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What is between a rider and his horse?

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What is between a rider and his horse?

Veterinarian Dr. Susanne Braun preparing one of the test horses. Photo: Dagmar Trodler

Last week a workshop on saddles and seat was held in Mosfellsbær at the riding club Hörður. Speaker was the veterinarian and horse chiropractor Dr. Susanne Braun. Speaking in front of an audience of 80 listeners, including a number of saddle sellers, she took up the sensitive issue of the saddle position, presenting it in an understandable manner.

Graphics and anatomical drawings of the spine, sternum and ribs were easy to grasp, especially when she added a drawing of the chest over the photo of a known competition horse in order to demonstrate that not only the rider was seated on the non-resilient part of the back, but also the girth was fastened behind the breastbone and the horse's breathing thus seriously impeded. In particular the currently popular extra wide girths can literally pinch off the breathing air for the horse, if not applied correctly.

She focused in detail on the rider who has to sit on his horse in the right place and also in the center of his saddle, and that he must not sit on its edge, thereby burdening the weak part of the back, in order to gain a better tölt quality. "We want the horse to move well, but we are actually not giving him a chance to carry us in a correct way." the vet claimed. She presented more competition photos that proved how front leg action played a more important role than the capacity of self carriage, and she pointed out that the mismatching center of gravity of rider and horse would overstrain the horse's legs, resulting in inevitable future consequences.

Susanne Braun did not spare criticism on the traditional show riding style, where only a few horses seem to be able to carry their riders through bendings without any problems. "Professional riders do not want to hurt their horses," she pointed out. "They want to win the competition." In particular, judges are requested to take a more critical look and rather sanction manipulative riding than rewarding it.

Since there is no common saddle fitting in Iceland and most riders decide what saddle to buy for their horse, a sharpening of the eye is of most importance. Susanne presented photos of different backlines, equipped with appropriate and inappropriate saddles. She tried to clarify that usually the rider keeps the horse from performing lessons. "The horse can easily collect and move," she said. "We need to make it as easy as possible for him, and we must not interfere."

But what if the saddle does not fit? A non-fitting saddle damages muscles, bones, it will result in white spots in the coat and causes those painful bumps on the back that in the old days were explained by "the horse had been rolling on a stone". No, there was no stone, we have produced the bump ourselves. Rubber pads and extra straps will only postpone the problem, and Susanne even warns against short saddles: "They can even better be placed further back." Although the long saddles of the golden days seem old fashioned, but after all, they offer no way of manipulating the saddle area.

Following the biomechanic clinic of Dr. Gerd Heuschmann in Iceland in summer 2012, the saddle area now was subsequently discussed in a practical test. Two riders moved their horses in the riding hall after Susanne had placed white towels under the saddle and the saddle area had been marked with tape. After a short while saddles were put into a new position, further back, and horses had to move once more in walk, trot and tölt, followed by a discussion on sweating patterns on the towels and impressions of the riders.

"He does not relax," one rider stated, "he is unhappy and tense," and "mine breathes more, and he is also rushing," the other one said. "I do not want to have that again," one of them finally admitted. On a second experiment, saddles were exchanged between the horses. Here it was noteworthy that one horse had to step his front legs apart in order to keep his balance.

Different to Heuschmann's clinic the test horses were not trained competition horses who rarely express displeasure to their rider, but average leisure horses that made no bones about upcoming discomfort. All the better for the audience. In the end Susanne Braun dismissed her participants with an idea of what to look for and what to try at home in order to find the horse's comfort zone and work together to find a way of riding in harmony.

Read more about the Heuschmann clinic here and here.

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