Saddles play a major role in horseback riding, but can lead to sores when they’re not fitted right. Typically, pressure is put on certain areas of the horse’s shoulders which can create blisters or sore spots—and can be painful for the horse.
Although this problem can easily be fixed, it’s important to do your homework when it comes to saddle sores and address the problem head on. Here, we’re going to look at what causes saddle sores, the symptoms, how to treat them, and what steps to take in the future to prevent them from happening.
Saddle Sores, Horses, and Common Causes
Just like a blister that forms from an ill-fitted shoe, a saddle sore can form when you’re not using the right-sized saddle, or it isn’t fitted properly. A combination of grime and sweat build up under the saddle and can grind into your horse’s skin and start to create these problems. For this reason, we think you should double check that your saddle is oriented properly and is clean from excessive dirt before riding.
Additionally, you should pay attention to the tightness and stiffness of the tack on your horse, as they can lead to chafing and soreness. Small things like wood chips and grass haw may also become lodged in the tack and create more serious chafing.
It’s important to remember that every horse is different and is going to react differently to various saddles. Some horses will have much more sensitive skin than others—so checking in with your horse after riding and feeling their skin for sores and bumps will greatly reduce the risk of long-term injury. Healthy horses tend to have significantly fewer skin issues, but are still prone to skin damages from ill-fitting saddles.
Symptoms of Saddle Sores
If you think your horse may be struggling from saddle sores and girth galls, look for blister-like wounds and inflamed spots where hair is missing. If your horse doesn’t appear to have any missing hair, it’s possible that there are swollen lumps under the skin similar to unbroken blisters. Depending on how bad the wound is, sores can range from quite small to very large. If this is the case, it’s time to take immediate action.
More severe saddle sores can form actual holes in your horse’s skin that can become infected and leave lasting permanent damage. If you’re having trouble locating a saddle sore, you should know that sores can pop up almost anywhere along the saddle, commonly underneath the cantle area or under the pommel area. No matter how severe the injury looks, taking your horse to a horse health professional is the best way to avoid more permanent damage.
How to Treat Saddle Sores
Firstly, it’s important to work carefully and slowly while treating your horse’s saddle sore. If you’d like to treat it yourself, instead of a vet, there are some techniques you should know before kicking things off. Saline solution should be used with a dry sponge in order to clean the area around it. Next, cover the sore with a soothing cream or ointment such as calendula or aloe vera.
In order to keep your horse’s skin in the best condition possible, many riders will use antiseptic cleaning solutions with an antibiotic to mitigate infection risks. Lastly, zinc oxide and/or diaper cream should be applied to the area in order to improve long-term comfort.
If under the skin, sores or galls should be left alone and untouched by a saddle until healed. When in doubt, your horse will let you know if they are in discomfort. If you’re unsure how quickly your horse’s wounds will heal, contact a horse vet who can give you a better idea of your specific horse’s condition.
How to Prevent Saddle Sores
Most importantly, you should keep your tack clean from sweat and grit, as they can cause irritation and soreness. When trail riding, you should take your saddle off when possible to check for debris, sticks, and leaves that could be lodged between the tack and your horse. Additionally, the age of your tack has a lot to do with pressure sores. String and leather girths deteriorate with age and can lead to rubbing or pinching.
The most common rule of thumb is to make sure your saddle fits. If your saddle rubs in any direction while riding, it’s time to take it off, readjust, or—if necessary—finding a new saddle all together. If you’re in need of an extra layer of protection, you can’t go without saddle pads, which are almost like wearing thick socks.
If your horse has particularly sensitive skin, there might not be much you can do to prevent further sores. Thoroughbreds and fine coated horses tend to have this problem, but no horse should have to needlessly suffer due to an ill-fitted saddle.
One of the easiest ways to prevent future saddle sores is through daily grooming. Although time consuming, grooming will ensure that your horse’s coat and skin is clean and free from sweat and dirt—and therefore less susceptible to infection. To get the best out of grooming, here are a number of grooming tools we think you should have at your disposal:
- Rubber curry comb
- Sarvis curry comb
- Hoof pick
- Stiff hard and soft brush
- Shedding blade
- Sponges and cloths
- Shampoo and conditioner
- Grooming box
Frequently Asked Questions
We know you’ve got questions, especially when dealing with saddle sores. It can be difficult and time consuming, but we’ve answered some of the most common questions related to proper care.
What kind of sore does my horse have?
In order to effectively treat your horse’s saddle sores, it’s important to know which type of sore you are dealing with. A sitfast sore is a hard-skin lesion usually caused by an ill-fitting saddle. Riders who are sitting crooked or too far back on the saddle may put unnecessary pressure on the horse, which can lead to this kind of soreness. Horses are also very sensitive when it comes to balance, so when you sit even an inch from where you’re supposed to, the horse will feel it.
If you’re dealing with a saddle gall, there is typically bruising under the skin caused by too much pressure or rubbing by the saddle. This is usually seen in horses that have been tacked up while wet from sweat or rain water. Saddle galls will rupture tissues either on top of the skin or underneath it, creating a serum leak.
Can I treat a saddle sore by myself?
You absolutely can and we’ve outlined what you can do to both treat and prevent future sores from being created. There are a wide variety of grooming and skin-treatment tools you can use without the help of a professional, but keep in mind the seriousness of your horse’s wound.
The types of sores vary so widely that it’s important to know what kind of sore you’re dealing with and how to limit the discomfort your horse is in. If you sense your horse’s sore is infected or worsening in condition, it’s time to contact an emergency vet.
What do I do if my horse has sensitive skin?
Thoroughbreds and other fine coated horses tend to have much more sensitive skin than others, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be able to carry saddles. Smaller sores may be almost impossible to prevent with these horses, so it’s important to clean their coat and skin regularly and apply antibiotics if sores become infected.
Some horses with sensitive skin just need time to get used to a new track and will be uncomfortable until that happens. We recommend riders rub saltwater on blister prone areas in order to toughen up the skin and apply new tacks slowly over the course of a few weeks until the horse is used to it. Lastly, cinch covers or fleecy girth should be used as a barrier between a horse with sensitive skin and their track.
If you weren’t sure how to handle your horse’s saddle sores—now you do! As serious as skin issues get, it’s important to tackle saddle sores head on and make sure any wounds on your horse aren’t worsening or becoming infected. From the causes of saddle sores to the symptoms, treatments and prevention strategies, we’ve got you covered.
Even if your horse doesn’t have any sores, it’s important you know how to recognize them if they do appear and create a prevention plan for the future. If you’re looking for more information, we’ve curated a detailed page filled with guides and reviews we think you’ll love.