Is Your Horse Trying to Tell You Something

Does your horse act like a bear when you saddle him? 

  The thought of the new Schleese Obrigado Dressage saddle on my Husband’s grizzy bear started out as a joke at a dinner party.  Jochen Schleese thought it would be funny to harass my Husband, Larry and maybe add a comment about the new saddle stand.  Friends and family on Facebook made numerous funny comments and “likes.”     

  But the truth is some horses do experience a huge personality change when they are approached with a saddle.  The biting, pinning of the ears, whites of their eyes and swishing tails can all be described as acting like an attacking grizzly bear.    It is not funny, it is very sad.

  Not long ago, I was in a barn working with a lady who was trying a few of the Schleese models.  It was a large busy english stable with boarders and students coming and going.  During the appointment, I walked past a horse on the cross ties.  He was friendly almost nosey and totally relaxed as I passed under the cross ties.  A few minutes later, I did exactly the same thing, same direction, same side, same student nearby with the same horses tied in the aisle further back behind him.  This time, he pinned his ears, showed his teeth, turned his hip towards me and swished his tail.   This time, I was carrying a saddle.  I don’t know what upset me more; knowing that horse must have had a horrible saddle experience for him to form that opinion or that the student reprimanded him and called him names for his behavior.

  I am not proud to admit that I may have reacted the same as the student in the past, not because I did not care but because I did not know any better.  You don’t know what you don’t know. 

  Horses communicate through behavior and most put up with a lot before they speak up.  It is the responsibility of the horseman to learn their language.   In her book, Recognizing The Horse in Pain, Dr. Joanna Robson emphasizes that a horse’s behavior is directly related to his level of pain.  Her mission is to educate riders and get them to pay attention to what their horse is trying to tell them.     Her book gives detailed information on saddle fit and the damage that can be done by a poor fitting saddle. 

  If a horse with an otherwise kind personality turns into a bear when approached with a saddle he is trying to communicate the only way he knows how, the saddle is causing pain.  Some horses are more passive then others and will tolerate the pain either out of fear or have simply learned to guard themselves which leads to muscle atrophy, lameness, kissing spine, hunters bump, upside down necks, ulcers and so on.  I keep referring to the horse as he but of course your horse could be a she and heaven can only help you if your mare is in pain.

  There is a saying that says something like, “If Mother is not happy, no body is happy.”  At our clinics we always emphasize learning to speak horse and how to keep your horse happy because if your horse is not comfortable relaxed and happy, you are not going to have a good time.  This  is especially true if your horse is a mare.   

  There are several factors that influence our horse’s performance.  One of course is what we teach at the our clinics; being a respectable leader that your horse can trust and wants to be with.  Nutrition, health care, hoof care, training and equipment especially the saddle fit all can influence your horse’s performance.

Here are some ways your horse could be telling you that your saddle does not fit properly:
  • Bucking and/or spooking
  • Head tossing or rooting
  • Tripping and stumbling
  • Lack of forward motion and/or engagement
  • Not standing to be mounted or girthiness
  • Refusing jumps
  • Trouble picking up leads
  • Unexplained lameness
  • Trouble going up or down hills
  Dr. Joanna Robson clearly describes in her book and videos that our horses behavior is their attempt to communicate with us.  We need to learn to listen.  You may need to have your horse evaluated by a vet, your saddle evaluated by a fitter and/or your riding evaluated by an instructor.   If you horse turns into a bear when you approach him with a saddle he is trying to tell you something, please listen.
Terry Peiper, CSE
Saddlefit 4 Life Certified Saddle Ergonomist

  Terry Peiper has been "Helping Horses With Their People" in south central PA for over 30 years by training horses and riders.  In addition to being an accredited Richard Shrake Resistance Free ® Trainer/Instructor, she is certified by the American Riding Instructors Association (ARIA) and the International Society of Rider Biomechanics. She has more than 45 years horse showing experience in several different disciplines, as well as several years of fox hunting and open show judging experience. You could say she has been there and done that.

  Studying saddle ergonomics started out as just another way for Terry to help her students however, it quickly took over her life when she discovered that her own horse, Easy had a condition called kissing spine which was likely caused by many years of riding in poor fitting saddles. “I can’t go back and undo what I have done but I can spread the word about proper saddle fit to prevent other horses from needless suffering” says Terry.

  Recognizing the huge need for proper saddle fit, Terry joined the Saddlefit 4 Life professionals and started the FIT RIGHT SADDLE SOLUTIONS. She passionately pursues her mission to educate as many riders as possible of the importance of proper saddle fit, how it affects the horse’s performance, behavior and ultimately the health of horse and rider.   

  For riders searching for solutions, she proudly offers Thin Line shimmable saddle pads, Schleese dressage and hunt seat saddles and Specialized endurance, trail and western saddles.   All the saddles can be adapted to fit the horse as it develops or fitted to another horse by changing the tree width, angle and horizontal panel contact.  Terry recommends saddle fit evaluations every 6 months. 

  Saddle fit evaluations/consultations, lectures, adjustable saddle sales/service and riding lessons are available at Buck N Horse Hollow in Carlisle PA or within a 120 mile radius (south central Pennsylvania and northern Maryland areas)
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