Fit is Everything - Infinitely Adjustable for Optimal Comfort & Performance!

Saddle Fit and "the Old Folks"

ByJochen Schleese|March 30th, 2015
Jochen Schleese and 48 year old 'Lucky'

Jochen Schleese and 48 year old ‘Lucky’

I absolutely love the idea that the Dressage Foundation has, of celebrating their “Century Club” – riders and their horses who together are at least 100 years old. It is always so wonderful to see these beautiful animals who are so well loved that their owners allow them to live out their lives in peace and in a natural setting in the country. Living with their friends in a herd setting, and enjoying their last years in comfort.

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 L – 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 you are there to help them. I have dealt with many horses whose owners tell me they’re vicious, dangerous, bite, kick, etc. – but they are almost always gentle when I approach them. (knock on wood – I have been very lucky thus far in my career!!)

Our oldest human rider was a lady we have featured on our YouTube channel – Elsa was a firecracker of 93 years old (watch her video – unfortunately this lovely woman also passed away –  a couple of years ago – but she went with a smile, knowing she had spent her last years doing what she loved!)

This blog is my tribute to them as my oldest ever clients.

Going back to Nature?

JS and Lucky looking on

Jochen with ‘Lucky’ looking on checking his work 🙂

The current trend in riding, as in most other things, seems to be “going back to nature”. Riders everywhere are interested in current discussions about whether or not to shoe, whether or not to ride bareback, whether or not to “chemically” supplement your horse’s diet. According to documented statistics, the following life expectancies show the opposite to be true:

  • Life expectancy of the wild horse (for example Mustang) is 5-7 years.
  • Life expectancy of a horse ridden by an inexperienced rider, never exercised to the point of cardiovascular exertion: 7-10 years.
  • Life expectancy of a horse under professional training and supervision, ridden in competitive sports or in active training: 20-25 years.
  • Life expectancy of a horse whose rider ensures a healthy lifestyle (which includes using a properly fitting saddle to protect against long term back damage and ensure many years of riding pleasure): 25+ years – of which above is a really good example!

Doesn’t that tell you something?? Nature may be good; professional advice and proper equipment to do “what’s right” could prove to be better for your horse.

The whole “circle of influence” philosophy should be considered when determining what is best for your horse. The complementary efforts of professionals such as your veterinarian, farrier, chiropractor, and saddler, will exert their influences positively, to enable you and your horse to achieve maximum life expectancy, health and performance.

What does a professional look for and consider when called in to address a problem or concern? Clearly, there are many external factors and influences acting upon a horse at any given time. For example, consider that there are 15 points which can influence saddle fit (or saddle fit perception) alone:




Ability improves Flocking shifts Training / Conditioning
Changing disciplines Leather condition Age
New trainer with
different expectations
Tree twisting (due to
uneven musculature of
horse and/or rider
Nutritional changes
New horse Billets stretching Health swings
Weight loss/gain Seat foam settles Re-shoeing


In summary, it doesn’t matter what you choose to ride in or wear, the key principle is to be aware that everything needs to work together properly. No matter how well a saddle fits at the time of purchase, one saddle will not fit a horse over the course of its life (unless the saddle can be adjusted and re-fit). Every horse goes through at least 7 major conformational changes as it matures. Keep in mind that not every saddle on the market is adjustable, nor can be easily adjusted.

I commit to keeping up with latest research, industry knowledge and technology, in our products and in our services. I confer on a regular basis with other equine professionals. My staff of certified saddle fit technicians and saddle ergonomists commits to educate riders to make intelligent and informed decisions. We ensure that your saddle will fit you and be totally comfortable for you and your horse, improving your ability to ride and your horse’s capacity to perform. Work with a knowledgeable fitter you can trust and who knows the interaction between biomechanics, anatomy and physiology!


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SSG Katie Ferencik joined the U.S. Army in the summer of 2001, and has served two tours overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan. She is currently assigned as an Individual Mobilization Augmentee (IMA) with Alaskan Command. Katie is attempting to become the first Soldier to compete internationally since the 1952 Olympics. Her partner, Horatio, is a 2004 Trakehner, and together they plan to debut in the Spring of 2018 at Prix St. George. Check out what Katie had to say about her Obrigado. "Congrats to Schleese Saddlery Service for 30 years (Jeeze, that's almost as old as I am!!) of wonderful service to horses and their riders. I'm proud to ride in Schleese, and can't wait to get my new Obrigado! You are constantly taking Horatio and I to the next level, and I'm so thankful that you're in my life. How weird is this?!? I'm pretty much expressing my love for a saddle maker/fitter(s?) in public.

Jochen, thinking of you - hope you are doing well - remember when I stopped you in the barn at Coto de Caza a couple of years ago, going on about how much of a fan I was of you? Probably not - but that's just because I stopped short of asking you to sign my saddle, I'm sure :) Connie and Mark Frantzke what can I say? You've believed in me from the moment we met, and your visits are highlights! You are wonderful people with an amazing way of looking at life. Thank you for your friendship - it means the world to me! My fellow dressage enthusiast, Frank, said it best in regards to the Obrigado, "I thought there was no way any other saddle could be more comfortable than my first Schleese, but then, incredibly, it was!" <-----my exact experience! Do you know what Obrigado means? (Not you, Schleese peeps, the public) It means Thank you, in Portuguese! Well, OBRIGADO, SCHLEESE! OBRIGADO! Congrats again - I'm taking this Saddlefit 4 Life and turning it into a Customer4Life." Check out Katie's thank you video!

— Katie Ferencik - Tucson, AZ

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