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Preventing Your Horse Getting Saddle Sores

Updated on June 17, 2019
DonnaCSmith profile image

Donna Campbell Smith is an author, freelance writer, and photographer. She has an AAS degree in equine tech and is a certified instructor.


The weather is perfect and you have the weekend off. Your stable buddies call and say, "let's go trail riding!" A few tips can go a long way to making the day as pleasant a one for your horse, as it is for you. It only takes a few minutes for a saddle sore to develop and make your horse miserable and unridable for a long time. Learn the causes, symptoms, treatment, and most important of all, prevention of saddle sores.

Make your horse happy by preventing saddle sores.
Make your horse happy by preventing saddle sores.

Cause, Treatment, and Prevention

A saddle sore is an inflammation of the hair follicles of the horse at pressure points where tack comes in contact with the skin. The most common location is the withers. Girth sores are simular friction wounds found in the girth area. Sores can also occur on the horse's face where the bridle contacts the skin.

There are several causes. Conformation faults are often at the root of the problem. If your horse has mutton or low withers, or in the other extreme is high withered, or perhaps is a narrowly built horse fitting the saddle can be difficult. A poorly fitted saddle will either put pressure on the horse where it shouldn't be, or it will slide around, causing friction. Think of it as an ill-fitting pair of shoes. To big or to little, walk around in those shoes all day and you will end up with blisters and bunions.

In addition, riding a horse that has not been properly groomed or using dirty tack can result in saddle sores. The pressure of tack grinding against grit or sand on the skin can have the same effect as rubbing the skin with sandpaper. Clean tack after every ride, and always groom your horse before every ride.

Another cause of saddle sores is poor equitation. An off-balance, bouncing rider can cause the horse a great deal of muscle pain, as well as sores. All that excessive movement causes friction against the horse's skin.

The first symptom of a saddle sore is inflammation. The area will feel hot to the touch, there will be swelling, and sometimes blistering. The hair rubs off, and in the most severe cases infection and necrosis (dead tissue) will occur.

The best treatment for saddle sores is complete rest until it has healed. Cold water or ice packs can help reduce the swelling. Your vet may recommend giving the horse an anti-inflammatory drug. If there are open wounds he/she will probably prescribe antibiotics to ward off infection. A topical antibacterial ointment should be applied to the raw area. In severe cases, where there is a blood blister or necrotic tissue, surgery might be required to remove that tissue.

As usual, prevention is easier than the cure. Groom your horse thoroughly before riding, paying particular attention to areas that come in contact with the tack. Make sure your tack is clean, has no rough places, and fits properly. Lift the pad up slightly at the withers before tightening the girth, so that it does not bind in that area.

Learn to ride correctly, in balance with your horse, and avoid excessive up and downhill riding.

If your horse has one of the conformation faults mentioned above you might need extra or specially designed pads under your saddle, and/or a breast collar to stabilize the saddle. Take special care in finding a saddle that fits your horse.

The saddle should be placed so the front rests over the horse's withers, far enough forward that the girth hangs in a straight line just behind the horse's front legs. Make sure the skin is not wrinkled while tightening the girth.

Follow these guidelines and when you and your horse return after a days ride, chances are he will have enjoyed himself, too.

© 2008 Donna Campbell Smith


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