The saddle in relation to the anatomy of the horse
BLOG #September 2021

(Guest writer veterinarian, chiropractor: Amée de Rooij)

In the blog of November we will talk about what an influence the saddle can have on the vertebrae, muscles, tires and weights of your horse. The saddle is the link between rider and horse. We are writing this blog together with guest writer Aimée de Rooij: veterinarian chiropractor and acupuncturist for horses. She will further explain why a saddle should fit the anatomy of a horse well.

The saddle is the contact between rider and horse, these must fit well for both. A saddle is a big investment but ultimately a saving in costs and the prevention of injuries and something you owe your horse if you want to sit on it. An ill-fitting saddle is like running the marathon on the little shoes.

When the saddle is filled or delivered, it is important not only to look at how the saddle is on the horse, but we also need to look dynamically, so in motion. The tree should match the curve of your horse's back. You can imagine that if you were to use a tree that is too round in relation to your horse's back, it would not be able to raise its back. This is at the expense of his back use and the possibility of tilting the pelvis. It is often wrongly judged that a saddle bridges. This means that the saddle does not connect to the back in the middle. The only thing is that there is a substantial difference in the back static or dynamic. A back can move very upward, but that differs enormously per horse. That is why you can only judge the saddle properly in movement and with the influence of the rider.

The withers and spine must be free. The latter must also be the case with bending. Can move and flex your horse's spine freely without hitting the saddle? The thoracic portion of the spine (so the part of the thoracic vertebrae) provides most of the lateral flexion (lateral bending). For the free movement of the spine and good bending it is therefore important to pay attention to the space along the spine.

Shoulder freedom is also directly affected by the fit and positioning of the saddle. When the saddle is placed too far forward, movement of the shoulder is hindered and can lead to a shortened stride. The back edge of the shoulder blade can be felt well in most horses. When a horse is walking and the front leg is brought forward, the shoulder blade goes back slightly. That's why the saddle has to be like that 3 cm behind the shoulder blade.

Have horses 18 ribs (some Frisians have there 19) The saddle should not go past the 18th rib (the last rib) come. The rib cage is a kind of barrel, which provides support for the carrying of the saddle and rider. When the saddle rests on the lumbar vertebrae, there will be pressure on this area and the soft tissues below. This causes pain, reduced ability to relax the back and affects the ability to tilt the pelvis.

You often see that an improper saddle has caused atrophy of the back muscles behind the withers. Atrophy is a decrease in muscle thickness and strength. In some cases the damage is so severe that it is permanent but fortunately in most cases the development of the muscle will increase again if the right measures are taken. It is therefore important to have your saddle adjusted as your horse changes in its muscularity. If your horse loses an iron, the farrier is also called. The responsibility rests with the owner to regularly call in the saddler for maintenance. This really prevents unnecessary suffering. In addition, it is important to keep a close eye on your horse's back. Check your horse's back after riding. Are there any visible or noticeable swelling?? This is a sign of tissue damage and even if the swelling will disappear; it is very important to have your saddle checked quickly!

If a badly fitting saddle has been used for too long, it is important that a physiotherapist or a chiropractor is called in to ensure that everything runs smoothly again. The mobility of the spine will then have been limited for a long time and / or the pressure on the back may have been too high. This can cause various problems. The main consequences are:

  • Irritation of the back strap (the ligament that runs at the top between the spinal processes of the vertebrae)
  • Muscle damage or weakness
  • (Light) lameness

It is therefore very important that the saddle fits well and that the combination of saddle-rider-horse is correct!