Everything Else

Saddle Research Trust – Part 5. – Dr Katja von Peinen: The Effects of Saddle Design and Function.

Screen shot 2014-12-11 at 15.08.54Dr Katja von Peinen had come over from the University of Zurich for the Conference and workshops, and was a very enthusiastic speaker. Her lecture was delivered in pretty much flawless English, so I’m sure a couple of typos on the slides can be overlooked! It was a fascinating lecture.

[I’ve used as many pics of the slides as I can, as I thought the photos and images were very helpful. If you click on any of the pictures, it’ll change to a much large version that’s easier to read.]


Her opening remark really got our attention:

Q: “What saddle should I buy for my horse?
A: “The one that fits.”

Screen shot 2014-12-11 at 15.14.42Symptoms of a badly fitting saddle.








What does a well-fitting saddle look like?

Screen shot 2014-12-11 at 15.15.44

The most critical area of the saddle.


Physics: force, spread over area.

In studies, they were measuring pressure – also the ground force of horse’s strides. To see where the pressure was coming from.)







Screen shot 2014-12-11 at 15.10.32Images of pressure changes – 1/2 a second = 1/2 a stride.

[It was impressive/surprising how much movement there is, and how much the distribution (of pressure) changes.]


Only certain materials are able to adapt to such fast changes in pressure distribution.



Screen shot 2014-12-11 at 15.10.51Position of rider alters pressure distribution.

Screen shot 2014-12-11 at 15.10.11







Screen shot 2014-12-11 at 15.11.16

Different head plates on the same horse. The lines clearly show which is the correct fit, and why.

Screen shot 2014-12-11 at 15.11.53

Different materials for panel filling.

Use quality wool for flocking.
‘Sandwich panels’ use wool and foam.



Memory foam is NOT the material to use – it doesn’t react fast enough to the changes. It is not used any more in panels.

Memory foam compresses in high-pressure areas and then does not react/relax fast enough when the pressure is removed, then pressed again… so, more pressure is transferred.


Screen shot 2014-12-11 at 15.12.07Screen shot 2014-12-11 at 15.09.38







Blue and green colours – maximal pressure picture

Difference in walk and posting trot.

“Posting trot is the worst thing you can do.”

Screen shot 2014-12-11 at 15.12.57

Screen shot 2014-12-11 at 15.12.23


Pressure pictures show if saddle is not fitting:
Red shows asymmetric muscle tension.
When rider stands up in the stirrups at trot, the saddle can pinch on the withers as the horse steps forward.

What pressure harms the horse?

“Must be able to interpret the pretty pictures the right way.”

Screen shot 2014-12-11 at 15.15.10

Patterns from 3 different tree types










Screen shot 2014-12-11 at 15.14.26Dry spots after riding under the saddle area: the sweat glands need the blood supply. So, no sweat production = an indicator of a dry spot => sore in the same area.

Effects on the horse of an ill-fitting saddle: (in ascending order of damage, from clockwise at bottom of pic)

Dry patch, curly hair, white spots or white patches, swelling on saddle area, open sores.

If the horse is being pinched, it will be hollowing, not wanting to round.

V girth on saddle always gives a higher pressure.

Foam panels are worse if the saddle does not fit.
Foam is “Meaner to the horse.”

Different trees give different pressure.

Screen shot 2014-12-11 at 15.15.22Pics of pressure map with treeless – pressure areas clearly visible on spine from two seat bones. (Although, this was just ONE type of treeless saddle.)

Decide whether it is rider, saddle, or horse which creates the pressure?

Some saddle pads worsen pressure under the saddle because the materials cannot react fast enough with the changes.

Lowest pressure was preferred, particularly by (younger) blood horses.

In her opinion, if you want to use a pad:

sheepskin adapts to pressure changes best, but only IF the saddle was FITTED with the sheepskin pad.

Dr Katja said that she would ideally like to have more funding to be able to do studies into the many different materials on the market (pads, saddle pads etc).


About the author



  • I have been saying these things for years. As a Physical Therapist specializing in neuro-motor re-training and positioning and with a background in physics and kinesiology, this is obvious. There are more pressing issues in saddle fit and rider position and forces generated. Lets move on.

  • I have been riding and competing horses for decades and have never heard some of the things she mentions, for instance that rising trot is “the worst thing you can do”.
    Did you do research into ‘these things’, Stacey?
    One main point that the SRT stressed was that they want all this useful information to get out there.
    Do you have any comments on the other articles about the SRT Conference that I’ve published so far?