What Is A Horse Saddle Sore?

By Angela Martinez •  Updated: 09/12/22 •  5 min read

Horse owners might not think of a saddle as something that can cause injury, but saddle sores, along with collar galls and girth sores, are a common problem that affects many horses. 

Saddle sores are when the rubbing of a saddle seat against the horse’s skin causes an irritation that may develop into an open wound.

Open wounds that break the skin surface add the risk of a bacterial infection. This can be worsened by insect bites or exposure to dirt and germs. 

A staphylococcal bacterial infection can be extremely serious and even lead to necrotic tissue and skin damage. Therefore, it’s important to keep an eye on areas that could become saddle sores or existing sores that have already developed.

Saddle galls are another type of sore that can develop from the pressure of inappropriate tack. 

These pressure sores appear as swollen pockets under the skin. They’re often seen on a horse’s withers, but other areas are possible. 

Unlike saddle sores, specifically, which occur under the seat of the saddle, galls can form as collar galls or girth sores. 

Symptoms Of Saddle Sores

The most obvious symptoms of a sore are swelling, inflammation, redness, and missing hair. In severe cases, the skin will be clearly broken. 

You may also notice scarring from previous sores or bald spots in the affected area where the hair keeps being rubbed away. 

There may also be patches of white hair.

Symptoms Of Saddle Sores

Not all signs of saddle sores are obvious. You should also look for behavioral problems. 

For example, a horse with sores might act like they’re in pain or resist when you want to saddle up for a ride. While riding, the horse might show signs of distress since the inflammation and pain will only get worse as you continue to ride without treating the problem.

Riders should note that other conditions can masquerade as saddle sores or galls. For example, some types of skin cancer look like a harmless bump or a patch of skin irritation. If symptoms go on for too long without clearing up, it may be time to consider whether some other condition is causing the problem.

Treatment Of Saddle Sores

Treating saddle sores doesn’t automatically require a call to the vet. In the early stages, horse owners can treat the horses back at home by applying ice and astringent packs to lower inflammation and reduce the risk of infection.

Saddle Sores Treatment

Medicated horse shampoo is another option that’s effective for minor rashes and irritation.

For open sores, it’s best to trim any hair that’s near the sore, clean the affected area, and then apply some type of antibiotic cream. Open sores should be covered with a sterile bandage. 

While the horse is healing, the animal should be allowed to recover and rest. Sweat and pressure would only worsen the condition and be painful for the horse.

If there’s any chance of a bacterial infection, a vet should be involved as soon as possible. At this stage, professional treatment is needed for the sake of the horse. 

If left untreated, infections can pose a great danger to equine health. A vet may prescribe stronger antibiotics to apply directly to the sores or an oral medication. 

It’s also important to involve a vet if there are any chance saddle sores are actually due to something else. The wrong diagnosis will only delay treatment. A vet will be able to inspect the area and decide whether the sores are from friction, poor saddle fit, or other causes. 

Best Ways to Prevent Saddle Sores

People who have had issues with saddle sores in the past should check their tack. A poor-fitting saddle or one that lacks the right padding is likely to cause problems again in the future.

Saddle Blanket Or Saddle Pad

This includes checking that your tack is clean and properly maintained. Upon finding a sore, inspect your saddle blanket or saddle pad along with your saddle. 

Sometimes, dirt and other foreign objects can get stuck between the horse’s body and the saddle, causing the rubbing against the skin instead of the saddle itself. That’s why you should always ensure that anything coming into contact with your horse’s skin is washed regularly. 

If the saddle fit ends up being the culprit, you can prevent further skin damage, hair loss, and damaged hair follicles by adjusting any saddles used with that horse. 

Some issues can be fixed simply by adding padding to better cushion the weight of the rider and prevent friction. Other sores might be a more serious issue with the tack that requires the rider to change saddles altogether.

It might be tempting to hold onto a saddle to save money, but if it’s worn out and causing injuries, then it’s time to start shopping for a replacement. 

That’s not to say that only older saddles cause sores. New and slightly used saddles can also cause sores because they don’t properly fit the horse or the materials are so inflexible that they scrape the skin instead of naturally conforming to the horse’s body.

Final Thoughts

Although sores can be serious, most require only basic treatment to reduce swelling and help the skin heal. After this type of diagnosis, riders should check their tack to see if the tack is the source of the problem. 

Girth and collar galls are also possible along the horse’s withers and other areas of the body. These can be painful, especially if they’re exposed to further friction or sweat.

Owners should take care to avoid riding horses with sores as they recover. Horses should still get exercise, but no tack should be placed over the skin in the affected part of the body. This will allow the horse to heal without potentially breaking open the skin again.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ):

Are Some Horses More Likely To Get Saddle Sores?

Some horses are more prone to sores and collar galls than others because of their anatomy. Horses with short or fine coats are more likely to get sores because there’s less hair to protect their skin from abrasion or friction.

A horse with an unusual build might need extra padding around the withers or a special pad for the front of the saddle by the pommel to prevent the saddle from shifting while the horse is ridden.

Horses whose coats are changing due to the seasons may also have issues with sores.

How Expensive Is Treatment For Saddle Sores?

The cost of treating saddle sores depends on exactly what kind of care is needed.

Cleaning the area and dressing it without involving a vet could cost as little as $15.

A vet visit and a prescription for stronger antibiotics can run up to $500.

In truly severe cases when there’s an active infection caused by saddle sores or dead tissue that needs to be removed, surgery is an option. Even basic surgical procedures can cost over $2,000.

Angela Martinez

Angela Martinez, the proud owner of Shady Acres, has over 20 years of experience working with horses of all breeds, sizes, and backgrounds. From her very first walk-trot shows as a child, Angela has always had a special place in her heart for hunter/jumper and English riding. But after searching for a new challenge, and discovering that dressage just wasn’t in the cards for her stubborn Friesian, she now finds herself trying all sorts of different events—even Western ones!

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