The saddle as a feedback loop

In another lifetime I learned to use a form of systems theory to analyze and improve my organization’s business processes. We were a state agency that issued professional licenses and resolved consumer complaints. One basic analytic tool we used was the simple feedback loop.

For example, we flow-charted our administrative and legal processes into a series of discrete and often interacting steps. We then analyzed these charts to eliminate logjams and improve the system’s effectiveness. This analysis would include highlighting and testing various inputs to the processes that could either improve or impede their ability to achieve their goals.

I remembered all this a while ago when I was working with a client whose saddle always shifted to the right as many saddles tend to do. My client blamed herself –being stronger on the right, she said she tended to step more into the right stirrup, thus pulling the saddle to the right. Maybe so, but solving this seemingly simple problem was really much more complex than it appeared.

Let’s look at this general problem by defining the saddle in motion on a horse’s back as a systems loop. Our goal is to keep the saddle system in equilibrium, basically centered and balanced on the horse’s back. If the saddle falls out of equilibrium – say, falls a bit to the right – we can pinpoint one or more inputs that create a feedback to the saddle position. Some of these inputs may cause a positive feedback – they tend to reinforce the saddle’s movement to the right. Or they may be negative – they may tend to bring the saddle back to center or to the left. Or they may be neutral and have no effect.

For example, the saddle may fall to the right because the saddle tree is twisted or the panels are flocked unevenly. Or, maybe the horse is asymmetrical: larger left shoulder, steeper behind the right, dropped left heel and more upright right foot. Maybe the rider is asymmetrical or stronger on one side. Does the horse want to carry the rider’s weight on his right fore or does he have a lazy left hind? Does he tend to pop his right shoulder, drop his right rib cage and have haunches-in when tracking left? Is he stiff to one side, or are his joints out of whack? Has the horse lost or gained weight or the saddle just does not fit properly?  Any one, or a combination of these inputs, can create feedback to the motion of the saddle. Isolating the root cause therefore is critical to solving the problem.

So the next time you place the blame entirely on yourself for a saddle that leans to one side, consider that you may be missing other inputs to the saddle system that may have a bigger impact than you do as the rider.

You and your saddle fitter both need to consider how each of these inputs can affect the saddle’s behavior. The solution the saddle fitter recommends may be simple or complex, involving more than one input, and usually requires a team approach to achieve. That is, the farrier, veterinarian, chiropractor, body worker, trainer, saddle fitter, saddler, and the rider may all have a role to play in getting that saddle to sit straight.

If you go through the inputs noted above one-by-one, you stand a better chance of isolating all of the feedbacks that may be affecting the saddle and you stand a better chance—systemically—of solving the problem.

Bill Wood

The Saddle Fitter, Inc.

Virginia, USA

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