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Saddle Fitting

How often do you have your saddle checked?

Is your saddle linked to the soundness of your horse?

Saddle Research Trust summary of latest research – Part 1

By Tracy Allin-Baker

Saddle fit and management:  Implications for the horse and rider, Dr. Sue Dyson, MA, VetMB, PhD, DEO, FRCVS (Animal Health Trust)

This study aimed to look at the causes of saddle slip on the ridden horse.   A saddle which slips to one side can cause pain and reduce the horse’s performance, and therefore the causes have important welfare implications.  Previous anecdotal (unproved) evidence suggested that the saddle slips to one side when the horse has a hind limb lameness (even a mild lameness), but there was no scientific evidence to prove this.

This large-scale study undertaken by Dr. Dyson included 128 horses, both lame and sound, found that:       

  • 71 horses had low level hindlimb lameness,
  • 54% of these showed the saddle slipping to one side when ridden by 2 different riders.
  • The saddle slip was greater in canter (than trot), and greater on a circle (than on a straight line), and greater in rising trot (than sitting trot).
  • The saddle slipped most frequently (86%) towards the side of the lame leg.
  • 97% of this saddle slip was eliminated when the horse was given pain relief to remove the lameness
  • In addition, riders sat straighter in the saddle once the lameness disappeared and the saddle no longer slipped to one side on the horse.

Other interesting findings in terms of welfare are:

  •  Only 33% of the horse’s usual owner / rider had noticed that the saddle was slipping
  • More worryingly, only 54% of owners / riders had recognised that the horse was lame
  • White hairs, wasted muscle under the saddle or curly hair under the saddle are also signs that the saddle doesn’t fit

So the take home messages are:

  • Early recognition of lameness is important for appropriate treatment, and therefore improvements in welfare for the horse
  • Remember that lameness is a symptom of pain (of which there can be many causes), and we should not be riding lame horses (even those that are showing mild lameness)
  • Saddle slip can be an indication of hind limb lameness, so be alert to whether your saddle slips to one side during riding(even on hacks), and if the saddle is slipping it might be a good idea to get a specialist vet to check that the horse is sound
  • Never go out and buy a saddle yourself (e.g. online or from an advert) – always have it professionally fitted by a Society of Master Saddlers qualified saddle fitter (SMSQSF) to prevent riding in an ill-fitting saddle which can cause pain and behavioural problems.
  • In addition have your saddle checked at least once a year by an SMSQSF; but ideally every 6 months as horses are liable to change shape through the seasons and through changes in workload (e.g. in winter we tend to ride less than in the summer)

© Tracy Allin Baker 2014

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