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Book Review: Suffering in Silence, by Jochen Schleese


2014/03/07


Review by Leigh Ballard

Jochen Schleese wrote his book, Suffering in Silence: the Saddle-Fit Link to Physical and Psychological Trauma in Horses, partly because of his experience with his own horse’s irreparable cartilage damage to the scapula, a career ending injury. Schleese has dedicated his career to helping horses avoid the same fate. He is a Certified Master Saddler, a saddle ergonomist, and he founded Saddle Fit 4 Life, an organization which educates owners, riders and equine professionals about saddle fit issues. He also trains and certifies professional saddle fitters. His efforts help prevent riders and trainers from unknowingly causing their horses’ debilitation.

The book explores the connection between saddle fit and performance. There are serious physical effects, as well as psychological and behavioral effects, related to the pain of poor saddle fit. Schleese learned too late that the source of his own horse’s pain and lameness was the saddle.

Chapters take the reader through the history of saddle making from custom fit to “cookie cutter” mass production. Several chapters are dedicated to saddle fitting details as they apply to the individual horse’s structure. His discussion of the horse’s “natural asymmetry” is intriguing as well as enlightening, revealing why some horses have so many problems with their saddle. Horse asymmetry is not widely known, but about 70% of horses are more heavily muscled on the left. Around 20% are larger on the right. Only about 10% are evenly muscled – good candidates for using a symmetrical saddle! Unfortunately, manufactured saddles are all symmetrical.

Schleese spends some chapters on the effects of poor saddle fit. He explains the chain reaction effects of a problem that may begin in the shoulder, for example. In response to that problem, another problem might set up in the muscles of the back, and ultimately cause a problem in the sacroiliac joint. Photographs and diagrams help the reader understand the interconnected nature of the horse’s anatomy: muscles, bones, and ligaments which are all affected by the saddle. Changing conformation, whether due to age, work or nutrition, can affect muscles and, therefore, the fit of a saddle.

There is good explanation of the importance of the saddle tree to optimally distribute the rider’s weight over the correct area of the back. Schleese points out that, just as critical for good performance, is that the saddle fit the rider, too.   Chapters show Schleese’s methods for measuring and fitting for both. There is a good explanation and discussion of “gender correct” saddles, explaining the differences in men’s and women’s skeletal structure and the difference in their positions in the saddle.

Schleese advocates using a holistic approach when examining a horse’s poor performance, behavior, or attitude. Many things, but especially pain, can affect horse health, behavior, and performance. Compensatory behaviors, which manifest as lameness or attitudinal behavior like biting, bucking or rearing, can often be traced to poor fit saddle pain.  Schleese’s book encourages riders and trainers and owners to “think outside the box” when looking for reasons to explain poor performance, because it is quite often the result of physical or psychological trauma from the saddle. He advises not to necessarily subscribe to the “traditional” response to problems, but rather be aware that science and technology have offered us new insights into determining physical reasons for what the horse gives us. Schleese’s goal is the well-being of the horse. Anyone who has the same goal would find the information in his book useful.

For more information about Jochen Schleese visit: www.schleese.comand Saddle Fit 4 Life: www.saddlefit4life.com.
Southeast Saddle Fit will be at Hayes Equestrian, Ooletwah, TN on April 15 and at Carter Farms, Chattanooga, TN on April 16. Contact: Amanda: 828-361-4760 or email: southeastsaddlefit@gmail.com.
 

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