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Bring your legs back, get your toes forward, sit up straight! These are common words from riding instructors trying to help their students find a more balanced and correct position. But what if the rider’s position was not a fault of their lack of riding ability or skills but rather a result of the fit of their saddle?

Also, what about rider’s experiencing pain, especially in their hips and knees? Do they need to just toughen up and ride through it, or again could this be a result of a poorly fitting saddle?

Saddle fit is very important for our horses, and a number of both physical and behavior problems can result from a saddle that does not fit the horse. However, it is not only important that the saddle fits the horse, it is equally important that it fits the rider as well.

Last November, I watched Jochen Schleese, saddle fitter and owner of Schleese Saddlery, give a presentation on saddle fit for riders, particularly women, at an event called Equine Affair. I was immediatly interested when Jochen showed how simply changing the saddle could greatly improve a rider’s balance and comfort. Of course, by bringing a rider into better balance, the horse is more comfortable and able to move more freely as well.

Jochen Schleese is a prominent equine professional and resides in Canada, so I feel very lucky to have had the chance to meet him for an interview and share some of his knowledge and expertise with you.

In the video below, Jochen explains how saddles need to be built differently for men and women, and shows specifically how different parts of the saddle affect the rider’s position.

Here are several links and resources you may find helpful:

Jochen Schleese’s Book – “Suffering in Silence”

Schleese Saddles website

Saddle Fit for Life  – Saddle Ergonomists

Interview with Terry Peiper on How Poor Saddle Fit Affects Our Horses


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31 Responses

  1. Oh how I would LOVE to try one of his saddles. I am sure he is correct about the pelvis and how a bad saddle works against us. Unfortunately, his saddles start at $7000.00, so only for the rich. I will have to stick with my 40 year old Stubben.

    1. Hi Karen, I would have been in the same boat as you but fortunantly there are a lot of used saddles out there at much lower prices!

    2. Funny. I wouldn’t trade my 40 year old Stubben for anything. But I may be built more like a guy?

    1. Hi Fran! I believe all the fundamentals for how the saddle is designed to accomodate a female rider is the same for western saddles. Schleese has a western line too, which is interesting, I believe they are one of the only “higher end” saddle companies to create products for multiple disciplines.

      1. Hi Callie and Fran,
        Yes! I have been pushing for Schleese to create the western saddle for the female rider ever since I met him. And I am not giving up. Meanwhile, with Jochen’s blessing, I found TW Saddlery. They are known for their endurance saddles (Specialized Saddles) but now also make adjustable western saddles. Thankfully, since there is not a lot I can do with a western saddle that doesn’t fit.

  2. Hi Callie!
    Loved this video! I have seen so many videos and read lots of articles about how the saddle should fit the horse but not very many about how the saddle fits the rider. I wish it was not so expensive to have a saddle fitter to come out to your barn. I think many more people would love to know if the saddle they have really fits their horse and the rider too! I know I would but my horses are at my house not a boarding facility so the expense would be all mine. Thanks once again for the informative video! Keep them coming!!

    1. Hi Diane,
      I certainly understand your feeling on the expense. I will admit I felt the same way for a long time and put off getting better saddles for myself, my horses, and my students at the farm for a long time. The more I was exposed to information on the importance of saddle fit I realized it was a matter of spending on prevention instead of spending to remedy physical problems possibly related to movement patterns caused by pain from the saddle. Jochen makes a strong case for this in his book too – it’s a very interesting read!

  3. Thanks for sharing Callie. So interesting! Yes, his saddles are expensive, but you can certainly find used ones here in Canada (and I am sure elsewhere). It’s also definitely possible to get a narrow twist, adjustable stirrup bars, and adjustable billets in other less expensive brands now and I am sure we can thank Mr. Schleese for drawing attention to these things. Great video!

  4. Fran, look up Joyce Harman’s The Western Horse’s Pain-Free Back and Saddle-Fit Book: Soundness and Comfort With Back Analysis and Correct Use of Saddles and Pads. This is the most comprehensive resource I’ve ever found about western saddles. Enlightening.

  5. excellent! I have such respect for his knowledge and the quality of thought and process he puts into his saddles. I agree that many of us, myself included, are unable to afford one, but the knowledge of how a saddle should fit is so important. It would sure be nice if the makers of some of the popular synthetic saddles like Wintec and Thorowgood would get on board with this! I was so surprised that Schleese makes a western line…I’m going to take a look at what they offer.

    Thanks for sharing this great video!


  6. A very interesting interview with Jochen Schleese- thank you! I must admit that it makes so much sense that it makes me wonder why no other manufacturer has been developing saddles for men vs women~ jeans, sneakers, and lots of other things are made for specifically for men or women due to the differences in their body shapes, etc. While they are expensive, I can’t help but wonder if the upfront investment is cheaper in the long run as the horse feels better and may sustain fewer long term physical problems (i.e. less vet bills and body work) and possibly the rider too!!
    This video has made me more interested in the topic and I can’t wait to read his book “Suffering in Silence”. Thanks for another great post Callie!! Nancy

  7. Thanks for a wonderful interview Callie! Just fyi to your readers, our saddles don’t begin at $7,000 – that is the price of our best-selling saddle (the Obrigado – which means thank you in Portuguese and was specifically developed for the Baroque style horse but is also quite popular generally). Our saddles begin at $3995 for our Prelude and we do offer our diagnostic evaluations for all saddles being used with the options given to you based on your individual requirements. Please be aware that used saddles bought on ebay may not always be right for your horse; over the years we have changed design features as our knowledge and research has lead to new innovations to accommodate both horse and rider anatomy.
    We hope you will enjoy the book and do welcome your feedback! Again – thank you for this lovely interview Callie!

  8. Awesome Callie!!! Nice to see your blog recognized for providing outstanding information for fellow equestrians.

  9. This is fascinating! I never thought about the differences between the male and female pelvis before. When I buy a saddle, I will definitely get one from Schleese.

  10. I ride school horses. How do I look for the best fit? When would i consider buying my own saddle? Would it only be if I own my own horse?

  11. HI Donna – unfortunately most school horses have saddles that don’t always fit that well…they’re limited by funds and donations for the horses (we have given several away to local riding schools). They can’t afford the regular saddle fitting maintenance (I guess we’re lucky that they at least have regular farrier and veterinary care), and make up for ill-fitting saddles with shims and pads (as best as possible). We do have clients who have bought saddles which fit to them and are fitted to whatever horse they are regularly using at the school (which works if it’s one -two horses). If they ride different horses each time, we make the saddle fit to the largest horse and make it work with pads and shims for the others. With our new western saddle, it’s even pretty easy for the owner to make the necessary changes to the panels themselves and they have several sets depending on which horse they happen to be riding. If the saddle doesn’t fit the rider (as many of the school saddles don’t), the rider will never be able to sit comfortably and balanced, and the horse will feel this – in addition to the saddle possibly not fitting him either.

  12. Hi. I have been getting low back pain after my riding lessons. I’m working on posting the trot but in a western saddle. The saddle fits my horse but I think it’s too big for me. My legs tend to go forward and my right foot toes out. I’m 57. Any tips ?

    1. Gina, I would have to guess that perhaps a contributing factor to that lower back pain is that you are probably arching and hollowing out in your low back. When the back is hollow those muscles become very tight and be get to be very sore! I would think about flattening your back and you can place your hand on your back and play around with finding that flatter position. I would also highly recommend checking out our Better Riding in 7 Days mini-course, lots of great tips in there that I think would be extremely beneficial for you!

      – Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  13. Thanks Cali! I tried many different hunt seat saddles, and ended up with a Crosby Equilibrium. I rode in that for years despite sufering pain and damage to my crotch area. I’d actually bleed from riding, but suffered through it as I didn’t think there was a solution and I needed just to deal with it! I also noticed that I was constantly in the wrong position – I had to fight against my saddle to have the correct equitation position. This video was good to see but also made me angry as now I have given up riding. Also, the “ female “ saddles seem to always be dressage saddles. I hope I’m wrong and that there would be a female hunt seat saddle for me when( if) I get back into the saddle.

    1. Yikes Clare! I’m sorry to hear that your frustrations with your saddle have caused you to quit riding! I would highly recommend trying a different saddle! Did you feel like that on every horse you rode?

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

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