Exercise’s effects on horse’s back dimensions and saddle fit

If you are a runner, you’ve probably noticed that after a 45 minute jog your calf muscles seem a bit swollen or enlarged. They are responding to post-training fluid shifts, fibre hypertrophy (thickening) and the general strain of exercise. Horse’s muscles, particularly along the back, respond to exercise in the same way. Have you ever thought about what effect this might have on your saddle’s fit as your horse works?

We know that a the saddle needs to fit the horse in motion, but there has been no investigation of whether the thoracolumbar region (lower back, in front of the pelvis) changes shape in association with exercise or how improper saddle fit may include potential changes.

Factors that influence horses’ muscle dimensions include conformation, type of exercise/riding discipline, age, head and neck position, lameness, tack fit and rider skill and weight.Horses that don’t work correctly, due to either work quality or rider skill, or have a poorly fitting saddle will suffer from a lack of long-term muscle development. In other words, you’ll have an under muscled horse.

To remedy this, the easiest thing to correct is often the saddle.                                                                                   A few saddle fit reminders - A lack of withers clearance by the saddle and/or pad affects movement- A saddle that tips forward or back results in a focal increase in pressure - A saddle that fits at rest might not fit during work, which can affect movement.Back dimensions do increase with work. This is particularly important to recognize in young horses that have not yet developed topline muscles.