Saddle Sores

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Also Known As

Saddle abrasions


Saddle sores are normally found around the withers where the skin is thin and little fat or muscle cushions the area. Often, hairless patches or groups of white hairs appear where the saddle and tack make contact with the horse.

If the rubbing and pressure continue, abrasions, sores, and rash may develop, leading to great discomfort for the horse and problems such as bucking or rearing when the pain becomes severe.


  • Hairless patches or patches of white hair
  • Swollen areas that are tender when touched
  • Abraded skin
  • Open sores


A poorly-designed or ill-fitting saddle or inappropriate tack are the most common causes of saddle sores. When a saddle does not fit the back of the horse properly, it will tend to rub with each movement of the horse or rider.

If a rider does not maintain correct posture and leans too far forward or backward, or does not allow the stirrups to carry some weight, pressure areas become prone to rubbing, and sores develop.

When the saddle blanket is contaminated by dirt, weeds, or foreign objects, or if it becomes worn so it doesn't protect the horse, the resultant rubbing on the skin will cause abrasions leading to saddle sores.


Fitting a saddle correctly is a science. Seek advice from a veterinarian or other professional when deciding which saddle is best for a particular horse.

Use of an appropriate saddle, blanket, and cinch that are kept clean and free of any foreign objects, along with attention to proper riding techniques, will prevent saddle sores from developing.

Before saddling up, the rider should check the horse, as well as the saddle and all tack, to make sure that everything is clean and in good order and nothing that might irritate or rub the horse's skin is under the blanket, saddle or any other piece of tack.

When taking a break during riding, remove the saddle and allow any moisture that has accumulated on the horse and saddle pad to dry out.


Treatment of saddle sores is straightforward. The area should be cleaned and then kept dry to allow for healing. Cold compresses may be applied if swelling appears.

If a rash exists, a medicated horse shampoo should be used, and a veterinarian called in to determine if the rash is caused by a staphylococcal bacterial infection. Close clipping of the affected area, plus appropriate treatment prescribed by the veterinarian, may be necessary.

Zinc oxide salve may be applied to raw areas to dry and protect the skin.

Rugs and blankets should be washed regularly and each horse should have separate tack.

Avoid use of saddles and tack until the sores are fully healed. Riding bareback will allow the horse to be exercised.

If a saddle must be used, protect the sore area with an extra blanket or foam pad, making sure that no pressure is placed on the saddle sore.

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EquiMed staff writers team up to provide articles that require periodic updates based on evolving methods of equine healthcare. Compendia articles, core healthcare topics and more are written and updated as a group effort. Our review process includes an important veterinarian review, helping to assure the content is consistent with the latest understanding from a medical professional.