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
- Resistance generally
- 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.