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The importance of good saddle fit

A guest blog from Dr Sue Dyson

The importance of good saddle fit for correct function of the horse’s back and for back muscle development

If a horse is working correctly, so scores at least 6/10 based on conventional dressage scoring (satisfactory), with a saddle that fits well, then during a work period of 30 minutes, working predominantly in trot and canter, with short periods of walk, the width of the back should increase in the regions under the saddle.

A study of 63 horses, in normal work and presumed by their owners to be working comfortably, was performed and we showed that the average changes in back dimensions were greater in horses working correctly compared with those not working correctly.

The changes were also influenced by rider skill. Rider ability was categorised as: good – the rider was consistently in rhythm and balance, was sympathetic and showed correct use of the aids; moderate – the rider had knowledge of the basic principles of riding ‘on the bit’, but lacked core strength and stability, or did not consistently apply the aids correctly; and poor – the rider had poor knowledge or ability to ride a horse ‘on the bit’ and / or was very unbalanced. The changes in back dimensions were greatest for the good riders and smallest for the poorly skilled riders.

Saddle fit was also hugely influential, with poor saddle-fit resulting sometimes in reduced dimensions of the horse’s back after exercise compared with before exercise. This observation is of major importance, particularly because several recent studies have shown in the UK and elsewhere that there is a high prevalence of ill-fitting saddles. This implies that an ill-fitting saddle can impair normal back function which can have deleterious consequences for muscle development.

The changes in back dimensions were biggest in young horses with a concave profile of the back, compared with well-muscled mature horses with a convex profile of the back. This means that correct saddle -fit is of even greater importance in young immature athletes if their muscles are going to develop appropriately. It is therefore recommended that young horses should have saddle-fit checked at least every 4 months.

Sue Dyson:

© Sue Palmer, The Horse Physio 2021

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