“Back problems are unfortunately particularly common in horses. This may be due to factors such as poor saddle fit and or design, overweight and or uneven riders, inappropriate use or design of other tack such as girths and saddle pads, inappropriate training and failure of owners and vets to identify back problems at an early stage in their development.
Fundamentally, we should not be surprised that riding horses causes back injury; horses can carry a rider on a saddle, but that does not mean that they were designed to. Remember that most riders represent an increase on the horses back of 15% of its own bodyweight. That’s equivalent to an 80kg person carrying around a rucksack with 6 large 2 litre bottles of Coke!
Despite the fact that that horses have been ridden with saddles for thousands of years it is only within recent years that vets and scientists have begun to turn their attention to the role that the saddle and associated tack such as saddle pads may play in contributing to or protecting against back problems in horses.
Saddle pads therefore have the potential to alter the interaction between the saddle and the horse but they can also potentially have negative effects. Sweating under a pad leads to hyperhydration of the skin; essentially the effect that you see on your own skin if you stay in the bath too long. This can make the skin more susceptible to abrasion and infection e.g. by ringworm or bacteria. Increased local temperatures can also lead to inflammation and soreness. This may lead to discomfort and the horse may try to alter how it moves in an attempt to reduce or avoid the discomfort, potentially leading to problems elsewhere e.g. in the limbs.
Saddle pads are widely used but current designs are all similar. Any design that significantly reduces pressure on the horses back and reduces sweating and heating leading to increased comfort whilst not interfering with the movement of the saddle would likely be beneficial.”
Dr David Marlin