The influence of saddle position must be considered in order to improve rider balance and performance and optimise horse welfare. Research has shown that terms such as ‘collapsing of the right hip’ or the need to adjust one stirrup to ‘feel straight ’may be as a result of saddle positioning as opposed to rider mechanics.
Researchers Guire, Fisher, Pfau, Mathie and Cameron conducted a study on the effect that a saddle positioned laterally to the equine vertebrae has on rider biomechanics whilst cantering. They presented their findings at the 2016 International Equitation Science Conference in Saumur, France, on 23 - 25 June 2016.
With subtle aids, the rider’s pelvis can influence the horse positively. Increased flexion of one hip or pelvic shift are common movement asymmetries seen in riders. As a result, mixed signals between horse and rider are received, creating potential for undesirable behaviour. In training, little consideration is given to the effect that saddle position has on the rider’s position and resultant equine behaviour.
The aim of this study was to objectively evaluate the effect of a saddle positioned laterally to the vertebrae on rider biomechanics compared to a correctly centrally positioned saddle.
Seven horses, displaying lateral saddle position, were assessed for lameness by a veterinarian. Seven sound horses and riders took part. Saddle fit and lateral positioning was subjectively graded independently using a 0–5 scale by 3 Society of Master Saddlers Qualified Saddle Fitters. Markers were positioned on the mid-line of the cantle, between the two tubera sacrale and caudal aspect of the croup.
Riders wearing a posture jacket (VisualiseTM), with lines positioned horizontally across the upper scapula and down the spine. A high speed camera (240 Hz), positioned caudally capturing straight line locomotion on both left and right rein. Horses were warmed up following a standard 20-minute protocol.
Data were collected with lateral positioned saddles, then saddles were adjusted/rebalanced made central using Prolite shims. Using Quintic Biomechanics, 2D video analysis, left and right hip flexion and angle of a line between left and right foot relative to the horizontal were quantified. Informed client consent was obtained for all animals used in the study. A mean of 3 repeated canter strides with a paired T-test used to determine significance between central and lateral. All stirrup leathers were assessed for symmetry and were found to be symmetrical.
It was found that lateral saddle grade was significantly smaller for central versus lateral. Saddle positioned laterally left, more noticeable on the right rein showed a significant increase in rider’s right hip flexion right hip flexion. When central, the right hip was significantly less flexed resulting in improved symmetry with no significant difference between left and right hip flexion. In addition, the rider’s left foot was significantly lower than the right foot. When central the right foot in relation to the left foot showed improved symmetry with no significant difference between left and right foot position.
This study found significant differences in rider’s hip flexion and foot position with saddle which was laterally positioned left.
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