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The SMS pliance test programme

The SMS is committed to carrying out an ongoing intensive test programme to provide scientific data to help prove/disprove common theories relating to saddle design, manufacture, fitting and use.

How pliance works

The Pliance sensor mat, with more than 200 sensors, is placed under the saddle and sends readings to a computer using Bluetooth. These are analysed and displayed as 3 moving graphs and a colour image - with 'hot' red or pink areas indicating harmful pressure points. Pliance can gather data through all paces including jumping.

Two Pressure images: Left shows a well fitted saddle and the right shows a poorly fitted saddle.

A report is now available on the research days we have carried out for our membership using our Pliance pressure testing system. Research topics were selected from suggestions put forward by members.

Ground breaking thermographic research

The Society of Master Saddlers joined forces with SyncThermology to undertake ground-breaking research to investigate if thermography can be used to assess the fit of a saddle.

Thermography has already proven to be a very useful tool in assessing back health in horses, but The Society of Master Saddlers were unsure how theses thermographic images compared to the results of the Pliance pressure mapping system.
Hazel Morley, SMS Chief Executive, said: "We have found that more and more horse owners are starting to enquire about saddle testing when using thermography as part of a full body evaluation and wanted to find out whether such methods could really help when it came to saddle fitting."

The research comprised of six horses being assessed by a vet; physiotherapist and biomechanics specialists before being put under a strict test protocol with thermographic scans being taken pre and post exercise, along with testing using the Pliance pressure mapping system. Analysis of the findings showed that visually the thermographic imaging was misleading as heat did not reflect pressure and often detected issues on the opposite side to where the problem actually lies.

It was also found that with thermography, the image findings were ambiguous and should only be read by a trained vet or professional. The imaging also does not show a 'bad fit' when the saddle is used for the first time as the results will not show the long term effects the saddle has on the horse's back. Standalone saddle testing with thermography is in most cases providing misleading results. However during a full body scan, thermography could detect a condition that was possibly saddle related, in this case horse owners should immediately contact a saddle fitter to assess the fit of the saddle.

Are you piling on the pressure as you mount?

Did you know you could be putting your horse under extreme pressure when you are trying to climb into the saddle?

In a recent research study conducted by the Society of Master Saddlers (SMS) a range of mounting techniques were tested in relation to saddle movement and pressure on the horse's spine.

Using a Pliance system under the saddle to measure the pressure exerted, the research also looked to establish the effects of different riders when mounting and develop the best practice for getting into the saddle.

Equine and human physiotherapists would be quick to say mounting from the ground isn't recommended, but what is really the best way to mount?


The six different mounting techniques tested were:

- Unaided from the ground
- Supported from the ground (right-hand stirrup leather held)
- With a leg up
- From a low block (22.5 inches high)
- From the low block supported (right-hand stirrup leather held)
- From a high block (38 inches high)

For each an average pressure reading was calculated for the different method, showing how each technique affected the horse and the saddle.


The most pressure on the horse's back came from mounting unaided from the ground, which is no surprise. The least amount of pressure came when mounting from a high block and putting no pressure on the stirrup.

Another finding from the results was the amount the saddle actually moved across the horse's spine when mounting. The most movement was seen again when mounting unaided from the floor.

The technique used was considered the most important factor rather than the rider's fitness. Less pressure was exerted when riders pushed up with their legs rather than pulling themselves up with their arms.

The position on the rider's hands also proved influential when mounting. The worst readings were seen when the left hand was on the pommel and the right hand on the cantle. The best results were seen when the rider placed their left hand on the withers and right hand on the offside of the saddle behind the flap. Lengthening the stirrup leather to help mounting was also found to increase the amount of pressure, as did bouncing to help build up momentum in mounting from the ground. This caused more leverage on the saddle and increased pressure on the horse's spine.

Best practice for mounting

- The best way is to mount from a high block so you can more or less step across on to the saddle.
- Mounting from a low block is better supported with the right stirrup being held.
- A leg up is best supported at the knee and ankle.
- Holding the withers with the left hand and the offside of the saddle with the right hand - this limits the amount of saddle distortion.
- Try not to 'bounce' and reduce the length of time 'hanging' from the stirrup if mounting from the floor.