How to Treat and Prevent Saddle Sores from Horseback Riding

by | Jul 22, 2018 | Blog, Equine Health

Long summer days, long trails, long hours in the saddle… it all sounds like utter bliss. But especially for those riders who don’t get to mount up often and aren’t fully fit, or riders who spend many hours riding every day, saddle sores can quickly ruin your enjoyment of your favourite activity. Here’s the nitty-gritty of these irritating issues.

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Saddle sores are caused by three things: pressure, friction, and sweat. As any rider can testify, all of the above are prevalent in riding. Humans were designed more for standing and walking than for straddling a horse, so when we ride, we place pressure on skin and muscles that aren’t supposed to be taking that kind of strain.

One of the primary causes of saddle sores is, of course, the saddle itself. Very smooth and slippery saddles – particularly those that are too long for the rider – cause the rider’s seat to slide around, creating considerable friction. A saddle with a seat that is too hard increases the pressure placed on the rider’s seat bones, which can cause pressure sores on the skin of that (very delicate) area.

The rider’s clothing is also a common culprit. While cowboys look super cool wearing jeans, these are actually often some of the worst pants to ride in, as they tend to bunch up and chafe and don’t have the stretch for a comfy, skin-tight fit that still allows the rider to move freely. Underwear also has a tendency to bunch up unless it’s form-fitting and big enough. Sexiness has no place in the saddle – thongs have caused many hours of misery to unwitting riders who didn’t realize how much sweat and chafing can happen between one’s butt cheeks.

As for shorts, while many pretty horse ladies may want to show off their legs, they can be disastrous to ride in. Not only do these cause the tender skin of the inner calf to be caught between the saddle flap and the stirrup leather, but they also tend to bunch up around the nether regions, which is uncomfortable at the time and excruciating afterwards.


If you have saddle sores, you’ll know about it! All types of saddle sores are varying degrees of painful and unpleasant.

Chafing, usually on the inner thighs, presents as reddened and very tender skin. The superficial layer of the skin may even be chafed through in very severe cases, in which case this will be a really sore abrasion (a graze). Should this be coupled with pinching of the inner calf by the stirrup leather, there will also be hair loss (in dudes – or girls in winter, we won’t judge) and bruising of the calf area. If neglected, simple chafing can develop into open sores, which are easily infected and extraordinarily painful.

Pressure can also cause tender swellings, particularly on the sensitive skin covering the seatbones – or even more sensitive areas that we won’t mention out loud. These bumps need to be watched carefully and treated with respect, as they can develop into abscesses or even a full-blown systemic infection given the chance.

Saddle sores are, well, sore, but they are usually easily treatable at home. However, infected saddle sores can make you pretty sick. Visit your doctor if you experience any of the following symptoms: fever; chills; general malaise; severe swelling, heat, and redness of the affected area; or pus draining from the sore.


The simplest treatment for saddle sores is also the most bitter pill to swallow: taking a break from riding. Equestrians are notoriously difficult about taking time off, but ultimately, knowing when to take a few days’ rest to allow a minor sore to heal up can prevent you from having to take weeks off if the injury becomes more severe. Constant friction and pressure will only make the sore worse, but resting will allow your body to work its healing magic.

For simple saddle sores, there are treatments you can apply in accordance with manufacturer’s instructions to help you heal faster. Some are designed for pain relief like Sore No More Natural Pain Relieving Gel; others are more specifically for chafing and abrasions like Doc’s Skin Care Saddle Sore Ointment. Joshua Tree Organic Cycling Salve, designed for cyclists, is an all-natural product that fights infection while soothing and moisturizing the skin.
Doc's Skin Care Saddle Sore Ointment

Doc’s Skin Care Saddle Sore Ointment

Should your saddle sores become infected, you will need to see your doctor, who might have to drain abscesses and prescribe oral antibiotics. So it’s best to treat your sores quickly before it gets to that point.

Joshua Tree Organic Cycling Salve

Joshua Tree Organic Cycling Salve


Ever wondered how professional riders manage to put in hours every day without developing saddle sores? Well, the simple answer is that they do, too, sometimes. But generally, professionals develop fewer saddle sores because they are fitter and more balanced riders. They stay stiller in the tack, decreasing friction, and their skin has been toughened by years of riding.

Another reason why the pros don’t suffer as much is because they use appropriate equipment. A well-fitting saddle in good condition will keep you stiller and is more comfortable to sit in, preventing both pressure and friction. Appropriate clothing is also extremely important. Bicycle shorts under your pants can help, but well-fitting, quality breeches, for example, Equine Couture Women’s Bobbi Breeches, are often comfortable enough on their own.

Equine Couture Women's Bobbi Breech

Equine Couture Women’s Bobbi Breeches

Special Native Spirit Trail Riders Jeans have also been developed for riders who want that denim cowboy look with the comfort of riding pants. Suede or leather half chaps are inexpensive and can be worn with ankle boots to prevent chafing by the stirrup leathers where long boots are just too hot and expensive.Saxon Equileather Half Chaps

Keeping your skin moisturized is also important to prevent friction. A daily application of your usual body lotion is helpful, but for extra effect, you can use a balm like Chamois Glide Stop Saddle Sores Balm one right before you put on your riding clothes. Baby powder is also useful – there’s a reason we put that stuff on sensitive baby bottoms to keep them dry and smooth. Especially for a rider that sweats excessively, powder can be a gamechanger.

Chamois Glide Stop Saddle Sores Balm

Chamois Glide Stop Saddle Sores Balm

Another option is to fit a seat cover to your saddle. Usually made of sheepskin, this will relieve pressure and reduce the seat size, preventing you from sliding around in a saddle that’s too big.

Western Fleece Saddle Seat Saver Sheepskin Horse Saddle Cover

Western Fleece Saddle Seat Saver Sheepskin Horse Saddle Cover


Especially for trail riders, saddle sores can be a real bummer (pun intended). But with these handy tips, they don’t have to spoil your fun. Wear good breeches, moisturize your skin, put on a seat cover and enjoy the ride!

About The Author

<a href="" target="_self">Firn Hyde</a>

Firn Hyde

I'm a young horsewoman living in a tiny home on a horse farm in South Africa with three dogs, two pigs, a longsuffering man, and God's grace. I run a stableyard and compete in dressage with two kind geldings who keep me happy and a psychotic mare who keeps me humble. For the past two years, I've been writing for a living, and I enjoy every opportunity to combine my two passions.

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