24 Hours in the Life of Renowned Saddle-Fit Advocate Jochen Schleese

The way of it is, as most of you have noticed I’m sure, come September, the days are getting shorter.

But that’s just a matter of sunlit hours. The hard-working riders, trainers, and horse professionals we rely on at TSB to write our books and create our DVDs don’t experience shorter days in any way other than maybe slightly larger electricity bills (as the lights in the barn and indoor stay on longer!) They are still up early (in the dark, now) and in bed late (yes, dark again) and on the move every minute in between.

TSB author and Master Saddler and Saddle Ergonomist Jochen Schleese spends much of his year on the road helping clients with their and their horse’s saddle-fitting needs, giving lectures, and presenting about horse and rider anatomy, health, and the saddle-fit factor at clinics and expositions worldwide. In his book SUFFERING IN SILENCE: THE SADDLE-FIT LINK TO PHYSICAL AND PSYCHOLOGICAL TRAUMA IN HORSES, Jochen delves into the issues horses—and their riders—have long dealt with due to poor saddle fit, including damaged muscles and nerves along the horse’s vertebrae; pain and impotence in male riders; and backaches, slipped discs, and bladder infections in women. Jochen has devoted his life to alleviating these problems so that horses and riders can perform their best—and enjoy it—over the long-term.

In this installment of TSB’s Horseworld by the Hour Series, we follow along (and try desperately to keep up) with Jochen as he strives to educate and ensure comfort for horses and riders.





5:00 a.m.  At this point of the day I am usually still fast asleep (thank goodness!) especially when I have been shifted out of my usual EST time zone.

5:30 a.m. Okay, now I’m usually getting up because I like to exercise before heading out to visit clients and starting my day. I get dressed and go for a run, chanting my “gratefulness” mantra that I learned from working with Anthony Robbins. “I am grateful for the health of my children and my wife, I am grateful for the love of my wife and my children, I am grateful to have a job that fulfills my passion.” This I repeat for the next 20 minutes while I move—being able to keep saying it keeps me at a speed that allows me to still talk.


Jochen Schleese and his family.

Jochen Schleese and his family.


6:00 a.m.  Quick shower and morning routine to get dressed and meet whichever associate I am working with for breakfast. I truly believe breakfast IS the most important meal of the day, especially since our days are usually filled with so many clients and appointments and squeeze-ins that there will be little time after to eat, pee, or even rest.

6:30 a.m.  Breakfast—usually at whatever hotel we’re staying at, or occasionally we’ll splurge and go have a ‘real’ breakfast somewhere in a restaurant.

7:00 a.m.  Last-minute check to make sure the car is packed with everything we need, and we’re on the road driving to the first appointment, which sometimes can be right next door, but more often entails a bit of a drive.

7:30 a.m.  We have reached the first barn; time to set up and pull out the saddle “tree machine” and measuring tools, the sizing saddles for clients to try, and any wool we’ll need for reflocking, as well as our paperwork and pile of evaluation forms. The clients are already at the barn, and the horses are anxiously “chomping at the bit” (pun intended!)

8:00 a.m.  First client has already warmed up her horse and is ready to be seen. I generally don’t like people to ride their horses “warm” because sometimes this warmup can hide saddle- fit issues: The back of the horse gets numb to any pain during this warmup. This one, though, is an old client who has been riding in our saddles for years, and she just wants me to check her saddle to make sure everything is working as it should. Needs a wee bit of reflocking, but other than that it’s fine.

8:30 a.m.  The next client is a brand new boarder at the barn and comes to me with a horse that shows all sorts of symptomatic issues that immediately indicate to me the saddle she is using definitely does not fit. I watch as she rides, her horse stumbling, giving a couple of bucking kicks out the back, and seemingly lame on the right hind. I take the next 1½ hours to work with her and explain all of the problems that I see her saddle is causing, and we adjust one of our sizing saddles for her to try out. Immediately, her horse seems to become a whole different horse—everyone watching can see it!

9:30 a.m.  By this point the client has tried out a couple of other saddles fitted to her horse and has now to make a decision: She realizes her current saddle absolutely won’t work for her horse—it’s too long for his back, it pinches him at the withers, and the gullet channel is barely an inch wide. She decides to buy one of the saddles she has tried out on him. It’s comfortable for her and fits her well, and with a few little tweaks to make it fit even better, both horse and rider are now happy and able to ride together in harmony. She gives me a hug, which to me is the biggest thank you of all.

10:00 a.m.  Several boarders have come to watch “what’s going on” in our corner, especially since I have started to use our brand new “Horse Shape” Laser to determine the horse’s three-dimensional back shape. Two of them ask if we have time to see their horses. I ask my assistant to see if there’s room in the schedule—fortunately, this time we can squeeze them in just before we have to leave for the next barn, but it means we forego lunch (again). Oh well.

10:30 a.m.  Between now and 1:30 we see another five people with appointments (and the two that were squeezed in) and things work like well-polished clockwork. While one of us watches the client ride, the other is taking measurements and making adjustments for another, and the next client in line is busy tacking up her horse. It becomes a very efficient “assembly line” so that at any given time we can actually work with two to three clients at once. This is especially important to be able to do for appointments, which can easily run into each other, but also to accommodate the “squeeze-ins,” which invariably happen when other riders become interested in seeing what’s going on!

1:30 p.m. We have finished our first stop for the day and managed to see a total of eight clients at this barn. We normally schedule 45 to 60 minutes for each client, but because some of them were simply “re-checks” and only two were new clients who were buying saddles, the timing worked out fairly well. So we pack up, munch on an apple and a granola bar, and head out for an hour’s drive to the next barn on the list. Thankfully, this barn will be the location for an evening lecture, and our hotel is just five minutes further down the road, so it will be our last stop for the day.

2:30 p.m.  We have reached Barn Number Two where we again set up and see clients from 3:00 to 6:00 p.m. This barn has four scheduled appointments; hopefully any interested parties will be able to stay for the evening lecture to learn more, as we absolutely cannot squeeze any more people in this afternoon. The afternoon’s appointments manage to go off without a hitch and we have four more happy riders.

6:00 p.m.  We clean up and move our stuff to the viewing room, which is where our barn hostess is offering an evening educational lecture for her boarders and their friends. It’s going to be a good evening—26 people have signed up to attend, of which 17 are possible new clients and for whom we have actually left the morning of the next day open for any appointments they would like to schedule to have a personal evaluation for themselves and their horses. Our hostess feeds us sandwiches and water, and we feel a little better.

6:30 p.m.  I set up my projector and organize my thoughts in preparation for the evening’s lecture, which is scheduled from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. My associate puts out my book and DVD, brochures and other materials. People start to come in; some of them already have my book and ask for my autograph. This is always a really cool feeling I have to admit! (It’s hard to get used to being “somewhat of an equestrian celebrity,” but it’s fun to hear them behind my back saying, “That’s Jochen Schleese. He wrote that book about saddle fitting, you know!”)

7:00 p.m.  The seminar begins and the next two hours pass in a whirl. I love to teach, I love to bring across my points with humor, and I know that people appreciate what I have to offer.


Jochen admits that he always winds up his lectures reluctantly--he says he could go on and on!

Jochen admits that he always winds up his lectures reluctantly–he says he could go on and on!


9:00 p.m.  I wind up the lecture (reluctantly I might add, because I could go on and on!) My associate compliments me on keeping focused (sometimes I do tend to get sidetracked and go off on tangents…) and the attendees come up to ask questions and wanting to hear more.

9:30 p.m.  We are starting to clear up; six more people have signed up for appointments the next morning, which is great, and I am happy to be able to say, “See you tomorrow!” We leave the barn and head out to the nearest restaurant for a late, quick, light supper. Tomorrow will come early.

10:30 p.m.  We finally reach the hotel and say goodnight. I know my assistant will head to her room and work on compiling the information from the day’s evaluation forms and lead cards into the computer while my associate puts together her saddle orders and information. I will spend the next hour catching up on emails and writing the sales report for the day, as well as forwarding any specific issues and observations to head office for follow up.

11:30 p.m.  Okay, finally—lights out. This is a relatively early night for us on the road (I kid you not!); some days we literally work 14- to 16-hour days. It’s tough when there is longer distances to drive between appointments, but honestly—it’s always fun to meet new people and know that we’re making a difference in the lives and health of horse and rider.


CLICK HERE to download a free excerpt from Jochen’s book SUFFERING IN SILENCE.






Check out the other installments of TSB’s Horseworld by the Hour:







Is Good Saddle Fit for Horse and Rider an Attainable Goal for the “Average Joe” Horse Owner? Master Saddler Jochen Schleese Says “YES”

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Certified Master Saddler and Saddle Ergonomist Jochen Schleese travels much of the year, teaching his Saddlefit 4 Life philosophy all over the world in conjunction with the German National Riding School, United States Dressage Federation, Ontario Equestrian Federation, Professional Trainers Verband in Germany, and at veterinary conferences in Brazil.

“It needs to become more of a habit, beyond constant further education and personal development, that riders, owners, (and trainers, especially), make saddle-fit evaluation as much of a regular event as shoeing and hoof care is,” he writes in his new book SUFFERING IN SILENCE.

Trafalgar Square Books caught up with Jochen on the road, asking him to explain the inspiration behind his book and whether good saddle fit for horse and rider is truly within reach for the “Average Joe” horse owner.


TSB: In your new book SUFFERING IN SILENCE you share a little about your horse Pirat—the book is even dedicated to him. You say that it was poor saddle fit that caused permanent unsoundness and ended his career. How has this impacted your development as a human and a horseman?

JS: What I did unintentionally to my horse has made me very much more conscious about the products that I make and the difference I can personally make in this industry. I don’t want horses to go through what my horse did; obviously, I can’t help every horse because opinions are ingrained (justified or not), and the business of saddle production is traditional and there will be great resistance.

It is interesting to me that some of the seemingly the very logical points that are made in my book SUFFERING IN SILENCE have not ever really been considered before—for example, the difference in male and female anatomy, and the anatomical requirements of the horse. Obviously, some of what I say is going to be controversial, but I want to stimulate awareness and discussion. The saddle-making industry will change (but slowly) if the impetus and request to do so comes from the consumer.

On the personal side, this quest has reconnected me to so many other equine professionals and fed my hunger for continuous knowledge. I have made many new contacts that have stimulated my further development with their research, which helped me to come up with the Saddlefit 4 Life training philosophy as a global network of all equine professionals dedicated to the comfort and protection of the horse against long-term damage.


TSB: Your book title and cover are quite provocative. Can you tell us what you hope they convey to the reader?

JS: Obviously, it is provocative and the cover is visually arresting so hopefully people will be moved to take some time to read it. Long-term damage to the horse and to the rider doesn’t come overnight, and while the repercussions are developing, the horse and rider both “suck it up” and “suffer in silence.” We want the reader to pick up the book and ask the questions, “What is this guy talking about?” and “What is he referring to?” and become curious about the contents.


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TSB: What do you see in the future for the modern pursuit of riding and horsemanship? What role should saddle fit ideally play in that future? What role has it played in the development of equestrianism until now?

JS: The topic of saddle fit has very much come to the forefront in the last 20 years or so. When we came over from Germany in 1986, no one went out to barns to measure horses and ensure that their saddles actually fit. Saddles were treated like commodities—used, abused, and if they were broken, there was no one who could fit them or repair them. Buying saddles was a risky proposition—either they fit or they didn’t—and then pad after pad after pad was called into use to help.

We are happy to see that people now are educating themselves as to the options available, the products available, and the fitting services available. There is much more concern that the saddle fit the horse—but it seemingly still hasn’t become a mainstream concern that the saddle also has to fit the rider—that is, be gender appropriate. I speak with many human body workers who treat people with all sorts of back problems and other issues—without realizing that their patients are riders and may have been using equipment that attributed to the injury or illness. They don’t realize that “Are you a rider?” and “What kind of saddle are you riding in?” are valid questions that will assist them in their treatments. Therefore, we are also working to educate body workers as well as actual equestrians.

With a shift in the demographics in riding to more and more females, more and more problems will continue to arise unless everyone in the “circle of influence” around the horse becomes educated and aware of the crucial element of saddle fit. With the rising cost of maintaining a horse, saddle fit plays a critical role in ensuring ongoing back health for both horse and rider.


TSB: You state that the saddle should be customized to fit both the rider and the horse, and it is also true that it should be refit as both rider and horse change in shape, size, and conditioning. Many people will argue that such attention to saddle fit is cost-prohibitive—custom saddles are too expensive and saddle fitting experts charge too much for the “Average Joe” horse owner to make it part of their regular horse-care routine. What alternatives are available for those owners who can’t afford the best saddle or more than one saddle? What are some practical steps most people can afford to take to ensure their horse is not “suffering in silence” due to poor saddle fit?

JS: If the saddle is purchased from the get-go to fit the rider better, many problems can be eliminated, or at least limited. Many refits occur because the rider is unbalanced and uncomfortable, which then causes the saddle fit to the horse to be impacted.

We have done a “Net Present Value” (NPV) calculation and determined that it is actually much more cost effective to buy the right (i.e., fully adjustable to the horse) saddle from the start that can be changed to accommodate the changing conformation of the horse, than to buy a very inexpensive saddle (likely not fitted to the rider) that may work for a year and then has to be exchanged for the next inexpensive saddle. (The NPV calculation states that if you do a side-by-side assessment of what you would spend to adjust vs. buying a new saddle and invest the difference every year for 10 or 15 years, which is the average life of a saddle, you would be financially significantly ahead!)

You wouldn’t drive your car for years without changing the oil or buying new tires. Similarly, we consider saddle-fit assessments and adjustments should be part of the regular maintenance for the ongoing health and optimum performance of the horse!

As a less expensive alternative, I recommend a consultation with an independent saddle ergonomist to find a used adjustable saddle. Consulting with a saddle ergonomist will firstly fit the rider and provide him or her with a saddle that is fully adaptable to the horse(s). Many people make the mistake to buy an inexpensive saddle on their own or through a saddle fitter who doesn’t understand the importance of fitting the rider first, or they end up with a saddle that is really only “adjustable” by changing the flocking. True adjustability means being able to also change tree width and tree angle.

There are good, previously owned, fully adjustable saddles available through various reseller sites that would be excellent alternatives to inexpensive non-adjustable saddles that will likely cause problems down the line.


TSB: Tell us about the first time you remember sitting on a horse.

JS: It was in Buenos Aires where I lived for the first seven years of my life. After I saw a gaucho chasing an emu with his bolo and I felt that he was one with the horse, I bugged my parents continuously to let me become a rider. They took me to the local riding school. I was six and it was a day I will never forget. The entire family went, and my little brother was wearing a red sweater. I remember his horse took off with him and all you could see was this red thing bobbing in the distance. I thought it was so cool, and I wanted to do the same thing! (But my parents were freaking out because the horse had bolted.)


Jochen in Pony Club in his early riding days.

Jochen in Pony Club in his early riding days.


TSB: Tell us about the first time you remember falling off a horse.

JS: That was several years later, once we were back in Germany and we already owned several horses and ponies. As kids, my brother and I did all kinds of crazy stuff with them. We were avid fans of the “Spaghetti Westerns,” especially when the bad guys were run out of town “tarred and feathered” [a common form of public humiliation on the American Frontier] and sitting backward on the horse. I played the bad guy once—I had to roll in the mud and my brother took one of our feather pillows, tore it open, and dumped it over me. I sat backward on our Shetland pony (no saddle, no bridle) …and my brother smacked him on the butt. Our pony took off. Without me.


TSB: What is the quality you most like in a friend?

JS: I appreciate honesty and loyalty in a friend, someone I know who will stick with me through thick or thin, tell me the truth, and never stab me in the back. I consider my wife my best friend, although I am fortunate to have three men in my life who also meet these criteria.

TSB: What is the quality you most like in a horse?

JS: Horses have this sixth sense that all animals seem to have. Horses sense whether people are mean or kind. I remember when my wife first learned to ride, she would take my horse Pirat out on a hack all by herself—but I knew he would take care of her (and he did). This massive animal could essentially do whatever he wants with us, but he willingly submits to do what we want if the intention is right. Unfortunately, they also are forced to submit to many cruel owners. I always say that horses cannot consciously misbehave—they merely react.

I think horses bring out the best in us, which makes us better people and humble in their presence.


TSB: If you could do one thing on horseback or with a horse that you haven’t yet done, what would it be?

JS: I would like to work with riders with disabilities. The joy that horses can bring to them physically, emotionally, and socially, is truly indescribable.

I would also love to play polo or polocrosse for the adrenalin rush.


TSB: If you were trapped on a desert island with a horse and a book, what breed of horse would it be and which book would you choose?

JS: No particular breed comes to mind—other than that the horse has to be big enough to carry me. Probably a Baroque style horse, as they are closest to earlier horses and have the best survival instincts. My book would be a survival guide. (I know that women and men think differently about this question!)


TSB: What is your idea of the perfect meal?

JS: Anything my wife cooks…preferably healthy, nutritious, and filling. I prefer home-cooking to going out because I eat out all the time when I’m on the road!


TSB: What is your idea of the perfect vacation?

JS: Being together with my family. Anywhere. We love to play games and spend time together.


TSB: If you could have a conversation with one famous person, alive or dead, who would it be?

JS: A couple people come to mind: Michael Jackson, Anthony Robbins, and Xenophon! I guess the latter would be the most interesting as the first author of how to train a horse in 400 BC. With the knowledge I have now I think we could have had a real wisdom exchange.


TSB: What is your motto?

JS: Positive thoughts bring positive results. You are the master of your destiny.


SUFFERING IN SILENCE, the new book by Jochen Schleese, is available now from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.


“Many rider errors have their origins in poorly fitted saddles—to either horse or rider. Too many times these issues are simply ignored and that is why I cannot thank Jochen enough for bringing them to our attention in this book, which every rider who loves his horse should own.”

—Walter Zettl, Dressage Coach and Clinician and Author of Dressage in Harmony and The Circle of Trust

4 Rules for Saddle Fit and a Happy Horse

Master Saddler and Saddle Ergonomist Jochen Schleese explains the main aspects of saddle fit at Rivendell Stables in Woodstock, Vermont.

Master Saddler and Saddle Ergonomist Jochen Schleese explains the main aspects of saddle fit at Rivendell Stables in Woodstock, Vermont.


Humans and horses have been joined for thousands of years, and for much of that time, one thing has served as the primary point of physical contact between them: the saddle.

However, for many horses and many riders, the saddle has been no less than a refined means of torture. Horses have long suffered from tree points impeding the movement of their shoulder blades; too narrow gullet channels damaging the muscles and nerves along the vertebrae; and too long panels putting harmful pressure on the reflex point in the loin area.

Male riders saddle up despite riding-related pain and the potential for serious side effects, such as impotence, while female riders endure backache, slipped discs, and bladder infections, to name just a few common issues.

Master Saddler and Saddle Ergonomist Jochen Schleese explains this conundrum—that both horses and riders are often caused pain by the very thing that is meant to join them together—in his new book SUFFERING IN SILENCE.


Schleese demonstrates the difference in various saddle trees and their impact on horse and rider.

Schleese demonstrates the difference in various saddle trees and their impact on horse and rider.


“As a saddle fitter, I need to determine exactly where the saddle needs to sit on the horse’s back without impeding the rider or possibly damaging the horse,” says Schleese. “To begin with the horse, there are several criteria that are generic to any horse and any saddle fitting, and one of these is simply the process of an evaluation. It sounds simple but if you don’t follow the logical steps in their correct order, then the possibility of missing something critically important increases.

“For this reason,” he continues. “Begin the saddle-fit evaluation the same way you would begin an evaluation of the horse: Start on the left and observe the horse, first without and then with the saddle in place (no pad), from front to back, and then top to bottom. Repeat this observation exercise on the other side. It is crucial to first observe the horse without a saddle from both sides. This will allow you to determine how defined the horse’s musculature is, the shape of the withers, his general condition, and whether there are variations in muscle development that could give some insight into either training methods or saddle fit. This so-called ‘static’ evaluation also includes the saddle’s balance, length, freedom at the withers, tree width, and tree angle.”

While there are many important aspects of saddle fit for horse and rider, here are four main points to consider when checking your own saddle’s fit. Note that these are best observed first with the horse standing still in a well-lit area on even footing.



1. The saddle should not be on the shoulder cartilage and should have enough room at the top and at the side of the withers muscles (2 to 3 fingers all around, not just at the top).

2. The saddle should not be lying anywhere on the spinal processes nor on the dorsal ligament system (this means the gullet channel needs to be 3 to 4 fingers wide for the entire length of the saddle.

3. The saddle should not go any farther than the 18th lumbar vertebra (where the last floating rib is) and should not lie on the loins.

4. The saddle panels should not be too wide. You can feel where the edges of the longissimus muscle transitions into the internal intercostals (ribs), which is where the panel should end so as not to impede the horse’s ability to expand his rib cage properly during breathing and movement.


When you have checked these points statically, have a friend watch you as you mount and go through all the gaits—checking to see if what you have determined while the horse was standing still works during motion and is reflected in the horse’s behavior and in your own position. In this dynamic evaluation, you should walk, trot, and canter in both directions. Specifically, your friend should watch to see if the saddle moves during each of these gaits. He or she should watch the horse’s eyes, ears, tail, and his ability to move freely and, especially, how the muscles move and twitch in front of and behind the saddle.

Check out this terrific short video of Schleese explaining some of the other important points of saddle fit:





You can learn more about the impact of saddle fit on the health, happiness, and performance of both horse and rider in SUFFERING IN SILENCE by Jochen Schleese, available now from the TSB online bookstore where shipping in the US is FREE.