Written by Lesley A Taylor, MD & Co-Founder
The BALANCE organisation was formed in April 1993, by three people in the UK, who came together at the beginning of the 1990’s through a link to one very special horse.
Through spending time together and having lengthy conversations, the three of us soon realised that we had a common concern about what we saw as the decreasing standards and knowledge and skills in the management, riding and training of horses in the UK.
An increasing number of people, since the end of the 1940s, had been buying horses with very little previous education or knowledge about what they need to stay healthy and happy, which made them very reliant on employing other people, who they believed to have more knowledge, to advise and guide them.
Unfortunately, many of the ‘professional’ people who were consulted by the horse owner, from the Veterinarian, the Farrier, the Trainer, the Feed Merchant, the Saddle Fitter etc. often had very different opinions on what is right and rarely ever consulted with each other to provide a united and supportive network for the owner of the horse to work with. The poor horse owner therefore, would often be left trying to negotiate their way through a sea of individual egos, in their efforts to take care of their horse and make the ‘right’ decisions.
A ‘Whole’ new approach?
Maureen, Carol and I would find ourselves discussing this situation and moaning about how ‘something needed to be done’! Eventually, we decided that perhaps there was something that we could do to highlight the situation and challenge it. Maybe even create an alternative way of doing things and with this in mind, the original idea behind forming the BALANCE organisation was to use it to promote and support a more ‘joined up’, 'Whole-istic approach to the management, training and riding horses.
Back in the early 1990s, this was considered to be a very strange, ‘New Age’ concept, but Maureen in particular, had for some years, been invested in taking care of her own health by making use of alternative and natural medicines and adopting holistic principles to support a healthy life. I had also been drawn to the concept of holism and had qualified to do therapeutic massage and when not riding or teaching, worked, part-time at the Tyringham Hall Naturopathic Clinic. It turned out that Carol was also very interested in alternative medicine and so it all made a lot of sense to us.
We could see that the holistic model would benefit riding horses, by paying attention to their environment, feeding, hoof-care and training in such a way as to make sure that everything that the horse is subjected to, in the highly unnatural world of domestication by humans, is as supportive as possible to his physical, mental and emotional health.
Nowadays, the holistic approach that seemed so new and unusual in the horse world back in 1990, is no longer seen as radical or unusual.
The other original purpose for forming the BALANCE organisation, was to use it as a platform, from which to showcase and promote Carols methods of training and teaching. Maureen and I were so impressed by her ability to train horses and teach people at all levels and all ages, with simple and profound information and methods. An approach and ability to inspire and teach in such a clever way, that I had never seen before.
With Maureen’s experience and many contacts within the film and media industry, there was talk of creating a documentary, or a series of videos showcasing Carol’s teaching. This method of teaching is something we take for granted now with YouTube, but back in 1990, it was another ‘new’ approach that we were considering.
However, before we had time to do much more than initial planning and before Carol had time to start writing a book about her methods, which was the other way we thought we could share it with more people, another ‘small’ project that Carol and I had been quietly working on, was destined to take over our lives and shape the future of the BALANCE organisation itself.
BALANCE takes a different direction.
This project had evolved from an observation that Carol had made when studying the way horses moved at liberty and/or on the lunge, without a saddle on. In her work as a trainer, she did more work in hand than many, because in addition to working with horse owners, she also trained a lot of children and ponies. Including being one of the trainers for the 19?? British Pony 3 Day Event Team. At 5ft 8inches tall, she was much too tall to ride the ponies and so regularly worked them on the lunge and in hand. This meant that she was spending a lot of time observing the quality of movement in the horses and ponies she trained. What she began to notice, was how often and how much, their good movement and balance became tense, short striding unbalanced, as soon as their saddles were put on! This was even before the rider got on. So, there was something about the saddle that was stopping horses and ponies from moving in the way that she knew that they could.
Being a naturally curious person, Carol wanted to understand why. Her early investigations into this phenomenon got me intrigued as well, and I started paying closer attention to the horses I was involved with at that time and could see exactly what Carol was talking about. From this, we started to study more horses together, in as many different makes and design of saddles as we could, in order to identify what it was about saddles that was making the horses change the way they were using their bodies. Over time, a picture started to emerge of how certain design features in any saddle seemed to create a specific problem to every horse that wore that saddle, and other design features that seemed to make it easier for them to move well. We finally identified about 6 design features that every horse seemed to need on its side of the saddle. Unfortunately, there were no saddles on the market at that time that contained all of these features!
Fit for Purpose?
The other factor that had emerged from these studies, was that there seemed to be serious flaws in the way that people were fitting saddles, which was creating additional and multiple problems for horses.
The only way that saddles were being fitted at that time, and this is still the most common method, is what we refer to as 'Conventional Saddle Fitting'. The basic principles of this method take little notice of the way a horse moves, because the saddle is chosen to match the shape of the horse when it is standing still. This does not acknowledge or respect the important changes in shape and width that need to happen for the horse to move as nature and evolution have designed him to move!
In the early 1990s the choice of saddle makes and saddle widths that saddle fitters had access to was very limited and almost without exception, these saddles were much too narrow for any horse to be comfortable in, and had few of the design features that we had come to realise that all horses needed on their side of the saddle.
A lot of effort was made by Carol and I to share this important information with the Society of Master Saddlers and the UK based saddle manufacturers, in the hope that they would make good use of it. Unfortunately, it fell on deaf ears and it became clear that there was little to no interest in them taking our findings on board.
However, when we went public with the results of our early research through three large articles, published in Your Horse Magazine 1993, the shock waves reverberated through both the horse owning public and the saddle industry in the UK.
The Official Line
As someone put it at the time… the saddle industry were caught with their trousers down! Horse owners had had their eyes opened and were asking, why had they not identified these issues? The result of all this, was some rapid and radical re-grouping by the Society of Master Saddlers and the creation of their own training and qualifications.
Antony Wakeham, Secretary of the British Equestrian Trade Association at that time, wrote in the British Equestrian Directory (1993):
"The standards of Saddle Fitting could have been transformed thanks to BALANCE"
Also, Tony Russell, Chief Executive of the Society of Master Saddlers at the time, wrote in Horse & Hound (Nov 4th 1993) :
"I believe the horse, the rider and the saddle industry will benefit enormously [as a result of BALANCE's work]"
Although there was a period of uncomfortable change, during which the BALANCE organisation was hated by many in the saddle industry, a lot of the discoveries that Carol and I made during our early years of study, have been accepted and used by some of the very same people who initially denigrated us as ridiculous and dangerous! In private, they will say that they agree with what we teach. Unfortunately, the various Societies and Trusts who seem to put themselves forward as the ‘experts’ in this field, do not publicly acknowledge the role that BALANCE has played in their own development and haven’t ever acknowledged BALANCE Functional Saddling as an important and effective alternative to the Conventional Methods they seem to have followed.
This is something that I would dearly love to see change. We never expected or asked for, our methods to be deemed as the only way to work with saddles. We didn’t expect or ask that organisations like the Society of Master Saddlers change the way they do things. What Carol and I always wanted, is that the Functional Saddling method that we developed is available to all horse owners, in addition to Conventional Saddle Fitting. Giving horses and horse owners an educated choice feels important.
The three of us who had started the BALANCE Organisation, had never intended to get involved in having to design saddles and sell saddles, but the apathy and negativity we had been met with when asking the saddle industry to look at its saddle designs and the way saddles were being fitted, made it clear that if anything was going to change, we were going need the courage to invest in having saddles made with the design feathers and widths that we were asking for.
The BALANCE Saddle Company was formed to make this possible, working with some open-minded and progressive manufacturers and 25 + years on, it has sold countless numbers of our saddles and Pad System components.
Way back in 1997, Maureen had left the future of BALANCE in the hands of Carol and me, so that she could concentrate on helping horses through her support of charities and horse rescue.
Carol and I had picked up the reins and during the next few years, introduced BALANCE Saddling to the USA, Canada, Australia, New-Zealand, Switzerland and most European countries.
Sadly, Carol Brett died in 2018 and so did not live long enough to see what we call BALANCE Functional Saddling officially recognised as an important alternative choice for horse owners by the saddle industry, although I am glad to say that she was aware of some of the positive changes that her curiosity, determination and long years of hard work had achieved.
The Way forward for BALANCE
With Carol gone, it falls to me now, supported by a small but wonderful TEAM of people at BALANCE HQ and a carefully selected TEAM of people around the world who have been trained and are qualified to help other horse owners try Functional Saddling for themselves. They carry the BALANCE flag and will help to ensure that the vision Carol and I had all those years ago, comes to fruition.
Continuing efforts to improve the products that we sell with the BALANCE logo on, mean that there is now a full range of BALANCE saddles to cater to the preferences and needs of the individual horses we meet. Dressage Saddles, Jumping Saddles, Pony Saddles to Race Training Saddles. We have helped to design a Driving Saddle that is creating the same wonderful results as our riding saddles and I have plans and ideas for new designs. To create a Functional Saddling System, we also stock and a wonderful range of saddle pads, especially designed to work with a suitable BALANCE saddle, or with other makes of well-designed saddle in a suitable width, to create a Functional Saddling combination.
There are BALANCE designed tools for trainers, like BALANCE Eeezy Reins©, The BALANCE ‘Magic’ Cavesson & Rein and the BALANCE version of the wonderful Fulmer Snaffle.
In 2019, the third independent study was done to compare the impact on the movement and performance of ridden horses in Conventionally designed and fitted saddles and BALANCE Functional Saddling. Once again, the results speak for themselves and demonstrate the benefits of working with saddles in a way that respects and protects the ridden horse’s right to move well and in comfort.
In addition to all that, this website has a link to our YouTube library and many articles for information, stories, testimonials and ways to encourage horse owners to look beyond the status quo; to want more for the horses in their lives and to seek out like-minded people to support them.
This is a very brief story of BALANCE. There is a lot more to the story, so for those of you are interested, you might like to know that a film documentary is in the process of being made.
I can’t tell you how much I love my Zenith!!! I went through 10 saddles in 6 years for my horse before I got my Zenith. Two were “custom” made for him. What a joke. I am on my 5th year with my Zenith and it is still perfect!!! I cringe now when I see these very deep Dressage saddles with the huge thigh blocks. People ask me how I can ride in my Zenith with no thigh blocks and no deep seat. I say well now my horse is balanced and I don’t have to depend on the saddle to hold me. ☺️
Melinda - United States
Donna - Scotland
It has been almost a year since I received my Zenith
Saddle and I cannot tell you how happy I am with it. I went through 10 saddles
trying to find the right one. He would rear as I was saddling him or move away
Now he happily munches his hay as I saddle him. He has had no more issues under saddle except for his lack of strength but I see that improving all the time. I wish I had discovered this 10 years ago.
Melinda - United States
You simply blow me away with the care and attention you give me, a single client! WOW! I am so excited to be buying a balance Saddle and just thrilled to be supporting such an awesome company!
Sally - England
The BALANCE saddle started us on the road to recovery. I can’t thank enough Carol Brett and the whole BALANCE team who have not only worked hard to find the right saddle solution (the Matrix GPD proved best for us) but have provided support throughout the whole process of getting myself and Alfie back on the right track.
Mags and Alfie - England
Being able to move in a powerful, balanced and engaged way, without restriction or discomfort, is every horse’s birth-right and essential in order for him to be able to carry the unnatural weight of a rider, without doing harm to himself.