Ill-fitting saddles are not only associated with back muscle asymmetry, a stilted gait, and equine back pain, but they are likely also associated with rider back pain, according to results from a recent study looking at saddle fit, back shape, and horse and rider health.

However, identifying the order of cause and effect is complex. The study results strongly suggest that saddle fit should be checked regularly, and that riders and trainers should be encouraged to learn how to identify ill-fitting saddles. In addition, the study highlights the importance of being able to recognize lameness, saddle slip, and rider crookedness.

The study was 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, and was supported by World Horse Welfare (WHW).

Although sports horses are becoming increasingly valuable, previously there was little objective exploration of the horse-saddle-rider interaction. In particular, there was little work on the potential consequences of a saddle not fitting the horse, or the saddle not allowing the rider to sit in a position in which they can ride in balance.

Dyson and Greve performed a clinical assessment of each horse and rider, and subsequently collected data from the same riders via an online questionnaire; the riders were not aware of the link between the two initiatives. The horses were selected from a variety of work disciplines, were in regular work, and were presumed by their riders or owners to be sound. The team assessed horses' back asymmetries and observed any la