‘Ambitious’ study on saddle fit for riders to help horses

  • An “ambitious” study at Hartpury University will have benefits for horse welfare and performance, and rider training, it is hoped.

    The aim of the research, led by Kathryn Nankervis and Russell MacKechnie-Guire, with the Society of Master Saddlers (SMS) research committee, is to produce industry-wide guidelines on saddle fit for the rider, to add to existing guidance on saddle fit for the horse.

    “Despite widespread recognition that saddle fit in relation to the rider is an important consideration when fitting a saddle to the horse, and rider partnership, there remains no published guidance on rider-specific aspects,” a Hartpury spokesman said.

    The team had looked at agreement between SMS saddle-fitters and coaches when assessing saddle fit, using a rider on a simulator. As an extension on 26 January, 60 horses and riders joined fitters and coaches at Hartpury to collect data.

    “The aim was to once again find areas where there is a good level of agreement between saddle fitters and coaches when assessing saddle fit for the rider during real-world walk, trot and canter, in order to establish the most pertinent features relating to saddle fit,” the spokesman said.

    Dissertation students will help research staff analyse the results, then findings will be presented to industry experts including the SMS research committee, for feedback before the study is published.

    Dr Nankervis, associate professor at Hartpury, said: “This ambitious study sets out to provide evidence-based guidance developed in conjunction with the saddle-fitters and coaches tasked with working with all types of riders, from recreational novice riders to sporting professionals. Improving our understanding of how best to support riders to ride ‘in balance’ will have benefits not only for rider training but for the combined health, welfare and performance of horse and rider partnerships.

    “We’re grateful to the Worshipful Company of Saddlers for funding the project and the SMS for their enthusiastic and supportive involvement throughout our research. I’d also like to thank the volunteers, all the coaches and fitters, and the horses and riders who are playing such a pivotal role in the research.”

    It has also been announced that Gemma Penhorwood has been awarded a funded studentship to carry out a PhD at Hartpury University: “The interrelationship between optimal saddle fit and horse health, welfare, and performance”. The study is “set to revolutionise the understanding of saddle fit and its impact on equine wellbeing and performance and will add to the overall contribution from Hartpury in this area”, the spokesman said.

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