit during the 80 point diagnostic evaluation of horse and rider.

Saddlefit 4 Life® is the only global network for saddle fit training which requires renewal of certification every 2 years to maintain a state-of-the-art level of knowledge, and to date, has graduated over 100 participants worldwide. S4L graduates have access to the latest technology to ensure the closest possible fit – including the recent acquisition of a laser that measures the three-dimensional shape of the horse’s back and gives the client a clear picture of how the horse has changed and grown over time between evaluations.

For full course details, please visit our Education section on this website.

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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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