Results of a preliminary study with the Le Nouvel Écuyer pressure sensor mat
These results come from a study carried out by Blandine, our doctoral student in charge of Research and Development at Le Nouvel Écuyer.
This study was carried out for her final thesis in Engineering and Ergonomics of Physical Activity at the STAPS University of Reims. The objectives of this study were to test the mat in different situations: with different couples and different equipment in order to prepare the ground for the thesis. The results of the tests will help to set up the guidelines of a use protocol. But also to understand the results obtained correctly and to evaluate their reliability and repeatability.
Setting up and testing the experimental protocol
For this study, 9 rider/horse pairs agreed to play the game. Among these 9 couples, 5 had been regularly followed by the same saddle fitter (control group) and 4 were not followed by a saddle fitter or had been consulted once a long time ago (test group). The participants are all women, between 18 and 36 years old (average age 28). The average height was 1.70 m and the average weight was 66 kg. The horses were of different breeds, different sizes and different ages with an average age of 12.4 years.
In order to participate in this study, the inclusion criteria were as follows:
Riders were also asked if they and/or their horses had any physical history of injury, postural problems, etc. This information could explain some of the asymmetries observed with the pressure sensor mat.
Each couple participated in the study with their own saddle. The saddles were of all makes, three of the models were dressage saddles, three were show jumping saddles and the rest were mixed saddles. Some were new, some were old and some were damaged, their sizes were between 16.5 inches and 17.5 inches. This panel of 9 saddles was composed of saddles with wool, foam and Cair padding.
The protocol consisted of observing each horse/rider/equipment trio (saddle, shock absorber...), taking measurements of the horse's back and its complementary information, its history and the way it is followed by professionals but also the rider's history and the way it is followed. Hence the difficulty of carrying out studies in horse riding, you can see the number of factors to be studied and taken into account 😀. Then the rider could relax his horse before fitting the pressure sensor mat and performing the exercises.
Once equipped, the couple was able to perform the exercises in the protocol. The aim of these exercises was to make them accessible and easy to repeat in order to analyse the repeatability of the results obtained. For this purpose, a circle of 20m diameter and a straight line of 20m were set up. The couple had to perform the straight line at walk, rising trot, sitting trot and canter, three times in each hand and then again in the circle. A recording was made of each passage. A good saddling exercise for the greatest pleasure of our riders and our test horses 🏇.
Presentation and analysis of the results
Dozens of hours of analysis later and a little elbow grease, time for the results!
Step 1: Data transfer, the Chinese puzzle: or how to process 50 records per rider 😅
Step 2: Selective sorting: sorting, renaming and putting the data in order so as not to get lost 👌
Step 3: Numbers and curves: performing statistical tests to compare the data with each other💻
Step 4: Putting the results under the microscope 🔎
Here's what we see :
A) One of the first observations was that the difference in average pressure was significantly lower for the control couples who had been monitored by a saddle fitter than for the test group who had not.
B) A significant difference was also found between a saddle in poor condition and a saddle in good condition. A saddle in poor condition induces more pressure than a saddle in good condition. Quite logical you might say 😉
Yet some parameters can mislead us. For example, in this study, a rider with an unsuitable saddle in poor condition can induce as much pressure as a rider who nevertheless weighs 15kg more even though they have the same level. This finding coincides with the results found by Marie T. Dittmann et al (2021) in their paper concluding that an unsuitable saddle can account for 6-28% of pressure increase. Hence the importance of having your saddle checked regularly !
C) In this study, we found that the level of riders was not very significant as it is a subjective level, moreover the study was composed of too few riders and of quite similar levels.
D) Concerning the average pressures observed according to the gaits, the walk would be the gait that induces the most pressure. This finding is not in agreement with the results found in the literature (Von Peinen 2013). However, it could be explained by the fact that in walking the horse is not necessarily tense and mobilises its abdominal muscles less, but also that the rider is not necessarily sheathed. In addition, this is the gait where the horse has the least amount of rebound to counteract the gravitational force. Wolfram et al (2013) consider the walk to be the most difficult gait to predict in the saddle but also to analyse, otherwise it would be too simple 😂
E) The trot, both sitting and walking, is the least pressure inducing gait. The average pressures are highest in the sitting trot, which is consistent with the results of the Martin et al. study (2016). Why is this? Because the rider benefits from the horse's bounce to balance on his feet and therefore can transfer less load to the horse's back as concluded by Peham et al. (2010).
F) There is also more pressure at the front in the snatch trot compared to other gaits as mentioned by the authors of the two articles quoted above. Again, this is quite logical as the rider's weight is projected towards the front of the saddle when balancing.
G) In this study, the canter would induce more pressure than the trot for most riders which may depend on how the rider accompanies the canter.
H) The average pressures are generally higher in a circle than in a straight line (the straight lines were made in the middle of the arena to avoid unconscious leaning of the horse towards the rail)
I) Each couple has asymmetries, more or less marked between the left and the right part of the saddle. These asymmetries are often amplified in the canter and less marked in the rising trot. They are surely due to the position of the rider but also to the ease of the couple in the left and right hand (admit it, you too have your preference between right and left hand.
But be careful ! the average pressure under the whole saddle does not allow to notice some saddle misadaptations like for example a saddle that bridges, that's why it is also important to observe the pressure of the padding on the left and on the right side as well as the pressure of the front, middle and back parts of the saddle. In this study, for example, two of the nine saddles studied are bridged, i.e. they rest mainly in the front and rear but not very much in the middle. In the study by Dittmann et al. mentioned above, 14% of the saddles studied had a bridge effect.
So what can we conclude from all this?
The results of this study are very satisfactory concerning the repeatability of the data, indeed, the fact of repeating each exercise 3 times at all speeds, in a straight line and in a circle, was not easy, but it allowed to validate a point of the protocol. Once the recordings were compared with each other according to the pace and the exercise performed, the variations in pressure were low, which means that the reliability and repeatability of the tool and the protocol are correct. All that remains is to test this officially during the thesis!
Indeed, it served as a pilot study for the PhD. Other larger studies on other exercises will follow, including tests in show jumping.
🡪 Effect of the rider position during rising trot on the horse's biomechanics, Martin et al 2016
🡪 A comparison of forces acting on the horse's back and the stability of the rider's seat in different position at the trot, Peham et al 2010
🡪 "Feel the Force"-Prevalence of Subjectively Assessed Saddle Fit Problems in Swiss Riding Horses and Their Association With Saddle Pressure Measurements and Back Pain - Marie T. Dittmann et al (2021)