Does your saddle fit?

You know what it is like to walk around in shoes that don’t fit, so it is easy to imagine how uncomfortable a poorly fitting saddle must be.

The problems caused by a poorly fitting saddle are well documented, including pain for the horse, behavioural problems that are labelled as “naughtiness” and poor performance. In our book “Understanding Horse Performance Brain, Pain, or Training?” we help people to identify the causes of their horse’s problems and whether the problems are caused by brain, pain, or training.

While the majority of riders understand the need for  correctly fitting saddles, the practicality of ensuring this can be challenging. Saddles are notoriously expensive  and if you have just purchased a new saddle and then your horse changes shape, the tendency is to make do. Do make sure you seek out a professional saddle fitter to come and assess you and your horse. There is no point having a saddle that fits your horse, if it doesn’t fit you. Do make sure that you have a good instructor to help you achieve and maintain a good position. Even getting a friend to video you riding can help to develop a correct position.

We understand that everyone wishes to keep their horses happy and healthy, but the logistics of doing so can be hard. So make sure you schedule the time to have your horse’s saddle checked by a competent professional, and should ridden problems, such as bucking, develop make sure that checking the fit of your saddle is one of the actions that you take. For a great guide on saddle fitting and what you should look for, take a look at this guide which has been put together by the Animal Health Trust in association with World Horse Welfare, click here to view the guide.

Sue’s standpoint – guide to owning your first horse

By Sue Palmer

I recently visited a lady who had fulfilled her childhood dream and bought her own horse.  It is not an uncommon situation for a first-horse owner to keep their horse at home, with no clear advice on what needs to be done for the health and well-being of that horse, so I thought I’d start a list, and I’m hoping you can help by adding more in the comments.  I’ve listed things under ‘Must have’ and ‘Nice to have’, and I welcome your thoughts!  I’ve grown up with horses, so owning a horse to me is second nature.  However, I remember bringing my baby boy home from the hospital, and knowing full well that I didn’t know where to start, I was well and truly in ‘conscious incompetence’!  I’m guessing that it’s similar for the first-time owner bringing their precious new horse home, and so I’m looking for kind hearted advice given with the best of intentions 🙂  You can find the websites of recognised organisations in each of the relevant fields here: https://www.thehorsephysio.co.uk/BPT/Links/

 

Must have

Take an experienced friend or an instructor with you to view the horse

Appropriate stabling and turnout

Have your horse registered with a local vet

Worming program, such as with Intelligent Worming

Saddle fit check (even if it’s been done recently)

Dental check (or plan in place)

Appropriate farriery (follow your farrier’s advice, rather than your next door neighbours)

Company of some kind for your horse

Third party insurance, such as that offered by membership of the British Horse Society

Appropriate and safe protective clothing for yourself

 

Nice to have

Have the horse vetted before purchase

Regular lessons, both on the ground and ridden

Access to hacking as well as an arena

Maintenance physical therapy

Attend British Horse Society horse owners courses to develop your knowledge

Learn about horse behaviour with an organisation such as the Intelligent Horsemanship Association

Read, listen, watch as much as you can about horse health and behaviour

 

What other pieces of advice would you like to pass on? Add them to the comments below!

Are you flapping?

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.

http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0196960