My Inspiration for Rider Up

My journey to self-publishing has not been easy or straight forward. My original publisher asked me to write my series Light in the Saddle based on my blog posts where I share how I apply equine bio-mechanics in my day to day schooling. The series was pitched to me as texts for the many equine associate degree programs, but the publisher dropped my contract when I insisted on including equine bio-mechanics because they ‘didn’t like anatomy’.

I refused to back down because my own experience tells me that the any humane method of horse training must be ‘evidence-based’, respecting the innate nature of the horse’s body as well as their way of being in the world. The seed for my inspiration to write about saddle and seats in Rider Up, a Winnie award winning volume of my training series, is rooted in my experiences with the Colonial Spanish horse. When I looked into their history here in the New World, I was specifically baffled by why the American cavalry shot Indian ponies by the thousands instead of appropriating and riding them.

The Texas Rangers alone managed to fight on equal terms with the Horse Tribes, but that only came about when they adopted their style of horsemanship as well as their horses. And the poor quality of remounts was a chronic complaint from cavalry officers in Europe and America all during the 1800 and 1900’s. In the 1800’s, officers of the United States Cavalry even declared that the Horses and the Horse Tribes of the Great Plains were the finest light horse cavalry they had ever seen.

It was not until I understood more about how different types of horse are built that I realized slapping a saddle designed for the average cavalry remount on a Colonial Spanish horse’s back was quickly going to cause serious problems. And, as many riders are now realizing, a badly fitted saddle can ruin even the best horse. And the difference between the Army remounts and Colonial Spanish war horses is literally bone deep.

When ridden with a center rigged short-treed medium-gullet saddle as is found where ever Colonial Spanish horses are appreciated, these horses are prized for their willingness, weight-carrying ability, soundness, agility and endurance. Cavalry saddles are as uniform as the rest of military gear. in the 1800’s US cavalry gear was not designed for Colonial Spanish horses.

  • The long tree required by the average Army remount meant the bars of the saddle extended past the thoracic ribs of the short backed Colonial Spanish war horses onto their lumbar vertebrae.
  • The innate autonomic nervous reflex chains built into horse’s nervous systems cause them to buck when pressure is put on their loins.
  • The long bars also dug into those short backed Colonial Spanish war horses‘s withers, interfering with the free movement of, and even damaging, their shoulder blades.
  • The gullet of the saddle would either be too narrow or too wide, causing pressure points and saddle sores on their withers, and could even damage the upper edge of their shoulder blade.
  • The forward set,  (¾ or 7/8ths) girth needed to keep the saddle in position on the average Army remount interfered with the free movement of the Colonial Spanish horses’ front legs, causing girth galls.

Realizing that a huge part of the answer to why the American cavalry dismissed the free-roaming horses of the plains as useless unmanageable broncos lay in how they approached saddle making and fitting led me further into studying the details of equine bio-mechanics, functional soundness and saddle fitting. My goal in writing Rider Up is to first to educate horse people so that they can ask the right questions of their saddle-makers and saddle fitters to get a saddle designed to make riding easiest on both the horse and the rider. And second, I wanted make sure that that evidence-based understanding of equine bio-mechanics and saddles could be integrated into the pragmatic schooling both horses and riders.

Saddle-fitting is now actually a searchable job description on the internet. There is even more widespread awareness of equine bio-mechanics now than a short five years ago when I was asked to write Light in the Saddle. Winning this Winnie Award vindicates both in basing my work on the evidence and in going ahead and self-publishing even though I was ahead of the wave at the time.

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