• VOLUME 50 • © HORSES For LIFE™ Magazine
The Silent Abuser
Through the years of working with many horse owners on balance and saddle issues, what has become evident is that most owners do not understand the debilitating result of bad saddle fit. The sad state of affairs is that these are responsible horse owners who are trying their best to keep their horses happy, healthy and pain free.
There are a number of factors that have contributed to this widespread and insidious problem. One is that we no longer have saddle makers who either live on the farm/ranch where the horses are housed and worked or who go from farm to farm on a regular schedule making saddles as needed and repairing broken tack. From this comes the second contributing factor. Today’s saddle manufacturers are interested in selling saddles, and rightly so, and are also far removed from your own horse. As such they are not set up for fitting a specific saddle to a specific horse. A few manufacturers employ representatives in the field to fit horses, however these reps are intent on the corporation’s goal to sell saddles, which is perfectly understandable. As we can see in saddle advertisements, there are two prevalent themes used as selling points for most manufacturers. Either someone famous is riding in their saddle, the implication being that their saddle must be good for your horse, or they focus on rider comfort creating an aura of more fun in the saddle while successfully achieving one’s riding goals. Unfortunately neither of these approaches take the horse’s comfort and/or wellbeing into consideration. In today’s world of cross breeding both for function but often for looks, horses’ conformation is no longer the same as it used to be. This brings us to the third factor: our saddle fitting habits may no longer be accurate.
This does not mean to say that the approach should be any different, a horse needs to be comfortable and able to perform athletically, but rather that certain habits that developed decades ago are no longer applicable. To throw into this mix is also the fact that saddle fitting is both a science and an art, just as both the instruction of riding and the training of horses are.
So why such a strong title? Bad saddle fit leads to so many damaging problems by means of which we can effectively cripple our horses both physically and mentally.
Looking at the horse’s body through the perspective of the biomechanics of riding, we know that bad saddle fit contributes to the horse being unable to pick up his back to carry us. Instead it forces him to drag the rider around with a hollow back. This in turn leads to many physiological problems such as lameness, back pain and joint pain; metabolic problems as well as problems associated with shallow and slightly rapid