Saddle Fit Can be a Problem for Racehorses

But what effects could small, light racing saddles have on horses that are traveling considerably faster than the average reiner or jumper? Turns out these tiny pieces of tack can cause substantial pressure on horses’ backs.
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Both sport and pleasure riders know how important saddle fit is to keeping their mounts healthy and comfortable. But what effects could considerably smaller and lighter racing saddles have on horses that are traveling considerably faster than the average reiner or jumper? Turns out these tiny pieces of tack can have a substantial impact.

In a recent study, researchers from the University of Zurich, in Switzerland, placed sensor pads under saddles worn by five racing-fit Thoroughbreds between 2 and 6 years old. Then, riders rode the horses at a canter and a gallop; the researchers collected pressure measurements at various places on the horses' backs and spines.

When applying the standards used to study English saddle fit (the discipline that has been most studied so far), scientists found that racing saddles place a high amount of pressure on the horse’s withers, a problem that is exacerbated as the rider stands in the stirrups. Both peak and mean pressure readings were two to two-and-a-half times the amount commonly detected in well-fitting English saddles, the team learned, and most of the saddles' load was concentrated over the withers' spinous process, an area especially sensitive to pressure.

By English saddle fitting standards, the researchers concluded that racing saddles fit poorly because they touch these spinous processes and exert a “harmful” amount of pressure on horses’ backs

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Natalie Voss is a freelance writer and editor based in Kentucky. She received her bachelor’s degree in equine science from the University of Kentucky and has worked in public relations for equine businesses and organizations. She spends her spare time riding her Draft cross, Jitterbug.

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