Does your horse act like a bear when you saddle him?
The thought of the new Schleese Obrigado Dressage saddle on my Husband’s grizzly 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 it being my new saddle stand. Friends and family on Facebook made numerous funny comments and “likes.”
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. Actually, it is not funny at all, it is very sad. Since horses communicate through behavior, it means that something about the ride is making the horse very unhappy. My job is to rule out the saddle.
Not long ago, I was at a very busy English barn with boarders and students coming and going. During the evaluation, I walked past another 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 wringed his tail. This time, I was carrying a saddle. I don’t know what was more upsetting to me; knowing that the 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.
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; either one leads to painful and often permanent damage like muscle atrophy, nerve damage, shoulder cartilage damage, arthritis, lameness, kissing spine, hunters bump and ulcers.
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 Momma isn’t happy, ain’t no body happy.” At our clinics we always emphasized learning to speak horse and how to keep your horse happy because if your horse isn’t happy, you are not going to have a good time. This is especially true if your horse is a mare. Mares are especially sensitive behind the saddle support area.
Some of the most common behavior issues we see related to poor saddle fit are spooking, bucking, bolting, refusing jumps, trouble going up and down hills, girthiness, biting and even kicking. Some of these behaviors can even be involuntary reflexes so please investigate your horse’s behavior. How sad it would be to reprimand a horse that is involuntarily reacting to pain that we have caused.
There are several factors that influence our horse’s performance. One of course is what we teach at 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 behavior and performance. Saddle fit evaluations should be done no less than once a year, sometimes due to changes in health, training, seasons and age, to ensure a proper fit a saddle will need to be adjusted 2-3 times per year.
Our next saddle fitting clinic day here at the farm is April 8. Saddle fit evaluations are $50 off when you haul in to our farm. Pre-registration is required. Saddle fit evaluations can also be done at your farm within 100 miles of Carlisle, the fee is $149.
Thanks to everyone that came out to our recent lectures and visited at the Expo. Your concern for your horse’s health and comfort motivates me. Seeing the horse’s response and reactions to a better fitting saddle is still the best motivation of all.
Have a happy spring everyone!
TTYS & God Bless
FIT RIGHT SADDLE SOLUTIONS
Saddlefit 4 Life Certified Saddle Ergonomist
Authorized Schleese Saddlery, Thin Line, Specialized Saddles & TW Saddlery Representative
ARIA, ISRB & Richard Shrake Certified Instructor
Specializing in "Helping Horses with Their People" for over 30 years.
BUCK N HORSE HOLLOW
6 Buck Dr. Carlisle PA 17015
717-240-0723 cell 717-609-2822
Terry Peiper has been "Helping Horses With Their People" in south central PA for over 30 years as an accredited Richard Shrake Resistance Free ® Trainer/Instructor and certified American Riding Instructors Association (ARIA) Instructor. She has more than 45 years horse showing experience in several different disciplines ranging from hunt seat, halter, stock seat, barrel racing, dressage and side-saddle, as well as several years of fox hunting, hunter paces 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 horse and rider health through lectures and saddle fit evaluation/consultations in the south central Pennsylvania and northern Maryland area.