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The art and science of saddle fit has become part of the importance of truly caring for your horse; of working together with every equine professional who is part of the “circle of influence” around horse and rider. Traditionally, it has been dressage riders and endurance riders who have been the most concerned with having a properly fitting saddle, because these are the disciplines where really matters how comfortable the horse (and rider) are – because performance can be visibly impacted. The design of jumping saddles has been primarily dictated by a certain ‘look’ that hunters want to achieve; little attention has been paid to (a) whether these saddles actually are ‘anatomically correct’ for the rider and (b) whether they actually fit the horse. If you look closely at any jumping saddle, you will discover that they all generally have narrow gullet channels and non-adjustable panels made of felt or wool. The paradox is that the ‘close contact’ the rider wants to achieve becomes pretty much non-existent after …
When you look at pictures of riders from behind – even top riders – often they are not sitting quite straight in the saddle. So even though the saddle looks absolutely straight and perfectly fitting when the horse is in the crossties, crookedness issues begin as soon as he begins to move. Effect of Rider Position In my experience, the saddle may stay in place for about two minutes. Then the rider starts to shift his or her position. Nine out of ten times the problem begins in the pelvis and legs. Next riders will compensate in the lumbar part of their back. Then it moves to the upper body: most of the time they have a rotation somewhere in their back causing one of their shoulders to be higher than the other. On that side, they also hold their hand higher. As a result, the saddle begins to shift over to one side or the other, usually to the right. The longer they ride, the more movement can be expected. Afterwards when the rider removes the saddle off of the horse’s back and examines the dust pattern, what he will find is a little more dust on the side where the rider sat “heavier” to compensate…
CASE HISTORY: I have a client’s horse that spent ten months in training with a poorly fitting saddle. Since she bought him, the horse has had chiropractic, massage work, and also a new properly fitting saddle. Although his back is better now he still seems to have a bit of a “hangover” from nearly a year in a poorly fitting saddle. He actually bucked me off just last week! DIAGNOSIS: This is, unfortunately, a rather common occurrence. The truth is, had this horse’s former owner invested in a properly fitted, fully adjustable saddle, much of the effort, expense, and ongoing issues could absolutely have been avoided. This is the basis of my book Suffering in Silence: The Saddle Fit Link to Physical and Psychological Trauma in Horses (Trafalgar Books, 2014). The horse’s “hangover” is just like the recurring pain that we can experience after an injury that takes some time to heal, such as shin splints; the aftereffects come back to haunt you even after you have “healed.”
Often times the veterinarian will be called to the barn to address an ongoing issue of symptomatic lameness of a horse, e.g., manifested in the right hind leg. Without watching the rider ride the horse in his usual saddle, the logical conclusion might be that this is due to any number of ‘organic’ reasons and will be treated with either an injection, an application of an anti-inflammatory, or possibly chiropractic adjustment at the SI joint. What is actually needed is observation of the rider on his/her saddle in various gaits to determine the possibility of a different cause. A basic assumption is that this particular horse with a lameness in the right hind falls into the majority (about 70%) of horses which are asymmetrically muscled stronger on the left side. This unevenness could be further contributing to or supported by the skeletal asymmetry of the horse, and is easily established by viewing the horse over its rump. What does this mean for saddle fit? …
Saddle fitting is nothing new; saddles have been around for many centuries, albeit the use has changed from military necessity in which the cavalry officer taught his soldiers how to make the necessary changes to re-balance the saddle every time the horse’s conformation changed. This constant ‘balancing act’ was important for each rider as the horse was used for his livelihood. Today the use of horses has changed to the point that they are mainly used in sport and recreation, and much of this critical knowledge for the working horse has been lost, forgotten or is being ignored. In addition, while for many centuries men made saddle for men, in the last 50 years the demographics have changed to the point where the majority of riders are women. The question is why we have neglected this aspect of horse care when we spend so much time, effort, and money for the other parts of the circle of influence – when the solution is sometimes nothing more than rebalancing the saddle – as it has been done hundreds of years before. This negligence could be attributed to simply not knowing – but through modern science and the use of fiber optic cameras, thermography, MRIs etc., we are recognizing the damage that comes from this one critical piece…
As we head into spring, it’s time to put our thoughts into ensuring that all of our tack and equipment will work for the upcoming training months, and for the shows we intend to compete in. Especially if your horse has been ‘laid off ’ for the winter months you will need to ensure that the saddle is fitted properly to allow him comfort and freedom to muscle up again when you begin training in earnest. While it can take four weeks for a muscle to build up with consistent training, it takes only one week for the muscle to regain its original shape (which is negative development). us, even if you have given your horse just a week o from training, you will and that your saddle may not fit the way it did and the way it should, so that you should have a diagnostic evaluation done and the saddle adjusted by a certified fitter before you begin training again.
Saddle fitting is a truly comprehensive art and science that involves getting the fit right for both parts of the equation – horse and rider. This article will focus on saddle fit for the horse. Here are ten signs of poor saddle fit resulting in issues that you should avoid if at all possible by having your saddle checked and adjusted regularly. Many of these issues are caused by a gullet plate that does not properly accommodate the angle and width of the shoulder and ends up pinching at the withers. The withers is where the stallion traditionally bites the mare during mating, which reflexively causes her to stand still, drop her back, and rotate her pelvis in preparation for mating. It actually causes the same instinctive reaction in geldings and is due to pressure on a reflex point resulting in behaviour the rider really doesn’t want. The rider sits on top, urging the horse to move forward, when the horse’s instinct is to stand still. Often the rider mistakenly believes their horse is stubborn and reluctant to move forward…
As we head into spring, it’s time to put our thoughts into ensuring that all of our tack and equipment will work for the upcoming training months, and for the shows we intend to compete in. Especially if your horse has been ‘laid off’ for the winter months you will need to ensure that the saddle is fitted properly to allow him comfort and freedom to muscle up again when you begin training in earnest. While it can take four weeks for a muscle to build up with consistent training, it takes only one week for the muscle to regain its original shape (which is negative development). Thus, even if you have given your horse just a week off from training, you will find that your saddle may not fit the way it did and the way it should, so that you should have a diagnostic evaluation done and the saddle adjusted by a certified fitter before you begin training again…
ANSWER: There are a lot of opinions out there where exactly a saddle should sit correctly, and it may depend somewhat on the discipline you are riding in, the fact remains that the saddle should stay off the shoulder and be placed before the 18th thoracic vertebra. This is what is called the ‘saddle support area’ (SSA) and is relatively simple to find on your horse. It’s sometimes surprising how small this area actually is even on what seems a long-backed horse, and as the horse matures, it can actually grow smaller as the shoulder muscles grow larger and move the shoulder blade further back…
As everyone knows, the skin is the largest organ of the body. (Somehow this never seemed to make sense intuitively, because to me an organ is an organ, and skin is skin, but there you have it!) That’s why creams are so readily absorbed into the blood stream and can quickly work how and where they’re supposed to. The skin is also the first line of defense against painful pressure and the skin is subject to changes that can be assessed in the evaluation of pain. It is known that the fascia of the thoracic region (the region where the saddle is placed also referred to as the saddle support area) is extremely sensitive to pressure and pain due to a richly innervated connective tissue web associated with the spinal cord. This is in contrast to the fascia overlying the lumbar region, which is generally more pliable and less sensitive to pain and to excessive pressure…
There are many theories concerning the natural unevenness or asymmetry of horse musculature. Some scientists think there is a genetic predisposition, as in humans, to being left- or right-handed. Even the governing body of riding in Germany, the FN, recognizes in its rule books that most horses are born with a “natural asymmetry” and furthermore that “similarly to the left- or right-handedness in humans, this predisposition is cerebral, determined at birth. It is further supported by the fact that the forelegs are smaller than the hind legs” (Richtlinien für Reiten und Fahren [Guidelines for Riding and Driving], FN 2005). Others feel that this natural asymmetry could be caused by the way the equine embryo grows in its mother’s womb. In my opinion, however, this “natural” asymmetry is not really natural at all; rather it is the result of domestication and the conditions under which we keep our equine friends. In the wild, the horse …
I often come across clients who complain that their saddle has caused muscle atrophy. I think there is some misunderstanding of what exactly muscle atrophy is and how is it different from good muscle definition. 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 shape as nature would have determined it. 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 leg muscles when you start to move around again. Muscle atrophy also occurs when an unbalanced saddle puts too much pressure on a particular muscle, and the horse tries to remove or 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.
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.
So whilst we’re looking a little at strengthening the horse’s core, and before we get onto ridden exercises, let’s do the same for the rider. There’s growing research evidence that improving your seat off the horse is a great thing to do because a) it’s effective – who doesn’t want a better seat – and b) you can correct muscle patterns more easily when you and the horse aren’t encouraging each other’s asymmetries. Get your core stability correct, it’ll be easier to get your horse correct. You can spend hours fighting not to collapse at the hip, to sit straighter, deeper, drop your thighs down, toes in and get the horse engaged, to stay with him over jumps, but it’s never going to be as effective as just correcting your own muscle weakness before you start. Also in exciting news I broke my ankle and so unmounted exercises are quickly becoming my thing. A broken ankle is pretty common in horse riders so this should also help my fellow sufferers whose days are currently filled with repeating “can I ride yet?” I can’t get you back on the horse yet, but at least we can make sure that when you do you haven’t lost all semblance of riding ability, and might even have improved a bit. Might come in handy if your horse has been laying off while you recuperate!
Part 1: Kissing spines, straightness, and the equine back: how does the back work, and how do you keep it strong & healthy? This series of posts covers the structure and function of the healthy and pathological equine back, how to detect soreness, recover from injury, and improve strength. The equine back is a massive topic, and one that research is only just starting to reveal. This is a dramatically under-researched area, but recently the field has moved forward so fast that we have been able to discount many theories that once seemed very credible. This can make life a little confusing, but at least we do now have some good evidence behind our understanding of the back. First let’s get the basics down. The back, like all musculo-skeletal structures, is made of hard tissue (bone and cartilage), and soft tissue (muscles, tendons, ligaments and connective tissue). If you like tendons you’ll love my last post but for now let’s start with the bone: the spinal column…
Taking proper care of your leather goods greatly enhances appearance and lifespan, no matter the brand. Nowadays, saddles are considered investments, with proper ‘tune ups’ extending lifespans to 15-20 years (for a good quality, adjustable saddle that fits the rider and can be re-fitted to the horse as necessary) One of the greatest misconceptions has been about saddle soaps. Saddle soaps are exactly what their names imply: soaps, and should be used for cleansing only…
Over the past few years, there’s been a proliferation of articles in all sorts of publications on topics like “How to slow down the rushing horse”, “How to ride the stumble out of your horse”, “How to make your horse go forward”, and on and on. All these negative and unwanted “behaviors” from horses may actually be due to something as simple as a poorly-fitting saddle. Poor saddle fit impacts your horse’s reflex points and causes simple instinctive reactions rather than conscious behaviors. But many articles seem to indicate that these reactions are a result of rider error, and attempt to address corrections by either offering solutions to change rider behavior (or fitness levels), or more drastically, calling in a vet to administer pharmaceuticals to address the issues. So what are some of the signs that your problems could be due to poor saddle fit? …
I don’t want to get into what helmet, gloves, or breeches to choose; this article deals with the other components you need to ‘dress’ the horse. It is surprising to a lot of riders how the accessories which we use with our saddles can From pads to stirrup irons to stirrup leathers to girths, these and your horse have to be considered along with the correct saddle for both of you. in the horse world is in the pads industry. Bumper pads, keyhole pads, fuzzy sheepskin, or gel pads – the list goes the horses back and to absorb the sweat so that is does not to the horse. The other very important thing to remember when choosing a pad is to consider the shape of your horse’s back. It is not straight from croup to neck but curves with a high point at the withers. Therefore it stands to reason that we do not want our saddle pads to be straight from front to back…
Saddle fitting to the horse and rider is an immensely personal and unique experience — no two pairs are the same! We asked some of the experts for some input regarding the process, or to discuss items of importance to them as they fit their saddles — their methods can be as unique and different as their clients are, and giving our readers/ riders broader knowledge can only help in determining what the right selection for them and their horses is.
As we head into spring, it’s time to put our thoughts into ensuring that all of our tack and equipment will work for the upcoming training months, and for the shows we intend to compete in. Especially if your horse has been ‘laid off’ for the winter months you will need to ensure that the saddle is fitted properly to allow him comfort and freedom to muscle up again when you begin training in earnest. While it can take four weeks for a muscle to build up with consistent training, it takes only one week for the muscle to regain its original shape (which is negative development). Thus, even if you have given your horse just a week off from training, you will find that your saddle may not fit the way it did and the way it should, so that you should have a diagnostic evaluation done and the saddle adjusted by a certified fitter before you begin training again.
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