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Q: How much of your day/week is related to horses? A: The awesome thing about this question is there is rarely a day that goes by let alone a week that isn’t related to horses in one way or another. I can be on the road working as a Certified Saddle fit Technician for Schleese Saddlery from early mornings till late at night. Still somehow I end up at the barn where I board my horse even if it is just for a quick brush or ride. I am also a Registered Equine Massage Therapist. When I am not fitting saddles or with my own horse, I might just be found at another barn treating a horse. Q: What is it exactly that you do? A: Being a Certified Saddle Fit Technician, my role is creating the optimal saddle fit for horse and also rider. So there are certain territories that I travel along with a client success manager…
How much of your day/week is related to horses? I am happy to be able to say that the vast majority of my week, both professional and personal, is related to horses. When I’m not traveling to barns for my job as a Regional Client Services Manager for Schleese Saddlery, I am working from home and spending most of my free time riding my own horse. What is it exactly that you do? I am a Regional Client Services Manager for Schleese Saddlery. I travel to different territories on regularly scheduled Saddle Fit Clinics. We provide saddle fitting services to new clients seeking an optimally fitting saddle for horse and rider and to our existing clients in need of routine saddle fitting adjustments…
Baroque Horse Magazine had the pleasure to talk to Dr. Gerd Heushmann, a veterinarian and a classical rider from Germany. Dr. Heuschmann was a key person in bringing to light to dangers and harm of riding horses in Rollkur and was apart of the big 2010 meeting of the FEI in regards to it. He is well-known in the dressage community and admired for being able to speak his mind in what he sees as incorrect and damaging training methods commonly employed by riders and trainers involved in competition today.
The first thing I should know is if you are a woman, and what saddle you are riding in. But let me answer generically – riding should not be causing you pain anywhere. If you are experiencing pain – especially in the lower back, it could be that you are riding in a gender-inappropriate saddle (which usually means women riding in saddles that have been made for men – which most of them quite frankly still are!). Although many men may also have issues with back pain, they are usually stoic and pretty much keep quiet about it. We know many riders who suffer with back issues…
This month’s Q&A has spurred me to delve into this topic in a little more detail, as it is an issue that we have often heard from our clients (who are admittedly, mostly women!) Anatomy is a crucial factor in saddle fit, as is gender. Men usually have an easier time finding a saddle that fits, as saddles have traditionally been built by men, for men. Most women have an inherent conformational disadvantage (the center axis of the pelvis prevents women from balancing only on their seat bones). With a saddle designed for the female anatomy (and exercises and muscular development), women can achieve a similar position on horseback to the male. The female pelvis has a shorter tailbone and hip articulation angled to the side vs. the male pelvis with a longer tailbone and straighter hip articulation, allowing his leg to hang straight down…
As was mentioned in a recent article in California Riding Magazine (Nov. 2016) concerning gullet channel width, the issue of kissing spine is something that is of concern to many riders – and is very closely related to this saddle fit issue. I have recently come across an inordinate amount of horses where this issue occurred and was, of course, not helped – indeed exacerbated – by poorly fitting saddles. There are still differing opinions as to whether kissing spines is a disease with predilection already present at birth, or whether it is caused by “something” (poor saddle fit, poor riding, etc.) during the course of the horse’s life. Dr. Carol Vischer, a DVM in New York, with whom I work occasionally, (and who has kindly written an insert for my book Suffering in Silence) has done extensive research and come to the conclusion that kissing spine is a disease that some horses are just prone to, but whatever you believe – the fact is that it can definitely be caused and impacted by poor riding and bad saddle fit…
A horse is not able to lie, to ‘act’ like he’s feeling comfortable, happy, or relaxed when he’s not. Watch for the feedback your horse gives you and it’s easy to see what his state of mind is. We all know the usual signs; the eyes, the ears, the tail. In nature, the horse – a ‘flight’ animal – can run full out at a moment’s notice. There is no necessity for the thought process “Okay, I’m being chased by a wolf, I’m going to have to run fast in about 3 seconds, so perhaps I should warm up a bit so that I can go full tilt”. By that time, the horse would be lunch. You know your horse better than anyone – instinctively, you know immediately when something is amiss,
One of the most misunderstood indicators of saddle fit – GOOD or BAD – are the sweat or dust marks left behind after a ride and when the pad has been removed. Logic dictates that the dust pattern on your pad and the sweat marks on your horse should ideally look somewhat like the photo (see article). The most dirt is accumulated where the most movement is: in the front shoulder moving back and forth and in the back, where the back moves up and down. The quick explanation is that no dirt should show where the saddle hardly touches, such as the gullet or at the transition between sweat flap and panel. The white triangle under the front part of the saddle also indicates a good position and fit, because in this area the saddle should sit the most quietly without movement, since this is where most of your weight sits; i.e. no dirt accumulation and no movement…
What does ‘custom’ really mean? What does ‘quality’ entail? The concept of ‘custom saddles’ really needs to be defined, as it there is so much more to a custom saddle than just a type. The concept of a truly ‘bespoke’ product should be honoured — when a saddle is described as ‘custom’, it really should be just that, and we will clarify the difference here. Simply purchasing a saddle that may have been ‘customized’ to fit your horse with a narrow, medium, or wide tree and panel flocking that has been somewhat moved around to accommodate the horse’s back shape does not a custom product make. Neither does your determination of seat size (anywhere from 16″ to maybe 19″) with special colour combinations and bling or leather types of your choice. There is nothing truly custom about these superficial choices. These are personalized options that absolutely will be according to your tastes and requests, however, true customization begins inside the saddle with the tree itself. For a truly custom saddle, the considerations (particularly for a Dressage saddle) need to go beyond those mentioned above to include: Twist …
Points 7-9: Many of us are familiar with the term “short-backed” to describe a horse, but even a horse with a back that appears to be of normal length may actually have a very short saddle support area. The length of the saddle support area will determine how long the panels must be. Breeds that commonly have a short saddle-support area are Friesians; Baroque type horses such as Andalusians, Lusitanos, PREs, and Lippizaners; Arabians; and more and more frequently, “modern-type” Warmbloods. One common saddle fitting issue here is that the saddle panels are often too long for their backs…
Saddle fitting is a term with various meanings. As the interface between horse and rider, the saddle should allow the rider to sit and balance comfortably (in a gender correct saddle) in order to give proper aids without clamping the thighs, relying on hands, or being unbalanced on the back. The saddle needs to provide freedom of movement without restriction so the back muscles come up, move freely and accommodate the horse’s changing conformation. Sometimes saddle fitting is analogous to buying shoes – selecting which are comfortable, perhaps adding orthotics or inserts to ‘improve’ the fit. With a non-adjustable saddle (wood or plastic tree), the saddle fitter assesses whether a narrow, medium or wide tree provides the ‘best’ (not necessarily optimal) fit. Improvements are made through …
We have been blessed. Truly blessed – the statistics state that most businesses barely last the first five years of their existence, and here we are, celebrating 30 years of achievement and success. Although initially it was just Jochen and myself, over the past four decades we have grown globally to employ over 100 people worldwide – supporting 100 families. We have our wonderful and loyal clients to thank; we have our skilled and dedicated staff to thank. But we also have publications such as California Riding Magazine to thank for working with us and being willing to showcase what it is that we do – for the eighth year now. A lot has changed since we first opened shop in our little 100 square-foot workshop in the quarantine zone of the World Dressage Championships locale – held for the first time outside of Europe in 1986. The Pracht family (including Olympians Eva Maria Pracht – daughter of Josef Neckermann, the first ever World Dressage Champion in 1966 – and her daughter Martina) were instrumental in allowing us to establish ourselves in Canada. Although Jochen had been recently certified as the youngest ever master saddler in Europe at the time (1985), and was a successful internationally qualified event rider, coming over to North America was probably the luckiest decision we could have made…
The question was put to me recently whether or not it was harmful to jump in your dressage saddle or ride dressage in your jumping saddle. Theoretically at least—presuming that these are not necessarily regular activities but rather just occasional ones—there should be no problem and there are no long-term ramifications. However, if you plan to make a particular discipline a regular activity, there are many good reasons to choose a saddle specific to that discipline, both for your benefit and your horse’s. Understanding the Differences …
The physical signs of saddle fit trauma are more easily apparent than the psychological signs. Signs that your horse is in pain include head tossing, bucking, stumbling, tongue issues, rearing, and resistance. White hair, dry spots, and muscle atrophy are also visual effects resulting from poor saddle fit. Each of these manifestations has as its origin an issue in a saddle that has not been fitted properly to the horse – either the gullet channel is too narrow, the tree points and gullet plate are not roomy enough at the withers, and the angle …
When a muscle has been trained for more than it would have normally developed naturally, and then not used for a while, it will naturally ‘atrophy’ back to its normal shape. It takes four times longer to develop a muscle than it does to lose muscle, which is why illness resulting in bed rest can have such a drastic effect on your muscles. Muscle atrophy also occurs when an unbalanced saddle puts too much pressure on a particular muscle, and the horse tries to avoid this pressure. He goes into ‘defensive mode’ by contracting the muscle in the area (as well as the surrounding muscles) and can even alter his gaits. Under the point of pressure where circulation is impacted (thus reducing nutrients and oxygen to the affected area) the muscle …
I’d like to introduce you to my oldest equine friend. He was a 48 year old (as confirmed by the vet!) thoroughbred X, living in FLA and no longer ridden, although he was active until just a few years ago. His name was Lucky (which he truly was!) and in human years he was apparently the equivalent of 96 years old (based on the calculation that apparently one horse year = 2 human years). I was gratified to see that his owner’s diligence in always using a properly fitting saddle on him paid off with regards to protecting him against long term back damage, lameness, and other physiological problems but unfortunately he passed away just his week – died peacefully in his sleep. He always used to watch me when I adjusted the saddles for our clients at his barn. He ran free all around the farm and made sure everything was in order. He did the due diligence for the other members of his herd and watched that I didn’t make any mistakes. This horse seemed to approve when we fitted saddles, which brings tears to my eyes. I find horses very spiritual beings; very intuitive – and they seem to know when …
There are many opinions and theories on saddle fitting. Occasionally we have even heard riders say “I have been using my saddle for x number of years. It fits me perfectly and fits every horse I use.” I have to really bite my tongue on that one but usually just manage to smile and say. “Lucky you”. Some people are unfortunately just not open to being educated on the facts that have been substantiated in recent years through MRIs, thermography, and fibreoptic cameras, and do not realize the possible damage they are doing to themselves and their horses. I am going to deal with two main theories on how to fit saddles properly, but there are probably several other variations on this theme…
This is a fitting article (no pun intended!) to tie in with this issue’s theme of foals. Too often we hear of people not wanting to spend the money on a good (i.e. adjustable) saddle for a young horse until they are actually starting to show with them — but the truth is that you may end up doing more damage to the horse’s back by using a saddle that hasn’t been (or can’t be) fitted properly from the get go! It’s almost as bad as putting shoes on your toddler that are much too big (“she’ll grow into them”) or starting the horse off with piaffe before they’re ready. The damage may not be obvious at first, but trust me — it will manifest itself in later years! Let’s speak to the elephant in the room for starters: horses were never meant to be ridden. This is an artificial construct we have subjected them to over the years and really goes totally against their nature. Horses are flight animals…
Part II of III – 4 FULL PANEL CONTACT Ensure that your saddle’s panels make even contact with your horse’s back all the way down to distribute the rider’s weight over an area that equals approximately 220 square inches and ends at the last rib. Test for even contact by sliding a pen or pencil (or your hand) in between the panel and their horse’s back. When rocking occurs, the panels at the front and/or back of the saddle do not make even contact with the horse’s back. Note that sometimes your saddle may be made with panels that deliberately flare up at the very back …
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