Evaluation of the force acting on the back of the horse with an English saddle and a side saddle at walk, trot and canter


Department V, Clinic of Orthopaedics in Ungulates, University of Veterinary Medicine, Veterinaerplatz 1, A-1210 Vienna, Austria.


Reasons for performing study: Force transmission under an English saddle (ES) at walk, trot and canter is commonly evaluated, but the influence of a side saddle (SS) on the equine back has not been documented.

Hypothesis: Force transmission under a SS, with its asymmetric construction, is different from an ES in walk, trot and canter, expressed in maximum overall force (MOF), force in the quarters of the saddle mat, and centre of pressure (COP). The biomechanics of the equine back are different under a SS compared to ES.

Methods: Thirteen horses without clinical signs of back pain ridden in an indoor riding school with both saddles were measured using an electronic saddle sensor pad. Synchronous kinematic measurements were carried out with tracing markers placed along the back in front of (withers, W) and behind the saddle (4th lumbar vertebra, L4). At least 6 motion cycles at walk, trot and canter with both saddles (ES, SS) were measured. Out of the pressure distribution the maximum overall force (MOF) and the location of the centre of pressure (COP) were calculated.

Results: Under the SS the centre of pressure was located to the right of the median and slightly caudal compared to the COP under the ES in all gaits. The MOF was significantly different (P<0.01) between saddles. At walk, L4 showed significantly larger (P<0.01) vertical excursions under the ES. Under the SS relative horizontal movement of W was significantly reduced (P<0.01) at trot, and at canter the transversal movement was significantly reduced (P<0.01). In both trot and canter, no significant differences in the movement of L4 were documented.

Conclusions and potential relevance: The results demonstrate that the load under a SS creates asymmetric force transmission under the saddle, and also influences back movement. To change the load distribution on the back of horses with potential back pain and as a training variation, a combination of both riding styles is suitable.