Saddle Fit and Saddles That Don’t Fit!

I am presently still off and on working in Florida until the beginning of April. I recently went out to fit one of our saddles for a client to a horse (like I always do!), but what I experienced there truly troubled me to the point that I had to write about it.

The owner and the trainer were both not present; the groom brought out this lovely, sad, little horse. I have rarely encountered such a pathetic picture of absolute dejection and misuse – probably totally unknowingly – and I was at first completely flabbergasted that our saddles could cause such blatant damage. However, as it turns out, the owner herself wasn’t riding the horse more than twice a month; it was regularly ridden by her male trainer, who was using his own “C….” brand saddle on the horse. (A common situation; he was given this saddle to ride in, it fit him great, but not necessarily the horses he was using it on). So it was actually not this saddle that I was looking at to fit – and immediately it became clear why this poor horse was the picture of abject misery. Firstly, the saddle had a gullet channel that was clearly much too narrow – 2 fingers at most for a spine that clearly needed minimum 4 fingers width all the way down. Result – pinching the spinal processes, nerve damage on the back, and certainly not supported by the saddle support area of this fairly short backed horse. Secondly, the saddle was much too long for this horse (the trainer was a male and built differently than the owner, who was riding in a properly sized saddle – albeit, unfortunately, not very often). The panels went way past the saddle support area, causing all sorts of difficulty for this horse’s back and resulting in the lovely pictures you see below. Notice the way the horse is standing – the hind legs are splayed way behind; where the top of the pelvic bone and the knee bone should be aligned vertically, they are out by at least 6”!

I suspect that if the trainer doesn’t ride with the saddle actually on the shoulder, it will no doubt slide up on the shoulder because this is a common result of being too long for the horse’s back. This can, of course do all manner of damage to the scapula, (especially because the tree points in this particular brand of saddle are also forward-facing), causing cartilage damage at worst, and not allowing the horse to move freely at least.

Anyway, I could go on and on about what a poor state this animal was in – there was no more life in his eyes -, but what truly made me sad (and angry at the same time) was hearing that the horse was on the market to be sold because it was just ‘too much’ for the owner to handle! Too much?? The horse was likely showing behavioural issues (especially flight!) by simply wanting to escape and avoid the pain of having to be ridden in something that didn’t fit him. So many times – I’ve said it before over and over again – so much of what your horse is trying to tell you (and horses cannot lie) is simply based on a reaction to what they have to deal with on a daily basis. For most of them, they simply become numb to what is happening and perform in spite of us. Others – it becomes unbearable, and then they become a saleable, disposable commodity because the owner can’t deal with it. Maliciousness on the part of the owner/trainer? I like to think not. Ignorance? Perhaps stupidity? Certainly at least.

This story reassures me that I am on the right track and have to keep educating the trainers and the other equine professionals to see when a horse is truly simply in pain from badly fitting tack, which can result in such deformity.

Jochen Schleese, CMS, CSFT, CEE;

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Comment by Jochen Schleese on May 11, 2011 at 11:43am
We'd love to have you. The next course starts in August I believe! You can contact Cathy at for further information.
Comment by Erica on May 10, 2011 at 10:44pm
Good to hear! I met Dr Robson at Rolex and she was very encouraging. It's good to know that there are people out there who are concerned about the horse's well-being. I am looking into the feasibility of enrolling in your saddle-fitting program. There is certainly a need for well-trained, knowledgable saddle fitters.
Comment by Jochen Schleese on May 2, 2011 at 11:50am
Thank you for your vote of confidence. I am trying to work with all sorts of equine professionals - especially but not only vets, who are unfortunately sadly for the most part untrained in saddle fitting. However - why would they want to learn? They make much more money with injecting horses and treating issues symptomatically. It's an uphill battle. It's only through consumer awareness that the pressure becomes more strong for the vets, the trainers, etc. to learn about this as part of the holistic care to the horse (the circle of influence again!). That is the truth, although we are making some headway - especially among those people who genuinely care about the horse as a living being and do want to make a difference.
Comment by Erica on May 1, 2011 at 11:24pm
I have a horse who is in obvious pain. She has been looked at by five vets and none of them can find anything wrong. The fact that she tries to bite or kick me every time I try to touch her is "just attitude." "She's just being pissy. You should ride her anyway." I asked one of my vets, point blank, "So what you're telling me is that if I can get past her snapping teeth and her flying rear hooves to get a saddle strapped to her back, she is perfectly fine to ride." I was told, "Yes, that's what I'm saying." REALLY? Who is the ignorant one? (No, I'm not about to put a saddle on this horse and ride her!!) Why are our so-called "professionals" doing us such a disservice? Who can we look to for honest, reasonable, accurate advice? I don't claim to know everything about horses. I try to learn as much as I possibly can but I look to the experts to fill in the rest. All that I'm finding is that they can't be trusted. Is my horse's problem a saddle fit issue? I don't know. I haven't been able to confirm anything either way. What I have been able to confirm is that I have a $5K custom-made, custom-fitted saddle (not a Schleese) that is now worthless because it doesn't fit my horse, I've shelled out close to another $3K in vet bills to be told my horse has "an attitude problem," and I have a horse in so much pain that I haven't been able to ride her in over a year.
Comment by Ashley on March 11, 2011 at 1:59pm
Absolutely wonderful post, Jochen. This is truly horrible to see. Many people picture maltreatment and abuse as a horse being undernourished, beaten, and not properly vetted, etc. But too many times ill-fitting tack is the culprit of much deeper abuse - abuse that can not only damage the horse physically but leave huge mental scars on a horse. I am incredibly happy you've noticed this and have hopefully taken steps to help these people correct their ignorance (even if unintentional). Keep up the inspiring work!

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