The Saddle Research Trust conference spreads knowledge about equine welfare and performance around the world

Last month, a global audience tuned in to hear from leading equine veterinary clinicians, researchers and practitioners. World-class presenters shared their equine knowledge and disseminated the results of recent evidence-based studies at the Saddle Research Trust’s Fourth International Conference titled Welfare and Performance of the Mounted Horse: The Future.

“With this year’s full-day conference, we have proudly embraced the change to present a high-quality and accessible virtual event,” said Saddle Research Trust CEO Dr Jan Birch. “Thanks to the support of industry, universities and charities, and all of our sponsors, especially our generous title sponsors Neue Schule and WOW, we have reached a wider international audience than ever before, and the event continues to be watched around the world.”

Chaired by Professor René Van Weeren, the day opened with a welcome from the CEO of the Saddle Research Trust, Dr Jan Birch. World Horse Welfare Managing Director Roly Owers then presented a vision for the future of equestrian sport. He emphasized that the horse-human partnership underlies all riding and that we must train horses with respect, compassion and understanding. To safeguard the future of equestrian sport, we must safeguard the welfare of horses. “If we can do that, the future is bright,” he said.

apply science

In the first session titled ‘Applying the Science’, Professor Hilary Clayton delivered the keynote address on how the rider affects the welfare and performance of the ridden horse. She explained how rider asymmetry or too tall a rider can compromise performance, how synchronization of movement with the horse is often lacking, especially in less skilled riders, and how better performance is associated with minimal disturbance. by the rider.

Professor Heikki Handroos then showed how engineering science has been applied to develop a new generation of riding simulators, capable of providing a more “real” experience than those currently available on the market, for the benefit of cyclists of all levels. He explained how the system, which has a wide range of potential applications, also has potential as a hippotherapy tool, allowing the optimal gait pattern to be programmed for each patient. The system incorporates advanced sensor technology, which could also be used in riding schools to monitor the learning curves of riding students.

Through the Lens

In the second session of the day, leading veterinary authority on gait analysis, Dr. Filipe Serra Bragança, discussed significant technological advances for sophisticated objective gait analysis for research purposes. and clinical use. He explained that subjective agreement on lameness by veterinary/physiotherapist experts has been found to be low, but with the development of modern kinematic gait analysis, it is now possible to assess the horse/horse interaction. rider, analyze performance and quantify asymmetrical gait and lameness. . In addition, research has now started in the area of ​​equine breeding and phenotyping. He concluded that “the future is bright! »

Dr. Russell MacKechnie-Guire introduced the topic of saddle fit and discussed whether an objective approach is helpful or misleading. He pointed out that thermography is not a reliable tool to assess the fit of the saddle for the horse, that the dimensions of a horse’s back can change during the day and that although more and more d As pressure mapping devices become available, they are not necessarily accurate or validated. His take-home advice was to keep it simple, such as using markers placed on the horse, saddle and rider and using a smartphone to take videos.

Dr. Marie Dittmann went on to examine the high prevalence of ill-fitting saddles in selle suisse horses and the subsequent potential for compromised performance. She highlighted the association between the presence of back pain and ill-fitting saddles, but pointed out that horses have varying pain thresholds and therefore respond differently to discomfort. With his work showing that 95% of horse owners thought their saddle was an ideal fit, but only 10% of those assessed had no saddle fit issues, his take home message was that there should be more regular checking for changes in back shape and saddle fit. Therefore.

The horse as an actor

In the third session of the day, Dr. Sue Dyson presented the keynote on the application of the Mounted Horse Pain Ethogram (RHpE), which includes 24 behaviors (facial, body and gait). , the majority of which are at least 10 times more likely to be seen in a lame horse compared to a non-lame horse. Dr. Dyson explained that more experienced riders can improve gait quality and can in some cases mask lameness, but in a small number of cases can exacerbate it. A more experienced rider can also modify behaviors, but not reduce or conceal them; for example, with a beginner rider, the horse may show discomfort putting the head “over the bit”, but with a good rider, the horse may become too stooped.

Dr Dyson pointed out that horses with lower RHpE scores performed better in competitions than those with higher RHpE scores. This demonstrates that competitors are likely to have greater success competing with comfortable/healthy horses and that we have a moral responsibility to improve welfare and performance by recognizing a problem, identifying the cause and treating him.

Dr Rachel Murray went on to discuss the importance of bridle fit, stating that while there is much discussion of bit and noseband issues, there is little research on bridle fit. the bridle for optimal well-being and performance. She explained that the huge variability between horses in head shape, size and symmetry means that bridles must be fitted individually, taking facial asymmetry into account, and bridle stability is important. ; without a noseband, the bridle is less stable, which can allow the bit to move excessively, causing injury to the mouth. However, a tight noseband puts pressure on the nose, jaw and headpiece and limits movement. She raised the importance of routine dental care; many lesions in the mouth are not the result of the bit or noseband, but secondary to dental problems that could and should be taken care of.

Dr. Dyson went on to discuss what can be learned from observing the behaviors of horses during hitching and riding. She said some horse owners think their horse’s behaviors are normal for their horse, such as putting their ears back when the girth is tightened or during ruging. Gastric ulcers are also often considered a cause of “fattening”, but can be secondary to lameness.

The hot topics of the moment were discussed during the final session

Dr. Dee Pollard looked at equestrian road safety, finding that traffic hazard is a barrier to equestrian activities. Road safety actors, local authorities and governments must work towards a more inclusive transport system.

Dr Celeste Wilkins discussed the analysis of the dynamic technique of dressage riders, stressing that it is essential that riders are assessed during movement, as the posture of the rider when stationary does not indicate how he is will sit when actively influencing the horse.

Sofia Forino examined self-perception of body image among female riders, finding that a higher level of self-awareness while riding was correlated with their perceived body image being far above the “ideal”.

An open forum at the end of the presentations allowed listeners to ask questions. These included the legal minefield of using gait analysis during pre-purchase reviews, the need to use gait analysis in conjunction with clinical assessment, and the value potential of a riding stimulator to help riders learn specific movements and reduce repetitive strain injuries in horses.

To close the conference, Richard Davison reflected on the day’s proceedings, concluding that new research is essential to move the equestrian sector forward; as riders we need to develop our understanding of equine behavior and support other riders to improve welfare and maintain public support for riding.

The reading of the conference is available until January 10, 2022, and additional access to the journal (individual sessions) will be available from the end of January. Tickets for the full reading are at the price of the live stream; £80 plus booking fee, while individual sessions from January 2022 will be £15 per session plus booking fee.

To book your tickets, go to

To find out more, visit the Saddle Research Trust, visit the new website at

Donald E. Patel