Science in brief: Interactions between the rider, the saddle and the horse.
- SourceAvailable from: Patricia de Cocq[show abstract] [hide abstract]
ABSTRACT: Saddle-fit is recognised as an important factor in the pathogenesis of back problems in horses and is empirically being evaluated by pressure measurements in clinical practice, although not much is known about the validity, reliability and usability of these devices in the equine field. This study was conducted to assess critically a pressure measurement system marketed for evaluating saddle fit. Validity was tested by calculating the correlation coefficient between total measured pressure and the weight of 28 different riders. Reliability and discriminative power with respect to different saddle fitting methods were evaluated in a highly standardised, paired measurement set-up in which saddle-fit was quantified by air-pressure values inside the panels of the saddle. Total pressures under the saddle correlated well with riders' weight. A large increase in over-day sensor variation was found. Within trial intra-class correlation coefficients (ICCs) were excellent, but the between trial ICCs varied from poor to excellent and the variation in total pressure was high. In saddles in which the fit was adjusted to individual asymmetries of the horse, the pressure measurement device was able to detect correctly air-pressure differences between the two panels in the back area of the saddle, but not in the front area. The device yielded valid results, but was only reliable in highly standardised conditions. The results question the indiscriminate use of current saddle pressure measurement devices for the quantitative assessment of saddle-fit under practical conditions and suggest that further technical improvement may be necessary.The Veterinary Journal 10/2006; 172(2):265-73. · 2.42 Impact Factor
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ABSTRACT: This study was performed to investigate the forces and pressure distribution under different saddle pads when an excessively wide saddle is used. Eighteen sound horses were ridden on a treadmill at walk and trot. The horses were equipped with a dressage saddle with an excessively wide saddle tree and four different pads (gel, leather, foam and reindeer-fur) used sequentially. For comparison, one measurement was made without a saddle pad. A pressure mat under the pad was used for the collection of kinetic data. Kinematics from the right fore-hoof were required to synchronise the data with the stride cycles. To identify any differences between measurements with and without saddle pads, the maximum overall force (MOF) and pressure distribution in longitudinal and transversal directions were calculated. The saddle pressures and MOF showed significant intra-horse effects. At walk, the foam and gel pads significantly reduced the MOF in 44.4% of cases, whereas at the trot, the gel and reindeer-fur pads significantly reduced MOF in 61.1% of subjects. The leather pad increased MOF in the highest number of horses at walk (27.8%) and trot (33.3%), although these results did not reach significance after inter-horse effects were included. The choice of a saddle pad to improve the fit of an excessively wide saddle should therefore be based on highly individual criteria for each horse.The Veterinary Journal 05/2009; 184(3):322-5. · 2.42 Impact Factor
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ABSTRACT: As there is no statistical evidence that saddle fit influences the load exerted on a horse's back, this study was performed to assess the hypothesis that the width of the tree significantly alters the pressure distribution on the back beneath the saddle. Nineteen sound horses were ridden at walk and trot on a treadmill with three saddles differing only in tree width. Kinetic data were recorded by a sensor mat. A minimum of 14 motion cycles were used in each trial. The saddles were classified into four groups depending on fit. For each horse, the saddle with the lowest overall force (LOF) was determined. Saddles were classified as "too-narrow" if they were one size (2 cm) narrower than the LOF saddle, and "too-wide" if they were one size (2 cm) wider than the LOF saddle. Saddles two sizes wider than LOF saddles were classified as "very-wide". In the group of narrow saddles, the pressure in the caudal third (walk 0.63 N/cm(2)+/-0.10; trot 1.08 N/cm(2)+/-0.26) was significantly higher compared to the LOF saddles (walk 0.50 N/cm(2)+/-0.09; trot 0.86 N/cm(2)+/-0.28). In the middle transversal third, the pressure of the wide saddles (walk 0.73 N/cm(2)+/-0.06; trot 1.52 N/cm(2)+/-0.19) and very-wide saddles (walk 0.77 N/cm(2)+/-0.06; trot 1.57 N/cm(2)+/-0.19) was significantly higher compared to LOF saddles (walk 0.65 N/cm(2)+/-0.10/ 0.63 N/cm(2)+/-0.11; trot 1.33 N/cm(2)+/-0.22/1.27 N/cm(2)+/-0.20). This study demonstrates that the load under poorly fitting saddles is distributed over a smaller area than under properly fitting saddles, leading to potentially harmful pressures peaks.The Veterinary Journal 06/2007; 173(3):578-84. · 2.42 Impact Factor
Science in brief: Interactions between the rider, the saddle and the horse
The horse-saddle-rider interface was the topic of discussion at an international workshop held at
the Animal Health Trust in Newmarket in February 2012. The workshop was organized under
the auspices of the Saddle Research Trust, which is a charitable organization dedicated to
supporting the generation of scientific knowledge about the influence of the saddle on horse and
rider performance. It was chaired by Dr. Sue Dyson, Head of Clinical Orthopedics at the AHT,
and facilitated by Dr. Pat Harris, Waltham Equine Studies Group. The specific objectives were to
evaluate the current state-of-knowledge regarding the horse-saddle-rider interaction and then to
discuss how research should logically progress towards a better understanding of this complex
issue. The speakers included representatives from several of the research groups that are
focusing on the effect of the saddle and rider on equine health and performance. The saddlery
industry was well represented, together with riders, trainers and other professionals involved in
equine care and performance. Attendees from the technological sector also provided valuable
input into the discussions. The format involved a series of state-of-the-art talks on different
aspects of the rider-saddle- horse interface that served as a starting point for the discussions.
The first speaker was Anne Bondi, a member of the University of Sunderland Equestrian Study
Group, who talked about the evolution of modern day saddles. She addressed the design and
function of different parts of the saddle in relation to comfort and performance of horse and rider.
Her introduction set the stage for the talks that followed by drawing attention to some of the
difficulties in simultaneously accommodating the needs of both human and equine athletes.
In the next presentation Dr. Sue Dyson shared her clinical observations on the complexities of
the diagnostic procedure when evaluating a possible role of the saddle and/or rider in cases that
are presented for clinical evaluation of lameness, back pain or other performance problems. In
her examination of these cases, Dr. Dyson often evaluates the horse under saddle and, in
addition to watching the horse ridden by its usual rider, may also have it ridden by another rider
who is known to have a symmetrical position in the saddle. Comparison of the saddle position
and symmetry with the two riders may point to a primary problem in the way the horse has been
ridden and trained. Furthermore, an intrinsically unbalanced or asymmetrical rider position may
contribute to the development of equine back pain. However, when the saddle consistently slips
to the same side with different riders, it may reflect an ill-fitting saddle or hind limb lameness. If
the lameness is resolved by nerve blocks and the saddle slip is abolished, this indicates a direct
causal relationship. Dr. Dyson has observed that saddle slip is consistently present in as many
as 50% of horses with hind limb lameness in spite of the fact that these horses usually have
symmetrically-developed back musculature. Dr. Dyson’s insights show that the horse is
sometimes the source of problems that are manifest as asymmetries in the position of the
saddle and/or rider.
Dr. Lars Roepstorff from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences in Uppsala, Sweden
drew attention to some of the problems inherent in the use of pressure mapping technology to
measure forces and pressures on the horse’s back. Different measurement systems are based
on different types of sensors that vary in their characteristics and thus would not be expected to
produce identical results. The sensors are temperature sensitive and degrade over time
necessitating recalibration at intervals that vary between systems [1,2]. The lack of a “gold
standard” for measuring pressure on the horse’s back is a serious drawback and interpretation
of information from the pressure mat is hampered by not having a generally-accepted method of
dealing with the spatial and temporal variability of the resulting data. Even though current saddle
pressure measurement systems and analytic procedures are less than perfect, this does not
disqualify their use. However, researchers need to be cognizant of the limitations and take these
into account both in the design of their studies and in the interpretation of the data.
Dr. Roepstroff also talked about some innovative techniques for measuring and evaluating rider
position based on inexpensive inertial sensors of the type used in WII video games. When these
sensors are applied to the rider’s pelvis and trunk, they show how the rider’s movements are
coordinated in different gaits. The reasonable cost of the sensors makes this a promising
system for field use.
The effect of the rider was addressed by Dr. Narelle Stubbs, a human and equine
physiotherapist from the McPhail Equine Performance Center at Michigan State University,
USA. She discussed the effects of limb dominance and leg length asymmetries on the rider’s
motor function and position in the saddle. In the majority of right handed people there is a
common lumbopelvic pattern that alters the rider’s position from "perfect neutral". The left leg is
often longer, more open, and more dynamically stable than the right leg (diagonal dominance)
due to relative neuromuscular dominance of the hip extensors including the gluteals. The right
leg is more flexed at the hip due to over-activity and shortening of the hip flexors, predominantly
iliopsoas, which rotates the right ilium anteroventrally and elevates the rider's right ischium and
posterior ilium from the saddle. The right leg often appears a little shorter and externally rotated
compared to the left leg. In addition to their natural asymmetries, many riders also suffer from
the effects of musculoskeletal trauma, which is an occupational hazard in equestrian sports. Dr.
Stubbs showed examples of the value of proprioceptive stimulation techniques, such as the use
of kinesiotape, in helping a rider to become more aware of postural problems and to ride more
symmetrically. This talk concluded by showing preliminary results of a series of studies of rider
postural control and balance that are being conducted using equipment designed to study the
effects of low back pain in people. In addition, she showed some ultrasonographic images of the
activation of the abdominal musculature in riders assessed to have good and poor postural
control of the trunk when riding. It was clear from the information presented by Dr. Stubbs that
rider asymmetries are common and can be a causative or contributory factor in the horse-
saddle-rider asymmetry conundrum.
Dr. Christian Peham, Head of Movement Science at the Veterinary School at the University of
Vienna in Austria, summarized a series of peer-reviewed papers from his laboratory on the
horse’s back, saddle fit and rider dynamics. He showed that, when the tree width of a saddle is
appropriate for the shape of the horse’s back, the force is distributed along the length of the
panels. With a narrow tree, pressure is concentrated at the front and back of the panels with an
unweighted area in the middle of the panels (bridging). The saddle tends to be high in front and
low at the back, which tips the rider’s position backwards. When the tree is too wide, the
pressure is concentrated on the inner edge of the panels close to the horse’s spine and the
pommel tends to be too low thus tipping the rider forwards . If a saddle is basically the correct
size for a horse but not a perfect fit, the use of a saddle pad may improve the horse’s comfort.
Research published by Dr. Peham’s group has shown that a reindeer fur pad can reduce the
maximal total force by distributing the load more evenly throughout the duration of the stride .
If the saddle tree is too wide, however, the use of a pad is liable to increase the maximal total
force and local pressures . Dr. Peham also illustrated the effects of different rider positions in
the saddle on the forces transmitted to the horse’s back. For example, when riding side saddle,
the weight is always distributed asymmetrically . When riding astride at trot, the loading on
the horse’s back is highest for sitting trot, intermediate for rising trot and lowest in a two-point
seat. The rising trot and two-point seat show a temporal redistribution of forces with a lowering
of peak values . The information presented by Dr. Peham provided further evidence of the
complexity of the interaction between rider, saddle and horse.
The last speaker was Prof. Hilary Clayton, Director of the McPhail Equine Performance Center
at Michigan State University, USA. Her talk focused on techniques for analyzing the horse-
saddle-rider interaction. She emphasized the importance of using techniques and equipment
that have been proven to be valid and reliable for the purposes for which they are being used. A
good example of this is the electronic saddle pressure mat. To date only one brand of pressure
mat has been shown to be valid and reliable for measuring interface pressure between the
saddle and the horse’s back [1,2]. It is likely that some of the other pressure mats on the market
would also be valid for this purpose if tested appropriately, but there are also mats that have
insufficient sensor density to accurately measure total force or pressure distribution. All of the
pressure mats that are currently used to measure saddle pressure are limited by the fact that
they only measure the force component applied perpendicular to the sensors. Shear forces that
are not measured by the mat may contribute to friction rubs and the development of saddle
sores. Three-dimensional sensors are available but at the present time they are too expensive
for this application. Pressure profiles are open to misrepresentation and/or misinterpretation
since the same pressure scan can be made to look very different by changing the range of
pressure within each coloured band. Furthermore, forces and pressures change according to
the phase of the stride at which they are recorded, especially in gaits that have a suspension
phase. Therefore, when evaluating a still image it is important to know the ranges of pressure
represented by the different coloured bands and the stage of the stride that is depicted.
Unscrupulous manipulation of these two factors can misrepresent a saddle or a rider’s
performance. Prof. Clayton provided some practical tips on interpreting forces and pressures
on the horse’s back and described the results of a study by researchers from Zurich University
in Switzerland in which pressure levels on the horse’s back were correlated with the presence of
clinical lesions and dry spots underneath the saddle that are indicative of areas of local
ischaemia . These data are being applied to set threshold values for acceptable pressure
levels beneath a saddle.
Dr. Pat Harris facilitated the next phase of the workshop which involved an open and frank
discussion of the information that had been presented with emphasis on the major issues in
saddle design and saddle fitting as well as the assessment of saddle fit and treatment of the
consequences of poor saddle fit. A list of research topics was generated related to the horse,
rider and saddle and attendees cast votes to determine which topics would be revisited the next
day. The following morning, each participant was assigned to one of four discussion groups led
by Dr Rachel Murray, Head of Equine Orthopaedic Research at the Animal Health Trust; Dr
Charlotte Nevison, Director of Equine Research at Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge; Wayne
Channon, Secretary General of the International Dressage Riders Club; and Karen Coumbe,
from the Bell Equine Clinic, Kent. The groups discussed the research topics that received the
most votes the previous day then reconvened to compare notes on each topic. These
brainstorming sessions brought forth some interesting and insightful ideas and suggestions; the
sheets prepared by the groups are being analyzed to seek recurring themes among different
groups that will guide future research efforts.
Overall, this was an interesting and stimulating workshop. The interaction among professionals
who deal with rider asymmetry patterns, practical saddle fitting issues, and clinical evaluation of
equine lameness or back pain brought greater awareness of the complexity of the problem and,
perhaps, a degree of frustration at the lack of validated techniques and to evaluate the horse-
saddle-rider interface. It is clear that we do not have a gold standard of measurement and that
some of the challenges faced by researchers cannot be solved with the equipment and
techniques that are currently available. Participants agreed that there are unlikely to be easy
solutions and, although the existing technology is imperfect, researchers should continue their
investigations with full recognition of these limitations.
Hilary M. Clayton, BVMS, PhD, DACVSMR, MRCVS
Mary Anne McPhail Dressage Chair in Equine Sports Medicine
Large Animal Clinical Sciences
College of Veterinary Medicine
Michigan State University
East Lansing, MI 48824-1314
1. De Cocq, P., van Weeren, P.R. and Back, W., 2006. Saddle pressure measuring: Validity,
reliability and power to discriminate between saddle-fits. Vet. J. 172, 265-273.
2. De Cocq, P., Clayton, H., Terada, K., Muller, M., Van Leeuwen, J., 2009. Usability of normal
force distribution measurements to evaluate asymmetrical loading of the back of the horse and
different rider positions on a standing horse. Vet. J. 181, 266-273.
3. Meschan, E.M., Peham, C., Schobesberger, H., Licka, T.F., 2007. The influence of the width
of the saddle tree on the forces and the pressure distribution under the saddle. Vet. J. 173,
4. Kotschwar, A.B., Baltacis, A and Peham, C. (2010) The effects of different saddle pads on
forces and pressure distribution beneath a fitting saddle. Equine vet. J. 42, 114-118.
5. Kotschwar, A.B., Baltacis, A and Peham, C. (2010) The influence of different saddle pads on
force and pressure changes beneath saddles with excessively wide trees. Vet. J. 184, 322-325.
6. Winkelmayr, B., Peham, C., Frühwirth, B., Licka, T. and Scheidl, M. 2006. Evaluation of the
force acting on the back of the horse with an English saddle and a side saddle at walk, trot and
canter. Equine vet. J. Suppl. 36, 406-10.
7. Peham, C., Kotschwar, A.B., Borkenhagen, B., Kuhne, S., Molsner, J. and Baltacis, A. 2009. A
comparison of forces acting on the horse’s back and the stability of the rider’s seat in different
positions at trot. Vet. J. 184, 56-59.
8. Von Peinen, K., Wiestner, T., von Rechtenberg, B. and Weishaupt, M.A., 2010. Relationship
between saddle pressure measurements and clinical signs of saddle soreness at the withers.
Equine vet. J. 42 (Supplement 38), 650-653.