Is saddle fit an equine welfare issue?

Veterinarians urged to learn effects of tack problems on horses and rider
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saddle fit welfare issue Dyson 640

Has your veterinarian ever seen your horse under tack? What would you do if a vet asked to take a look at your saddle?

It’s not out of the question that veterinary care include how a horse’s tack use and fit is affecting the horse’s welfare and health. To that end, a leading veterinarian in Great Britain has collaborated with two saddle experts to pen an eleven-page primer for vets in the field on saddles, saddle fit, and the possible consequences of an ill-fitting saddle on both the horse and the rider.

“Saddle fit, recognizing an ill-fitting saddle and the consequences of an ill-fitting saddle to horse and rider” is an 11-page article with web-only content enhancement consisting of 23 photos. It is authored by Sue Dyson, MA, Vet MB, PhD, DEO, FRCVS. She collaborated with custom saddlemaker and fitter Sue Carson and Qualified Saddle Fitter and Master Saddler Mark Fisher, who was official Master Saddler to the London 2012 Olympics and consults with the World Class Program of the British Equestrian Federation.

The extensive paper is the result of discussions at the recent Saddle Research Trust (SRT) Second International Research Workshop. It has been published in the October 2015 issue of Equine Veterinary Education (EVE) journal with the assistance of Anne Bondi, SRT Director, who critically reviewed the report before it was published.

The full article is available to everyone to download without charge for six months (until April 2016), thanks to an agreement with EVE, which is the official journal of the British Equine Veterinary Association, in association with the American Association of Equine Practitioners, and is published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

From the article's supplemental visual aids: A dry patch under the cranial aspect of the saddle after exercise (arrows) reflecting excessive pressure. There is also a focal patch of white hair and muscle atrophy. The saddle and pad combination fitted poorly; with adjustments this horse sweated more uniformly. (image © Equine Veterinary Education and the authors)

From the article's supplemental visual aids: A dry patch under the cranial aspect of the saddle after exercise (arrows) reflecting excessive pressure. There is also a focal patch of white hair and muscle atrophy. The saddle and pad combination fitted poorly; with adjustments this horse sweated more uniformly. (image © Equine Veterinary Education and the authors)

The publisher will monitor the impact of this article and if successful, may repeat this generous offer in the future to help disseminate other key messages.

At the end of the extensive paper, the authors conclude that correct saddle fit for both horse and rider is an important equine welfare issue and that the veterinary profession needs to recognize this and be at the forefront of helping to educate the horse owning public. 

“Ideally, veterinarians should work in conjunction with professional saddle fitters, trainers and physiotherapists to improve both horse and rider comfort,” the authors stressed.

Contents of the guide include these sections:

  • How to assess saddle fit to a horse
  • The interface between the saddle and the horse
  • The width and length of the saddle
  • Saddle pads and numnahs (saddle cloth)
  • Girth straps and girths
  • The saddle during exercise
  • Recognition of an ill-fitting saddle
  • Consequences of an ill-fitting saddle to the horse
  • Consequences of an ill-fitting saddle to the rider
  • Other factors to consider: changes in horses’ back dimensions
  • The use of the same saddle on more than one horse
  • Pads and numnahs: what is their purpose?
  • Other saddle fit accessories
  • Other factors that will influence the horse, saddle, rider interaction
  • Saddle storage and maintenance
  • The prevalence of saddle-related problems
  • Who is qualified to provide professional advice on saddle fit?

The paper is supplemented by 23 examples of saddle problems in horses, such as an air-flock that is not fully inflated, dry "no sweat" patches under an ill-fitting saddle, and a gel pad burn on a horse's back. These types of problems are not usually illustrated and are valuable. However, they are only available for view under the enhanced online version of the paper on the EVE website. The magazine printed version and the pdf download from the website include a few images, but not the full library of examples, which are in individual pdf files. They can be viewed individually under the "supporting information" tab on the main page of the article.

The article also contains a helpful glossary of saddle-fitting terms.

What veterinarians and readers won't find is information on American-style tack like western or flat saddles or the popular treeless and endurance saddles. Virginia's Dr. Joyce Harman has a helpful website, www.saddlefitinfo.com, with information on Western saddles as well as other American-type tack.

Click here to go to the enhanced web page for viewing or downloading the open access version of the article “Saddle fit, recognising an ill-fitting saddle and the consequences of an ill-fitting saddle to horse and rider” by Dyson, Carson and Fisher until April 2016.

To learn more:

Watch a brief video of Dr Dyson explaining a bit about her decision to expand her successful riding and training career and become one of the first female veterinarians in Great Britain.

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