Saddle Fitting With Pressure Pad Analysis

So for some time I felt that Tru (the horse I owned) was displaying signs of poor saddle fit. When I would go to put the saddle on he would pin his ears and swish his tail – which are signs of pain and discomfort. He also would display some of the same issues under saddle when I asked for different movements. I not only wanted a good saddle fitter to look at him I also wanted to be able to see the different pressure points and how my saddles were fitting on a more scientific level using pressure pad technology used for wheelchair or bed bound people.

Why does it matter? Saddle fit is important because it’s our connection to the horse and helps distribute the weight of the rider well. A good saddle fitter can identify problems with saddle fit based on their eye and touch and by measuring and tracing the horse’s withers and back but I thought if we had the technology to really see the pressure and how it was fitting why not give it a shot. 

A poorly fitting saddle can hinder the horse’s ability to perform well. Imagine if every time I asked you to do something and it hurt. . . You wouldn’t want to do it! If I am asking a horse to lift its back and each time they do the saddle hurts them then they don’t want to lift their back for fear that the saddle might pinch them.

I did a google search and found that almost in my backyard there was a lady doing it and had one! Her name is Brita Rizzi and her company is Dynamic Equine Saddle Fitting. She does an array of services but I was mainly interested in the pressure pad technology. 

My saddles hadn’t been checked in over a year and I knew Tru had changed a lot in that time and wanted to make sure I was doing everything I could to make him happy so he could perform at his best.

Brita took measurements of his back so she could tell the computer program where his muscles in his back inserted into his spine. Also, she calculated where his ribs where to determine the right skeletal model for the computer.

Measuring Tru’s back

Once she put all of that into the computer she brought out the pad.

From her website:

“The pressure pad consists of 256 thin sensors which are sewn into a textile like material. The scan is done with the all the saddles pads the rider usually puts under the saddle (half pads, cotton pads etc) since it is important to see how the saddle scans with all pads in place. The pressure sensor pad is contoured and therefore conforms to the horse’s back with generous wither clearance. Any false readings can therefore be eliminated. The sensor pad is the most expensive and most sensitive element of this scanning system.”

So we put the pad on first, then all of the stuff he normally wears on top. 

Tru wearing the pressure pad
Pressure pad with my saddle

She then had me get on and do some rising trot both directions so she could see the saddle in action. Brita wanted rising trot as opposed to sitting or 2point as the posting gave a good amount of pressure and release in the saddle. 2 point was not enough and sitting was too much. She recorded me live while the pressure pad was on and showing live the pressure. That way if the horse showed severe aversion to something I was doing we could see exactly where the pressure was during the aversion (ears pinning, bucking, kicking out, swishing tail, etc).

2 saddles are included in the analysis. I had my jump saddle done first. I wanted a before and after to see the difference. Once we put the pad on you could see all the different colors. She warned me that Thoroughbreds tended to show a lot more red color on the computer from the pressure, but that wasn’t a bad thing, just that the pad was a little too sensitive for the bony backs of the TB’S.

This picture is the before picture. Per Britta, “1st – your jumping saddle with the sheepskin half pad before I worked on it (added some wool and balanced the flocking). Too much pressure in the front since there was not enough wool in this area.”

Analysis of my jump saddle with the sheepskin half pad before

She noticed a lot of pressure in the front of the saddle so she added some wool to my Patrick jump saddle to balance it out which is something you can only do with wool flocked saddles, if my saddle had foam flocking there wouldn’t be much you could do.

We put the pad on again to see the difference –

“2nd – your jumping saddle after I worked on it. Visible less pressure under the front part of the saddle and better pressure distribution. The ‘red’ is not necessarily bad. As I explained to you on the TB’s it gets triggered quicker since they are so lean.”

Analysis of my jump saddle with the sheepskin half pad after

She thought the Patrick jump saddle was great for him.

It was noticed in both saddles that there was not much lighting up on the right side of the saddles. She said this is probably due to not as much muscle on the right side, so I have my homework of strengthening his right side to build more muscle there. It would be interesting to see if I get another scan done down the road how much would change.

We moved onto my dressage saddle, which is older.

She felt that the saddle was not the best fit, but after the pressure pad analysis it was determined it wasn’t as bad as she thought – but I better start saving for a new one.

“3rd – your dressage saddle. Generally the shape of the saddle is good; the panels are just very hard and even the sheepskin half pad cannot make up for this”.

Analysis of my dressage saddle

The software can break down and show you the saddle fit on the musculature and skeletal systems of your horse. So you can see through the layers to make sure the saddle not only is good pressure wise but also size wise for your horses back. For instance – a too long saddle will put pressure on structures in the horses back that aren’t as well suited to hold weight.

“4th – your dressage saddle which shows the muscles under the saddle (same image as number 3 just with the muscles displayed).

Dressage Saddle showing the muscling

5th – your dressage saddle with the skeleton. Shows that the length of the saddle is good and does not go past the last rib”.

Dressage saddle showing the skeleton

Overall I was very happy with my experience with Brita! She answered all my questions and was very personable and took her time with us. Her prices are very reasonable and wasn’t trying to sell me a saddle I didn’t need. 

Brita offers many different services from saddle fitting, flocking, and now offers bitting clinics. Since bits are so expensive she has partnered with Herm Sprenger so she can bring a number of different bits to your barn and have you try before you buy. Helps fit the bit to the horse’s mouth and teaches you along the way.

You can find out more at her website

Happy Riding!