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Ill-Fitting Saddle or Lameness –Your Saddle Pad Is Talking To You

Your saddle is slipping to the side, but you’ve confirmed that your saddle is fitted correctly. In fact, you’ve also noticed that your horse has pain and performance issues. If you have saddle slippage, lameness could be the culprit and the way your saddle pad fits could be an indication of that.

First Check Your Saddle Pad for Signs Your Saddle Doesn't Fit

While riding, you may not be able to tell if your saddle doesn’t fit properly or is slipping. So, how do you find out? Look at your saddle pad after riding. The sweat and dirt patterns on the pad are keys to your discovery.

Interpreting Dirt Patterns

To interperate what each dirt pattern is telling you, it's best to start out with a freshly cleaned pad. That way, you can easily distinguish the following dirt patterns:


Tree too narrow: A saddle pad will have a clean spot surrounded by heavy dirt. A narrow tree creates pockets of non-contact, resulting in uneven and unbalanced pressure.




Tree too wide: A saddle pad will have an excessive dirt pattern near the front. When the saddle tree is too wide, the pad tilts forward and applies additional pressure to the withers and shoulder area.






Saddle rocking back:A heavy dirt pattern on the rear of the pad indicates that the saddle is rocking back. This rocking could be due to an ill-fitted gullet or a rider who is leaning too far back on their seat.






Saddle swinging: A heavy dirt pattern on the front left and back right indicates that the saddle is swinging to the left. A heavy dirt pattern on the front right and back left indicates the saddle is swinging to the right.






Touching spine: A heavy dirt pattern along the top of the saddle pad indicates that the saddle is touching the spinal column. This situation should be addressed immediately.






Your Saddle Fits But Still Slips to One Side

A saddle swinging to one side or the other, that has been properly fitted, can be an indicator of hind-limb lameness. A saddle's direction of swing is often a determinate of which hind limb is sore. If you find signs of slippage with a correctly fitting saddle, have your horse checked for lameness by your veterinarian.Leaving a minor lameness undetected and treated can lead to bigger problems down the road. .

The Correlation between Saddle Slippage and Lameness

Saddle slipping to one side is generally blamed on an ill-fitting saddle. However, a recent study found a correlation between saddle slippage and lameness. In the study of 128 horses, it was suggested that "saddle slip may be an indicator of the presence of hind limb lameness."

Each horse in the study was evaluated with two riders, which resulted in consistent findings. Of the 128 horses that were studied, 71 were diagnosed with hind-limb lameness in one or both limbs. Of those horses, 54% had consistent saddle slippage.

To test this hypothesis, the limbs of affected horses were "blocked," meaning the painful areas were medically numbed. After blocking, slippage was eliminated in 97% of the horses tested, showing a relationship between slippage and lameness.

The Takeaway

The takeaway message here is that you should always check your saddle pad after riding. The sweat and dirt patterns can reveal a poor fitting saddle or lameness unrelated to saddle fit. Keeping an eye out for these signs and catching them early can greatly reduce the chance of a low-grade lameness issue�going undetected and getting worse over time.

October 27, 2015

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