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Saddle Sores on Horses

Updated on March 29, 2014
DonnaCSmith profile image

Donna Campbell Smith is a published author, freelance writer, and photographer. She also specializes in horses.


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 to same effect as rubbing the skin with sandpaper. Clean tack after every ride, and always groom your horse before evey 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-inflamatory 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.

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


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    • DonnaCSmith profile image

      Donna Campbell Smith 4 years ago from Central North Carolina

      A horse's back can change with weight loss or gain or as the horse ages and this could account for a change in saddle fit.

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      mih 4 years ago

      hi! I have had my saddle for more than a year now, i still you the same namna but wash it regularly. In do endurance riding and i have a huge event (120km) coming up in 2 weeks. in the past week of training my saddle has started to hurt my horses back, not open wounds but two massive lumps on each side of her backbone about 2 hands from her hip bones. i stopped training till the swelling went down and used 2 different namnas over each other, the next day the lumps where back... i really have no clue what to do, especially because this has never happened before.

    • DonnaCSmith profile image

      Donna Campbell Smith 5 years ago from Central North Carolina

      Thank you, Judy. I am glad you found it helpful.

    • Judy G Gillis profile image

      Judy G Gillis 5 years ago from Charlottetown, PEI, Canada

      Great hub! I found you on Google, the first page no less! was looking for confirmation that friction causes this common and preventable problem, and found so many parallels with interpersonal relationships that I'm linking back to this hub from my regular blog...

    • DonnaCSmith profile image

      Donna Campbell Smith 5 years ago from Central North Carolina

      "Hey There", if the sore is on the face it could be caused by the bridle or halter rubbing. Check for fit and cleanliness. If it is not in a place that comes in contact with the equipment you are using, such as the bridle or halter, then it is something other than a "saddle sore" and you should get your vet to look at it. Could be an allergy, bug bite or some other skin ailment.

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      Hey there 5 years ago

      My horse got it on her face but i'm not one hundred percent sure it's not a rash because it seems so rare.

    • Miss Lil' Atlanta profile image

      Miss Lil' Atlanta 6 years ago from Atlanta, GA

      Nice hub DonnaCSmith. I'm so book marking this one. Personally, I find this info very helpful, considering that I'm a horse rider myself.

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      dcamogirl 7 years ago

      My horse has sore withers to the touch but not sores or missing hair. I think we caught it in time but now what do we do? He is out of shape he hasn't been used very much in 5 yrs We just got him Could it be the saddle or because he is out of shape?