Saddle Fit – A Welfare Issue?

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Owing a horse comes with a long list of responsibilities and many horse owners would agree that it’s more of a lifestyle choice than a hobby. Between the day to daycare, riding, farrier visits, vaccinations and buying supplies it doesn’t leave an awful lot of spare time (or money) for anything else. However, something which is often overlooked is the fit of our saddle.

A recent interview with Dr. Sue Dyson highlights the importance of saddle fit and how horse owners should be more concerned with how their saddle is affecting their horse.

When asked what the number one priority for horses should be Dr. Dyson said:  
“Obviously recognition of lameness is fundamentally important, but in terms of what should be fundamental about riding a horse, the number one fundamental is that the saddle should fit both the horse and the rider, and you shouldn’t be getting on the horse unless the saddle fits both the horse and the rider, in my opinion”.

Dyson also highlights the importance of the rider’s position in the saddle “The more knowledge you have about the way in which the horse moves, and the more knowledge you have about how a rider needs to sit in the saddle, according to their physical shape and what you’re asking the horse to do. That will all improve the whole situation”.

MSFI’s research (Horse Owners Survey 2016) suggests that only 12% of horse owners are having their saddles checked on a regular basis which is a concerning number considering the importance of saddle fit.
When asked about the implications of poor saddle fit Dyson explains:
“If the saddle doesn’t fit the horse not only is it going to induce pain but it will also compromise muscle function. And if you compromise muscle function on a repetitive basis the muscle is going to become atrophied and therefore the function of the back is going to become compromised on a long term basis”.

It is clear that saddle fit can have a significant impact on the horses overall welfare and the responsibility is with the horse owner who should ensure that the horse is not suffering any undue pain or stress due to the fit of the saddle. Horses are incredibly good at masking their pain and so it is vital that your saddle is checked regularly, before the horse starts showing signs of discomfort, by an appropriately trained and experienced saddle fitter.

It is also a good idea to educate yourself on the basics of saddle fit so that you can pick up on any issues before they cause damage. Master Saddle Fitters International (MSFI) aim to improve equine welfare but educating horse owners, as well as equine professionals on the horse, rider, saddle interaction and, will shortly be releasing a series of educational videos via www.mastersaddlefittersinternational.com

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