Saddle manufacturers have welcomed the formation of a research group that aims to assess the effect a saddle has on a horse’s performance — but question the motives behind it.

The Saddle Research Group (SRG) says there is “a lack of scientific research” in the area.

“The influence of saddles on welfare, performance and safety is an underestimated issue,” said Anne Bondi, a rider, trainer and managing director of Solution Saddles, which is sponsoring the research.

The project started in April but the SRG refuses to say what the research involves, citing “confidentiality agreements”.

Matthew Stockford of Quantum Saddle Co said: “Our saddles were designed following rigorous scientific research, but we’d welcome an independent scientific study into the effect of saddles on horses.”

A spokesman for Albion Saddlemakers added: “We welcome serious, unbiased scientific research — we are only too aware of the consequences of ill-considered equipment.”

A spokesman for Devoucoux said any scientific evidence about the effect of saddles on welfare and performance is welcome.

But the research has been questioned by the Society of Master Saddlers (SMS), saying the association with Solution Saddles discredits any findings.

A statement from the SMS said it “applauds any research” by any “bona fide group”.

But an SMS spokesman said: “On the surface it looks like the research is independent, but it is run by a saddle company. We are the foremost organisation in saddle research and have not been approached at all.”

SRG director David Bondi said: “What our team is doing is laudable and we are proud of it — we should have support from the industry. As far as we are aware, there is no work published on this topic in scientific journals.”

The results will be revealed later this year.

This article was first published in Horse & Hound (6 August, ’09)