Saddle fit and a special client – by Jochen Schleese

This is a story about a couple of very special clients.

The first young lady was recently seen by Natalie, one of our top saddle ergonomists and fit technicians in Grande Prairie, Alberta.

Aly Keay is a very inspirational and wonderful young lady (perhaps around 20 years old) who has cerebral palsy. She rides a Canadian sport horse gelding named Molson (fitting of course for a Canadian!) who is 15 h.h. and pretty wide.

Natalie reports that Aly got on her horse with the help of a team of coaches (and her mom). The team wrapped her entire right arm/hand tightly to her body with a bandage. She rode with no stirrups, and reins in her left hand.

Natalie was absolutely amazed and impressed with how this girl could ride, and couldn’t help but get emotional. What an inspiration to all able-bodied riders! Natalie and her colleague Mary did a few tweaks to a donated older Schleese semi-custom saddle and Aly was completely thrilled. The smile on her face and her happiness being on that horse was indescribable. You could tell that Molson made it his personal mission to take care of this girl and absolutely loved his job.

We at Schleese have had the honour over the years of working with many disabled riders – one of our favorite and long-time clients is Melanie Rodgers from Ontario. We built her a saddle a few years ago, and work with her on a regular basis to ensure her continued comfort and mobility.

Melanie has spastic cerebral palsy affecting all four limbs, a tilted pelvis, rotated hips, legs and feet. Her spine is crooked. Her strength, balance, flexibility and motor coordination and autonomy are greatly improved with therapeutic riding. Her ability to ride is greatly enhanced by her specially designed saddle to fit her specific needs. Her saddle has a metal bar at the front to be used as a balancing tool when riding under certain circumstances. Due to her weak muscles she is unable to sit squarely and upright in an ordinary saddle, and therefore she requires a specially designed support for her legs, feet, hips and pelvis.

Therapeutic riding is the only form of physical activity available to her, and she has been able to increase her mobility and walking significantly through riding. Therapeutic riding is helping Melanie achieve a much greater degree of independence with tasks related to her daily living. Melanie was kind enough herself to write a few words of testimony for her saddle:

I believe in miracles. My custom made saddle from Schleese Saddlery has transformed my ability to ride horses. I am 57 years old. I was born with spastic cerebral palsy, which affects my entire body. I have ridden horses for 47 years. In 1988 I was told by three orthopedic surgeons that by 1990 I would no longer be walking or riding horses. They also said I would be in a wheelchair 24/7 and requiring heavy duty pain killers on a daily basis. Thanks to therapeutic riding none of these predictions came true.

In 2007 I began to notice changes in my body. I began experiencing pain while riding and could no longer maintain my balance on a horse. By 2012 I knew I needed professional assistance if I was to continue riding. In an effort to find a solution I contacted Schleese Saddlery. Denise Lenz and Julia Dixon conducted a thorough evaluation of my riding ability. The process involved three horses.
My custom made saddle is affectionately known as the MSR-Dream Flyer (my initials). It has given me unexpected benefits: – I am able to sit equally on both seat bones – I am able to sit upright in the center of my saddle – I can move my limbs independently or separately (which was impossible before because of the severity of the spasticity) – I am able to shift my weight and body position when necessary with minimal movement – I do not feel like I am going to fall off – I am in less pain and much more relaxed when riding – I am able to ride sitting trot, which I had not been able to do for eight years!

Perhaps the most striking realization is that for the first time in my life, I understand and know what it feels like to have a solid, secure, independent seat. The joy and freedom I feel when riding is not possible when I walk. My custom made MSR-Dream Flyer has given me a second chance to do what I love: ride horses and participate once again in para-dressage competition. Thank you everyone at Schleese Saddlery for this most precious gift!

And thank you to Melanie for her kind words. We were also happy to be able to work with Lauren Barwick, a Paralympian dressage medallist.

But please don’t take this as a commercial to build saddles for disabled riders; we have only been able to do these as one-offs under extenuating circumstances, and we’re glad that things worked out for our clients. Building saddles for disabled riders is a whole new ballgame – it’s like making shoes; but the difference is like making work boots or running shoes.

The lesson is: be thankful for your blessings. Remember that there is always someone worse off in life!