Evaluating saddle fit analysis - DVM
News Center
DVM Featuring Information from:


Evaluating saddle fit analysis
New developments in saddle analysis can help you determine if a horse's sore back is due to poor-fitting tack.


Using thermography

Photo 1: In a thermography scan of a saddle, the color scale goes from black (coldest and least contact, pressure or heat) to white (hottest and most contact or pressure). This rider has a chronic right knee problem and cannot ride in a balanced way. He puts more weight on the right side because he cannot post out of the saddle with that knee, which twists the saddle so you see increased heat on the entire right side. This horse had a sore back and was sore in his right girth and chest area.
Technical skill is crucial in the use of thermography to evaluate saddle fit and possible medical conditions in horses. Thermography, or the use of infrared imaging, allows a real-time evaluation of the temperature gradient in the peripheral body (Photos 1 and 2). Areas of increased heat can indicate metabolic activity, increased blood supply or the possibility of an inflammatory process. Decreased heat can indicate vascular damage or nerve involvement. Saddles are excellent heat conductors and allow visualization of the contact points after only a relatively short amount of time being ridden.

Photo 2: This thermography scan shows a saddle with increased contact, pressure and heat on the withers area and hardly any contact on the back of the saddle. This is an example of a bridging problem—as this saddle rocks back and forth, it will pinch the withers and shorten stride and cause soreness. Occasionally these horses are presented for evaluation of a complaint of increased tripping in front.
Because there is such a potential for artifacts to be seen while producing thermographic evaluations and for mistakes to be made in interpretation, it is crucial that a knowledgeable and experienced individual produce and evaluate the scans. Thermography has the advantage of producing both pre- and post-exercise scans, which can show a substantial change in affected areas.


As more veterinarians add newer modalities such as thermographic imaging and pressure pad sensor gait analysis to their practices, it will become easier to determine the location and exact cause of various medical conditions or to decide that it is indeed time to go saddle shopping. When this topic is revisited in the future, maybe there will be more agreement among horse owners, saddle fitters and veterinarians as to the effects of saddle fit on equine performance and behavior. As all parties become more aware and educated, we can hope that better choices will be made for saddle fit and the percentage of horses being ridden while in pain can be drastically reduced.

Dr. Kenneth Marcella is an equine practitioner in Canton, Ga.


1. Clayton HM, Kaiser LJ, Nauwelaerts S. Pressure on the horse's withers with three styles of blanket. Vet J 2010;184(1):52-55.

2. Harman JC. Practical use of a computerized saddle pressure measuring device to determine the effects of saddle pads on the horse's back. J Equine Vet Sci 1994;14,606-611.

3. Meschan EM, Peham C, Schobesberger H, et al. The influence of the width of the saddle tree on the forces and the pressure distribution under the saddle. Vet J 2007;173:578-584.

4. Cockerman S. Saddle fit study in the Western saddle market. Las Cruces: New Mexico State University Press, 2010.


Source: DVM360 MAGAZINE,
Click here