By Sue Palmer
A recent study (http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0196960) looked into rider stability on saddles with flaps (i.e. what we think of as ‘normal’ English saddles) versus saddles without flaps (EQ saddles https://eqsaddlescience.com). It was a small study size (5 riders), but the research was headed by the well respected Dr Hilary Clayton. The study was funded by EQ Saddles, but it’s stated on the study that they had no say in study design, data collection or data analysis, and that none of the researchers received salary support for the study.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that I recommend these saddles – I haven’t personally come across them, so I wouldn’t be able to. I’m also not saying that I disagree with them – but if they are supporting ongoing research, then I’m certainly interested in knowing more. Evidence comes not only in the form of published, peer reviewed studies, but also through experience and knowledge. Peer reviewed, published studies are certainly a good starting point though!
I’m also not saying that I support or don’t support treeless saddles – I think it’s very dependent on the saddle and the horse, and personally I’d recommend working with a saddler you trust and respect and taking their advice. I’m a Chartered Physiotherapist, not a saddler. So I can tell you if your horse is sore through his back, and if this might possibly be caused by poor saddle fit, but I certainly don’t feel qualified to tell you which saddle will fit your horse, or how to adjust your saddle fit.
I’m also unsure of any evidence as to whether or not a more secure seat is beneficial, but on the whole, I’d think yes, it is. Certainly it feels better as a rider if you are able to sit more still. From a behavioural / training point of view, I think it’s really important to be still in the saddle in order to be able to give subtle signals that the horse can distinguish from the ‘white noise’ of the general movement of your body as you balance. I do, however, believe that there needs to be a degree of movement of the saddle on the horse, because if exactly the same amount of pressure is put through exactly the same area for a prolonged period of time (as would happen if the saddle didn’t move at all), this would lead to muscle atrophy beneath that entire area. The movement need only be small, but capillaries must have the pressure removed intermittently in order to refill, and therefore to maintain healthy functioning of the muscle.
As I mentioned earlier, I’m not a saddle fitter or a Master Saddler, I’m a Chartered Physiotherapist. This study interests me, saddle design interests me, the treed / treeless debate interests me. I don’t feel qualified to advise as saddle fit is not my area of expertise. But I do want to remain open minded and to share new ideas and information, and this study fits squarely into that field for me. I hope it’s of interest to you as well, and I wish EQ saddles the best with their ongoing research.