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Study: Slight Side-to-Side Saddle Movement Appears Normal

Study: Slight Side-to-Side Saddle Movement Appears Normal
Researchers know that saddle slip could indicate poorly fitting tack or even a subtle hind-limb lameness. But that doesn’t mean a saddle shouldn’t move at all. Recent study results from researchers from Sweden suggest that it’s totally normal for saddles to shift left to right during the stride—as long as the movement is so slight it’s hard to actually see.
Sound upper-level dressage horses ridden at a rising trot on a treadmill experienced lateral saddle shifting of around 2 centimeters (5/8 inch) off the center, in particular when the rider was coming back down into the seat after rising. On a full-sized horse in motion, this shift would go mostly unnoticed to most observers using just the naked eye, said Agneta Egenvall, DVM, PhD, professor in veterinary epidemiology at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences Faculty of Veterinary Medicine and Animal Science, in Uppsala.
“Some saddle movement is normal,” Egenvall said. “But if increased beyond the normal range such that the saddle slips out of place, it could be worth considering both horse and rider asymmetries as possible causes.”
Egenvall and colleagues studied saddle movement on seven sound Warmblood dressage horses competing either at Grand Prix or Fédération Equestre Internationale intermediate level as they trotted on a treadmill. Each horse was ridden at a rising and sitting trot by his usual rider using his usual dressage saddle. The research team ensured that all saddles fit properly, and collected various biomechanical measurements of horse, rider, and saddle movement, independently and in relation to each other.
They found that the saddle tended to move asymmetrically in both directions (to the left and the right of the center) during rising trot but moved more towards the hindlimb of the sitting diagonal, Egenvall said. They also noted that horse and rider asymmetry likely has a significant effect on saddle shift.
Interestingly, she said, they realized that each horse-rider couple seems to create a rather consistent saddle-asymmetry pattern that’s unique to that couple and is repeatable, trial after trial.
Overall, they concluded that a little side-to-side movement is normal, Egenvall said.
“Our study does not really challenge previous scientific opinions; rather, it adds to the picture,” she said. “Previous studies on saddle slip have been conducted in relation to lameness and ill-fitting saddles, whereas our study was focused on normal saddle movement and healthy horses. The saddles in the current study did not slip.”
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