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Saddle Fitting for Swayback Horses

Normal HorseSwayback Horse

Swayback, or lordosis, is characterized by a horse having a drooping spinal chord behind the withers, creating a bowed topline. Although the condition looks as if it's painful, few horses with lordosis are experiencing pain.


Swayback, also referred to as saddleback, lowback, and hollowback, seems to have genetic and environmental causes. Horses as young as two years old can already display signs of lordosis. On the other hand, the condition may not begin to develop until after a horse has had multiple pregnancies or years of rough riding. Horses with extra long backs are more prone to back problems including swayback. However, many horses with swayback are suitable for riding, although it's advisable to get a farrier's opinion on the strength and condition of your horse before beginning to ride.


Important Points to note while saddle fitting a swayback horse:

  • The goal in saddle fitting is to have the rider's weight evenly distributed. This is especially crucial for swayback horses, as too much pressure on their already weak ligaments can cause great pain.


  • First figure out your seat size and what size tree your horse takes. We have handy charts and templates for figuring this out. Then choose a lightweight pleasure or trail saddle.


  • The less weight on your horse, the better. Swayback horses are not built for any heavy work. They should be reserved for teaching students and light riding. The saddle you choose should be lightweight. We recommend trying a Cordura or flex tree saddle, which are significantly lighter than the traditional leather with a wood tree combination.


  • Your saddle pad is also a crucial part to fitting your swaybacked horse. You want to avoid your saddle leaning against your horse's withers or against the rear dip of his back. Your pad should fill the dip in the horse's back to equalize the pressure and redistribute weight. One of our popular pads that does this well is the Reinsman Contour Swayback Saddle Pad.


  • Does your horse also have high withers? Try Tuffy's High Withers Swayback Pad.


  • Remember that you can fill out our Saddle Experts form and have specific recommendations considering you and your horse.


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