EQUUS - - Conversati­ons -

Prob­a­bly the most im­por­tant thing to con­sider when pro­tect­ing your horse’s back is tack fit.

Over time, the pres­sure points cre­ated by a poorly fit­ting sad­dle can cause in­jury or chronic sore­ness. It’s bet­ter to iden­tify th­ese prob­lems early on, but that can re­quire some ex­per­tise in sad­dle fit­ting.

“If your vet­eri­nar­ian isn’t a rider, or in­ex­pe­ri­enced in sad­dle fit­ting, this may be out of his or her realm of con­fi­dence,” says Bruce Con­nally, DVM, of Wy­oming Equine, an equine sports medicine prac­tice in Berthoud, Colorado. “The trainer’s ex­per­tise prob­a­bly does in­clude the sad­dle and rider, but he or she may not know the anatomy of the back as well as the vet­eri­nar­ian does.” Hav­ing your trainer and your vet­eri­nar­ian work to­gether may be your best bet.

Even if your sad­dle fits your horse well now, you’ll need to keep tabs on it as the years pass. “Horses’ backs change over time as they grow, be­come more or less mus­cled, and as they age,” says Jenny John­son, VMD, of Oakhill Shock­wave and Ve­teri­nary Chi­ro­prac­tic in Cal­abasas, Cal­i­for­nia. “Even a sad­dle cus­tom-built for one horse may not fit in two to five years.”

John­son of­ten sees the ef­fects of poor sad­dle fit in her prac­tice, which spe­cial­izes in per­for­mance horses.

“I am amazed at how much horses will do for their rid­ers in spite of ill-fit­ting sad­dles and dis­com­fort. If you had to wear a pair of shoes too large or too small and then run a mile and maybe jump some hur­dles, you’d refuse to do it. But horses keep try­ing to do their job,” she says. “I’ve had clients who say it makes a night-and-day dif­fer­ence in the qual­ity of the horse’s move­ment, how he jumps, etc., when they get a sad­dle that fits prop­erly.”

Fi­nally, re­mem­ber that your own im­bal­ances and asym­me­tries can also cre­ate pres­sure points on a horse’s back. Re­search shows that asym­me­try is com­mon among rid­ers. In a study con­ducted at the Uni­ver­sity of Sun­der­land in Eng­land, all 12 of the rid­ers as­sessed showed a de­gree of asym­me­try, with a dif­fer­ence of up to 27 de­grees in the an­gles of the left and right hips.

“Some sad­dles push the rider off-cen­ter, or horses that are a lit­tle lame or have asym­met­ri­cal gaits push the rider off-cen­ter,” says Con­nally. “If the stride is un­even the rider may not be cen­tered. It doesn’t take much to be rid­ing off-cen­ter, and then you make the horse’s back sore.”

If you’re con­cerned about im­bal­ances in your rid­ing, en­list a knowl­edge­able friend to watch you ride—tak­ing videos can help you an­a­lyze your pos­ture and po­si­tion at dif­fer­ent gaits. If you find chronic crooked­ness, you can do ex­er­cises to help you straighten out. (To learn more, go to “Straighten Up and Ride Right, EQUUS 447.)

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