Why I Do What I Do and How Did We Get Here?


By Jochen Schleese, CMS, CSFT, CSE

My Passion - Helping Horses Worldwide!

In 1984, after qualifying for the European Championships, I had to retire my beautiful Hanoverian gelding, Pirat, for lameness, and my riding career came abruptly to an end. I wish I knew then what I have learned in the past 35-plus years as a Certified Master Saddler consulting with equine professionals around the world.

Jochen Schleese and Pirat at the German National Championships in Achselschwang, 1982.

After placing in German nationals in 1982, Pirat began showing signs of lameness, which at the time I did not attribute to the saddle since I was surrounded by experts whose job it was to keep us fit for the team. When I think of the remedial applications we used including blocking, blistering, re-shoeing and all sorts of pharmaceuticals, I get very sad. I know now it was simply that my saddle was not made for the requirements of the horse. With every step his shoulders were hit by forward-facing tree points; the too-narrow gullet impacted his spinal processes, ligaments, and the nerves along his back; and the gullet plate pinched him and impeded his shoulders. I followed the advice of experts, resulting in a “textbook case” of torture for my poor horse.

I am determined to alleviate this consequence for other horses. It is my passion to educate riders to help them find optimal saddle solutions for comfort, performance, and equine development. The saddle must work with the biomechanics of the horse in motion for complete back freedom. Sometimes this means an interim asymmetrical adjustment to accommodate the larger shoulder. The biggest thank you is when a horse begins to move freely, happily, and well in a properly fitted saddle! Often clients throw their arms around me, crying with joy, because the difference is visible and they realize how much harm they unknowingly caused while riding in an ill-fitting saddle.

Jochen Schleese (middle) checks the fit of the saddle to the mirror image of the horse.

I work with other equine professionals to increase knowledge and understanding of making horses more comfortable and protecting their backs. In 2005, I founded the Saddlefit 4 Life® (S4L) global network with top trainers, physiotherapists, veterinarians, chiropractors, massage therapists, farriers, and saddle fitters. We share expertise and knowledge of how products, systems, and training methods work together. The philosophy of S4L is taught in lectures, seminars, demonstrations, symposiums, and in one-on-one client sessions all over the world. 

Saddlefit 4 Life® is taught at the German National Riding School and the Berufsreiterverband (Association of Professional Trainers) so that suspected saddle fit issues can be diagnosed and then addressed. We have accreditation through various other equine associations with whom we partner on education. In 2020, I hope to teach my curriculum as part of an Equine Sciences degree program at the Ontario Agricultural College, Guelph.

The equine ergonomist is checking the tree angle and width to ensure the saddle fits the horse properly at the withers.

No horse should suffer for the ignorance of his rider, nor should a formerly sound horse have to be put down because of damage so severe that nothing more can be done. My calling is to help the horse and improve the comfort of the horse and rider. Education is key! 

How did we get started in North America? I was invited to come to Canada in 1986 as the Official Saddler for the World Dressage Championships. My first shop was just 100 square feet off the side of one of the tractor barns onsite at the competition facility within the quarantine zone. I met Dr. Josef Neckermann (the first world dressage champion and father of Eva Marie Pracht), Dr. Reiner Klimke, Walter Zettl and Bonny Bonnello – who was my first actual client.

Jochen Schleese (at table) teaches aspiring saddle fitters and recertifyies existing saddle fitters.

Over the next five years we continued to expand (up to 1,200 square feet), I hired my first apprentice, I enticed a saddler from Germany to work with me, and I made my first custom saddle. Spinneybeck Leather, a company that supplied leather to the interior design industry, ordered 100 saddles to promote a new line of leather called “saddle.” Ralph Lauren apparently bought the very first one we made in red for his flagship Polo store in New York City. We established saddlery as a registered trade in Ontario in 1990. In 1991, we moved to a larger facility (5000 square feet) with a staff of 12 and a real computer. We started our equestrian boutique “Caparison” for eclectic horsey stuff. 

In 1996, we hired our bank manager as General Manager, and Earl Rothery is our business partner (and in-law; our kids got married in 2016).

This ergonomist is determining the horse’s shoulder angle using the withers gauge from Sprenger.

In 1999, we finally bought our own property north of Toronto, Ontario. We grew to 37 employees and 8,000 square feet. We have developed close to 80 different saddle models – some of them more successful than others, but each with an innovative design feature and upgrades to reflect the changes in the needs of our clients. Ten years ago we really started focussing on saddles for women.

We have been featured on various TV shows – CBC’s On the Road Again, Report on Business, and Discovery Channel (twice). We were interviewed by local TV personalities and won numerous business awards with nominations for many more. Most prestigious was being a finalist in the Canada Export Award, winning an Ontario Global Trader’s Award, and an Award of Merit from the Ontario Chamber of Commerce. My wife, Sabine, has been on the Profit Top 100 list of Women Business Owners in Canada since its inception, and in 2016 we won the bronze medal as Ontario Exporter of the Year (behind Canada Goose).

Jochen Schleese founded Schleese Saddlery Service in 1986 and has been working in the equine industry as a master saddler and saddle fitter for more than three decades. 

I am very proud of my employees and the accomplishments we have achieved together. Many of them ride, and all are truly passionate about what they do. From the craftsmen who build the saddles, to the front line who travel all over to service our clients at over 500 clinic locations, to the in-house staff who deal with logistics, organization, and customer service. From just me and Sabine – without any computers – to this!

The Schleese Saddlery Service Ltd. head office at Holland Landing, Ontario.

Just for fun, here are some interesting numbers from over 30 years:

  • Helped over 150,000 horses 
  • Built over 20,000 saddles 
  • Flown over a quarter million miles every year  

Jochen Schleese is a leader in the concept of saddle fit. He has changed the way saddles are made, sold, and fitted all over the world, for the good of the horse and the comfort of the rider.

This information was contributed by Schleese Saddlery Service Ltd.

Main article photo: Jochen Schleese demonstrates saddle length and the saddle support area.

All photos courtesy of Schleese Saddlery Service Ltd.

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