Hind-limb lameness is a common cause of saddle slip in horses and there is a high frequency of lameness in the general sports horse population, reveals a new study on the relationship between lameness, saddle slip, and back shape.

Saddle slip is usually blamed on poor saddle fit, a crooked rider, or asymmetry in the shape of the horse’s back, but the first phase of a long-term research project (which was first published in 2012) showed that in fact hind-limb lameness is frequently the culprit.

The second phase of the study, conducted by Sue Dyson, MA, VetMB, PhD, DEO, FRCVS, head of clinical orthopaedics at the Animal Health Trust (AHT) Centre for Equine Studies, in Newmarket, England, and Line Greve, a PhD student at the AHT, went on to look at the frequency of saddle slip in and the reasons for it in a large cross-section of the sport horse population.

Of the 506 working sports horses assessed, 46% were classified as lame or having a stiff, stilted canter. Saddle slip occurred in 12% of cases, predominantly in those with hind limb, as opposed to forelimb, lameness. There was minimal asymmetry of back shape in the horses studied, but 37% of the riders sat crookedly, possibly as an effect of the saddle slip rather than as a cause, the researchers said.

“Given these figures, horses with hind limb lameness and gait abnormalities are more than 50 times more likely to have saddle slip than other horses,” said Greve. “Furthermore with nearly half of those studied being lame, many horses with lameness are clearly going unreco