Fit is Everything - Infinitely Adjustable for Optimal Comfort & Performance!

Standardization of Saddle Fitting Criteria

ByJochen Schleese|October 3rd, 2017

I want to refer to a recent paper appearing in the Journal of Equine Veterinary Science, which was written by a group of non-scientists who were involved in a study to look at the repeatability of SMS (Society of Master Saddlers) qualified saddle fitters’ observations during static saddle fit.[1] What this means basically, is how much agreement was there between allegedly similarly trained and certified saddle fitters when determining how well and whether a saddle fit.

Certified Saddle Ergonomist Julia Dixon-Curtis adjusting a saddle (based on the horse’s measurements) while the horse ‘supervises’ and gives his approval.

In the synopsis/abstract it states the purpose was to see the level of matching there was during assessing fit along the guidelines as taught by the SMS. There have been no recorded studies to date to determine any level of conformity between professionals working in this field. At the end of the day, there was substantial agreement of the 20 volunteers ‘tested’ only when regarding wither clearance (which is pretty basic given that we have all learned that 2-3 fingers is recommended at the top of the withers – but interestingly enough, no consideration was given to the necessary clearance at the side of the withers, which is something I have always advocated as important). Moderate agreement was given to the position of the billets as they related to the ‘girth groove’ and regarding panel contact. Only minimal consensus was given to the extremely important areas of tree width (nothing mentioned about angle!) and saddle length. The final recommendation given was that criteria for fit should be standardized, which is probably why the SMS has announced that it would be revamping its saddle fitter training in the next year. (I have offered my involvement in this crucial next step – but I’m still waiting for my invitation to participate.)

Certified Saddle Ergonomist, Natalie Sauner, measuring the saddle’s tree width and angle and making any necessary tree adjustments and panel flocking to ensure the saddle fits this particular horse optimally.

Unfortunately, the SMS is extremely traditionalist (after all, the British have been heralds in the saddle industry for many hundreds of years) and are very suspicious of newcomers (which I guess I could be classified as given my only 35+ years in this industry) and especially of innovative ideas.  Sadly, not much has really changed in the British saddlery market over the decades.

The paper further confirms that legally anyone can fit, adjust, or sell saddles in the UK (and probably anywhere in the world for that matter) without holding any formal qualifications. It further states that England is the only country which offers an industry recognized qualification in saddle fitting – as provided by the Society of Master Saddlers. (This is somewhat disingenuous, as Germany has a somewhat more detailed apprenticeship than even the SMS). SMS qualification comes after a 4 day (!) course. Hardly sufficient to even get your feet wet in the field of saddle fitting, in my opinion – we at Saddlefit 4 Life don’t certify qualified Saddle Ergonomists until approximately 6-8 months of training (including extensive forays into human and equine anatomy and biomechanics) and practical experience (doing many saddle fit evaluations independently – correctly and completely!)

[1] Investigation looking at the Repeatability of 20 Society of Master Saddlers Qualified Saddle Fitters’ observations during static saddle fit. Russell Guire, Renate Weller, Mark Fisher, Jo Beavis. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science 2017.

Jochen Schleese pointing to the last supportive rib of this horse’s saddle support area (SSA). This is a critical point to which the saddle should not sit past to ensure the horse’s comfort and freedom of movement. This particular saddle sits well within the bounds of this particular horse’s SSA.

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I am a new Schleese customer and wanted to tell you how much I love my new saddle!  I have struggled for almost 5 years trying to find the right saddle for my horse.  New ones would work for a short time, but were never the right fit for myself and my horse together.  After watching all your videos, reading your book and the information on your website, I decided that I wanted to do the right thing for my horse and purchase one of your saddles. Working with Denise Lenz was so educational and fun!  She was just super and explained everything she was doing.  I had several people there to watch me ride in 3 different saddles, but my horse Rex chose the Obrigado.  His movement was so different than anything I have ever felt before!  He has a very short back so it really suited him, and everyone watching agreed it was the one.  He was so happy and forward moving in that saddle, and I really just sat there and let him go.  Sitting the trot and canter was effortless for me for the first time!  Now I see why a “female” saddle makes such a difference.  I could never sit his canter easily before or keep my toes forward in my previous saddles.  The seat is so comfortable and I feel really supported as I ride.  It’s like I am one with him, and not just sitting on his back.  Every ride is a good ride and I’m excited to keep progressing with his training now that he can really move his body and not be uncomfortable or restricted. I am also very grateful to Denise for selling me that demo saddle so I didn't have to wait for one to be made.  She said she could leave us knowing it fit perfectly, and that gave her peace of mind.  I slept really well that night knowing I had purchased not only a lovely piece of equipment, but also feeling relieved that my horse will never suffer pain from an ill-fitting saddle ever again.  I am a Schleese customer for life now and look forward to working with Denise for years to come. “Obrigado” [Thank you] and kind regards.

— Christine Stevens - Winnipeg, Manitoba

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