Objectives: To assess associations between data obtained by clinical assessment and those provided by riders via a questionnaire.
Study design: Clinical assessment of a convenience sample of horses and riders compared with a Web-based questionnaire survey (n = 205).
Methods: Horse thoracolumbar asymmetries at predetermined sites, the presence of lameness (in hand and/or ridden), saddle slip, saddle fit/management and rider straightness were assessed. Kappa statistics were used to assess the relationship between categorical clinical data and questionnaire data from riders. Spearman's correlation was used to investigate associations between outcomes from clinical assessment (horse, saddle and rider data) and information provided by riders.
Results: There was a 40.5% (205 of 506) questionnaire response rate. Thirty horses (14.6%) had saddle slip, which was significantly associated with hindlimb lameness or gait abnormalities (P<0.001), but only 2 riders had considered a link between saddle slip and lameness. Rider back pain was common (38.5%) and associated with ill-fitting saddles (P = 0.03) and either a quadrupedally reduced cranial phase of the step or a stiff, stilted canter (P = 0.006). Well-fitted saddles were associated with frequent saddle fit checks (P = 0.004). Minor thoracolumbar asymmetries (P = 0.04) were negatively associated with ill-fitting saddles and positively associated with rider skill level (P = 0.001).
Conclusions: The interaction between the horse, saddle and rider is complex. Ill-fitting saddles and a stiff, stilted canter or quadrupedally reduced cranial phase of the step are associated with rider back pain. Equine back pain and minor thoracolumbar asymmetries are associated with ill-fitting saddles. Saddle fit should be checked more often than once yearly to lower the number of ill-fitting saddles. Riders, trainers and other professionals involved in equine care and performance need better education to recognise ill-fitting saddles, lameness, saddle slip and rider crookedness.
Keywords: back pain; gait abnormality; horse; lameness; rider position; saddle slip.
© 2014 EVJ Ltd.
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