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January 24, 2013

New Study Explores Interaction Between Horse, Saddle And Rider

A review has recently been published identifying what is known and the challenges in determining what is not known about the influence that horse, rider and saddle have on each other. It follows active discussion among international professionals at last year’s Saddle Research Trust (SRT) workshop, about the importance of the horse-saddle-rider interface.

Common causes of poor performance in horses include factors related to the horse, the rider and/or the saddle and their interrelationships remain challenging to determine. The review, performed by Sue Dyson, Head of Clinical Orthopaedics at the Centre for Equine Studies at the Animal Health Trust (AHT) and Line Greve, PhD Student, evaluates the critically available evidence and conjectures how  next steps may be taken to improve understanding.

Horse-related factors such as thoracolumbar region pain and/or lameness, rider-related factors such as crookedness, inability to ride in rhythm with the horse, inability to work the horse in a correct frame to improve its core strength and saddle-related factors such as poor fit causing focal areas of increased pressure, may all contribute to poor performance to varying degrees.

A recent large-scale study of British dressage horses demonstrated that 25% had a history of back-related problems and subsequent reduced performance. Lameness and back pain or stiffness have been shown to alter the biomechanics of the spine and shift the centre of gravity, which may predispose the rider to back pain or stiffness, abnormal saddle slip and rider crookedness. This in turn may induce focal areas of increased pressure beneath the saddle and exacerbate back pain and lameness in the horse, creating a vicious circle which can be challenging to break.

Accurate assessment methods of the variations in back movement and their implications are currently limited, but technological advancements are gradually being developed. These include the way in which saddle pressure is measured in the moving horse, how the movement of the horse is evaluated and the accurate assessment of back pain.

Dr Dyson explains: “New methods to measure back motion in the ridden horse, such as Inertial Measurement Units (IMUs), look very promising. Combining new technology such as this with conventional techniques should help us to understand more about the basics of the quantitative relationship between back movement variables and limb asymmetries under a variety of movement conditions. The ultimate outcome would be the development of individualised monitoring programmes that will enable preventative intervention.”

The Saddle Research Trust is a charitable organisation that hopes to fund further research on the interaction between horse, rider and saddle. Anne Bondi, Director of the SRT said: “Our international workshop on this subject last year involved representatives from veterinary and academic research groups as well as the saddlery industry, riders and trainers.  Our discussion and Dr Dyson and Line Greve’s paper have highlighted the important need for further, detailed research in this area to lay the groundwork for the future health, welfare and longevity of the ridden horse.”

The SRT is currently seeking an honorary fundraiser. For further information contact Anne Bondi on 07775 912202 or email annebondi@me.com.