Reasons for performing study: Saddle fit is well recognised as an important factor for the health and performance of riding horses. However, only few studies have addressed general effects of different saddle construction details within a group of horses.
Objective: To assess the influence of girth strap placement, traditional vs. v-system, and panel flocking material, wool vs. synthetic foam, on the saddle pressure pattern during riding.
Methods: Six horses were ridden by 3 riders in sitting and rising trot and sitting canter. Saddle pressure was measured with 3 different saddle variants: 1) wool flocked panels and traditional girthing (baseline); 2) wool flocked panels and v-system girthing; and 3) foam filled panels and traditional girthing. From the pressure data, a number of descriptive variables were extracted. These were analysed using ANCOVA models with horse, rider, saddle, seat (sitting/rising, trot only) and speed as independent variables.
Results: With foam filled panels stride maximum pressures under the hind part of the saddle increased by 7–12% and the area under the saddle with a stride mean pressure >11 kPa increased by 114 cm2 in trot and 127 cm2 in canter. With v-system girthing, the latter variable also increased, but only by 53 and 38 cm2 in trot and canter, respectively. In addition, stride maximum pressures under the front part of the saddle tended to increase (≤9%).
Conclusions: Both flocking material and girthing have a significant influence on the saddle pressure and should thus be considered in saddle fitting. Wool seems a better flocking material than foam of the type used in the current study. For girthing, traditional placement seems equally good if not better than the v-system. However, further studies are needed to show if these results are valid for a larger population of riding horses.