Heavy riders and unsuitable saddles have been confirmed as a cause of pain in the horse’s back, this year’s Saddle Research Trust Conference has heard.
Results of the pilot study, The influence of rider size and saddle fit on equine gait, behaviour, response to thoracolumbar palpation and thoracolumbar dimensions presented at the conference at the weekend builds on previous work that has shown high rider: horse bodyweight ratios, or a tall, heavy rider in a saddle which is too small, can cause temporary lameness and discomfort.
A paper on the study was presented by Dr Sue Dyson, Head of Clinical Orthopaedics at the Centre for Equine Studies at the Animal Health Trust.
Dyson was one of 15 eminent international vets, scientists and special guests presenting at the conference on the theme of Horse, rider, saddlery interactions: Welfare and performance at Nottingham University’s De Vere Conference Centre.
For the rider size and saddle fit study, gait, behaviour, signs of stress, forces under the saddle, responses to palpation of the thoracolumbar part of the back and changes in back dimensions were assessed in horses ridden by four riders of similar ability, but different bodyweights. Saddle fit was not ideal for the heavy and very heavy riders, which influenced force distribution and magnitude, a commonly observed clinical scenario. Both riders had to sit on the back of their saddles, rather than in the middle, in order to accommodate their size and height on the space available. This altered pressure distribution, especially for the very heavy rider.
There was a correlation between rider weight and mean peak pressures under the saddle, with the heavier riders inducing greater pressures. Thoracolumbar dimensions were measured using a flexible curve ruler before and after exercise. While the mean thoracolumbar width increased with the light and medium riders, a normal response, the width decreased with the heavy and very heavy riders. This was also associated with an increase in back muscle tension for the heavy rider and increased muscle pain for the very heavy rider.
Dyson is keen to point out that the studies should not be interpreted as implying heavy riders should not ride. “The key is to ride a horse of suitable size and fitness and to make sure that the saddle is fitted correctly for both horse and rider, to minimise potential for pain and loss of performance.”
The Saddle Research Trust Conference is sponsored by World Horse Welfare and WOW Saddles.