What are the major saddle fitting issues?
Poor saddle fit is a main contributor to resistant behavior in horses and to start this way with a young horse would be a real shame. When horses are experiencing back problems they have two choices – do something about it or learn to live with it.
Too much pressure on the spine should be avoided at all times since it blocks all natural movement.
Too tight in the shoulder area which reduces freedom of movement of the shoulder blade and has a very negative influence on all the muscles.
Western saddles can sometimes be too long (most cases) or too short and therefore create bridging of the saddle (too much pressure in certain areas and no contact in others).
Some dressage and jumping saddles have inadequate flocking in the saddle panels (very old or overstuffed saddles which are completely compressed and very hard) and create uneven pressure distribution which then results in pressure points.
In horse training terminology this amounts to resistant behavior or learned helplessness.
Resistant behavior usually shows up as one or more of the following: not going forward, going forward too fast, bucking and even rearing. The horse is attempting to get rid of the discomfort or even pain. If the horse is successful – say the horse bucks the rider off – then the horse learns that that is how to get rid of pain and will continue to do so until it learns otherwise.
Learned helplessness is a psychological condition where a horse learns that they have no control over unpleasant, painful or harmful conditions (i.e. they were not successful at bucking riders off), that their actions are futile, and that they are helpless. The poor animal has had so much pain or discomfort without relief that it ceases to respond. Unfortunately these horses often seen as 'dead quiet' when if fact they have just given up.
How can I determine the saddle fit with the pressure scan?
The pressure pad is placed right on the horse's back under the normal saddle set up (with all usually used half pads, cotton pads etc). Ideally a pressure scan shows no or only very little pressure around the spine. The remaining area should show even pressure under both saddle panels. This scan is a very good example of a good pressure scan (very even contact under the panels and no pressure points).
Why is it so important to do the pressure scan while the horse is moving?
A saddle scan with the horse just standing will not give you a realistic statement on the fit of your saddle. It would be the same as if you were just trying your hiking shoes sitting in a chair.
One can get a good scan with the horse just standing but once in motion it could show a totally different picture. The horse is changing the shape of its back in motion. The shoulder blade is moving front and back, muscles contract and decontract etc. The entire anatomy of a horse changes during collection – the back is lifting, the horse's body shortens and certain muscles expand.
The rider's aids also influence the pressure on the saddle. A real judgment of saddle fit can therefore only be done in motion.
Why is the saddle scanner equipped with a video?
The pressure of the saddle on the horse's back is not only influenced by a proper saddle fit, girth and pad but also by the rider's weight. The seat of a rider, his aids and the frame of the horse are all important components to ensure an even pressure distribution.
It is therefore important to see what the horse and rider are doing in a particular situation to properly interpret the saddle scan. If the horse is moving straight the pressure scan should show even pressure distribution under both panels. During turns and lateral movements we will see more pressure under one saddle panel than the other.
This is a very important tool for trainers: you will be able to clearly show your student problems in the position of his/her seat.
Why does the saddle scanner not come up with real pressure numbers?
A husband and wife ride in the same saddle on the same horse. The husband weighs 40 kg more than the wife. The key is to see an even and symmetrical pressure distribution and spinal clearance. We only want to evaluate the saddle fitting and not how much this particular horse could carry or not.