Answer: MYTH (of course.)
In a recent original article, a group of researchers looked at the consequences of an ill-fitting saddle to both horse and rider. It is recognized that a saddle that does not fit a horse properly can affect both the health of the horse and the rider and that it is “therefore important that veterinarians have some knowledge of saddle fit and know how to recognize and ill-fitting saddle”. The article focused on the English saddle and took us through some basic terminology to help us better understand the process. It was noted that a well-fitted saddle should distribute the weight evenly via the panels to the horse’s thoracic region, with complete clearance of the withers by the gullet. The saddle should remain fairly still during ridden exercise at all paces and fit so that the rider sits in balance with the horse. Signs of a poorly fitting saddle in the horse included pain in the thoracolumbar area, focal swelling under the saddle, ruffing of the hair, dry spots under the saddle immediately after exercise surrounded by sweat and abnormal hair wear. If the saddle does not fit the rider, the rider may not be in balance with the horse and this may cause pain in the thoracolumbar area of the horse, pain in the rider’s back, hips, and seat bones. They concluded that “correct saddle fit for horse and rider is an important equine welfare issue and the veterinary profession needs to recognize this and be at the forefront of helping to educate the horse owning public, ideally veterinarians should work in conjunction with professional saddle fitters, trainers and physiotherapists to improve both horse and rider comfort.”
Relevance: As a veterinarian who also rides, I recently participated in my first formal saddle fitting for a dressage saddle for my horse. I experienced first hand the impact that a properly fitted saddle can have on both the performance of horse and rider and will now push myself, as both a rider and veterinarian, to learn even more.
Original Article: Dyson, S., Carson, S. and Fisher, M. “Saddle fitting, recognizing an ill-fitting saddle and the consequences of an ill-fitting saddle to horse and rider”. EVE October 2015, pp. 533-543.