Physical Signs of Damage Caused by Ill-Fitting Saddles.

The following pictures demonstrate clearly some of the often-irreparable long-term damage, which can result from a badly fitting saddle.

Cartilage chipping, nerve pinching, subluxated vertebrae, tongue problems – to mention only a few – can result in further behavioural and even psychological damage to the horse, which will make it almost impossible for horse and rider to find harmony.  So please: listen to what your horse is trying to tell you! If you train the horse fairly and kindly the horse will accept you as the alpha horse. Once the horse accepts you as the alpha or leader, they can’t help but try to please you; it is in their nature for the last 50 million years. It is in the horse’s instinct to do want you want them to do, as long as you follow the natural and classical training methods. Be aware of potential saddle fit issues if behavioural changes or issues crop up over a longer period (a couple of days!) and do your due diligence to avoid the results shown in these photos.

What is muscle atrophy?

When a muscle has been trained for more than it would have been used naturally and then is not used or trained anymore, the muscle will atrophy back to its shape as determined by nature. The other muscle atrophy we speak of appears when an unbalanced saddle puts too much pressure on a particular muscle and the horse will tries to remove or avoid this pressure. As a result, it will go into defensive mode, contracting the area and possibly surrounding muscles and altering its gaits. Especially under the point of pressure, where circulation is impacted reducing nutrients and oxygen to the area, the muscle will develop “back” or atrophy. This will only be stopped and reversed when the culprit is removed or adjusted to fit properly. A properly fitted saddle and proper training, will usually allow the muscle area to regenerate.

What is muscle definition?

Muscle definition refers to the generally positive development and growth of a muscle or muscle groups. It can also be negative, however, depending on whether the horse develops its muscular conformation as expected during proper training methods, or whether the muscles are defined incorrectly because of defensive contraction to counteract incorrect riding or a poorly fitting saddle. The negative muscle definition is often considered to be ‘hypertonic’ which means that the contraction phase of these muscles is often unnaturally long and in a state of abnormally high tension. This will often result in tight, cramped, and painful muscle development.

Horses may show us visually that there are problematic issues with their saddles by the following observations: gait abnormalities, a 4-beat canter, refusing jumps, toe dragging, head nodding, tail swishing, a poor work attitude, a hollow tense back, sore back, bad behaviour, resistance to move forward, a lack of engagement, abnormal muscle definition and/or atrophy, lameness, kissing spine, spondylosis, and may seemingly need ongoing hock and stifle injections.

 

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andrea Jochen Schleese’s experiences and ‘aha’ moments while working as a saddler are truly unique. It is truly a great honour that he shares this knowledge with us in Suffering in Silence. The use of his plaster cast method to take ‘butt imprints’ of many men and women exemplifies the sometimes circuitous route he used to achieve this level of knowledge. This methodology clearly demonstrated the differences between male and female pelvises and was integrated into saddle designs for the benefit of both. Riding is a very demanding sport, and the only one in which the athlete is dependent on the interaction of another being in order to move. As a physiotherapist and a rider myself, I can only state how important it is that finally the differences between male and female anatomy have been taken into consideration to positively impact biomechanics. The topic of saddle fit is a key consideration when I teach my course in biomechanics of the rider at the German National Riding School in Warendorf.  The rider forms the horse and the saddle forms the rider – these two statements are not mutually exclusive. I often compare the saddle to a shoe, which should be comfortable to wear – except that this ‘shoe’ needs to fit two beings (horse and rider) equally well at the same time. This leaves the saddlemaker with a huge responsibility – one which requires a good basic knowledge in human and equine anatomy. Although many of my students are not consciously aware of the anatomical differences in male and female pelvises, they are nevertheless adamant that a saddle should work well for either gender (which infers that these differences need to be taken into consideration during design). I can only expect good things to result in the sport of riding when riders, trainers, veterinarians, saddlers and physiotherapists combine their expertise and experiences for the common good of horse and rider. Only then can the saddler fulfill his role as interface between horse and rider and open the door for discourse. This in a nutshell is the philosophy of Jochen Schleese. Knee rolls are of specific interest to me personally. Through personal observation, which is substantiated by research, the opportunities for human activity and movement continue to dwindle nowadays. Children spend much of their time in inactivity, watching TV, playing games on their computers and cell phones. The result is necessary prosthetic compensation to make up for this loss in muscle development; for riders it is the addition of huge knee rolls on the saddle, which help to keep the rider in a static position while hindering movement.  A pliable seat for the rider and taking up the rhythm in motion are no longer achievable. Although at first glance it may seem that the rider is sitting properly balanced and straight, it soon becomes apparent that the rider is actually sitting stiffly but thinking that this is the way it should feel. The complementary muscle interactions are not in harmonious states of contraction and relaxation, which means that the rider cannot give the aids properly. How can she properly relay the message to the horse to achieve rhythm, suppleness, and connection – which are only the requirements from the first training scale? The rider feels cramped, experiences pain and possibly long term damage (up to and including slipped discs and torn muscles).  This is the possible result regardless which discipline you ride in – which is why the saddle should not only be correct for the rider’s gender and anatomy, but also appropriate for the riding discipline.

— Andrea Koslik, Rider and Physiotherapist

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