Saddles In Tack Room

Hartpury University PhD student awarded studentship to improve saddle fit for horses

Saddles In Tack Room

A Hartpury University PhD student has been awarded a funded studentship to carry out groundbreaking research to improve saddle fit for horses. This exciting opportunity has been made possible through funding from the Worshipful Company of Saddlers and supports Hartpury’s ongoing and dynamic research partnership with the Society of Master Saddlers

Gemma Penhorwood is also a former lecturer at Hartpury. Her PhD, titled ‘The interrelationship between optimal saddle fit and horse health, welfare, and performance’, is set to revolutionise the understanding of saddle fit and its impact on equine wellbeing and performance. The study has been welcomed by industry, given the limited evidence available regarding the association between correct saddle fit and its health benefits for horses. There is also a noticeable lack of quantitative data on the optimal time periods between saddle fit checks to maintain saddlery fit, back health, and locomotor function. 

The comprehensive scope of Gemma’s PhD research promises to deliver invaluable sights into the essential link between saddle fit and equine wellbeing, offering evidence-based guidance for horse owners, riders and the equestrian industry at large.

The research will aim to address critical gaps by:

  • Quantifying the magnitude and rate of change in back dimensions in a large group of sport and recreational riding horses over time.
  • Investigating the interrelationship between frequency of saddle fit checks and indicators of horse health, welfare, locomotor function, and performance. This will be achieved by comparing three distinct groups of horses: a control group subject to regular saddle fit checks, a group having saddle fit checks at intervals of less than once per year, and a group that has never undergone a saddle fit check.

Gemma shared her enthusiasm for the project, commenting: “I cannot describe how happy I am to be welcomed into this research team. I believe providing evidence to how quickly the back dimensions change in horses will also inform how quickly changes can occur in saddle fit. Hopefully, this will result in clear messaging for how frequently saddles should be checked to the equestrian industry, and in turn have a real impact on the health and welfare outcomes of the ridden horse population.”

Dr Kathryn Nankervis, Associate Professor at Hartpury University said: “Gemma’s research represents a significant step forward in understanding the crucial relationship between saddle fit and horse health. It has the potential to inform best practice within the equestrian industry and provide tangible benefits for the welfare and performance of horses.”

The collaboration between Gemma the Worshipful Company of Saddlers, and the Society of Master Saddlers exemplifies the partnership’s commitment to advancing knowledge and promoting equine welfare within the industry. Like other research projects at Hartpury University, it has the potential to be far-reaching and holds promise to improve the lives of horses and riders alike. 

Research carried out by Hartpury University, submitted as part of the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2021 process, has been recognised as ‘world-leading’ and ‘internationally excellent’, placing Hartpury amongst a prestigious group of well-established institutions. These activities add to the wider teaching experience for students, bringing learning to life. In September 2023, Hartpury University was rated Gold in all three areas of the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF).