Saddle Fit and a Story of Joy
March 23rd, 2015
Hello from sunny Florida where I am presently en route with my last session of saddle fitting clinics for the winter. Just the last three days have been absolutely amazing; I have enough pictures and stories to fill this blog for weeks! I truly love the before and after results of helping horses – this is a feeling I cannot even begin to express, knowing the difference I have made for both horse and rider in providing them with a properly fitting saddle.
I am presenting you with stories from various clinics around North America over the next weeks and months, interspersed with ‘educational’ blogs as well – and some of these stories will serve to introduce you to the wonderful people I have the privilege of sharing my passion with (clients, employees, and associates). I would appreciate your feedback if this is something that you enjoy reading about (I personally love hearing these kinds of stories) or if there are specific topics you would like me to address.
This week’s blog comes from Erica Spencer, one of our newest US employees working out of Texas. Here is her story:
“I’ve worked a lot of different jobs. At some I made a lot of money, others not so much. Some were with horses, some were not, (though I liked the former a lot more.) The biggest issue I had with every one of them was not feeling fulfilled at the end of the day. I see it this way- we spend a lot of time working, so we should LOVE what we do all day. I really wanted to make a difference. If I could make a difference to a horse, that was really hitting the jackpot.
Then I decided to become a saddle ergonomist. It was a philosophy that made a huge difference in my personal horse, and it looked like the perfect opportunity to finally find what I was looking for in life. And so it was.
Very recently I came across a young lady named Christina ‘Chrisi’ with a lovely horse named Tarzan, and they were both in desperate need of help. Tarzan, though a very nice mover in the field, was not quite living up to expectations under saddle. He was very behind the leg and was having trouble with his right lead. Chrisi, who was only in her early thirties, was suffering from osteoarthritis in both of her hips. She had spent the majority of her riding career in immense pain the entire time she was mounted. Like many of us, she so loved riding that she was willing to tolerate just about anything in order to do it.
Though she bore it very gracefully, when we asked Chrisi to sit in her current saddle on the stand so that we could take her measurements, it was very clear to us all just how much this poor young woman was suffering. Under my trademark smile, my heart went out to her.
After the team had measured her and her horse, we determined that we could definitely be of service to them, and so we adjusted one of our saddles for them to try. We always like to see a pair go in their original equipment first, because it gives us a good baseline of what we need to do in order to help. I remember that her Chrisi’s husband, Coby, was there with us, and that he sat next to me while we watched Chrisi grit her teeth and mount her horse. It took her a lap or two to “settle in,” and I remember him proudly telling me how tough she was and how much she loved riding. I remember thinking to myself that she would have to, in order to keep at it when it obviously caused her so much pain.
Once Chrisi started to work Tarzan, his reaction began to match her own. His steps were stilted and irregular, and it took several tries for him to pick up his right lead. When he did, he was only able to hold it for a few strides before breaking back into a trot. One look at Chrisi’s face was all it took to see how she was faring. The wide twist on the saddle was pulling her already inflamed hips apart like a wishbone. I don’t know how she held it together, but I sure respected her determination.
We then had her dismount and we changed out her own saddle for one that was properly fitted to both her and her horse. Her husband and I resumed our elevated seat together to watch the result. There was an immediate and recognizable difference in Tarzan, and Chrisi seemed ready to work in what seemed like no time. When she picked up the trot it was like magic- every step was bigger and more balanced that the last. Chrisi was smiling. She picked up her left lead canter, but it only lasted half a circle before she was doubled over in the saddle, giggling.
“Oh My God!” she said, “It’s doesn’t HURT!”
Now, I have tell you: it’s awfully hard to remain professional when something so beautifully moving happens as a result of your work. I won’t lie- though I tried to choke them back, a tear or two did manage to escape.
“I want to see him canter to the right!” said Coby. He was grinning from ear to ear, and could barely contain himself. She didn’t want to ruin the moment with the struggle that had become his right lead, but Coby persisted and eventually got his way.
The horse picked up his right lead on the first try. And cantered. And kept cantering.
At this point, the absolute joy in the barn had infected us all. It was thick in the air like static before a storm. We were whooping and jumping up and down, Chrisi was beaming, and Tarzan looked as proud as a horse can be.
It was one of the most rewarding moments of my life, to have given them this gift.
Now, not every experience is as dramatic as this, but the feeling from that moment in that barn touches me in some small way every time I work with a horse and rider team. This is the most rewarding job and I’d be honored to do it for the rest of my life. Thank you Jochen for this amazing opportunity.
Erica Spencer, CSFT, CSE