A correctly fitting and balanced saddle is so important for the well-being of your horse, with many muscle and skeletal problems being linked back to ill-fitting tack. There are simple observations that you can make yourself including to check for uneven flocking, check for asymmetry between the panels or tree, make sure the tree is not broken and ensure the gullet is wide enough. An unbalanced, poorly-fitting saddle can restrict blood circulation to the muscles of the back. This not only prevents symmetric development of the horse during training but can cause muscle wastage, soreness in the back, compensation and blocking of the shoulder potentially leading to schooling issues and impeding movement. Regular checks with your local Master Saddler will help him to remain comfortable and supple in his movement. It is also important to consider the fit of bridles, rugs and other equipment as these too can cause problems.
Dental checks from a trained practitioner are vital for preventing pain or discomfort in the mouth. If the teeth are not rasped, the molars and premolars can develop sharp points which can rub and cause ulceration to the inside of the cheeks and reduce the efficiency of the teeth as a grinding platform for food. This can in turn cause tension in the temporal mandibular joint (the jaw joint) and make it uncomfortable for the horse to relax in response to the bit when being ridden, potentially leading to tension in the poll, neck and back. Your dentist will suggest a suitable treatment time interval for your horse.
Wherever possible use a mounting block to mount your horse. Constantly mounting from the ground from the same side causes asymmetric forces to act on the musculoskeletal system as the horse braces to counterbalance the weight of the rider. If it is necessary to mount from the floor it may be beneficial that your horse is mounted from both sides, if safe to do so, as this could improve symmetry of the horse and potentially saddle fit, reducing saddle slip and further asymmetric forces acting on the horse.
Lungeing and Training Aids
Lungeing can be of great benefit to horses with back problems, enabling them to work without the weight of a rider, but it is quite strenuous on the horse’s body. Therefore do not lunge for more than 20 – 25 minutes and even less time if you are introducing them to working in a training aid.
If used correctly training aids such as side reins, the Pessoa and Equi-ami can be very useful for exercising and rehabilitating. However these must be fitted appropriately otherwise they can create restriction and muscle fatigue or worsen an existing problem. Also if your horse is a little keen on the lunge and pulls against you, this can lead to tension in the poll and upper neck.
Consult your local trainer, not only to improve your ability and your horse’s way of going, but to consider potential imbalance in your position and whether you are sitting crookedly in the saddle. These asymmetries can easily cause our horses to overcompensate causing muscle tension, stiffness and discomfort. Our instructors can help with our posture and technique and suggest tailored exercises to promote straightness, suppleness and balance in our horses.
Inadequate hoof care, incorrect foot balance and poor shoeing or trimming can have a negative effect on your horse by affecting posture and movement of your horse, potentially leading to compensation, muscle tension and misalignments in the body.
Grooming your horse has additional benefits other than cleaning the coat and removing mud; it also increases blood circulation which assists in removing waste products from the muscles and can help to relieve muscle spasms and tension. Avoid bony areas and use your body brush to create long sweeping strokes along the neck, the length of the back and over the hindquarters.
Your horse must be fit enough to work at the level which is being asked of him, otherwise the potential risk of fatigue and strain injuries increases. Ensure he has had a sufficient warm up and cool down before and after exercise and incorporating variety in the horse’s exercise regime can help to improve fitness and strength.
Make sure that you work your horse evenly on both reins when schooling and that lateral exercises are carried out in both directions equally, otherwise he may develop a preferred rein.
Try not to work your horse for extended intervals; little and often can be much more beneficial especially for young horses who do not have the strength to work for very long before they become physically and mentally tired.
Although not always feasible, it is really important that horses have lots of turn out to enable them to have freedom of movement to mobilise the joints. Also eating from the floor is much more natural, enabling them to stretch the neck and back.
Feeding from the floor
If your horse spends a considerable amount of time in the stable, it can be beneficial to feed your hay from the floor instead of using haynets. Horses tilt their heads and often pull at hay repeatedly from the same direction, putting the head and neck in an unnatural position. Feeding from the floor stretches the muscles and ligaments of the neck and back.
Equine Physical Therapist
MSc (Animal Manipulation)
BSc (Biological Sciences)
Pg Dip (ESM)