Saddle fit correlates with topline development

Saddle fit correlates with topline development
17 May 2015


A poorly fitted saddle may limit your horse’s back muscle development and is linked to lameness.

Over a one year observation period UK researchers found, five variables that correlate with equine back dimension changes namely saddle fit, lameness, rider ability, discipline and season.

In the study, horses with ill-fitting saddles showed significantly less back muscle development than horses with correctly fitting saddles. This could be due to muscle atrophy(loss of muscle) or underdevelopment of muscle, as a result of an ill-fitting saddle not allowing the horse to engage the muscles under the saddle properly.

Researchers followed 104 horses over the 12 month period. The horses had their back dimensions measured every two months in the T8, T13 and T18 vertebrae regions using a curved, shapable ruler. The T8, T13 and T18 vertebrae are in the thoracic regions of the spine.

Expert riders, being defined as those who competed at the advanced national level, and average rider (riders that competed regularly) were more likely to get their saddle fitted than riding school level riders (riders that did not compete). Horses with expert riders versus riding school riders showed significantly greater muscle back development over a year.

Ill-fitting saddles also correlated with lameness, with 76.2% of horses with an ill-fitting saddle being lame. Riders in the study who had an ill-fitting saddle that slipped, backwards, forwards or sideways, were not aware of this saddle movement prior to taking part in the study. The researchers recommend that ideally riders should get their saddle fitted once a year or more if possible.

Out of all the disciplines in the study; show jumping, dressage, eventing and pleasure, show jumping was the only discipline where the horses showed significant back asymmetries. Show jumping horses were also less likely than other disciplines to have their own individual saddle, as it was common for a saddle to be shared among horses. Show jumpers were also more likely to use numnahs and saddle pads to improve saddle fit. A previous study has shown that numnahs and saddle pads do not always improve saddle fit and can sometimes make saddle fit worse (Harman, 1999).

Horses back width also increased over seasonal periods when there was most carbohydrate in the grass.

The correlations found in the study do not prove cause and effect and further studies must be done before it could be concluded that saddle fit, rider level, season or lameness are a cause or effect of back dimension changes.


Greve, L., & Dyson, S. (2014). A longitudinal study of back dimension changes over 1 year in sports horses. The Veterinary Journal.

Harman, J. (1999). Tack and saddle fit. The Veterinary clinics of North America. Equine practice, 15(1), 247-61.



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