What can an Equine Ergonomist do for you and your horse?
The terms Equine Ergonomist and Saddle Ergonomist come from the Saddlefit 4 Life® Training Courses. Both certifications are recognized job descriptions in Germany. The word 'ergonomics' is derived from the Greek 'ergon' [work] and 'nomos' [natural laws], and therefore 'equine ergonomics' refers to the Natural Laws for Working Horses. The way I see it, what is taught in the course is based on equine anatomy and physiology, with a dose of history and physics, and common sense. Saddle fitting must honor the way the horse is built and the way his body works, and often we see that this knowledge was known and adhered to in the past (people HAD to care for their horses' backs, whether in daily life or in war, because horses were part of their livelihood or part of their survival), only to have been forgotten or pushed aside due to trends or lack of connection between saddle makers and horse riders.
Equine Ergonomics takes into account the fit between the rider, saddle and horse both statically and dynamically, to optimize equine well-being and performance. People and horses come in all different shapes and sizes, with different capabilities and limitations in strength, speed, judgement and skills. The differences between the male and female pelvis alone are worthy of attention, as most saddles have traditionally been designed to fit a male pelvis correctly, which makes it difficult for a female pelvis to sit in without falling into a chair seat. All of these factors need to be considered when fitting a rider to a saddle and that saddle to a horse. Good saddle design is key to transferring the weight of the well-aligned rider to the correct places (the saddle support area) and making sure to avoid negative reflex points* (there are 14 of them, and actually NRP* is our shorthand for: points and places which cause unwanted reflexes and reactions in the horse) so that the horse has a chance to lift its back into the weight of the rider. Lifting its back is the ONLY way for a horse to carry a rider without suffering both short and long-term dysfunction, not only to its back but to all the joints in its body (as they wear out compensating for the back not being up and in use). Saddle fit is not the only thing that will cause damage, of course, and incorrect riding exacts a toll as well. But it is primary, in that many things can be overcome and there is a chance for harmony if at least the horse's back is not being pressed down or pinched, by the saddle.
Harmony between a horse and rider can only be achieved if the horse is not in pain and does not need to defend itself. Many so-called behavioral issues (bucking, bolting, balking, refusing, spooking, inability to go 'on the bit', traveling crooked) are caused by undiagnosed pain and avoidance. A pain-free horse is a much safer horse, because if a horse is in any pain, it cannot listen adequately to its rider. The nervous system is either in the defensive fight-flight-freeze and not listening or learning (a natural response to pain) or comfortable and able to listen and learn. A session with a Certified Equine Ergonomist will show you what is really going on with your saddle (no matter what brand or discipline), whether it fits or not and why, and what it is doing to your horse's back. It is educational and you will be able to take that knowledge and apply it to other horse-saddle situations. Once you have received an evaluation from a CEE, you may decide to look into different saddle options by registering at www.schleese.com for a saddle fit clinic, where a Saddle Ergonomist (same training, just more of it) can either adjust your current saddle (if it is an adjustable saddle) or show you what adjustable saddles would work for you and your horse. At this clinic you will be able to sit and ride in as many new, demo and used saddles as needed. The saddle fit clinic appointment will be discounted by the amount paid to the CEE. The CEE Evaluation is $100 and the Schleese saddle fit clinic appointment is normally $159, however after a CEE Evaluation, your fee to attend the clinic is $59.