Research has shown a significant link between hind-limb lameness and saddle slip.
It has revealed consistent saddle slip in some horses with hind limb lameness, even when the lameness is fairly subtle and difficult to detect.
Saddle slip in sport horses is a well-recognised problem that can occur for several reasons, including asymmetry in the shape of the horse’s back, riders sitting crookedly, and ill-fitting saddles.
The head of Clinical Orthopaedics at the Centre for Equine Studies at the Animal Health Trust in Britain, Sue Dyson, had also observed that saddle slip may occur because of hind limb lameness.
She set out in her study to find out more about the inter-relationships between the horse, saddle and rider and to document the frequency of occurrence of saddle slip in horses with hind-limb lameness compared with other horses.
The research was undertaken by intern Line Greve and Dyson at the Animal Health Trust in Newmarket, and was presented at the recent British Equine Veterinary Association Congress.
It is thought to be the first study of its kind, and was supported by the Saddle Research Trust, a charitable group that aims to facilitate research and provide support and advice on the influence of the saddle on the welfare and performance of horses and riders.
The study assessed 128 horses of varying size, age and type.
The degree of lameness in each horse was graded. Back shape and symmetry were measured and saddles were assessed for symmetry and fit.
Each horse was ridden by at least two riders and rider straightnes, plus weight, were recorded.
The grade of saddle slip was also noted, with the researchers noting whether it occurred with more than one rider, and whether it was influenced by the direction of movement or the diagonal on which the rider was sitting.
The saddle consistently slipped to one side in 54 per cent of horses with hind-limb lameness, compared with 4 per cent of horses with fore-limb lameness. There was no slippage recorded in any of the horses who were not lame, nor was slippage recorded in any of the horses assessed with back pain and/or sacroiliac joint region pain.
Diagnostic analgesia (painkillers) were subsequently used to abolish the hind-limb lameness and this eliminated the saddle slip in 97 per cent of cases.
Dyson said: “Our findings emphasise the need to educate owners, veterinarians, physiotherapists, trainers, riders and saddle fitters that saddle slip is frequently an indicator of lameness, not necessarily a manifestation of an ill-fitting saddle or asymmetric shape of the horse’s back.
“Detection of saddle slip provides an opportunity for the owner, riders and trainers to detect low-grade and subclinical lameness, with important welfare consequences.”
Further scientific studies are planned, with the support of the Saddle Research Trust, in which researchers hope to build on the findings.
The study was entitled “An investigation of the relationship between hindlimb lameness and saddle slip”.
The Saddle Research Trust is seeking an honorary fundraiser to help secure ongoing financial support. Contact Anne Bondi on 07775 912202 or email [email protected].