March 2019 - Eventing In My Life
Written by by Jochen Schleese, CMS, CSFT, CSE - ©2019 Saddlefit 4 Life™ All Rights Reserved
Friday, 01 March 2019 01:34
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eventing

Former top rider wishes he knew then what he knows now as a master saddle fitter.

by Jochen Schleese, CMS, CSFT, CSE - ©2019 Saddlefit 4 Life™ All Rights Reserved

Eventing is the equivalent of equestrian triathlon:  comprised of dressage, cross-country and show jumping. It has its roots as a comprehensive cavalry test requiring mastery of all three components. It can be a one-day horse trial or a three-day event. It is known in Europe still as “Military” or in North America as Combined Training. The original predecessor was actually an endurance test of 360 miles from Berlin to Vienna, without dressage, jumping, or galloping.

Eventing is a sport which is near and dear to my own heart, as I was once an internationally ranked member of the German Young Rider team back in the early 1980’s and even qualified to compete in the European Championships in 1984. However, unfortunately, my horse became irreparably lame and I had to withdraw. This is what prompted me to do what I do now and is the entire “why” behind my passion of helping as many horses and riders worldwide avoid what I went through.

When I was in the air force doing my compulsory military service in Germany I had the great luck to be stationed in the Harz area, where in 1983 the state eventing championships were going to be held. Home advantage! I was allowed to bring my horse with me and stable him in the barrack stables and train with him every day. This was going to be my year to once more become “Landesmeister” (state champion – and qualify for the German championships again). I rode the best dressage test of my life – and started out phase two in third place (I was normally in the bottom half after dressage, but made up the difference with Pirat’s huge stride in the cross-country phases and in stadium jumping, where he was usually also clean). But this result was going to give me the advantage I never had before.

Jochen Schleese and Pirat at the German National Championships in Achselschwang, 1982.

 

 

Unfortunately, it was not to be. For the first time ever Pirat gave me FIVE refusals in the cross-country (two were schooling refusals) and I had to withdraw. His lameness ‘hitch’ returned and he simply didn’t want to jump. So back to the drawing board with injections and whatever remedies we could use to get him sound again. As I mentioned – it worked superficially – for a while – and then I had to face the inevitable.  He was no longer fit to compete. At age 9 he was done.

I wish I knew then what I have learned in the past 35+ years as a Certified Master Saddler consulting with equine professionals around the world. At very least I know Pirat would have been sound a lot longer, at best my riding career would have gone much farther. Already after placing in the German nationals in 1982 Pirat began showing signs of lameness – which at the time I did not attribute to the saddle, since I was surrounded by experts – vets, trainers, farriers who all had a job of keeping us fit for the team. When I think of the remedial applications we used in an attempt to ward off the lameness with, including blocking, blistering, re-shoeing and all sorts of pharmaceuticals, I get very sad. I know now it was simply the fact that the construction of my saddle was not in keeping with the requirements of the horse – with every step his shoulders were hit by forward facing tree points, the too narrow gullet impacted his spinal processes, ligaments, and nerves along his back, and the gullet plate likely pinched him and impeded his wither muscle as he tried to jump and move. I had followed the advice of the experts, but the result was a ‘textbook case’ of torture for my poor horse.

Jochen demonstrating where the last supporting rib is located on this particular horse’s SSA (saddle support area). It is important that the panels of the saddle do not extend past this supporting rib as it will likely impede the horse’s movement and cause undesirable discomfort and/or pain.

Since I know now my horse suffered from an ill-fitting saddle, I am very determined to alleviate this consequence for other horses. It is my life goal and my passion to make a difference by educating riders to help them find optimal saddle solutions for comfort, performance and equine development. It is relatively easy to fit a horse standing still, but the saddle must work with the biomechanics of the horse in motion for complete back freedom.

I continually work with other equine professionals in many disciplines to increase knowledge and understanding of making horses more comfortable and protecting their backs. Through sharing of expertise and knowledge on products, systems, training methods, we work together to protect the horse’s (and rider’s) back from long term damage.

In eventing this prophylaxis becomes even more important – you have a partner that has to excel and work with you as the rider not only in one discipline, but in three. He has to trust you as you trust him. He has to know the difference between being able to jump through jumps as in the steeplechase; jump over jumps without hitting them and possibly injuring himself as in the cross-country, and jumping cleanly over jumps in the stadium where the slightest knock will result in faults. He has to be paced to come through the course with no time faults, yet not raced through the course to fail the vet check just to get fast times.

Jochen, in Brazil demonstrating to students, the adjustment of a saddle’s gullet plate to ensure an optimal fit for the horse allowing full freedom of movement while in comfort.

Many event riders have only two saddles which they use (one for dressage and the other for cross-country and stadium) but the ideal situation would be to have three saddles (and possibly even four!). Think about wearing the proper shoes – for dancing, for sprinting, for long-distance running, for basketball. And they all need to fit and be comfortable.

But at the very least – and I cannot stress this enough – make sure that however many saddles you have and use – that they fit both you and your horse as optimally as possible. Have regular checkups (or DIY using our YouTube educational videos on the 9 points of saddle fit https://youtube.com/c/schleesesaddlery). And Happy Riding!!