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JUNE 2010 THE RIDER /49 Saddlefit 4 Life


Fit Tip #2: Saddle Fit and the


Truth about Withers Clearance


By Jochen Schleese.


One of the biggest miscon- ceptions in saddle fitting is that three fingers withers clearance means that the sad- dle fits. When I check sad-


dle fit there are actually 36 points to consider, and with- ers clearance is only one of them. The withers are a very sensitive area of the horse with different interacting muscles and bones. Obviously you do not want the pommel of the saddle pushing down on the withers of the horse, which would cause sores. This is the area that veterinarians refer to as the ‘vise grip’ of the saddle, and is where the stallion bites the mare to immobi- lize her during mating. This is the exact effect a pinching saddle will have on your horse – whether it’s a stallion, gelding, or mare, since the musculature is the same.


A fact that is not widely known is that if the saddle pinches on the sides of the withers just down from the bone at the top it can cause a lot of pain and even lameness in the horse. The Trapezius, Rhomboideus, and Spinalis Dorsi all meet together at the top of the withers, and all of these muscle require clearance to allow the horse to move proper- ly.


Regardless whether you have a mutton withered, a flat-withered horse, or a very high withered horse, the three finger rule doesn’t work. A good rule of thumb is that as much clearance as you have on the top of the with- ers you need on the side of the withers as well, leaving room for these three muscles and also for the shoulder to move under the front of the saddle. This can be 2-3 fingers for a high-withered horse; as much as 4-5 for a mutton-withered horse. This is even more clearly necessary for when the horse starts to move, since these muscles will contract dur- ing movement, needing even more room to stay comfortable and be allowed to do what they are supposed to do. If there is no clear- ance (or space) on the side of the withers, the horse’s movement will be restricted. It will be impossible for him to have free range of movement through his shoulders.


To see just how much your own horse’s shoulder blade rotates backwards when he moves, stand on the side of your horse and mark the shoulder blade with a piece of chalk. Then have a friend stretch your horse’s front leg forward and mark the new position of the shoulder blade. You will see how much farther back the shoulder blade is now positioned.


A horse whose saddle pinches his with- ers may be reluctant to go forward. Other more extreme signs of insufficient wither clearance are patches of white hairs (not scat- tered individual white hairs) or sores on the top or on one or both sides of the withers. Wither clearance is an often misunder-


stood concept. All of us are concerned that our saddles have adequate wither clearance and do not pinch our horse’s withers. But few people truly understand exactly what “wither clearance” means. I hope I have clar- ified enough so that you realize that there is more to it than generally accepted wisdoms. Visit www.schleese.com


Biography: Jochen Schleese, CMS, CSFT, CEE


Certified Master Saddler, Saddlefit Techni- cian, Equine Ergonomist


Mr. Schleese is a former member of the German young rider’s Three-day event team,


and graduated from Passier Germany as the youngest-ever Certified Master Saddler at age 22. He came to Canada as the Official Saddler for the 1986 World Dressage Championships. Schleese has made the trade of saddlery regis- tered and certifiable in Ontario as the only authorized training facility. Schleese has 60


employees and agents worldwide. He developed the Saddlefit4Life® philos- ophy and diagnostic system. Saddlefit 4 Life® is taught worldwide to DVM’s, REMTs, DCs, Trainers and Saddle Fitters. Through sharing expertise Saddlefit 4 Life® professionals are protecting horse’s and rider’s backs. Jochen


states, “Horses should not suffer for the igno- rance of the rider, nor should they be farmed out, or put down because of severe, irreparable damage resulting from poor saddle fit.” Jochen’s passion and life mission to educate is improving the well being of horses and riders worldwide!


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