We have domesticated the horse over thousands of years. When an animal is domesticated it effectively means that evolution has produced a partnership. In the case of horses and humans we each had much to offer the other and the partnership was beneficial to both: humans protected the horse from predators and provided them with food, and the horse became a beast of burden for humans, carrying us and other items that needed to be transported.
To a large extent, the horse that exists today is far removed from the one with which our ancestors were involved. This divide is made all the more obvious by the fact that we in First World countries developed the concept of the ‘sport horse’. Whilst horses have been used for centuries for racing and hunting, these activities were solely the domain of the landed gentry who could afford the cost and keep of several horses and had the income and time to indulge in leisure activity.
In current times, horses have become a leisure activity for many more people, and the concept of DIY livery means that the costs of owning a horse are within the realms of an even greater number of people who also have more leisure time. It is now thought that as many as one in five households in the UK has a connection with horses. A number of services have built up to support this booming ownership of horses, some good and some not so good.
There are, however, two things that must be applied to the horse for us to ride: tack and the rider, and both can cause a significant amount of damage to the horse. Although allowances can be made for riders of differing skills, there is no excuse for poorly fitting tack.
Gail has calculated that about 85 per cent of horses that are referred to her for back pain or remedial schooling have some form of chronic saddle damage. Nothing can cause so much harm to your horse as a poorly fitting saddle, and Gail has spent a good deal of time trying to understand how to get the best saddle fit for her clients. However, she has come to the conclusion that even the best-fitting saddle can cause some restriction of movement, and it is simply the degree of that restriction that is important.
Photo 6.1 The equine shoulder blade showing location of scapular cartilage (Courtesy of Equine Articulated Skeletons Inc.)
As we demonstrated in Chapter 4, the saddle sits over the thoracic vertebrae just behind the shoulder region. In that chapter we stressed the vital importance of shoulder movement. The shoulder blade (scapula) needs to glide forwards and backwards over the ribs associated with the shoulder region and any restriction of this movement will result in a shortened stride in the front limb, and interrupt the functioning of the dorsal muscular chain. Yet where do we place the saddle? The answer is just behind the shoulder, and far too many riders place the saddle too far forwards, completely restricting the backwards movement of the scapula. Take another look at the equine skeleton in this region (Photo 6.1)
As the shoulder slides backwards and forwards over the thoracic vertebrae in the shoulder region, a soft-tissue structure arises from the ventral (top) region which is able to change shape to accommodate the contours of the dorsal spinous processes. This is known as the scapular cartilage. A number of muscles originate from the scapular cartilage including the infraspinatus, supraspinatus and the subscapularis.
Figure 6.2 Thoracic and cervical portions of the trapezius muscle.
The raised ridge down the middle of the scapula is called the scapular spine, and muscles that move the shoulder backwards and forwards insert on the scapular spine. Predominantly it is the trapezius muscle (see Chapters 2 and 4) which has a cervical (neck) portion and a thoracic portion, each of which can contract independently of the other (Figure 6.2).
Photo 6.3 In the functioning horse, with no saddle damage, the thoracic and cervical portions of the trapezius should be balanced, with neither portion having dominance.
If the cervical portion contracts it lifts and pulls the scapula forwards, but if the thoracic portion contracts it pulls the scapula backwards. Each portion of the trapezius muscle should have about equal strength and mass, as is demonstrated on surface anatomy by the horse in Photo 6.3, where Gail’s hand is resting on the thoracic portion of the trapezius.
However, let’s have another look at the horse with chronic damage to the ventral muscular chain (Photo 6.4) but this time concentrate on the shoulder area.
It is clear that the cervical portion of the trapezius is dominant because the thoracic part has completely wasted. But why has this happened; is it poor schooling or bad saddle fit? We demonstrated in the previous chapter that badly schooled horses over-use the muscles at the base of the neck like the cervical trapezius, but it could equally be poor saddle fit. In fact, the answer is that they have both probably contributed to the current parlous state of this horse.
Let us consider the saddle aspect, because that is probably the main culprit, especially in the later stages. The first question to ask is ‘How do I know if my saddle fits?’ In Gail’s experience there are several answers that people give and the following are some of the most common ones.
I had it specially made for him (usually several years before!)
The saddle fitter came out when I bought him (again usually a long time ago) and told me this one fitted.
The saddle came with the horse when I bought him.
I find it very comfortable for me.
It fitted my last horse.
I use a sheepskin pad and a gel pad together (or substitute any other kinds of multiple pad combinations) underneath just in case.
It was the only one I could afford.
Very rarely is the correct answer given which would be: ‘I did a lot of research into finding the right saddle for my horse and me, and I found a saddle maker/fitter who was highly recommended and I ask him/her to come back every six months to check the fit. I also ask my physiotherapist to check for signs of saddle damage in my horse every six months.’
It is not in the remit of this book to go into the ins and outs of saddle fit, and it is something that you need to read about elsewhere, but there is now an increasing body of evidence in the literature about the vital importance of correct saddle fit and how poor saddle fit can affect your horse. However, the generalised history of dorsal muscular chain damage caused by poor saddle fit is as follows, particularly for those of us who grew up in the Pony Club who were taught only two things about saddles.
Make sure you can get at least three fingers breadth between the withers and the pommel (to make sure it doesn’t rub).
Make sure you can pull the District Commissioner’s whip through from front to back of the saddle whilst it is on the horse (to make sure that the gullet is wide enough).
They are probably the two worst possible bits of advice you can get for saddle fit, but most likely it is the first one that causes the most problems. In Gail’s experience the most common scenario is the rider is so paranoid about the pommel coming into contact with the horse that ‘just to be safe’ they either fit a saddle that is slightly too narrow, or think that putting some sort of thick pad underneath will ‘protect’ the back. The problem with putting thick pads underneath a saddle is that where the saddle sits either side of the withers (which is where the points of the tree are) this actually compresses the muscle and constricts the blood flow to the area. It is like putting on a thick pair of socks when your shoes are too tight – the effect is the reverse of what you are trying to achieve.
This is effectively the same as fitting a saddle that is too narrow, and where either the thick pad or the too-narrow saddle sits on top of the thoracic trapezius muscle, the blood flow to that muscle is constricted. Where the blood capillaries are constricted, the muscle fibres that they are supplying with oxygen and other nutrients become starved and wasted. As the muscle wastes, the pommel of the saddle drops. The rider then thinks that the saddle is now too wide and fits another narrower saddle – and the process is repeated until the muscle is completely wasted and the points of the saddle are digging into the back of the shoulder blade, causing pain and restricting the backwards movement of the shoulder.
Of course it is not just the trapezius muscle that suffers, it is the deeper muscles as well including the latissimus dorsi, the multifidus and the longissimus dorsi. Therefore what has now happened is that two main areas of functional equine movement and athletic ability, the balance of muscular chains and the scapular glide, fail to function. Because the cervical portion of the trapezius is now dominant over the thoracic part, and because the points of the saddle are digging in behind the shoulder, the scapula becomes locked forwards. This restricts the protraction of the forelimb and to many riders and trainers this looks and feels as if the horse is resisting, and failing to go forwards correctly. It also prevents the folding up of the front limbs when jumping and very often the first indication the rider gets that there is a problem is that the horse starts to take the top bar of the jump off with his front feet.
The dorsal muscular chain fails and the muscles in the topline become wasted, tight and short whilst the ventral chain becomes slack and long with no muscle tone in the abdominals. The ventral line cannot now change the angle of the pelvis and the movement in the lumbosacral junction deteriorates. The hind limb cannot now be placed correctly underneath the body and the hamstrings become tight and short, further increasing the impression that he is refusing to go forwards. But he is not refusing to go forwards correctly; he is simply not physically capable of doing so. Remember that not physically capable is one of our three main reasons for horses not doing what we want.
The horse is now forced to move on the forehand and the whole descending vicious spiral goes on, exacerbated by the rider using spurs or a whip because she thinks the horse is resisting or lazy, until the pain is too much and the horse starts to object. At what point the horse objects depends on the predisposing temperament of the horse, some will start to object very soon, but others will continue to try for a long time, disguising their pain, until the pain becomes too much. This may manifest in rearing, spinning, refusing jumps or any other attempt to get rid of the rider. The horse is then labelled ‘bad’. So finally we have reached our third main reason for a horse not doing what we want him to do, pain, and all because the saddle was too tight.
Photo 6.5 The horse demonstrating the early signs of poor posture and breakdown of dorsal and ventral muscular chains.
1 Overdeveloped rectus capitus.
2 Overdeveloped sternocephalicus.
3 Cervical trapezius is dominant and dips in front of withers.
4 Overdeveloped shoulder muscles.
5 Thoracic trapezius wasted.
6 Gluteal muscles underdeveloped.
7 Overdeveloped hamstrings.
8 Sagging abdomen resulting from ventral chain disruption.
We can demonstrate this with a case history. Let’s take another look at the horse from the previous chapter that has started along this long line of postural change, but not got to the end (Photo 6.5). We have put little white dots on the horse to draw attention to the tell-tale signs.
The rectus capitus muscle is overdeveloped because there is a constant fight between the rider’s hand and the horse’s mouth. The rider is attempting to force the head and neck into an outline, which the horse is not capable of presenting.
Again, the sternocephalicus muscle is overdeveloped because the horse is going around with his head in the air so that he can drag himself along on the forehand.
The cervical trapezius is dominant and the shoulder muscles are overdeveloped because the horse is constantly on the forehand, and the scapula is being locked forwards.
The thoracic trapezius is wasted and ineffective in retracting the scapula.
Because the dorsal chain is not functioning and the horse is not working through from behind, the ‘engine’ of the gluteal muscles is not functioning correctly and becomes underdeveloped when compared with the overdeveloped shoulders.
Because the horse cannot bring his hind limb underneath him correctly the semitendinosis and semimembranosus (hamstring) muscles are shortened and tight.
Because the dorsal muscular chain cannot lengthen, the ventral chain cannot contract, and all abdominal tone is lost.
Photo 6.6 Looking down the back of the horse in Photo 6.5.
Having looked at this horse from the side, let us have a look along his back (Photo 6.6). Studying the horse from this view is always useful because you can see any asymmetry in muscular development. However, a word of warning here; never get behind a horse like this if you are unsure of him. If there is any doubt at all in your mind that he could kick out, you can put the horse in the stable with his quarters towards the door, and you can stand outside the door.
In this photo you can clearly see the lack of muscle in the thoracic trapezius region, and also the telltale white patches of hair indicating this horse has had previous trouble with saddles. However, as we have said, this horse is by no means as far down the spiral as the horse in Photo 6.4, and if the owner or trainer can spot these problems as this stage, then it would not take too much time to get him right.
Photo 6.7 The same horse as in Fig. 6.6 just four months later, showing how much more damage has been caused over a short period of time.
However, if not identified at this time it can go very badly wrong and if you look at Photo 6.7 you can see the same horse as in Photo 6.6 but only four months later. See how much more muscle has been lost in the thoracic trapezius region, but now the long muscles of the back are wasting as well as can be seen by the spine now being more prominent. Also, and to prove the point about the saddle pommel dropping as the muscle wastes, you can observe two more patches of white hair demonstrating further saddle rubs/sores have occurred during this short period of time.
Photo 6.8 The panels are very unequal with the one on the right curving in towards the centre of the gullet. The white line is a straight line from the centre of the pommel showing that the gullet is off-centre.
Photo 6.9 Note how asymmetrically the saddle sits.
Now we need to look at the saddle that is currently being used on this horse (Photos 6.8 and 6.9) and there is very little good that can be said about it.
The panels are seen to be very asymmetrical with the panel on the right curving in towards the gullet at the cantle. The saddle is old and the gullet is off-centre which will make it sit asymmetrically on the horse. In fact, when it is placed on the saddle rack (Photo 6.9) just how asymmetrically it sits is plain to see, and this is how it sits on the horse. Again, it is not for us to discuss saddle construction and fit, but to show you how good saddle fit and an understanding of the interaction of saddles with equine function is vital for you and your horse. This saddle is not only uncomfortable and ill-fitting for the horse, it is also dangerous for the rider who cannot possibly adopt a secure seat when the saddle sits as this one does.
How saddle fit affects lateral flexion
This is probably a good point at which to introduce the effects of saddles on lateral flexion. In previous chapters, we have shown how there is some limited lateral flexion in the thoracic vertebrae that lie underneath the saddle area. Clearly without a saddle that lateral flexion can be allowed without hindrance. But the very construction of a classic English saddle is for panels that sit securely either side of the vertebral column. That saddle is then ‘bedded down’ by a girth and, finally, the rider sits on top of it. Therefore all this must interfere with the lateral flexion of the area under the saddle.
This becomes evident if you are able to get a view from above a ridden horse performing a lateral movement such as half-pass. It then is clear that most, if not all, lateral flexion comes from the neck, the function of the thoracic sling and the small amount of lumbosacral flexion. This then makes the function of the shoulder and thoracic sling paramount in more advanced dressage movements.
Even the best-fitting saddle will, therefore, cause restriction of movement in a lateral plane but, as outlined earlier in the chapter, it is the degree of that restriction that is important, and unbalanced saddles such as the one shown opposite will cause a large degree of restriction, not only to lateral flexion but to the action of the thoracic sling, and the dorsal and ventral muscular chains. The only thing you can do to minimise this restriction is to ensure that your saddle is a perfect fit for your horse. In addition, although there is no quantifiable scientific evidence, Gail’s experience leads her to believe that saddle panels filled with air, such as the Cair™ system found in Bates and Wintec saddles, allow slightly more freedom in a lateral plane than do flock-filled saddle panels. Another of the benefits of these air-filled panels is that they do not become asymmetrical over time. All but the very top-class riders will favour one hip and will sit fractionally asymmetrically, leading to the panel taking more of the rider’s weight and will compress (if flocked filled) over time making the panels asymmetrical, whereas the airfilled panel will not.
Figure 6.10 The Visualise™ system demonstrating the saddle is slipping to the right (photo from which this original drawing was drawn courtesy of Russell Guire, Centaur Biomechanics)
1 This line should be perpendicular but the rider is leaning to the left, which accounts for the saddle slipping to the right.
2 The rider is collapsing through the left hip.
3 The marker on the centre of the cantle clearly showing saddle is sitting to the right.
4 The marker on the cantle should be in line with this marker on the horse’s spine.
Whilst on the subject of riders sitting asymmetrically, such problems can be observed by using the Visualise™ System created by Russell Guire of Centaur Biomechanics, as part of their rider assessment programme. In Figure 6.10 there is a view of a horse and rider from behind, and reflective markers have been placed in strategic points for data capture (there will be a full discussion of the Centaur Biomechanics systems in the next chapter). The Visualise™ jacket worn by the rider has reflective strips running down the rider’s spinal column and a strip across the shoulders, so if the rider is sitting correctly there will be a perfectly symmetrical cross formed by these strips.
Reflective markers are placed on the centre of the back of the riding helmet, the centre of the cantle on the saddle, the pelvic symphysis between the tuber sacrale and on the top of the tail. A correctly positioned rider and saddle should show a perfectly straight, perpendicular line through all those markers, which clearly in this case, is not happening.
You can see that the rider’s weight is not equal on both sides of the saddle, thus making both the horse and rider unbalanced. Such a posture would have been evident in the horse seen in Photo 6.7 wearing the saddle seen in Photo 6.9.
How this problem arises needs careful investigation from both a qualified saddle fitter and a veterinary physiotherapist, as in all likelihood the saddle is slipping because of an asymmetric saddle and an asymmetric rider, and not only will the saddle need to be rectified but the horse and rider will also need therapy.
The effects of such a situation can be ameliorated, however, if the saddle has Cair™ panels incorporating the Bates Easy Change System™. Not only can these prevent asymmetrical panels developing, they can give support to the asymmetrical rider, and they are Gail’s saddle of choice for correcting horse and rider asymmetry.
Look at Photos 6.11a and b; they are a prime example of horse and rider asymmetry. This lady had sustained a fractured pelvis some years before which made her sit to the left. Over the months of her riding this horse, this imbalance has created asymmetrical muscle development in the horse and if you look carefully you can see that the muscle over the horse’s quarters on the left drops away when compared with that on the right. This is obvious in Photo 6.11a when the horse is not supporting saddle or rider but all the more obvious in Photo 6.11b when saddle and rider are in place. This asymmetry continued through the long muscles of the back with those on the left wasting. The rider thinks she is sitting square with her stirrups equal but, because of her previous injury, the right stirrup is much shorter than the left. Again a vicious cycle is created with the rider sitting to the left, leading to the left muscles on the horse’s back wasting, leading to the saddle and rider slipping more to the left, leading to more muscle wastage … And so it goes on.
Photos 6.11a and b Asymmetrical horse and rider. a) The horse without saddle or rider shows asymmetry in the quarters. b) Both the saddle and rider are slipping to the left and the rider’s right stirrup is three holes shorter than the left stirrup.
Photo 6.12 The left hand side of the saddle has been lifted using the Bates Easy Change System™ correcting the rider’s posture and taking into account the muscle asymmetry in the horse. The saddle and the rider are now sitting centrally.
Gail used a new Bates/Wintec saddle to correct this lady’s riding posture and allow her horse to be more balanced. To do that, use of the Bates Easy Change™ system enabled Gail to lift the left hand side of the saddle until the rider was sitting correctly (Photo 6.12). Adjustment of the Bates’ saddles is simple, takes only minutes and needs no special tools, and Gail can usually adapt them to compensate for any horse/rider problems.
Although initially the rider will not feel balanced, careful instruction over the next few weeks will allow the owner to ride her horse, whilst Gail corrects the muscle imbalance in the horse. As the horse becomes more symmetrical Gail can adjust the saddle to accommodate that.
To appreciate the differences in the interaction between the saddle panels of the owner’s old saddle and the horse’s back compared with the interaction of the panels in the new Bates saddle and the horse’s back, we can use thermography to look at the thermal profiles of each saddle after the horse and rider have completed a standardised exercise test.
Figure 6.13 Thermal imaging of the owner’s old saddle after riding a standard exercise test: note the greater friction profile at the back of the left panel when compared to the right; there is also a greater friction profile over the right wither area.
In Figure 6.13 we can see the owner’s old saddle. The thermal patterns on each panel are completely different with the red areas indicating friction between the panel and the horse’s back. If you think about how this saddle was sitting off to the left, with the back of the right panel sitting over the spine and the rider’s weight thrown to the back of the left panel, you can appreciate how the right panel was rubbing on the spine whilst the greater friction profile seen at the back of the left panel indicates where most of the rider’s weight was located.
If you look at the wither area at the front of the panels, the right panel shows a greater thermal pattern because the rider was causing the saddle to compress against the right side of the withers as the saddle slipped to the left. Accordingly this saddle was creating a number of friction areas, and the horse’s back was reflecting this abnormal thermal pattern.
Figure 6.14 The newly fitted Bates saddle with Cair™ air panels thermally imaged after the horse and rider have completed the standardised exercise test. Note the completely different thermal profile to that of the old saddle in Figure 6.13.
When the horse and rider undergo the standard exercise test in the new Bates Saddle after fitting by Gail, and the Cair™ panels are thermally imaged, you can see a completely different thermal profile (Figure 6.14) to that of the owner’s old saddle.
Firstly, if you compare the construction of both saddles you will immediately appreciate that the Bates saddle has a wider gullet and the panels are wider and flatter, providing a greater surface area over the back. For the avoidance of doubt, this is not confined to the Bates saddle, but accords with best practice in ensuring that the rider’s weight is distributed over a greater area, decreasing possible friction or bridging problems.
However, the Bates saddle has allowed simple adjustment to compensate for the rider’s poor posture, and for the resultant muscle loss on the left back muscles. The weight of the rider is now almost perfectly symmetrical, and causing no areas of friction. In fact, there is a fractionally higher thermal profile on the right panel of the new saddle, most probably caused by the rider over-compensating for her new position in the saddle. The physical problems of the horse and rider can now be addressed by the physiotherapist.
With this horse we had a combination of rider and saddle causing problems, which problem caused the other is a ‘chicken and egg’ question, and practically it does not matter which came first. The important take-home message is that the rider/saddle/horse interface needs to be regularly monitored by a qualified saddle fitter and a veterinary physiotherapist.
Once these problems were addressed, the horse became considerably freer in movement and obviously much more comfortable. The previous saddle and the rider’s posture had created pain which resulted in the horse becoming lethargic and unwilling to work.
Another problem that Gail encounters is when a rider has a wide horse but is using a saddle that is far too narrow simply because the rider cannot physically accommodate a wide saddle that would fit the horse. This situation creates a real paradox – the narrow saddle damages the horse, but a wider saddle would damage the rider!
Fig. 6.15a–c The Rebel™ saddle system. a) The base is constructed separately and made to fit the horse; the seat is made to fit the rider and is simply locked onto the base. b) A Rebel™ saddle with a jumping seat and (c) a Rebel™ saddle with a dressage seat.
Very recently a new Swedish saddle design has become available which may resolve this problem. This is the Rebel™ Saddle which is constructed in two parts. The first part, including the saddle panels is intended to fit the horse, whilst the second part being the seat is intended to fit the rider. In this way both the horse and the rider can be comfortable. The seat can be designed for jumping, dressage etc. (Photos 6.15a–c)
There is precious little literature in the scientific field about the effects of saddles and riders on movement but the general impression to be gained from those that do exist is that the flexion of the lumbar vertebrae are restricted (affecting lumbosacral movement) and that the saddle and rider represents a significant influence in back movements. We know that there is an inextricable link between limb movements and excursions of the back due to the dorsal muscular chain, particularly the longissimus dorsi which is one of the most powerful muscles influencing back movement, and also the middle gluteal muscle which is instrumental for propulsion.2 We also know that retraction of the forelimb and protraction of the hind limb both flex the back. Therefore even the best-fitting saddles and skilled riders have a deleterious effect upon the movement of the horse, but the worse either get, the more the detrimental effect on locomotion.
Please do not underestimate the deleterious effects of badly constructed/fitted saddles. Whilst it is appreciated that saddles are not cheap pieces of equipment to buy, their fit is paramount for the comfort and movement of your horse. However, do not mistake ‘expensive’ for ‘good fit’. We have seen some very expensive saddles which fit the horse very badly, and some very inexpensive saddles that fit very well such as the Wintec with Cair™ panels. If your horse is more comfortable he will be more willing to work forwards than if he is in pain. When you consider how poorly fitting saddles affect the way a horse moves, ensuring that your horse has the best saddle fit could mean the difference between winning and coming tenth. Surely that thought alone should spur you into checking your saddle fit.
Even if you have a well-fitting saddle, very often no-one gives any consideration to the girth. After all the girth is just a tool for securing the saddle isn’t it? Well actually no it isn’t and girths can cause damage to your horse and impede his movement and athletic potential.
Gail’s top tips for girth fitting are as follows.
If you have elastic on one side of the girth, the final tightening of the girth should be done from the non-elasticated end. If it is done from the elasticated end, especially whilst the rider is in the saddle, it can pull the saddle over to that side, causing long-term problems.
For the reasons above, do not use a girth with elastic on both ends.
If you have long straps on your dressage saddle, make sure that your girth is long enough that the buckles do not sit behind the elbows. If the buckles are sitting behind the elbow then as the horse moves, as the elbow moves backwards, it will hit the buckle causing discomfort and thereby shortening the stride.
Do not over-tighten the girth. By doing this you will impede the horse’s breathing, and constrict the muscles beneath the girth causing restriction of movement.
Photos 6.16a and b The Fairfax girth helps to increase freedom of movement and thus improves performance. a) The Fairfax girth’s unique shape and cushioned zone. b) This photo shows how the standard gauge girth sits on the horse, avoiding high pressure areas.
There is one very recent piece of research that demonstrates how much girths can affect your horse’s movement. This research looks at the effects of one particular, newly designed girth, the Fairfax Girth, developed by Vanessa Fairfax of Fairfax Saddles (Photos 6.16a and b).
Being a rider and competitor herself, Vanessa was very much aware of the problems that girths could cause, and decided to develop one that would allow the horse the greatest freedom of movement. Having decided on a design that she thought would work she took an unusual step in the tack manufacturers’ sector in deciding to prove, using scientific, quantitative methods that the Fairfax Girth was capable of increasing equine performance. Teaming up with the Animal Health Trust, Centaur Biomechanics, Pliance Saddle Pressure Measuring and the British Equestrian Federation World Class Programme, a fully objective series of tests were conducted with the girth.
Photo 6.17 The Pliance pressure system monitors the feedback from sensors placed between the girth and the horse. On the left hand side of the computer screen can be seen the pressure profiles from the girth in real time as the horse moves.
Figure 6.18 Pressure testing average results comparing an Olympic dressage horse’s own girth to that of the Fairfax in variants of the trot gait.
Firstly, using the telemetric Pliance pressure measuring system in which pressure sensors were placed between the girth and the horse during locomotion (Photo 6.17), the Fairfax girth was shown to reduce peak pressure profiles by up to 82 per cent when compared to testing of the horse’s own girth. Figure 6.18 is a graph of the average pressure profiles of an Olympic dressage horse’s own girth when compared to being ridden in the Fairfax Girth in various gaits.
Figures 6.19a and b Significant differences are seen on the flat (a) and jumping (b), when a horse’s movement in his usual girth is compared to his movement in the Fairfax Girth. The usual range of movement is shown by the dashed leg outline and the improved range of movement when ridden in the Fairfax girth by the solid brown leg outline.
Having demonstrated that there was a significant reduction of girth pressure from the Fairfax, the next test was to assess whether there was any appreciable effect on movement. Computerised gait analysis was carried out by Centaur Biomechanics (see Chapter 7) to capture differences in horses’ movement between using their own girth and the Fairfax girth, both in flat work and in jumping. Their findings are encapsulated in Figures 6.19a and b (see opposite page).
As a consequence of these findings, the British Equestrian Federation requested that the results should not be published until after the London Olympic Games in 2012, where the Fairfax Girth was acclaimed as contributing to the British Team’s success, and our ‘secret weapon’.
Hopefully we can start to make quantitative analyses of many other items of tack in this manner, so that we can know what designs of tack can help us to keep our horses sound and moving at their optimum.
2 P. de Coco, P.R van Weeren and W. Back. ‘Effects of girth, saddle and weight on movements of the horse’ Equine Veterinary Journal (2004) 36 (8) 758–763