Imagine wearing a pair of shoes that don’t fit you. Perhaps they are too big, too tight, too wide or too narrow. Or perhaps there is just something about them causing almost unnoticeable discomfort. You would very likely exchange that pair of shoes in favour of ones that fit you better and allow you to move around unhindered. If you can imagine going for a jog in the ill-fitting shoes for around an hour, one can start to comprehend why some horses with poorly fitting saddles begin to ‘act up’, suddenly become ‘difficult’ or ‘naughty’.
“Saddle fitting is nothing more than attempting to prevent long-term damage to the horse by avoiding pressure on his reflex points, and to distribute the rider’s weight optimally on the horse’s back.” – Jochen Schleese, certified Master Saddler and Saddle Ergonomist
A saddle can therefore either encourage relaxed movement and unobstructed communication between rider and horse, or it can result in pain and an unwillingness or inability to perform a task, as well as unwanted behavioural changes. While this may show up in different ways, and even if the damage is not long lasting, in a competitive environment subtle behavioural nuances may mean the difference between winning and losing. Chronic saddle discomfort that persists can lead to more serious and accumulated issues over time. Unfortunately, our horses cannot verbally tell us whether their saddle is causing them any discomfort, which is why we have specialised saddle fitters.
Soul Equine is an independent saddle fitter that strives to achieve the best fit for both horse and rider. Our saddle fitting knowledge stems from the Ethology® Academy Certification and incorporates knowledge shared by Dr Kerry Ridgeway and Dr Joyce Harman (DVM, MRCVS). Our experience fitting a wide range of saddles to many different back shapes and sizes enables us to make this part of a holistic service that takes the whole horse, discipline, rider and their aspirations into account. Our fit is such that it allows the horse’s muscle to grow and develop, whilst still being able to move freely and supplely which results in a pain free back. We add further value to our fit by looking at conformation, gait and biomechanics to determine the best solution for your horse.
During a saddle evaluation, we manually place the saddle on your horse’s back without any pads or other equipment and observe how it settles on his or her back after walking a few steps. NO device in the world will keep your saddle in place if it’s naturally sliding backwards or forwards, and this may mean a small adjustment, a reflock, or even a complete change in saddle. Additionally, horses change shape monthly for reasons such as a change of season, alterations to the fitness programme, changes in diet, pain or age. It is therefore important to have your saddle checked regularly, BEFORE you start noticing problems.
References and Further Reading
Didier, R., 2018. ‘How important is your saddle, really?’. Available at: https://horsenetwork.com/2018/03/important-saddle-really/
Harman, J., 2004. The Horse’s Pain-Free Back and Saddle-Fit Book. North Pomfret, Vt: Trafalgar Square Books