Recent studies have shown that a disturbingly high proportion (75%) of horses that were in normal work and believed to be sound by their owners were, in fact, lame. Horse owners were found to be able to recognize lameness in only 11% of cases and sore backs in only 4%of cases, thus providing further evidence that horse owners and riders need expert assistance with the early detection of musculoskeletal injury. A saddle fitter who trains to recognize gait irregularities could contribute greatly to the prevention of the vicious cycle of lameness, back pain and saddle fit issues.
Rider asymmetries are common; several studies have recorded asymmetric posture in 100%of the riders that they evaluated. Rider asymmetry may be caused by gait asymmetry or a crooked saddle – or it can be a contributory factor to the asymmetry conundrum, therefore it is important that the saddle fitter should also have analytical skills in rider performance.
When saddles move asymmetrically, the rider tends to “collapse” to the opposite side, e.g.when viewed from behind, if the saddle moves to the right, the rider’s seat slides to the right and the spine flexes to the left. It has been shown that asymmetric saddle movement is often an indication of hind limb lameness, occurs most commonly towards the lame side, increases in circles compared with straight lines but is not related to the degree of lameness. In some cases, the saddle moves one way on one rein and the opposite way on the opposite rein as the lameness alters in severity with the changes of direction. The rider can also affect the extent of lameness according to which diagonal they select in rising trot. This highlights the importance of viewing the horse, saddle and rider from behind, from both directions and at all gaits during saddle fitting evaluations.