Thursday, September 20, 2012

Jochen Schleese: Lecture on Saddle Fit

The lecture included a giveaway! Here is the 
winner of a gorgeous Schleese bridle with Jochen.

I had the good fortune to sit in on a lecture on saddle fit by Jochen Schleese this weekend. It was free, it was at our farm, how could I not attend? If you don't know Schleese Saddles or Jochen's background, here is his bio -- he definitely has the street cred as far as riding experience, impact on the industry, and reputation among other saddle fit professionals.

I know good teaching when I see it
One thing is certain -- Jochen is a gifted speaker and educator. As someone who dabbles in instructional design and education, I could see how thoughtfully his lecture had been planned to get his message(s) across. There are formulas for effective teaching -- and whether by instinct or through study, the guy knows how to communicate. Hats off to the Schleese team for a job well done.

Not a sales pitch
We've all experienced the bait and switch where we think we're going to a lecture that turns into the sales pitch. This lecture covered topics that probably inform the design of Schleese saddles, but it was a product-neutral lecture -- the focus was on advances in saddle fitting and new knowledge from many sources, such as universities and other saddle fitters.

What did I learn?
I can't  cover everything he covered in the three hour lecture; fortunately Schleese has developed educational materials and videos that reinforce what he talked about -- check out their web site for a lot of good saddle fitting info. And in three hours, we covered a lot! Gait mechanics, horse conformation, the problem of assymetry, the essential aspects of saddle fit, and gender differences in saddle fit were among the topics covered. Jochen brought many visual aids, from video to skeletal pelvis models to tools of the saddle fitting trade.

Instead of trying to reword what is covered elsewhere, let me offer a few tidbits that were new to me, and easy to impart quickly.
  •  Gullet width. The inverted V shape of the saddle fit (front of the tree) may not accommodate the horse in motion. What is needed is an inverted U shape to accommodate the movement of the muscle and bone (see this article).
  • Twist. How often have you heard someone refer to the saddle twist without an explanation of what it is? Schleese describes it as the space between the upper inner thighs. Read more...
  • Nether regions. Schleese posits that boys don't go into dressage as much as girls because it is too painful in the groin area. He talked (very delicately) about how men and women compensate/avoid pain when riding. Men, it seems, put their "parts" to the left or to the right when they ride. Women, of course, can't do this. One of the Schleese design elements is a cutout in the center of the saddle to provide women greater comfort.
  • Gender and seat design. Men tend to prefer a saddle wider in front (room for their "parts") and narrower in back -- the opposite of what women tend to prefer. 
  • Gender and balance. The real difference in the design of the saddle, though, is in the way it accommodates differences in the pelvic structure. Men have a longer tailbone, for example, that allows them to ride in a flatter saddle. Their seat bones are pointier. Women have a birth canal that significantly changes their pelvic structure and also the pelvis balances in the saddle differently. Schleese's saddle design takes these differences into account to help women riders maintain balance in the saddle. Again, the Schleese web site has more detail.
  • Hips. It is easier for a man to rest the inner surface of his thigh flat against the saddle since male hip sockets face more to the front than women's hip sockets. The female hip sockets  "splay out" more so that thigh bones are further from the saddle and tend to slant inward due to the shape of the pelvis -- this is not as optimal for riding.
  • Girth. The role of the girth was discussed -- where it needs to be placed, how it interacts with the billets and saddle, etc. 
I can't resist including the "red shoes" video. It'll give you an idea of how creatively the saddle fitting message is packaged and presented in both this video, and in the lecture I attended.

I don't own a Schleese, and while I think they are lovely saddles I don't own one.  The saddles are not point point in writing this -- the point is, if you ever get a chance to hear Jochen speak, don't miss it. Every bit of new info, every assertion, is well supported. What more is there to say? Thumbs up.


  1. A very well-written review; you've convinced me to keep my eyes open for a chance to hear Jochen speak!

  2. Watching Jochen's instructional videos online was very helpful to me when I saddle shopped earlier in the year. Simple yet thorough. The man knows what he's talking about!

  3. My trainer is a believer in the Schleese's - but when I tried them out, i could not find ANY that made me comfortable - mainly because I could feel the crotch comfort cut out - it felt like I was riding on a 2x4. The fitters seem to think that I ride more like a man than a woman (ha ha ha) and their solution was a more (2K) expensive saddle.

    I ended up going with a Custom, that was incorrectly sized to me (too small seat) so I had to buy ANOTHER custom, this time with a fitter I respect.

    All fitters are not created equal. Jochen is supposedly one of the best. He is supposedly coming here this fall so I'm lookign forward to it!

  4. I wish every horse owner were concerned over saddle fit. My horse's paddock mate was recently taken out of retirement, shod, and taken for a long (4+ hour trail ride in an ill-fitting saddle). Needless to say this poor elderly gelding has a huge, deep, oozing sore on his withers and a spot rubbed bare on his spine from the back of the saddle. Even more sad is I don't see any evidence that the owner has been out to work on treating the huge saddle sore and has left the gelding to heal on his own.

  5. I'd jump at that too! Any chance to learn a bit more and hear an informed person speak on an area that they're passionate about with regards to horses would pique my interest!


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