Hawson, L., McLean, A., McGreevy, P. 2013. A retrospective survey of riders’ opinions of the use of saddle pads in horses. Journal of Veterinary Behavior, 8 (2), 74-81.
Horse riders have used layers between saddles and their horse’s back since ancient times. Despite the apparent common usage of such layers, most research regarding pressures under horses’ saddles seems to have been conducted without such layers present. An online survey of equestrian riders was conducted to quantify the use of such layers and how the layers behaved during use. This produced 1,011 responses from participants in 16 equestrian activities. More than 98% of respondents reported they used some form of layer between their horse’s back and the saddle. Differences in layer usage were associated with the respondent’s preferred riding discipline and the wither type of their horse. Compensation for perceived saddle fit problems was commonly cited as a reason for using layers. Although horse comfort was nominated by 87.5% of respondents as a reason for using a layer between saddle and the horse’s back, many respondents (45%) reported using more than 1 layer. This often resulted in layers thicker than 1 cm, which paradoxically could compromise horse welfare. Half of the respondents reported that the layer between the saddle and the horse’s back slipped during riding. Although some significant risk factors for this slippage were identified, they are deemed not to be definitive because of similar factors being identified by the group who did not report layer slippage. These results suggest that incorrect usage of layer between saddles and horses’ backs can sabotage good saddle design and compromise equine welfare. Future research on the layers used between the saddles and horses’ back is warranted. The question of whether using thicker layers can create greater pressure under saddles or improve rider–horse communication also needs to be investigated