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Saddle Research Trust Conference – Part 2. Anne Bondi: Horses, Saddles and Riders, Applying the Science.

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Even elite riders can be asymmetric.

Anne Bondi is a BHSI and the Director of the SRT, the founder of Solution treeless Saddles, as well as having competed successfully to 3* level.

The effects of the saddle.

Saddles can affect performance in a variety of different ways.

Einstein: “Nothing happens until something moves.”

Because the horse moves the rider through translational movement, the rider must continually adjust. The manner in which the horse carries the rider will affect the way the rider sits – poise, etc.

“Equitation remains an Art which is very difficult to master” and “Teaching this Art is also very difficult.”

Saddle movements:

ROLL  most in trot
YAW   most in walk
PITCH  most in canter

Walk is very good for Lower Back Pain in riders. Also, brisk walking on foot moves/loosens the pelvis.
Back pain – mobility is the answer.

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Saddle problems have been recognised as an important clinical performance-impairing problem in the equine athlete. (Jeffcott 1979)

Asymmetry in the horse causes asymmetry in the movement of the saddle, affecting the rider.

Also, rider asymmetries are common.

A typical Right handed rider:
Right leg appears shorter because it is more flexed at the hip.
Right leg turns out more.
The Left leg appears longer.
The upper body has inverted rotations compared to the pelvis.
In a study, 89% of riders had a greater rotation of their right hip.

(compare to:
notes from Part 1: in the study of Rider Posture by Jill Alexander, of 10 Female right-dominant experienced dressage riders:
Typical – round backed, collapsed in Left hip, with trunk and pelvis twisted to the Right.)

The pelvis moves with the saddle, the upper body then reacts. This can cause back problems in the rider.

Xsens motion capture analysis – sensors in a suit on the rider. Can be used for a whole session, for a dressage test, SJ, and XC. The wire’s range is the only limit.


Screen shot 2014-12-04 at 12.50.54Studies show a wide variation in rider pelvis positions.

Seated posture increases tendency towards a kyphotic lumbar spine posture. (i.e. rounded)

Rowers, cyclists and riders all do ‘sitting down sports’ and often suffer from LBP (Lower Back Pain). Approximately 50% of rowers suffer from it.

Other problems caused by saddles:
Approximately 91% of male cyclists have seat injuries – chafing, ischial tuberosity pain, impotence, erectile disfunction.
Female cyclists have significantly more urological complaints than the general population.

[At this point a rather shocking image of a condition called ‘Cyclist’s labia’ came up on the screen, causing a bit of a hubbub. You should all be glad that I was too shocked to remember to take a photo of it! Suffice it to say that anyone with this now-recognised condition would probably not want to sit in a saddle for a good while, since it looked horribly swollen and very sore.]

How to measure horse/saddle/rider interaction?

Measuring pressure only is insufficient.

Sensor systems measure downward pressure only, so shearing/asymmetrical forces will be underestimated.

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The effects of loading on the horse

Rider can be moving with or opposing the movement of the horse. The latter creates stronger forces. Head-on photos of riders in half-pass, one upright over the horse’s centre of gravity and obviously going ‘with’ the movement, one with their torso well ‘behind’ the movement, showed this very clearly.

Tilt of posture in pelvis – indicator of shear force. e.g. if the rider is leaning backwards, this indicates that the shear force of the seat is going in the opposite direction. (i.e. they are ‘driving’ with the seat.)

Problems: an unending cycle of physio/saddler/vet for lameness issues. Potential to result in a permanently damaged horse.

Symptom: a horse working in a degree of pain/discomfort will often ‘chip one in’ before a fence. Anticipation of pain, can cause distraction, lack of confidence.

There is no mandatory follow-up check for a horse after a fall, but there is for the rider, before s/he can compete again.

Injuries from the saddle itself – the tree – during falls. Deformable saddles (Solution and similar) eliminate this risk.

Public opinion is increasingly intolerant of perceived abuse of horses.

Effect of badly fitted saddle on rider as well as horse. e.g. if the saddle tips them forward.
Lower Back Pain causes bracing legs etc.

If the saddle is fitted to the rider too, it makes a big difference.  This is a point that was made in a later lecture by Sue Dyson too: if the rider has lower back pain, check the fit of the saddle to horse AND rider.










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