Jochen Schleese Saddle Fitting Tip: When the Saddle Doesn’t Fit

In my book “Suffering in Silence- the Saddle Fit Link to Physical and Psychological Trauma in Horses”, Dr. Carol Vischer DVM (certified in acupuncture and spinal manipulation) contributed an article The Horse’s Skin is a Good Indicator of Pain. Dr.Vischer states “I hope through education, more owners become cognizant of the damage that inevitably occurs from chronic pressure”.

A horse’s sense of touch is much more sensitive than a human’s. The horse feels the slightest pressure and reacts to subtle weight changes when the rider gives an aid. If a horse seems to ignore an aid it might be a training issue (unclear about what’s expected) or because the saddle has been putting constant pressure on a reflex point, and he has become ‘deadened’ to the touch. The saddle (as interface between horse and rider) has the potential to inflict the most anatomical and physiological damage when it no longer fits.

Cartilage chipping, nerve pinching, subluxated vertebrae, tongue problems are a few of the issues which can lead to further behavioral and psychological damage, making it next to impossible for horse and rider to find harmony. These pictures demonstrate irreversible damage – the result of badly fitting saddles:

1. Sweat marks come from damaged sweat glands caused by inappropriate girthing and an incorrect billet system

2. Vertebral and spinal ligament damage caused by too much pressure on the spinal processes

3. A saddle that was too long and incorrect training results in abnormal development of the loin muscle area

4. The muscular development at the loins was due to the gullet channel that was too narrow. You don’t want this ‘dip’ at the croup, but rather a nice, evenly rounded rump

5. White marks caused by either a saddle pad that was too thick or made of synthetic materials that cannot breathe

6. Constant muscular contraction results in incorrect definition of the flank. This can be caused by the saddle sitting on the withers or pressing down on the spinal column

7. Visible results from the saddle that is too long for the horse, exerting too much pressure at and behind the 18th lumbar vertebra

8. Subluxation of lumbar vertebrae as a result of pressure at CN11, causing the horse to instinctively block his movement, yet still responding to the rider’s impulse to move forward (similar to driving a car with the hand brake on). The horse moves forward reluctantly with damage that may show up later

The goal of saddle fitting is to prevent discomfort, behavioral issues and damage by avoiding pressure on reflex points and distributing the rider’s weight optimally over the saddle support area. Listen to what your horse is trying to tell you. Consult a certified Equine or Saddle Ergonomist who will help you achieve optimal saddle fit for you and your horse.

Jochen Schleeseis author of ‘Suffering in Silence – The Saddle fit Link to Physical and Psychological Trauma in Horses’ (2013). Through the Saddlefit 4 Life global network of equine professionals Jochen Schleese provides industry education to help equestrians recognize and prevent saddle fit issues and long term damage to horse and rider. Find answers in a personal 80 point Saddle Fit Evaluation to horse and rider. 1-800-225-2242


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