SADDLE SLIP – GOOD or BAD
Dr Russell MacKechnie-Guire
Friday 24 July 2020
An evidence based discussion about saddle slip - recently, there has been a lot of activity on social media about saddle slip. We and others have studied this area extensively, therefore the purpose of this post is to provide an evidence based discussion around the topic.
Saddle slip, defined as a saddle which displaces to one side as can be seen in video (A). The third marker up from the top of the tail is the middle of the cantle, during locomotion, the saddle consistently slips to the right every stride. Saddle slip is generally only present on one rein therefore, a saddle which slips to the right will occur on the left rein and a saddle which slips to the left will occur on the right rein. If a saddle slips left and right, it is likely that the saddle is too wide therefore, saddle width should be checked by a saddle fitter.
What effect does this have on the horse?
Video A - it can be seen that the left side of the saddle panel is brought up close to the midline of the horse (spine). This results in increased saddle pressures on the left side of the horse’s back, compressing the back muscles on the left. The horse’s limbs (front+hind) are loaded asymmetrically as a result of the asymmetric positioning of the saddle+rider.
What effect does this have on the rider?
Video A - the rider’s pelvis slips to the right (with the saddle), as a result, their upper body then shortens to the left, the rider’s left knee becomes tight and the right leg becomes straight. This is often easy to see, as the stirrup (on the side that the saddle has slipped too) “appears” to be longer however, this is a function of saddle slip not an asymmetry in the rider’s limbs or stirrup leathers. Lastly, rider’s may have an asymmetric rein tension, as a result of the rider trying to maintain stability.
As mentioned, saddle slip is generally only present on one rein, therefore all of the ridden work on that rein will be compromised – straight line, circling, half pass, jumping turns etc.
Correcting Saddle Slip
When saddle slip was corrected (video B – same horse/rider/saddle/day) you can see that the third marker is now aligned with the tail marker. When saddle slip was corrected, a more uniformed pressure distribution and symmetrical movement of the horse was found and a more symmetrical rider position along with an even rein tension.
Why does saddle slip occur?
There are multiple factors that influence saddle slip, there is evidence that saddle slip occurs as a result of lameness (Greve and Dyson, AHT/RVC). Saddle slip can also occur in non-lame horse’s (MacKechnie-Guire et al, . RVC). What is interesting, from our studies and others, saddle slip appears to be initiated by the horse and not the rider. Riders will follow the movement of the saddle but don’t necessarily cause the saddle to slip – more on that in another post. Research groups are investigating additional factors which could cause saddle slip – more on that in due course.
Horses seek a locomotor pattern to alleviate any discomfort caused by a saddle. In this case, how can a saddle which is slipping to one side be of benefit to the horse? This locomotor pattern, can lead to increased asymmetry in the horse and rider, coupled with the asymmetric forces creates a vicious circle.
I am a huge advocate of working as a team, therefore, in cases where saddle slip is present, it is essential that this is discussed with the acting saddle fitter in conjunction with the veterinarian, coach, equine/human physio, farrier, biomechanist, therapist etc. Saddle slip requires a team approach with regular saddle assessments to monitor progress etc.
I hope the above notes are useful.
Please share to create awareness of the importance of addressing saddle slip AND help with saddle slip recognition, as in cases where the saddle is straight and then starts to slip could be used as an early indicator of movement asymmetry occurring!
Next post will be how to identify saddle slip and who is the primary cause – horse or rider!
Dr. Russell MacKechnie-Guire