A common feature in the many horses I visit in my role as an equine therapist/teacher is atrophy and soreness due to an incorrect saddle fit. It doesn’t take an intuitive person to recognise the physical trauma experienced by the horse; it does, however, require the recognition of the difference between disobedience and pain-related behaviours associated with the ill-fitting saddle.
within the limits
It is with the best intention we place a saddle on the back of a horse, ensuring a correct fit within the limits of our knowledge of the subject. This in itself can be rather disturbing because how do we know where our knowledge is at in ensuring the saddle currently in use sits on the horse’s back without restriction and discomfort? After all, we only know what we know; is that knowledge enough?
horses will teach us
Your knowledge and experience will determine the level of your awareness of the reaction of the horse to the saddle, particularly when many evasions may appear to manifest in front of you when in the saddle, rather than underneath you. Horses usually display the same symptoms when suffering from back pain as they do when in pain and discomfort around the head and mouth. If we allow them, horses will teach us far more than any human teacher ever could.
the pain he suffers
Disobedient, lazy, aggressive, headstrong, head shaker – sadly, still familiar terms in the equestrian world for a horse who is in pain and discomfort. A whip may be supplied for the disobedience, a kick in the ribs is handy for the lazy horse; a stronger bit and tighter noseband is a good remedy for the headstrong horse, and tie downs will prevent the horse from lifting his head above what we deem to be the correct position to maintain control.
A horse who feels it necessary to shift his weight in an attempt to compensate for the pain he suffers will often appear lame, resulting in a possible wrong diagnosis and incorrect medical attention.
75% of back pain
Research suggests that at least 75% of back pain in the horse is the result of an ill-fitting saddle. However, crookedness in the rider can also result in debilitating trauma. If you go to the expense of having a saddle fitted to your horse but you don’t address any crookedness in yourself, the horse will continue to suffer the consequences.
The equine anatomy wasn’t designed to hold the weight of a rider and saddle; it evolved to produce speed when fleeing predators – an important fact that should always be at the forefront of our minds.
Here are 5 facts you may not be aware of:
- When looking to buy a new saddle ‘off the peg’, the saddle tree under the leatherwork is usually a standard symmetrical design template for all the saddles of the same type and size on display. Therefore, although the length and width of it may look correct for your horse, the saddle won’t fit correctly if your horse isn’t also symmetrical on both sides of his body, with resulting physical discomfort and pain made visible through various behaviours, body language and facial expressions. It’s a bit like trying to hammer a round peg into a square hole.
- Although quite rare in my experience, manufactured saddle trees can sometimes be imperfect, throwing off the whole balance with an unfavourable effect on the wellbeing of you and your horse. The attachments to the warped tree such as the girth straps and stirrup bars will most likely be out of alignment, compromising your position in the saddle. The horse will have restricted movement with stiffness on one rein. Continued use of the saddle will likely result in traumatised bones, muscles, and the negative emotional state of the horse.
- The slightest unevenness in the hooves can cause the same along the horse’s body, making correct saddle fitting difficult. The one-sidedness of the horse is a common cause of the irregularities of the hooves due to imbalanced weight on each front leg. Much of the time, the irregularity is down to the horse compensating as he tries to shift his body away from the pain of an ill-fitting saddle.
- A dip at the front of the withers indicates wastage of the cervical trapezius – a result of a restrictive saddle at the shoulder.
- A hollow behind the withers indicates wastage of the thoracic trapezius, spinalis, and rhomboid muscles – a result of a restrictive saddle at the shoulder.
Steps to take:
Refrain from using the saddle until it is established that the saddle is not at fault.
Seek advice and assistance from an expert qualified in both saddle creation and fitting. Look for a local reputable practitioner on the ‘Society of Master Saddler’s website.
Address the issues holistically – look at the whole picture including checking of the horse’s anatomy by your vet/back specialist, farriery, dentistry, worming, feeding regime, environment, daily routine.
Address any personal crookedness issues and level of suppleness – seek out relevant exercise routines, seek out experts who can help you expand your knowledge and understanding of equine behaviours.
Of equal importance is to request the services of a professional who is qualified in working with energy-based therapies in promoting the free flow of energy throughout the internal systems. The recognition that universal energy is our ‘life force’, that it is as vital to all living things as breathing, and of our innate ability to work on an energetic and intuitive level is still in its infancy. Nonetheless, we now know – and this is scientifically proven – that blocked energy in the horse is the root cause of many physical ailments such as pain, lameness, lethargy.
restrictions of all kinds
Energy blocks are as a result of restrictions of all kinds. An explanation of the healing power of universal energy is a massive subject in its own right and won’t be discussed here; however, be aware that if the energy isn’t allowed to flow freely throughout the body, whether it’s due to a restrictive saddle or an emotional issue, the horse in question won’t be able to function at his full potential in any area of his physical, mental, emotional or spiritual being. You can find further information under the heading ‘blog’ on this site.