Horse Massage Blog

How Saddles Affect the Horse's Muscles

It is important to us, as riders to understand why the saddle should fit a certain way and by having some basic equine anatomy knowledge will help you to understand why the saddle must fit correctly for your horse to perform pain free and at its full potential.

Your saddle sits primarily on two different muscle groups.
Under the front of your saddle there is the trapezius muscle that extends all the way up into the neck. A tight saddle at the front will cause pinched muscles, a tight neck and a tight back. Horses that are trying to pull their shoulders down and away from a pinching saddle may often have atrophy (wasting away) in this area.


 What happens when you squeeze your horse either side of the withers? In a lot of horses the back will tense and/or twitch, the head will come up, the back will dip, the tail swishes and the muscle. We don’t want this happening while we are riding.

The second part to look at is where the panels of the saddle lie over the horses back.  The equine back comprises of many complex and interwoven muscles, strung layer upon layer, but the major muscle that supports the mid to back of the saddle is the longissimus dorsi & costarum muscles. The longissimus dorsi & costarum run down either side of the spine and attaches at the front of the pelvis through to the base of the neck.


Ideally, the saddle should distribute pressure evenly over the back, but all to often we see saddles ‘bridging’, which means there is pressure or contact in the front and the back of the saddle but no contact in the middle. Bridging of the saddle causes the longissimus dorsi to tense, the back will then drop and the head will come up which causes the horse to become stiff and disengaged.

It is also important to remember about the supraspinous ligaments that run down each side of the horses back. These ligaments connect the pelvis to the poll of the horse. As the horse moves forward, the pelvis follows the motion of movement of the diagonal legs, which therefore will cause the ligaments to move back and forth along the spine with the horses movement. Is it vital then, that the panels of the saddle are far enough apart (chanel width) to allow these ligaments room to move with the diagonal motion. If this is not the case, it will cause poll stress and shortness of stride, plus a sore back!

Did you know that most horses shoulders are not muscled the same? Most horses (for no known reason) have more muscle mass on their left shoulders. So consider what happens when we put an even saddle on an uneven horse. Your saddle will start to shift, slide, slip and pinch! The common signs that your saddle is either shifting, sliding, slipping or pinching include;

  • You constantly having to stand in one stirrup to shift yourself back to the middle
  • When your horse prefers one lead over the other
  • When your horse bucks going one direction

The scapular moves under your saddle with every step the horse takes. The scapular has many muscle attachments to it. These muscles are thin and can easily be bruised with pressure from above. Any damage could be crucial as our horses shoulders need a complete range of motion to jump, do extended trot etc.

In order for our horses to perform at their best for whatever discipline we do, its imperative that we make special considerations for their comfort so they are free to do their jobs. Make sure that you get your saddle fitted regularly, especially as your horse changes shape, and also make sure you have a good supportive pad underneath.

For pads we recommend Thinline. ThinLine’s unique technology provides an open-cell foam which moves shock, weight, and heat laterally across the pad. The pads have superior shock absorption, impact protection, breathability, protection and more.

Check out the range of Thinline products Equestricare has: 

posted by Jessica Blackwell | 0 Comments


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