Saddle Fit and Empathy with the Horse in Training

Back at WEG there was one stand that was absolutely swamped for most of the two weeks we were there – the one with Jane Savoie and a mechanical horse. For those of you who were there, you might remember waiting in long line ups to experience the amazing new product developed by the geniuses through the partnership with Jane at Equi Sense.

Equi Sense is technology developed in order to help the trainer train better, and the rider ride better. It is truly eye-opening; when you sit on the mechanical horse (“Woody”, they call him), the computer picks up immediately how straight you sit, where and if your pressure is uneven, your balance is off, and the aids you use in order to ride. Even if you think you are sitting perfectly straightly, the computer diagnostics will tell you otherwise pretty quickly. The idea for this is that there are sensors built into both the saddles and the reins, which send back real-time snapshots of how you are riding at any given time, through any given movement. But this is just on the mechanical horse – it gets really interesting once you are actually riding on a live body!

In the ring, the trainer is connected to the rider via headphone. The rider is connected to a little black box that sends information back to the computer that the trainer is watching while you ride. Everything has a 5 second delay, so that the trainer can actually confirm on the read-out the movement he has just seen the rider execute – and immediately correct any unevenness or incorrect pressure. It is really interesting to watch how even subtle movements are picked up and can be corrected.

For us of course, it gets really interesting when you think of the applications for saddle fit. Although there have been computerized saddle pads on the market for nearly two decades now, our experiences with them have been more or less hit-and-miss. They didn’t always work as they should, and the technology back then was still in its early stages. I’m sure they have improved, but somehow it still doesn’t meet the intuition of years of experience. (I have found them to be more of a tool to convince sceptics than any real help in diagnosis, since a properly trained saddle fitter should always be able to use his eyes, ears, and hands to determine the problem). Plus, they’re not cheap and they’re a bit of a pain to cart around. (What is just as interesting to me is another new product called Equi Scan, but that too requires extensive training to use. So – back to Equi Sense!)

I immediately thought of how neat it would be to have these sensors built into the saddle not only on the seat (for the rider) but also into the panel (for the horse). Perhaps there could be auditory reminders that the saddle is sitting too far on the shoulder blade, too close to the spine, too far back, etc. It could really be of help in proper saddle positioning (one of the steps to ensure fit), as well as reminding the owner when it’s time for a tune-up (just like the little gas gauge in the car telling you it’s time to fill up again). The point is that so much of riding is all about feel; this technology allows the trainer to actually feel what the rider is feeling during the lesson. Especially for those riders who haven’t had the luxury of growing up with horses and are just now beginning to enjoy the sport, it can sometimes be difficult to put into words what they are experiencing during a lesson. This could open up a whole new line of communication between student and trainer; between horse and rider!

Jochen Schleese, CMS, CSFT, CEE


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