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The Philosophy of Saddle Fitting

ByJochen Schleese|August 23rd, 2016

Q1 – Why has saddle fitting become such a mainstream issue in the last few years?
Q2 – Who says it’s so important?
Q3 – What is the logic behind it?

It’s only common sense – from the recreational to the Olympic rider, it is an important element in the health and well-being of your horse. Watching the Olympics in Rio right now and seeing what’s going on with some of the saddles and tack being used, it is sometimes to the point for me personally where I find it difficult to watch. Saddle fitting has become a popular topic at many levels at many conferences in the last couple of years – all the way from legal issues arising from contentious fittings to inclusion in the curriculum of veterinary training in order to allow the medical community more insight into potential causes for symptomatic lameness and other issues arising from this close interaction between man and beast.

The question each rider must ask him or herself:

  1. What am I trying to get out of this sport or hobby?
  2. Do I want equipment which interferes with me and my horse and hurts us, or
  3. Do I want equipment which lets me show off my horse’s best abilities and illustrates our potential without incurring long-term damage to my partner?

Horse (1), rider (2) and saddle (3) are key elements of this team. The Team can only reach its goal if all three team members work optimally together.

Team member #1 will change its conformation through training, health, conditioning, age, and nutrition. Team member #2 will change through improving ability, riding in different disciplines, adhering to various trainer expectations, changing horses, or gaining/losing weight. Team member #3 can change through shifting flocking, leather condition, settling seat foam, billets stretching, or even the tree twisting due to the uneven musculature of horse and/or rider.

Besides having fun, what is the true goal of riding?

You want to ensure safety, no spinal injuries to yourself or the horse, no soft tissue damage, no nerve damage, no dermal abrasions in the coat, regular blood flow, you want to sit over the center of gravity, and basically create harmony between horse and rider.

Says Who?

The professional who makes a living with horses in some capacity: veterinarian, trainer, saddle maker, chiropractor, physiotherapist, judge and clinician; all of these are key components in the ‘Circle of Influence’ to your horse.

What is the logic and common sense behind it?

In every sport, and in day to day activity, the decision-making humans follow their instincts, if it makes sense to them, and if it is logical and easily explained. If this is the case, we follow our feelings and explain it to ourselves as common sense to go forward and reach our goal to create harmony between horse and rider.

These are some of the main points of consideration in the saddle and its fit to create harmony between horse and rider in the Team:

HORSE

RIDER

SADDLE

Gender and conformation Gender and body conformation Softness of panel
Size and shape of Saddle Support Area (SSA) Seat size, width, twist, comfort, cantle height and seat foam support (depth) Softness of leather
Withers and shoulder shape and angle Flap width, length, angulation Tree condition
Saddle style and shape Stirrup bar type and length Stitches
Saddle pads required Seat depth Billets
Spinal clearance
(proper gullet channel width)
Weight bearing surface Seat foam and seat balance
Panel contact Leg support Saddle style
Girth length and style Saddle flex and rigidity Saddle pads

 

Riding is a beautiful albeit unnatural sport.  Horses were not meant to be ridden by nature. Over centuries, the horse has been a human companion to pull and carry weight.  The horse’s strength is in pulling weight because of the horizontal spine position, whereas the rider’s strength lies in carrying weight due to the vertical spine position. For the horse to become strong and afford many years of service, weight needs to be carried over the center of gravity of the horse.

Without the saddle, the rider’s seat bones can very easily result in sore back muscles. Without a saddle tree, the spines of both horse and rider will tire quickly and get sore for a long period of time. The saddle tree allows the weight of the rider to be carried over the center of gravity without serious repercussion, if the rest of the saddle is fitted properly.

The rider’s pubic bone and the tail bone are free. The total contact from the lower leg of the rider all the way through to the other side can be made possible with the saddle tree, without hurting or injuring the spinal processes or dorsal ligament system of the horse.

I guess what I am really trying to say is that if all three elements of the team work together properly, the result will be something beautiful and harmonious – to feel, to watch, and to experience.

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I just want to write and thank you and your company again for the generous gift of a custom made saddle. We were all so excited when we found out that we were getting a Schleese saddle. Hemi is the recipient of the beautiful custom fitting saddle. He is a very special horse. He is a 17.1 hh Oldenburg gelding with a heart of gold. Everyone who comes on the property falls in love with him. He follows people around like a puppy dog and loves to cuddle, blow on your neck or lick your face. Hemi has a very special job. He is a lesson horse for riders of a variety of ages and abilities. Because of his gentle nature, he is perfect for riders with various needs. He stands perfectly still while beginner adults learn to groom. His current riders include a 16-year-old young man with Autism, a father of 4 children (2 of whom have Autism), an Occupational Therapist (who wrote the letter recommending Hemi for the saddle) and a single Mom who recently lost her Mother to cancer. I also enjoy riding Hemi because he always tries his hardest to please and to learn. We do some low level Dressage and jumping. The saddle that Hemi won has made life much better for him and for his riders. We had had a difficult time finding a saddle that fit Hemi because of his up-hill build and asymmetric shape. Saddles always slipped back and to the right. This saddle stays in place on him. In the past, Hemi indicated that he was uncomfortable in various saddles we tried by pinning his ears back when asked to canter. He happily picks up a canter for all of his riders now. In the past, riders had a hard time finding their position and learning to post because saddles on Hemi placed their legs too far forward. They find it very easy to keep their legs in the correct position with this saddle. I am very impressed with the beautiful workmanship and the fantastic fit of this saddle. Next time I buy a saddle for my own horse, I will definitely be looking for a Schleese. Thank you so much.

— Cynthia Andrews, EC Competition Coach, CanTRA Senior Instructor, Elk View Equestrian Head Instructor and Facility Owner, Chilliwack, BC

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