Several years ago “dry spots” became a very big worry for a lot of NZ equestrians. Uneducated sources spreading misinformation stating that any sign of a dry area on the saddle blanket meant that the saddle was not fitting. This is not the case. A saddles fit can never be solely judged by the sweat patterns alone. When added to the overall picture and assessment of saddle, horse and rider they can be helpful and monitoring them is a good idea.
Any time you sit on a horses back, with or without a saddle, there will be pressure from the riders weight. This is unavoidable if you wish to ride your horse! A saddle that is fitting well will evenly distribute rider weight/pressure and in turn allow the horse to carry the rider easily and comfortably.
Dry spots under a saddle are certainly related to pressure just as the wetter areas are related to friction. It is expected that there will be some wetness at the back of the saddle and more dryness at the front.
A correctly fitted saddle will have a small amount of movement (which I call “breathing”) at the back as the rider weights and unweights the seat when riding. As a general rule the larger the dry area is at the front and often in the waist area, the more evenly the weight is distributed. That being said, there is no definite answer correlating between dry spots and a saddles fit.
There are so many factors that contribute to sweat patterns and dry areas appearing under a saddle. The most common of these factors are:
- Horses conformation: a horse with downhill conformation will wear a saddle differently to one with uphill conformation. Other conformation issues that may contribute to dry areas are; angle and placement of girth groove, asymmetry or shape of shoulders, length & angles of back etc.
- Horses fitness, condition & way of going: a horse that is fit & in good condition who is working correctly, straight & balanced will carry a saddle very differently to a weak, unfit horse that lacks straightness and symmetry.
- Rider size: a rider that is proportional in both height and weight for the horse and saddle will impact the saddle differently to a rider that is too large or heavy for the horse/saddle.
- Riders balance, fitness level and way of riding: a balanced, fit rider will be stiller on the saddle compared to an unbalanced or unfit rider. If the rider is moving excessively or is very dominant on one side this will be putting uneven pressure on the saddle & horses back.
- Type of saddle blanket or padding used: different styles, thicknesses & materials of saddle blanket can impact the dry areas.
- Quality & type of girth used: A good quality girth will not have excessive stretch which is commonly seen in poor quality girths. Excessive stretch allows excessive movement and therefore an unstable fit. Single sided elastic allows for more give on one side, therefore impacting stability. - Type of riding & time spent in saddle: A several hour trek at walk, over mixed terrain is very different to a short, intense schooling session. Dressage vs jumping vs hunting - all disciplines vary so different results are expected.
- Suitability & fit of the saddle: the saddles tree profile, width, panel design, girthing arrangement etc will all impact the fit, weight bearing and pressure distribution on the horses back.
- Balance of the saddle: if the horse has changed shape, condition, fitness etc your saddle may need rebalancing, customising or width adjusting to perfect the fit, even out pressure distribution and increase stability.
- Placement of the saddle: a saddle that is placed incorrectly, either too far forward or too far back will not be giving the most sympathetic weight bearing nor stability.
There are many more factors that can effect your ride and in turn the appearance of dry spots.
The types of dry spots that ring alarm bells are:
- Asymmetric dry patches
- Very small dry spots under the points of the tree (golf ball size or smaller)
- Thin horizontal dry spots under the stirrup bar
- White hairs appearing in the same position as the small dry areas
- Any time there is associated tension, reaction or discomfort when palpating in that area.
The top two images show a large dry area which shows pressure is well distributed throughout saddle area. The bottom image shows a small dry spot which is indicates poor weight and pressure distribution.
The moral of the story is that every single case, horse/rider combination is unique and needs to be assessed accordingly. I believe that keeping an eye on sweat patterns is a good thing to do, just as you should continually monitor horses condition, weight and comfort throughout body etc. Don't get too hung up on your sweat patterns. As with any issue or concern in regards to saddle fitting all contributing factors need to be looked at in order to properly diagnose and resolve any issues you may have.