The problems usually begin when horses get fitted for their first saddle.
Because conventional saddle fitters have been trained to focus on using the horse's stationary body shape and width as their reference and because they have been taught to always make sure the saddle provides several centimeters of clearance over the withers, before any saddle pads are used, the very first saddle that the horse experiences is not wide enough to allow him to use his body as nature intended.
In addition to this, most saddle fitters are also saddle sellers, who understandably try to keep a stock of saddles to sell in the most popular make, styles and sizes. So unless they come across a horse who is unusually wide, they will hope to use a saddle they have in their stock, which is most commonly in the conventional Medium or Medium Wide widths.
Unfortunately, these widths are completely unsuitable, unless the horse is particularly under-developed, in which case, the question should be asked whether it is strong enough to carry the weight of a rider at all, without risk to its health.
We have to remember that whatever the width of the horse is when it is standing still, it will be wider than that when it starts to move, or at least, it should be, as part of the natural bio-mechanics of correct movement.
So, if the saddle is only as wide as its stationary shape and in many cases, narrower than its stationary shape, can you see that the first saddle that many young horses experience is often one that creates difficulty and discomfort. Indeed, a young horse is easily ‘trained’ by its saddle to shorten its stride and to become less confident and generous with its movement in order to protect its own comfort.
Within only a few months, the bio-mechanics of the horse’s natural movement can be disturbed to the extent that balance, co-ordination, musculature and posture can be badly affected. However, because the majority of horses are still being ridden in traditional widths of saddle, the compensatory behaviours and movement patterns that we see in a ridden horse that is restricted by its saddle are so common they rarely get noticed.
The kind of compensations that are all too common create symptoms such as:
Shortened stride length
Tension and spookiness
Tripping and stumbling
Resistance in the mouth
Inability or reluctance to engage the hind-quarters
Fear of being saddles up
Cold back symptoms
The need for regular chiropractic adjustment
Hanging the front legs over jumps
Hollows gradually appearing behind the withers
Withers becoming more prominent
Shoulder blades pulled forwards making them look upright
Horse landing too heavily on the heels
Most of these symptoms are so common that the fact that the saddle might be the cause or a contributory factor is over-looked. Resistance and stiffness are usually thought of as a problem with the horse's willingness, attitude or ability, when in our experience it is usually a symptom of discomfort and/or restriction that needs to be removed.
If you could imagine taking a young and innocent child and forcing it to wear something that made it difficult and uncomfortable to move in a normal and natural way, if it couldn't tell you what the problem was, it might become reluctant to move and when it did move, it would not move with the freedom and range of possibilities that the human body is capable of. Would you ignore this and assume that the child was being willful? Would you set about thinking of training methods and training gadgets that could make it move in a way that you liked the look of better? This is the reality for many young horses who are trying to learn how to carry the weight of a rider in a saddle that basically dis-ables its full range of movement!
Fortunately, most horses are remarkably good at remembering how to move as nature intended once restriction and/or discomfort has been removed. BALANCE has worked successfully with horses and ponies well into their twenties who have regained a youthful athleticism once released from the burden of their old saddle.
Therefore, whether you have a young innocent horse ready to start it’s ridden life or an old campaigner who still wants to be ridden, we would urge people to give every horse a chance to show what they can do with the Functional Saddling Method that BALANCE created and has transformed the lives of countless horses during the past 25 years.
In our experience the answer to this question is YES!
Since we began doing the research into impact that saddles have on ridden horses, we have yet to meet a horse that doesn’t prefer it to anything else that is available.
Even with the latest in high-tech flexible panel saddles and air filled saddles/pads, the horses seem to continue to prefer the simple principles and practice found in the BALANCE Saddling System when they are given the opportunity by their owners to try it. Unfortunately, many horses never get to try it.
Remember that using the BALANCE Saddling System, does not mean that you are restricted to only using saddles produced by BALANCE. If you can find other saddles that offer the same design features for the horse and are available in the generous widths that horses need, you can make them work as part of a Functional Saddling approach, provided you use them with the right padding system.
We have to accept that although horses seem to have no doubts about wanting everything that a Functional Saddling method like the BALANCE Saddling System can offer, it isn't every rider that loves it.
The reasons? Well the main one seems to be that working with a saddle in this way requires some thought and commitment on the part of the rider.
Any Functional Saddling method that has to avoid clamping the saddle hard into the horse’s soft tissues will tend to expose areas where the riders actions are in conflict with the horse’s bio-mechanics and needs.
For example, the BALANCE Saddling System makes riders aware of their own lack of co-ordination, balance and straightness, because the saddle can be moved out if its correct position either forward/back or laterally by the rider, if the rider is not moving in sync with their horse. For more enlightened souls, this serves as a stimulus to improve riding skills.
Unfortunately for their horses, some riders simply do not want to change anything in them-selves. In other words…….they want the benefits of working with a better saddle provided that they don’t have to change anything other than the saddle!
Riders who are rigid in mind and body can be challenged by Functional Saddling methods and for them, one can understand that they are always going to be more comfortable with the old ways of conventional saddle fitting.
'Maintenance Saddling' is applied when a horse has very little or no damage/wastage to his muscles, and when he has a posture that is relatively un-compromised.
In this case, the saddle still needs to be slightly wider than his stationary shape (see 'Functional Saddling Explained' by clicking here) to allow his back to widen as it lifts during bio-mechanically correct movement, but padding under the saddle is usually relatively minimal compared to the pads needed for horses with more muscle damage.
Having said that, many horses still choose a thicker Wool Pad when given a choice, and sometimes a Base Pad as well, even when their muscles are fully recovered/developed. So, it's important to continue to check in with the horse from time to time by trying different pad types/thicknesses and watching/feeling for his responses/feedback.
When horses have more muscle damage and/or postural issues, a 'Remedial Saddling' approach needs to be applied, as explained here.
In summary, 'Remedial Saddling' is a method of saddling horses during a recovery/development period when they have damaged or under-developed muscles.
However, it is very important to state that when a horse is weak, damaged and/or suffering from postural compensations, the best way to help the horse to recover in a kind, ethical and efficient way is often to commit to a period of time NOT riding at all.
During that time, very simple, yet very specific and profound exercises can be done in-hand with the horse to dramatically improve recovery.
Only once a horse is strong and balanced enough would 'Remedial Saddling' be utilised. It involves:
Using a width of saddle that allows for appropriate padding underneath to protect the horse's structure and ensure comfort while the horse's muscles are recovering (usually more pads than used in 'Maintenance Saddling' approach)
Taking care not to use a saddle that too wide (it must not touch the withers when placed on the horse's back without pads underneath)
Sometimes using, for a period of time, a saddle that is narrower than the horse will eventually need, before swapping to a wider one when the muscles have recovered/developed more
Sensitive and constructive riding - this entails riding the horse in a supportive way, for very short periods of time at first, allowing time for strength and muscling to build without strain
For a more in-depth look at Remedial Saddling click here.
Yes, in many cases it can. A considerable number of our clients do exactly that and it works very well for them. In fact, many trainers have one or two BALANCE saddles in different widths that they use on multiple horses and they use the pads to fine-tune the balance and feel.
Usually the horses need to be of a
similar shape and size, but there have been occasions when we have been
surprised how well one BALANCE saddle has worked for two very different
horses. You just need to adhere to the fitting principles set out in the
BALANCE Saddling System Manual (e.g. checking that the saddle doesn’t touch the
withers and how to use pads in different ways) in order to give the additional
horse or horses the opportunity to show whether they also like the saddle or
One particular BALANCE saddle may not be every horse’s first choice of BALANCE saddle, but in our experience, most horses seem to prefer any BALANCE saddle to a conventional saddle, even if it’s not the perfect BALANCE saddle, provided it is used correctly.
We try not to make quick assumptions about what will and won’t work when it comes to the saddles, because horses are not all the same in what they need or like. Every horse/rider interaction is very personal and individual. We prefer to observe and trust the feedback provided by the horse to determine what is relevant and useful and what is not.
When someone buys a BALANCE saddle
from BALANCE direct we always provide a Saddle User’s Manual as a reminder of
the basic principles of the System. It explains how to use the Pad
System to balance the saddle and this can be used to keep one horse happy in
its BALANCE saddle or more than one horse using the same saddle.
Remember the aim is not for the
saddle to ‘fit’ the horse in a conventional way. The aim is for the
saddle to work for each horse and this requires a very
Yes! It's important to give both yourself and your horse time to adjust to your new BALANCE Saddling System. At first sessions need to be fairly short and undemanding and then built up gradually. Remember that muscles and joints that have spent years working within a restricted range need time to adjust. We suggest that you do not compete or participate in clinics until you have allowed 4 weeks to adjust to your new saddle.
‘Yes’, in many cases, you can. A considerable number of our clients do exactly that and it works very well for them. In fact, many trainers have one or two BALANCE saddles in different widths that they use on multiple horses and they use the pads to fine-tune the balance and feel.
Usually the horses need to be of a similar shape and size, but there have been occasions when we have been surprised how well one BALANCE saddle has worked for two very different horses. You just need to adhere to the fitting principles set out in the BALANCE Saddling System Manual (e.g. checking that the saddle doesn’t touch the withers and how to use pads in different ways) in order to give the additional horse or horses the opportunity to show whether they also like the saddle or not.
One particular BALANCE saddle may not be every horse’s first choice of BALANCE saddle, but in our experience, most horses seem to prefer any BALANCE saddle compared to a conventional one, even if it’s not the perfect BALANCE saddle, provided it is used correctly.
We try not to make quick assumptions about what will and won’t work when it comes to the saddles, because horses are not all the same in what they need/like. Every horse/rider interaction is very personal and individual. We prefer to observe and trust the feedback provided by the horse to determine what is relevant and useful and what is not.
When someone buys a BALANCE saddle from BALANCE direct we always provide a Saddle User’s Manual as a reminder of the basic principles of the System. It explains how to use the Pad System to balance the saddle, and this can be used to keep one horse happy in its BALANCE saddle or more than one horse using the same saddle.
Remember the aim is not for the saddle to ‘fit’ the horse in a conventional way. The aim is for the saddle to work for each horse and this requires a very different approach.
Horse owners may have to actively seek out, because it is not considered ‘mainstream’.* Focuses very strongly, on the needs and wants of the horse, with the rider’s needs also considered.
DOES NOT match the static shape and width of the horse, but allows for the fact that a moving back measures wider than a static back.
Allows easy fine tuning and adjustment of the saddle ‘fit’, when the horse needs it, not just when the saddle fitter can visit.
Standard saddle widths that start at wider than extra wide and extend into a range that caters for all breeds and sizes.
Appropriate saddle width, shape and length are chosen by studying the horse when ridden and by assessing bio-mechanical and performance responses, by people who are educated and experienced in this field.
Offers a Remedial Saddling Process for horses who need to recover from muscle atrophy and past saddle damage.
Encourages riders to pay attention to the day to day feedback (feel-back) from their horse, and to have the confidence and the tools they need to make simple changes, when appropriate, to fine tune the comfort of the saddle.
Uses the experience of the saddle fitter to provide additional input when necessary.
Conventional Saddle Fitting :
Is easily available and still most commonly used.
Is often focused on putting the needs and wants of the rider first.
Matches the saddle shape to the static shape and width of the horse,
Does not make allowance for the use of saddle pads and uses the outdated notion that ‘if the saddle fits, it needs no pad’!
Uses a very narrow range of saddle widths tending to range from narrow to extra wide.
Emphasis is on trying to make the contours of the saddle panels match the contours of horse’s back, even if the horse is underdeveloped and in a static posture.
Often resorts to creating deliberately uneven flocking to compensate for uneven muscling and posture in the horse to give the rider the illusion of being balanced, rather than addressing the reason for the uneven muscling.
Will adapt the saddle features on the horse's side, in order to stop the saddle being displaced by unbalanced/crooked riding.
Tends to encourage horse owners and riders to assume that their saddle fitter is always the most reliable source of information, when it comes to evaluating the way the saddle is working for the horse.
Being able to move in a powerful, balanced and engaged way, without restriction or discomfort, is every horse’s birth-right and essential in order for him to be able to carry the unnatural weight of a rider, without doing harm to himself.