Over the past several years, researchers worldwide have stressed the importance of having a properly fitting saddle. But how to recognize a poor saddle fit is still a subject of concern. Recently, Brazilian researchers explored how the use of thermography (examining a horse through a pictorial representation of skin temperature) can help reveal saddle fit problems—particularly with jumping saddles.

“A correctly fitting saddle would allow the horse and the rider to perform at their best,” said Karin Erica Brass, DVM, PhD, of the department of large animal clinics at the Federal University of Santa Maria. “Thermography, when used correctly, can reveal high-pressure areas between the horse and the saddle which might be causing the horse pain and reducing its performance.”

Brass’ master’s student, Tiago Arruda, DVM, MSc, and associate researchers carried out thermographic readings of 129 jumping horses and the 62 saddles that were used on those horses. Many of the saddles were shared between horses, she said.

Thermographic “hot spots” on the images of the horses’ backs revealed an uneven (asymmetric) pressure across the back and spine in 55.8% of the horses after only 15 minutes of exercise, Brass said. And 39.5% of the horses had hot spots on their backs, visible through thermography, before exercise had even started. “This suggests a possible chronic lesion caused by a poor saddle fit,” she said.

Only two horses (1.6%) showed any signs of resistance (such as biting, kicking, or flexing up the back) when they were being saddled, Brass added.

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