8 minute read

Are your saddles stealing from you?

Ill-fitting polo saddles rob you of performance on the field and money out of your pocket for vets, chiropractors and unintended downtime - the Ainsley MVP can help you protect and enhance your investment in horses - at all levels.

Whenever the conversation amongst polo players turns to polo saddles, someone will invariable say that they get their saddles for $4-500 in Argentina, so why pay more for your saddles?


While there are decent saddles coming out of Argentina, the biggest issue is that polo saddles are often purchased unseen and untrialled, and it's not surprising that many of these saddles fit poorly or will change shape over time to fit poorly. Another significant issue is that a saddle priced at $500 to the consumer cannot cover the cost of high grade materials, workmanship and, most detrimental of all, any kind of innovation that would further the performance of polo horses and players. The combination of a relatively small market (as compared to other equestrian sports) and low prices for polo saddles, has meant that the polo saddle has seen virtually no innovation for the past 25-30 years, despite the fact that we as polo players demand more from our horses than in any other equestrian sport. The MVP sets a new yardstick for innovation and performance.

Our horses contribute 70-80% to our performance on the field, but an ill-fitting saddle may cost you 5-20% of your horses' capabilities, be it in a match, in the course of a season or over an entire career. One of our 10-goal ambassadors tells us that a good saddle on a good horse, may add 1-2 goals to your handicap.

Below, we take a look at some the things you should look out for: warning signals that a saddle may be robbing you of some of the performance that your horses are capable of, and we try to illustrate how the MVP may give you as close to 100% as possible, bearing in mind that it's much better and easier to prevent a back problem than it is to cure one.

Impediment of shoulder blade movement

In polo, we ideally wish to be positioned over the horse's shoulders, where they are the strongest, and where we can create the most stable hitting platform. Generally, polo saddles are positioned forward and the horse's scapulae therefore need to pass behind the front section of the saddle panels.

As there are no skeletal connections between a horse's scapulae and rib cage (horses have no collar bone), the shoulder blades are surprisingly flexible, and a well designed saddle will guide them to slide easily behind the front panels. Anything that obstructs the movement of the shoulder blade is likely to cause discomfort and possibly soreness with time.

In this example, the panels are 'edged', creating a barrier for the scapulae as they move back and need to pass behind the panels, often causing an abrupt turn-in of the scapulae as they move back behind the panels.

The MVP may be placed both behind or over the scapulae. If placed forward, the soft, sculpted panels of the MVP, extending forward of the saddle, effectively guides the scapulae to slide easily behind the panels of the saddle.

Saddle lifting at the back

The polo saddle should distribute the player's weight over a large surface. A saddle that pivots forward during hooks or neck shots, places all your weight on the horse's shoulders and there is good chance that the saddle tree points are pinching the horse's shoulders. Even if this only happens for short periods of time, the movement of the horse's shoulder blades are physically impeded, causing discomfort or worse for your horse and reduces your stability.

This saddle is probably too narrow at the shoulders and the panels have been compressed so much that it no longer conforms to the horse's shape.

Correctly adjusted in width across the withers and with the right choice of panels, the MVP will distribute the player's evenly in all situations.

Little or no clearance at the withers

Some polo saddles are just too wide for certain horses. They might have been designed to be wide or they have spread with age, which happens with many polo saddles. The result is that the saddle comes too close to the withers or even sits on the withers. If this is the case when the player is in a neutral position, then the issue is compounded when the player is in the half seat. Not surprisingly, a load directly on the withers is painful for the horse and may give rise to adverse reactions and longer term back problems. You can perform this simple test yourself: as you ride off the field after a chukka, put 2-3 fingers between the withers and the pommel, then lean forward. You will know immediately if the saddle has a problem and the effect this has on your horse.

This saddle has probably spread over time, leaving no space between the saddle and the withers. Leaning or reaching forward will almost certainly put the saddle in contact with the withers, which can have serious consequences.

The MVP comes with three different, exchangeable gullet plates made from spring steel, which will never spread, providing ample space above the withers - also when you are well forward hitting a neck shot or hooking your opponent

Use of risers or multiple saddle pads

Ideally, a polo saddle should fit your horse's confirmation without any additional padding or with just a thin saddle pad. Although you may, to some extent, be able to use a poorly fitting saddle by using risers or multiple saddle pads, you will also raise your center of gravity, thus negatively influencing your connection with your horse, and there is a substantial risk that your weight will not be evenly distributed across the footprint of the saddles panels.

As polo players we benefit from as close a contact with our horses as possible. The addition of an inch of padding may mask a poor fit, but it will raise your centre of gravity and impede a good connection between horse and player.

The width adjustment options and multiple panel styles, ensures that the MVP can be fitted to virtually any polo pony, enabling close contact, perfect fit and ideal weight distribution across the entire surface of the panels.

Poor fit and over-tightening of girth

Poorly fitting saddles, especially those with a flat profile across the saddle and saddles with 'tired' panels, often shift from side to side, compelling grooms to over-tighten the girths to keep the saddle from from doing so. Research on the effects of girth tension in racing has demonstrated that a girth tension above an optimal 10 kgs (22 lbs) can have a significant impact on the 'distance to fatigue'. The tighter the girth, the sooner your horses get tired. The implication is that the better that your saddles fit your horses, the less girth tension is required, and your horses will be able to perform for longer periods of time.

An example of a saddle that is placing most of the players weight along the horses spine and less along the outside of the panels. As such a saddle will tend to shift sideways, the girth is often over-tightened, causing the horse to fatigue sooner than necessary

With numerous possible configurations, the MVP enables you to achieve a perfect fit, reducing the need for tightening the girth beyond an optimal 10 kgs (22 lbs) of tension, in effect giving increasing the stamina of your horses to run longer distances and recover faster.

Tilting saddles

If you see polo saddles with the cantle much lower than the pommel, the saddle may either be too far forward, which could be intentional, although counterproductive, to place the player sufficiently forward, or it could be caused by a forward girth groove, or the saddle is too narrow at the shoulders. Whatever the reason, a tilting saddle is likely to impede and pinch the horses shoulders and it will place a seated player too far back, concentrating the player's weight at the back of the saddle, close to the weakest point of the horse's back, and extending the effort and the distance of the movement that the player has to go through to get back into the half seat from seated

In this photo, the cantle is clearly much lower than pommel, interfering more than necessary with the horse's shoulders and placing the seated player too far back, to the detriment of both horse and player

All Ainsley saddles, including the MVP are designed to allow the player to get into the half seat with the least amount of effort, and without placing the saddle too far forward over the shoulders

Ainsley Saddlery

Ainsley Saddlery is the world's only polo saddlery owned by a professional polo player (hcp 5) and an accomplished polo horse maker, Ross Ainsley. Over the past 10 years, Ross has used his vast experience as a polo player and master horseman to continuously develop a range of technical polo saddles, uniquely created to ensure that neither you nor your horses play below your capabilities.

Performance Polo

Distributor of Ainsley Saddlery products - dedicated to providing polo gear that truly makes a difference and doesn't just meet a functional need.