Saddle Research Day

A new study at Hartpury University could inform saddle fit guidelines for riders

Saddle Research Day

An exciting new research study being led by Hartpury University aims to produce industry-wide guidelines relating to saddle fit for the rider. It is hoped that the guidelines will add to existing guidance employed by The Society of Master Saddlers (SMS) for saddle fit for the horse.

The study is funded by The Worshipful Company of Saddlers and is being led by Dr. Kathryn Nankervis (Associate Professor at Hartpury University) and Dr. Russell MacKechnie-Guire (Reader in Biomechanics (Research) at Hartpury University) in conjunction with The Society of Master Saddlers research committee.

Despite widespread recognition that saddle fit in relation to the rider is an important consideration when fitting a saddle to the horse, and rider partnership, there remains no published guidance on rider-specific aspects.

As part of the funded collaborative study, Hartpury previously measured areas of agreement between a cohort of SMS qualified saddle fitters (QSFs) and coaches when assessing saddle fit in relation to a rider when riding on a riding simulator. 

As an extension to the simulator-based study, 60 horses and riders joined saddle fitters and coaches at Hartpury on Friday 26 January, to apply the same observational approaches under conditions where horses are ridden overground. The aim of the data collection day was to once again find areas where there is a good level of agreement between saddle fitters and coaches when assessing saddle fit for the rider during real-world walk, trot and canter, in order to establish the most pertinent features relating to saddle fit.

All the experienced professionals who participated were volunteers, and the day was supported by BSc (Hons) Equestrian Sports Coaching students who are frequently involved with research activities and events to support their studies. Dissertation students will now help research staff to analyse the results from the data collection day, before findings are presented to industry experts (including the SMS research committee) for feedback prior to publication.

In return for their time, delegates and students were treated to an afternoon of CPD around the topic of bridle fit, delivered by Kathryn and Russell and followed by an engaging group discussion sharing inter-disciplinary observations. 

Dr. Kathryn Nankervis, Associate Professor at Hartpury University said: “This ambitious study sets out to provide evidence-based guidance developed in conjunction with the saddle fitters and coaches tasked with working with all types of riders, from recreational novice riders to sporting professionals. Improving our understanding of how best to support riders to ride ‘in balance’ will have benefits not only for rider training but for the combined health, welfare and performance of horse and rider partnerships. 

We’re grateful to The Worshipful Company of Saddlers for funding the project and to The Society of Master Saddlers for their enthusiastic and supportive involvement throughout our research. I’d also like to thank the volunteers, all the coaches and fitters, and the horses and riders who are playing such a pivotal role in the research.”

It was recently announced that Gemma Penhorwood had been awarded a funded studentship to carry out a PhD at Hartpury University, titled ‘The interrelationship between optimal saddle fit and horse health, welfare, and performance’. The study is set to revolutionise the understanding of saddle fit and its impact on equine wellbeing and performance and will add to the overall contribution from Hartpury in this area.

Students studying an equine diploma, undergraduate or postgraduate degree are actively encouraged to take advantage of Hartpury’s extensive industry links and activities, including research projects like these. Working alongside equine scientists, trainers, entrepreneurs and other professionals, students develop their expertise in line with industry best practice, and contribute to research that advances welfare standards, as well as performance for the horse and rider.

Hartpury University’s research outputs continue to grow each year and research submitted as part of the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2021 process was recognised as ‘world-leading’ and ‘internationally excellent’. Teaching at Hartpury University was also rated triple Gold in the latest Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) 2023.