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Saddle Research Trust Conference – Part 3. Dr Sue Dyson: What Causes Saddle Slip?

Dr Sue Dyson should need no introduction, she is a legend in the field of competition horse lameness diagnosis and treatment, working out of the AHT in Newmarket.

After this presentation, I am confident that I now know a LOT more about what causes saddle slippage, and what it can indicate. I hope this report is worth reading for anyone involved with competition horses. There were a couple of things in the results of Dr Dyson’s  studies that really surprised me, but which made total sense when explained.


Screen shot 2014-12-04 at 13.54.17

Clear asymmetry

Saddle Slip consistently to one side may occur because of:
A crooked rider
An ill-fitting saddle
Asymmetry in a horse’s thoracolumbar shape

Asymmetry can cause:
Muscle soreness
White hairs
Lack of sweating
Asymmetrical hair wear

Saddle slip as an indicator of hindlimb lameness.

Results of 1 study:
11 sound horses 0% saddle slip
26 with forelimb lameness (4% saddle slip)
20 with sacroiliac joint region pain and/or back pain (0% saddle slip)
71 with hindlimb lameness (54% saddle slip)
of which 20 horses had unilateral HL lameness
of which 51 horses had bliateral HL lameness

Screen shot 2014-12-04 at 14.05.49

Templates were taken with a flexible curve, and compared L-R R-L to determine asymmetry.

Hindlimb lameness and saddle slip.

USUALLY, but not always, the saddle slipped to the side of the lame limb.

There was a greater tendency to slippage on rounder-shaped horses.

Degree of saddle slip was reduced by reduction of pain (diagnostic analgesia.)
Always analysed with the same rider before and after analgesia.

97% of saddle slip was eliminated with diagnostic analgesia.

Asymmetrically flocked saddles – horses with these were still slipping the saddle to the side even after diagnostic analgesia. Both of these cases were lame in front too.

Presence of worn hair on the back is a reliable prediction of asymmetrical movement of the saddle.


Screen shot 2014-12-04 at 14.23.024 categories of back shape (pictured)

1 Concave
2 Straight
3 Convex
4 Very convex

There was NO correlation between asymmetry and saddle slip.
All horses with saddle slip had a very small degree of asymmetry.
5 horses had a large degree of asymmetry and NO saddle slip.

In 86% of horses with hindlimb lameness, the saddle slipped to the side of the lame leg.
In 14% it slipped to the side of the non-lame leg.

If the rider rode with no stirrups, or in sitting trot, there was much less or NO saddle slip.

In 52% of horses with hindleg lameness, saddle slip was shown. It was resolved by diagnostic analgesia in 97% of cases.

There was NO association between the severity of the lameness and the presence/absence of saddle slip.

Individual horses appear to adapt their gaits differently (to discomfort/pain).

Screen shot 2014-12-04 at 17.26.41Hindlimb lameness can cause back stiffness. It affects the movement of the back.

Saddle slip is consistently worse:
on circles not straight lines
in rising trot not sitting
in canter not trot.

It was MORE pronounced with a lighter rider on a horse with hindleg lameness. `With an asymmetrically pannelled saddle, it was worse with a heavier rider.

A heavier rider can counterbalance the slippage more.

If the saddle is slipping, seek help from (not in order):
Professional saddle fitter
Vet – lameness work up
and check that the rider is sitting and riding straight.

Survey of 506 sport horses in normal work. (Which the riders believed to be ‘sound’)
Of those 506, 46% had lameness.
23.5% had hindleg lameness
62 horses had saddle slip.

30% of the horses with saddle slip had NO detectable hindlimb lameness but 14 of them exhibited a hindleg gait abnormality.

=> odds ratio of 52.6 times:
Hind limb lameness -> saddle slip
Crooked rider had an odds ratio of 5.6

78.6% of horses ridden by crooked riders did NOT have saddle slip.

Rider crookedness can be an effect of saddle slip.

!!!Better fitting saddles are MORE likely to slip!!!  (Yes, you read that right.)

e.g. a saddle which bridges (i.e. does not fit well) won’t be connecting with the T13 area, where most of the movement is, so is LESS likely to slip!

Presence of saddle slip may be an indicator that lameness is present.

Screen shot 2014-12-04 at 17.30.58There was NO relation shown between forelimb lameness and saddle slip.

In clinics they often put a treeless saddle on if the owner’s saddle did not fit, as the treeless is more likely to adapt to the horse.

If anyone wants to see more of this study, there are links from the Saddle Research Trust website.


Riders, trainers and other professionals involved in equine care and performance need more education to recognise lameness, saddle slip, ill-fitting saddles and rider crookedness.

Saddle slippage is NOT necessarily the saddle or the saddle fitter’s fault!!!!

There is NO correlation/standard between the cause/position of the pain and the way the individual horse adapts.

Dr Sue Dyson: “I’ve spent 34 years looking at lame horses, and I can’t tell where/how a horse is lame by how it moves.






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  • Hi, I was at the conference and the result was there was LESS saddle slip when the heavier rider was on compared to a lighter rider. you have it the wring way around. thanks

  • Hi Nicola,
    I’ve gone back through my notes and they say “More pronounced – heavier rider – if asymmetric panels” so I will contact the SRT and ask which of us has it down correctly. She definitely said that a heavier rider could correct a slipping saddle better. I’ll check and update. Thanks.

  • Hi Nicola,
    I just had a reply from Charlotte at the SRT, who has gone back through the original Paper and replied:

    I’ve just had a look at the full paper to double check and these are the results:

    ”In horses with saddle slip which was abolished by resolution of
    hindlimb lameness, saddle slip was consistently greatest with a lighter
    weight rider; however, when saddle slip was related to an
    asymmetrical saddle, slip was greater with a heavier weight rider .”

    So your notes are correct : hindlimb lameness = saddle slip greater with lighter weight rider BUT asymmetrical saddle = saddle slip greater with heavier weight rider.

    Perhaps the other person isn’t distinguishing between the 2 x different sources of saddle slip? As with regards to hindlimb lameness, saddle slip was less with a heavier rider (as per what the other person has said), but this is different to saddle slip being greater with a heavier rider when the saddle is asymmetrical. I hope that makes sense!

    I hope that clarifies it for you. I’ve edited the post slightly to make it clearer, too. Thanks. All the best, Kerry