SRT Referral Service

The Saddle Research Trust (SRT) has recognised a growing need for an independent, expert advice service to support and assist horse owners in reaching a definitive reason for performance issues related to the ridden horse. The SRT is able to offer a referral service to help resolve these complex issues.

The case will be assessed by the SRT and, if deemed suitable, referred to the SRT Veterinary Advisor who will carry out an independent examination of the horse, saddle and rider. A written report will be provided for the owner and their associated professional practitioners (veterinary surgeon, physiotherapist, saddle fitter etc).


“Despite having passed a pre-purchase vetting with flying colours I had been having issues with my recently acquired 8 year old mare since purchase; primarily napping, grumpiness and showing signs of discomfort being groomed and tacked up, and then progressively difficulty picking up canter in the school. My local equine vet, instructor, and equine physio were not overly concerned with my mare’s behaviour because she looked sound when trotted up, and doing flexion tests etc.

Although my vet thought the horse’s behaviour was most likely her just being a ‘chestnut mare’, he agreed that if I was still concerned the next step would be a full lameness work-up at a likely minimum cost of c£1,500. I knew that my mare was not right but unfortunately she was not insured and so I was reluctant to spend £1,500 with a vet that didn’t seem to be acknowledging there was a problem. So, I made an application for my mare to be seen by Sue Dyson through the SRT referral scheme.

Sue assessed my mare in the stable, and then in-hand, lunged, and ridden. Following the assessment Sue discussed with me the potential diagnosis based on what she had seen that day and the horse’s clinical history. Based on this we discussed the cost of undertaking further diagnostic tests and the likely long-term prognosis for the horse to return to being a happy ridden horse.

Sue was confident that there were several significant health problems suffered by my mare that meant she was in pain when worked (both under-saddle and on the lunge), and I regret not trusting my own instincts on this earlier. However, it was a relief for me to have my horse seen by a vet that has such extensive experience identifying and diagnosing performance related issues, and that acknowledged the signs of discomfort my mare was giving.

Sue gave a very honest and clear (as is possible without undertaking further diagnostic tests) prognosis for my mare which allowed me to make a sensible decision about her future that was in the best interests of the horse.”

Emma Murphy

Rocket: a case study,
By Ella Howard, age 10 years

Rocket is my 14:2hh, 5-year-old grey Connemara gelding, who I am carefully producing to be a top-class event pony. This year, Rocket has done some amazing things for me: we competed in three National Championships, including 3rd in the NSEA National Eventing Championships, 2nd in the Area Pony Club Eventing, team member at the Pony Club Championships and 10th in the Connemara Eventing Championships..

However, as time went on it became obvious that there was an underlying problem that was making Rocket unhappy.  As the summer competition season progressed, Rocket became heavier in my right rein, started holding his tail to one side, found turning right difficult and as the fences grew bigger, he would sometimes skew or chip in a stride. Rocket had always jumped off a lovely rhythm, so this was particularly worrying. We were also introducing flying changes, but he was increasingly having difficulty with this, often becoming disunited, and that made me think it was my riding that was at fault.

After discussing the problems that we were encountering with Dr Anne Bondi, she advised us that this sounded like a pain-related poor performance problem.  Anne told us about the referral service that is offered by the Saddle Research Trust (SRT). This service is designed to help riders get advice about what to do next when they find themselves with an unhappy horse who is not finding the work easy, but there is no obvious reason to be seen.

The SRT referred Rocket to meet Dr Sue Dyson at the Animal Health Trust (AHT). When we arrived at the AHT we took Rocket to be weighed on the weigh bridge. He was 502 kilos, which is rather overweight. He’d been on holiday and always eats too much, so this is something we will monitor more closely with a weigh tape in future.  He was put in Stable E, his tack was put in the tack room and then we went to the clinic reception to fill in some forms.

We then met Dr Sue Dyson, who asked us general questions about Rocket, including ridden and behavioural problems. We told her that Rocket had changed slowly from a friendly pony into one who was now generally looking unhappy and sad. Although he was always good to catch, he had his ears back in a sad way (not cross) and instead of him being my special Rocket, he just felt ordinary to ride.

Sue and I then went to see Rocket. She looked at him as though he was being vetted and did flexion tests, saw him lunged on a hard and a soft surface and then finally with me riding him in their lovely arena. After the preliminary examination was complete, Sue said that there was likely to be an underlying pain-related problem and that he looked very uncomfortable. Sue then advised us of the next steps that she would recommend in order to investigate the possible causes of the problems. She suggested that we book him in for a full diagnostic evaluation and in the meantime, I should keep him in light work.

One week later, we returned for Rocket’s next appointment when he was investigated further. Using nerve blocks, Sue was able to rule out areas where he did not appear to have pain and eventually found that he had considerable pain in the sacroiliac region, which is over his croup. She explained that this is a very common problem in jumping horses, that it is difficult to treat successfully and that it requires careful management with rehabilitation and physiotherapy.

Sue talked through the options with us. In her experience, Sue advised that rest alone would be unlikely to give him a chance of staying sound enough for what we want to do. There is a procedure that involves medicating the sacroiliac joint region, but this is not always successful and usually requires repeated medication to show any long-term improvement.

Rocket is so brave and despite being in pain, he had carried on doing his best for me all season. He is so talented, and I desperately wanted him to have a chance to be sound again and for me to be able ride him in FEI Pony Trials and compete at Brand Hall BCP Championships. We decided to take the risk and to go ahead with the medication procedure. 

The work and rehabilitation now begin, and I will keep a diary. Rocket now weighs in at 486, but he still has weight to lose and will be kept on a very strict diet. I now know that is easier to keep horses sounder if they are lean, not fat!  He has a list of exercises to do every day including carrot stretches, tail pulls and walking backwards. We also have to make sure that his feet are very well shod as this makes a huge difference in keeping horses sound.

I will write again soon with an update on how we are dealing with his exercise and weight and hopefully we will soon see a happier Rocket. I would really like to be able to help other riders who may have an unhappy horse or pony. By reading this, someone else might recognise some of the same problems and be able to seek help before it’s too late.