Under Pressure – A study on pressure distribution under saddle.

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I was doing some research for an article I am working on and came across this fascinating study titled: Preliminary field study on saddle pressure distribution in horses without back pain. (*1)

(Please click on the link for the entire study but I wanted to summarize the salient points that stood out to me.  Also of note this study was done on forty randomly sampled horses that were equipped and measured with a pressure pad at rest, during free and medium (collected) walk and during rising and sitting trot. All measurements were made on the straight line and were summarized according to the percentage pressure distribution front to back, as well as left, right and middle (spinal), of the saddle.)

This first picture is of pressure at the FRONT of the saddle in motion under five different types of saddle.  What I want to note here is that in a treeless saddle  the pressure is 10% higher and in a Western Saddle the pressure is 20% higher at the front than that of a dressage saddle.  As I have been doing more and more research on improving tree fit in Western Saddles, this study shows how necessary that is.  Also to note that many people go to a treeless saddle thinking they decrease pressure at the wither shoulder area but shown here in everything BUT a western saddle that is not true.



This second picture for me was extremely telling in the treeless saddle debate.  This is in relation to pressure on the horse’s spine or midline from the saddle.  You can see here that the spinal pressure is almost 30% higher in the treeless saddle than a western saddle!  If you have had the time to read my post that was published in California Riding Magazine on the importance of saddle channel width you will already have an idea of what kind of damage spinal impingement and pressure can do to the riding horse.  This part of the study also shows something I have been saying for a long time and that is that western saddles do a great job of staying off the horse’s spine.



This last picture is very interesting where pads are concerned.  It shows that adding extra pads can actually significantly increase the pressure under the saddle.  So often people try to correct bad saddle fit through additional pads.  Unless these pads are used correctly to perform a very specific function they can often end up worsening the saddle fit to the horse.  In every study a regular cloth pad (RCP) was best for reducing saddle pressure in both front and over the spine!



When I came across this study I just had to take the time to share it on my blog.  Please take the time to read through the actual study as I have only highlighted here a few of the points that really stood out to me.  It is so exciting the research that is being done and how modern technology is helping to provide information to better both horse and rider!


(*1) Melanie Glaus1, Stefan Witte2 and Conny Herholz1 – Bern University of Applied Sciences, School of Agricultural, Forest and Food Sciences HAFL, CH-Zollikofen. Vetsuisse Faculty Bern, ISME Equine Clinic, CH-Bern. Preliminary field study on saddle pressure distribution in horses without back pain. Pferdeheilkunde 31 (2015) 2 (March/April) 145-152


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