Saddle Fit and a General Rant

p 87 - 4 - Not in book
One of the most common reasons for a horse indicating a subluxation in the spine or SI joint is because the gullet plate has not been fitted to accommodate the larger shoulder (in this case the left). This twists the saddle to the right, putting excess pressure on the back of the left panel and the left side of the spine which the horse tries to counteract by deviating to the right through the right shoulder.

Okay, I have seriously had it with people who consider themselves ‘experts’ in saddle fitting just because they are leaders in their various equine-related professions (and these are usually high-level riders or other trained experts who take it upon themselves to voice their opinions about saddle fit just because they can or maybe because they’re asked to by people who should know better!)

Two recent incidents come to mind – one was a blog written by a well-known high level rider on a very popular social media magazine site about saddle fit, in which she makes comments that are so completely in opposition to any saddle fit logic out there, that it literally makes me cringe. For example: “your saddle should not distribute your weight evenly over your horse’s back” and “a short girth restricts shoulder/front leg freedom” are just two of the statements that were made and then ‘substantiated’ with some of the most questionable supporting statements I have ever read.

It was gratifying to read some of the rider/reader responses to this blog that indicated that common sense had not entirely left the room; her misconceptions were respectfully discounted by the majority of the responses.

The second was an article appearing recently in a nationally distributed magazine, again written on a specialized topic such as saddle fit by someone who is perhaps well-known and well-respected as a rider and a trainer, but certainly not a trained expert in the science and art of saddle fit. Why is this done when there are so many actual professional saddle fitters available who can be called upon to write an article addressing these points?

The third incident was not in writing, but also made me very much question the ethics of people who are considered experts in their fields. This happened recently at a retailer/saddle salesperson/saddle fitter’s facility – I was watching one of his clients riding while we were chatting. The saddle was sitting on the horse’s vertebrae, on the shoulder, and on the back ligaments. It seemed only to be willing to move forward with constant kicking and pulling by the rider – almost to the point of hyperflexion. It literally took almost ½ hour before the horse began to respond – but not because it had warmed up – because by then the back was probably totally numb!  Says the retailer/saddle salesperson/saddle fitter – “Who cares about the horse? As long as I make the sale!”

Thermographic imaging showing extreme heat over the SI joint area.
Thermographic imaging showing extreme heat over the SI joint area.

I also just read in a respected well-known publication about a study done in Europe by veterinarians, where they were discussing issues of saddle slippage which were apparently, according to their research, cause by lameness. I would put out there that it is actually a causal relationship that works the other way around – saddle slippage causing the lameness! Although I haven’t done any ‘real’ ‘scientific’ research to substantiate this theory, it logically makes a little more sense, but in the end it may actually be a vicious circle (poor saddle fit ⇒ lamenesss ⇒ poor saddle fit etc.). The saddle slips to one side because it hasn’t been fitted properly to accommodate the larger shoulder, so it shifts over the spinal processes during movement, impinges on the nerves and ligaments, causing reactions all the way down to the left or right hind, resulting in lameness (which is then treated by injection, rather than addressing the saddle fit issues). Then because the horse is lame, the saddle continues to slip. I am a firm believer that all equine professionals need to work together holistically for the good of the horse and not work in an isolated silo. Why not examine some of the possibly simpler and easily remedied causes before beginning with pharmaceutical treatment?

I can sleep at night with a good conscience. I am glad that Saddlefit4Life® has a purpose in this industry.