Science of saddle-fitting explored in equine veterinary journal

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The rider has legs which are too long for the saddle, so his knees are over the front of the saddle flaps.
This rider has legs that are too long for the saddle, so his knees are over the front of the saddle flaps. The saddle has slipped forwards and is impeding forelimb movement, and it also tips forwards so that the saddle cloth is lifting off the horse’s back. © Saddle Research Trust

A peer-reviewed article that explains how professionals should evaluate the suitability of an English saddle for a horse and rider combination has been published in the journal Equine Veterinary Education.

The article a collaboration between Anne Bondi, Sue Dyson, Sue Norton and Lawrence Pearman, is freely accessible online.

The report is described as a comprehensive mini manual aimed at vets and physiotherapists, and equally of interest to other professional equine practitioners.

There is a growing body of evidence that poorly fitted saddles can have a negative effect on the welfare and performance of ridden horses.

One of the direct outcomes of the Saddle Research Trust Research Workshop last December was an identified need for improved education of saddle-fit evaluation among professional equine practitioners.

An educational article was subsequently commissioned by the editor of Equine Veterinary Education aimed at simplifying the subject.

This rider is sitting on the cantle of the saddle, overloading the back of the saddle.
This rider is sitting on the cantle of the saddle, overloading the back of the saddle. It is debatable whether the length of the horse’s back could accommodate a saddle of sufficient length to be suitable for the rider. © Saddle Research Trust

Its aim is to provide practical guidance to equine veterinarians to assist in their decision-making process whilst carrying out routine assessments when a horse is evaluated ridden, such as for pre-purchase, lameness or poor performance examinations.

The article also clarifies when a saddle may be contributing to pain and performance problems and when the veterinarian should refer the client to a saddle-fitting professional.

The authors note that correct saddle-fit for horse and rider is crucial for optimal comfort and performance.

“Poor saddle-fit is a frequent contributor to sub-optimal performance but is often overlooked,” they say.

“The most common problems are incorrect tree width, the saddle positioned too close to the scapulae thus compromising forelimb movement, a pommel with inadequate clearance at the withers or a gullet which is effectively made too small by excessive padding under the saddle.”

A rider that is too large for the saddle, out of balance, or crooked, will result in uneven force distribution under the saddle. Thus, rider position and stability in the saddle are also vital.

They say the assessment of saddle-fit for a horse and rider is considered an integral part of poor performance evaluation.

The tightness of the tree points is assessed by running the fingers of a hand from just below the pommel from dorsally to ventrally.
The tightness of the tree points is assessed by running the fingers of a hand from just below the pommel from dorsally to ventrally. The position of the tree points relative to the caudal aspect of the scapulae should also be assessed, bearing in mind that the scapulae rotate backwards during protraction of the forelimbs. © Saddle Research Trust

The four authors note that saddle-fitting in horses presented for poor performance and lameness examination is often poor.

The signs of sub-optimal saddle-fit can masquerade as many other causes of poor performance or pain-related problems, creating a difficult decision-making process in a clinical scenario.

Evaluation of the suitability of the saddle and its accessories is complex, but with education and practice, this skill will become invaluable, the authors say. If saddle-fit is not appropriate, the client should be advised to seek advice from a qualified saddle-fitter.

Bondi is managing director of Solution Saddles; Norton is a business partner at Saddledoctors UK; Pearman is owner of Cirencester Saddlers; and Dyson is a lameness expert who recently retired from her post as head of clinical orthopaedics at the Animal Health Trust’s Centre for Equine Studies in Newmarket, England.

The article can be accessed here.

 

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