Horse riding: Not where the boys are, but why?

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Way more girls ride than guys, notes Jochen Schleese.
Way more girls ride than guys, notes Jochen Schleese.

It’s always interesting to take a few moments when I’m working at a horse show to check out the competition. I mean the real competition – the riders who have trained long and hard and are now showing off their skills in the ring. Especially in dressage shows, but also at the lower level hunter/jumper shows – it is almost painfully obvious how few boys there are riding and competing!

It’s almost cliché – girls and their horses – but it’s really sad that (especially in North America it seems) hardly any boys are entering the sport. Most of the top competitors who are male and riding dressage got their basic training in Europe: Steffen Peters, Guenter Seidel, Tom Dvorak to name a few.

Riding is just not a ‘generally accepted politically correct sport’ for boys in North America it seems.

I grew up in Germany and I grew up on horseback. Almost all of my friends rode – and we started off together in pony camp. I also indulged in another ‘girly’ sport: ice dancing with my sister as my partner. (I am so glad that I had girls, because I would not have been a good ‘boy dad’ – I knew nothing of the classic North American sports when I came over; football, baseball, hockey … only soccer would have probably been an option!) I also thought I knew how to skate when I was invited for a couple of pick-up hockey games with ‘older’ neighbours (they were in their late 30s while I was early 20s). What I didn’t realize is that Canadian males are born with hockey skates on their feet; while I was a pretty good ice dancer they were the ones skating circles around me (I call them ‘pirouettes’).

Steffen Peters and Legolas.
Steffen Peters and Legolas. © FEI/Dirk Caremans

But let’s examine the question a little closer concerning why boys specifically generally don’t ride. Beyond the ‘peer pressure’ issue of it not necessarily being a ‘macho’ sport, perhaps there are other reasons at play; issues that have to do with my favorite subject: saddle fit!

I conferred with my friend Dr. James Warson (author of The Rider’s Pain-Free Back and one of the only certified equestrian medical professionals in the industry – besides also being a Comanche warrior! – this man is seriously cool!). This is what he told me, and what I actually included in a chapter in my book.

“A young man’s testicles lie between his pelvis and the saddle. There are three muscular components in the testicles; one in the wall of the scrotum, one in the vas deferens (connecting the testes with the urethra) and the cremaster (responsible for the ‘tightening of the balls’ or pulling the testicles back up into the body cavity in a protective measure). This last muscle doesn’t function fully before puberty – which means that a young boy actually feels his testicles being ‘squished’ when riding because they cannot be retracted.”

A McClellan saddle, pictured at Fort Kearny Nebraska State Park.
A McClellan saddle, pictured at Fort Kearny Nebraska State Park. © SimonATL via Wikipedia; CC BY 2.5

This becomes a real issue during trot or canter, which may explain why young boys prefer to do their riding in a walk or posting trot. This is of course embarrassing to discuss with both your riding instructor and your mother which is probably why boys would rather pursue other sports. Our patented ‘crotch comfort’ AdapTree® which was originally developed for women obviously works for males in this area and for this purpose as well.

But it goes even further …

If the pressure from the saddle is too great on the sensitive area between the testicles and the anus (the area called the perineum) it can actually hinder blood flow through the artery that leads into the penis. This could eventually cause erectile issues all the way to complete impotence if the blood flow stops totally. The recognition of this potential problem actually led to the development of the McClellan saddle, reducing the risk of impotence for men whose careers depended on life in the saddle. This is one of those missing ‘lost nuggets of wisdom’ which absolutely should be reintegrated into saddle design.

 

Jochen-schleeseJochen Schleese was certified as the youngest Master Saddler ever in Europe in 1984, and in 1986 was asked to be the official saddler for the World Dressage Championship.

He received a patent for a revolutionary saddle design in 1996 and is recognized as an authority on saddles.

For more information, visit www.schleese.com, or read Suffering in Silence: The Saddle Fit Link to Physical and Psychological Trauma in Horses, by Jochen Schleese.

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Jochen Schleese

Jochen Schleese is a Certified Master Saddler, Equine Ergonomist and a leader in the concept of saddle fit. He teaches his Saddlefit 4 Life philosophy worldwide. He is also the author of “Suffering in Silence” and “The Saddle-Fit Link to Physical and Psychological Trauma in Horses”. 
Visit www.schleese.com

5 thoughts on “Horse riding: Not where the boys are, but why?

  • July 13, 2016 at 3:38 am
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    There are lots of guys competing in rodeo events and riding western. On my last trail ride women were scarce. There were few women who completed the whole nine days. I rode in a McCelland saddle from WWI by the way. I rode one day in a western sidesaddle on an old Gaithwaite tree but the pace was too gruelling to continue. PS: I am a 70 year old woman. I might add thatball but two of the men were First Nations. Are western saddles better constructed for the male anatomy?

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  • September 26, 2016 at 2:18 am
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    While I agree that saddle fit is important for both horse and rider regardless if your male or female. Today tack and saddles and attire are marketed towards the female rider. If boys don’t like horses to begin with then they will never climb in the saddle, so saddle fit would be irrelevant to why boys don’t ride. In general most boys and men do not care about horses, or even like them. So most of them would never waste their time and ride one. This is what I was exposed to as a male equestrian. I started riding as a teenager back in the late 70’s early 80’s. Horses were even then stereotyped a girls activity, sport, hobby, recreation, whatever you wish to call it. I chose English riding and Dressage. English riding was considered a feminine way to ride a horse and nobody even knew what Dressage was nor did they care. Going to the stables in a pair of tight pants, sitting all prim and proper on a dancing and prancing horse and taking riding lessons is not what boys want to do. To the untrained eye Dressage is not a normal way to ride a horse. Boys are usually steered into sports or other things that society labels as boys activities. And if boys did ride they usually chose Western Riding. So I was teased, ridiculed and made fun of by other boys at school and even my friends for participating in a “girlie” activity. I had a great teacher who taught me how to become an effective rider by developing an independent and balanced seat, and how to effectively ride off my seat bones and not my crotch. I also learned on my own, as I had no other male riders to ask questions or learn from, that having properly fitted under-ware and breeches helped to keep my “privates” held in place and out of the way. Only as an adult rider who still takes lessons did I care about a proper fitting saddle.

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  • November 23, 2016 at 5:47 am
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    I have to say, I have had the opposite experience. In England, a lot of boys learn to ride and ‘event’, progressing to ‘Hunting’ rather rapidly as a recreational group activity. They then tail off into the late teens, usually when learning to drive and going to university. Maybe some will keep it up into uni with the occasional ride or uni polo club but the drop off is pretty dramatic. I do struggle to understand why riding is seen as ‘girlie’ with the likes of polo, hunting, racing and eventing – perhaps because dressage gets so much airtime?

    I agree with Bob above though, neither saddle fit or the impact on my privates were given a moments thought and I can guarantee are certainly not the reason for the dearth of men in the sport. Once I learned about proper horse management much later did saddle fit matter.

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  • August 24, 2017 at 2:51 am
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    Men are more rational and see the whole activity as a money pit. Dirt bikes are more fun and way cheaper. Horses are meant to be free and humans have better means of transportation now. Stop holding on to the past. Free the horses

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  • October 8, 2017 at 9:08 am
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    I would have to agree in that in North America, it is mostly a female sport, for English, Western, I am not too sure of. Due to the apparel, I can see how it might not be too popular among most young men. They might also view dressage, and even hunter events as not being too ‘manly’. However, if they show another person a jumper show, that should change some minds.

    That last part about the testicles, if a guy rides right, it is not an issue. Only occasionally when I might ride too far forward do I feel anything, even then, it is only slight.

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