Tips for a Comfortable Ride: How to Avoid Saddle Sores on Your Horse

When it comes to horseback riding, a comfortable ride is essential for both you and your horse. One of the most common issues faced by riders is saddle sores. Saddle sores are caused by friction between the saddle and the horses back, which can lead to irritation, inflammation and even infection. While saddle sores can be uncomfortable for your horse, there are steps you can take to prevent them.

The most important way to prevent saddle sores is to make sure your saddle fits correctly. An ill-fitting saddle can cause pressure points and rubs, leading to irritation and sores. It is important to have your saddle professionally fitted to ensure that it is the correct size and shape for your horse.

It is also important to use a saddle pad or blanket when riding. This will provide a layer of cushioning between the saddle and your horses back, reducing the amount of friction and pressure. Make sure the saddle pad is clean and free of dirt and debris before each ride.

In addition, it is important to inspect your horses back after each ride. Look for any signs of irritation, such as redness or swelling. If you notice any areas of concern, use a topical ointment to soothe the area and prevent further irritation.

Finally, it is important to keep your horses back clean and dry. This will help reduce the risk of irritation and infection. Be sure to groom your horse regularly and use a mild, non-irritating shampoo.

By following these tips, you can help prevent saddle sores and ensure a comfortable ride for you and your horse.

How to prevent and treat saddle sores

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Nothing ruins a great ride faster than discomfort caused by friction or pressure between you and your saddle. There’s a lot going on in your shorts: pressure from supporting a substantial portion of your bodyweight, heat and moisture from exertion and sweat, and friction from spinning your legs and scooting fore and aft on the saddle. Keeping your skin healthy can be a challenge, so here’s what you can do to prevent and treat chafing and saddle sores, and to keep your skin happy.

A saddle sore is typically caused by continuous pressure and friction from your saddle. This causes damage to the skin that allows a place for bacteria to get in and flourish. Then, a sore manifests as a raised, pink or red area of skin. It may look like a pimple or ingrown hair and contain liquid. Some feel like a cyst or marble under the skin. Another common form of a saddle sore results from chafing that abrades skin and may look like a rash.

Saddle sores are painful to the touch, even off the bike. And because sores often develop where there is pressure, they can be extremely painful on the bike. This can lead cyclists to alter their riding position to alleviate the pain, which can hinder performance and even cause new sores.

To treat the occasional saddle sore, a few days off the bike is often all it takes for the inflammation to go down and for the skin to heal. During that time, try to keep the area cool and dry by wearing loose fitting clothing and/or sleeping with no clothing. If the skin is broken, take steps to prevent infection, including washing with soap and water and applying an antibiotic ointment.

Similarly, to treat chafed skin, wear loose fitting clothing to prevent further friction and allow your skin to breathe. Keep the area clean with soap and water to prevent infection. If either a saddle sore or area of chafed skin does get infected, it’s time to visit a doctor. Infections further weaken larger areas of tissue, so you want to act quickly if you’re experiencing symptoms of an infection, which include increasing levels of pain and redness, a fever or chills, and the presence of pus.

Hygiene habits to prevent saddle sores

Taking good care of your skin is one of the best ways to prevent saddle sores. Skin can be damaged by exposure to either too much or too little moisture. If you live in a dry climate, you may consider using moisturizer in this area. If you live in a humid environment, consider loose fitting and/or moisture wicking clothing.

Hair removal is a personal decision and may affect the development of saddle sores differently for individuals. Reducing friction is thought to be one purpose for pubic hair, but some cyclists feel it increases chafing. And keep in mind, hair removal methods can cause skin damage that increases opportunities for bacteria to thrive.

Almost every cyclist experiences a saddle sore or chafed skin every once in a while, and typically they go away in a few days. If you are having recurring problems with the skin on your rear end, crotch, or inner thighs, it’s time to find and fix the source of the problem. The following are some of the common causes and remedies for recurring skin issues in cycling.

Your bike fit:

How you sit on the saddle contributes to the amount of pressure you put on different parts of your anatomy. For instance, an upright cycling position might place more pressure on your ‘sit bones’ (ischial tuberosities). A more aggressive, forward-rotated position may put more pressure on the perineum. Saddle height, angle, and fore-aft position can all affect the amount and location of pressure and friction. Bike fit is always a compromise between comfort, aerodynamics, and power production. If your position on the bike causes chafing and saddle sores, your aerodynamics and power production will almost certainly suffer.

Your cycling shorts:

The construction, fit, and condition of your cycling shorts can make a big difference for your skin. If your shorts are too large or they’ve worn out and become looser, bunched fabric can cause chafing. Sometimes the seams connecting the panels are in places that irritate your skin. And keep in mind that chamois­–the pad that sits between your body and the saddle–come in different shapes, sizes, and thicknesses. Finding the chamois that matches your anatomy and style of riding can make cycling much more comfortable.

Your saddle:

Finding the perfect width, shape, and padding for your saddle can feel like Goldilocks looking for the bed she liked best. Some will be too wide or narrow, too flat or curvy, and too soft or hard. A saddle that’s too wide can contribute to chafing, as can the shape of the saddle as it widens from the nose to the rear. The curvature of the saddle can lead to pressure points that contribute to the formation of saddle cores. Even the level of padding is highly personal. Some riders prefer a more cushioned saddle while others do better with a firmer perch. Also remember that saddles wear out. They eventually start to sag in the middle, the padding breaks down, and the rails can bend from impacts.

Friction:

Problems with your shorts and saddle lead to problems with friction. The constant rubbing of skin-fabric-saddle irritates and eventually wears away enough skin to cause an abrasion. A lubricating anti-chafe cream, also known as chamois cream, can help reduce friction and protect your skin. Some people swear by chamois cream and others feel no need for it. Similarly, there are differences between chamois cream brands and ingredients. Many chamois creams contain antibacterial ingredients. Some have ingredients that cause a tingly or cooling sensation. Women-specific chamois creams are often formulated with a lower pH.

Your post-ride habits:

There’s a tongue-in-cheek saying among veteran cyclists that “chamois time is training time”, meaning you’re still training as long as you’re in your cycling kit–even if you’re sitting at the café. The problem is, if you already have the beginnings of a skin issue, staying in your cycling shorts longer than necessary will make it worse. It is better to get out of your kit sooner, either to take a shower or, if you are at an event and can’t shower immediately, clean your skin with wipes and get dressed in loose fitting clothes. If your skin is irritated, consider applying ointment.

For athletes new to cycling, it takes some time to condition your skin to the pressure and friction inherent in sitting on a bicycle saddle. Your sit bones may feel sore temporarily as you adapt. This even happens to experienced cyclists after a prolonged period off the bike. If you are new to cycling and padded cycling shorts, they are meant to be worn directly on the skin (no underwear). Visit your bike shop or a bike fit professional to start out with a neutral, balanced position on the bike. They may have tools to help you find the recommended saddle width for your anatomy, too. You may need to experiment with a few saddle shapes to determine what works best for you.

If you have been riding comfortably for years and start experiencing saddle sores and chafing, the first thing to do is think about what might have changed over the past few months.

Saddle sores and chafing can be frustrating and painful, but they are temporary problems that can be solved relatively easily. It’s definitely worth the effort, because cycling shouldn’t be a pain in the rear.

Helpful – I have been fortunate over the years but currently have 2 minor sores, more like a cyst or marble under the skin, I am putting antibiotic and/or skin repair but any other hints most welcome. The skin isn’t red nor broken. Thks!

Good info here. I’ve only had a few over the years, and always do my best to use natural solutions. Coconut oil works pretty well for lube, (it does dissipate over time), and for any signs of issues, Neem oil,(a bit more powerful & does not evaporate as fast), & Tea tree oil can take care of the sores. And, as mentioned, getting out of your shorts as quickly as possible after the ride.

Having been through all of the above scenarios over the years, with and without saddle sores, here is my own personal remedy…. and hygiene is key, keep the bottom side clean. I take a shower and wash well down below before I go out. I also put a thin layer of triple antibiotic ointment on right after I put on my shorts. Haven’t had a saddle sore for a few years now.

I’m officially on Team Bag Balm since 1998. This balm was originally made for cows & it has antibacterial properties, a little goes a long way & I only use it for rides 65 miles + (It does contain petroleum). I tried other chammy creams but found the creams not only dry too quickly but i feel like I’m wearing a wet diaper when first applied; I also discovered, for me personally, creams created problems ie skin breakdown so bag balm it is,

A long time bike racer told me about Bag bomb, and it is now my go to as well!

When riding indoors, getting out of the saddle, standing on the pedals, for 30-90 seconds every 5-10 minutes has helped greatly. Preparation-H shrinks the bumps…

I have from time to time been forced to use compeed blister bandaids/compresses down south to be able to ride and even be able to sit still on the saddle. They have been of great use and I can strongly recommend if it get really bad.

I have had some bothersome sores over the years. In addition to antibacterial creams, I have found that a hemorrhoid cream/ointment (on the sore) seems to help the best.

I’ve had success using a good (high % lanolin) A&D ointment, both for preventing irritation and for treating a saddle sore once it’s developed. Keep the sore lubricated with it for a day and you’ll see significant healing and may be able to ride without too much discomfort.

Good timing on this, indoor cycling has been the biggest cause of my saddle sore. Always use chamois cream, and move around, and quickly showering after.

The Nine Points of Saddle Fit

Take our 80 Point Saddle Evaluation and find out if your saddle fits right!

As we head into spring, it’s time to put our thoughts into ensuring that all of our tack and equipment will work for the upcoming training months, and for the shows we intend to compete in. Especially if your horse has been ‘laid off’ for the winter months you will need to ensure that the saddle is fitted properly to allow him comfort and freedom to muscle up again when you begin training in earnest. While it can take four weeks for a muscle to build up with consistent training, it takes only one week for the muscle to regain its original shape (which is negative development). Thus, even if you have given your horse just a week off from training, you will find that your saddle may not fit the way it did and the way it should, so that you should have a diagnostic evaluation done and the saddle adjusted by a certified fitter before you begin training again.

A quick diagnostic can be done using our 9 points of saddle fit evaluation (with videos available to show you how at our YouTube channel at ). Below are very brief points that I will go into more detail on over the next couple of weeks in this blog, as I strongly feel that this information cannot be repeated often enough and is truly evergreen.

A saddle too high in the pommel and too low in the cantle causes pressure on the horse’s back. It will be very difficult for your horse to engage his back because too much of your weight is on his last 2 floating ribs.

If your saddle is too low in the front it will pinch into the horse’s shoulder – which is very restrictive for your horse. Your saddle is too high in the back so your leg goes forward and you fall into a chair seat to balance which can strain the discs in your lower back. It should sit so that the pommel and cantle are even.

The saddle should have 2-3 fingers clearance on the top and around the side of the withers. The saddle must have be an opening (clearance) on the sides of his withers to accommodate the shoulder rotation upwards and backwards during movement.

A horse whose saddle pinches his withers may be reluctant to go forward. Other more extreme signs of insufficient wither clearance are patches of white hairs (not scattered individual white hairs) or sores on the top or on one or both sides of the withers.

A saddle with a channel or gullet that is too narrow or too wide can cause permanent damage to your horse’s back. The width of each horse’s spine will determine how wide his saddle’s gullet must be, and it must be the same throughout the entire length of the saddle.

Ensure that your saddle’s panels make even contact with your horse’s back all the way down to distribute the rider’s weight over an area that equals approximately 220 square inches and ends at the last rib. Ensure that it doesn’t bridge or rocks (contact only in the middle.)

Billets should hang perpendicular to the ground in the girth area. If the billets hang too far back, gravity will pull the billets (and the saddle) forward into the girth area. The girth will always find its position at the narrowest point of the rib cage, driving the saddle forward onto your horse’s shoulders.

If the billets hang too far forward into your horse’s elbow area, they may make him sore in the elbows. Gravity will drag them (and the girth and saddle along with them) back into the girth area. There will now be too much pressure on the panels at the rear of the saddle.

Straightness means that the center of the saddle is in alignment with your horse’s spine. Horses are by nature uneven. Most horses have a left shoulder that is larger and more developed than their right shoulder. The larger shoulder kicks the saddle over to the other side during motion.

A rider who sits unevenly can compress the stuffing more on one side of the saddle, and drag it over to that side.

The length of the saddle support area will determine how long the panels must be.

The saddle must sit behind the shoulder. A saddle that is too long often will get driven forward into the shoulder. The saddle cannot extend past the last floating rib at the 18 thoracic vertebra.

The angle of the tree (at the tree points for the gullet plate) must be adjusted to match the angle of the horse’s shoulder. As the horse moves, his shoulder rotates upward and backwards. Check if the angle of the piping on the saddle matches the angle of your horse’s shoulder. If it does, the angle of your saddle’s tree is correctly adjusted for your horse.

The tree width at the gullet plate must be wide enough for the horse’s shoulders to rotate freely under the tree.

If the tree width is too wide, the entire saddle may rock or slip from side to side when it’s being ridden, or the back half of the saddle may twist to one side or the other.

Tree width and tree angle need to be adjusted together. Adding flocking to or removing flocking from the vertical panels of the saddle will not solve the problem – it is the gullet plate that needs to be adjusted. Some of the self-adjustable gullet plates will accommodate angle adjustment, but will not allow width adjustment (over the wither area).

Hopefully these basic tips will help you get ready for a successful show season while ensuring your horse has the freedom to perform at its potential!

Saddle Sores in Horses

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(Collar Galls)

Saddle sores are pressure sores seen in horses over areas of wear from tack (especially if it is ill-fitting). The area of riding horses that is under saddle, or the shoulder area of those driven in harness, is frequently the site of injuries to the skin and deeper soft and bony tissues. Prolonged focal pressure can lead to decreased capillary circulation, tissue damage, and even necrosis. Sores are frequently complicated by secondary bacterial infections. Emaciated horses are at increased risk.

However, lesions can progress to include erosion, ulceration, and necrosis. Affected areas may become swollen, warm, and painful. Advanced lesions are termed “galls.” When the skin and underlying tissues are more severely damaged, abscesses may develop. These are characterized as warm, fluctuating, painful swellings from which purulent and serosanguineous fluid can be aspirated. Severe damage to the skin and subcutis or deeper tissues results in dry or moist necrosis. Tissue may become undermined with inflammation or infection. Chronic saddle sores are characterized by a deep folliculitis/furunculosis with fibrosis and scarring or a localized indurative and proliferative dermatitis.

Therapy should be aimed at eliminating the causal factor (changing tack or increasing cushioning). Excoriations and inflammation of the skin of the saddle and harness regions are treated as any other dermatosis. Absolute rest of the affected parts is necessary. During the early or acute stages, astringent packs (Burow solution) are indicated. Chronic lesions and those superficially infected may be treated by warm applications and topical or systemic antibiotics. Systemic antibiotic selection should be based on cytology and bacterial culture results. Necrotic tissue should be removed surgically. Scars and/or leukotrichia (white hairs) are common sequelae of healed areas. Recurrence of hematomas, seromas, and/or sloughing skin upon initial saddling of a young Quarter horse or Paint horse should elicit suspicion of the genetic disease hereditary . A simple DNA test, performed on the hair bulbs of the tail, will confirm this diagnosis.

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