What is the purpose of a saddle?
A saddle is designed to offer the rider support and to distribute the riders weight over a large surface area, while allowing
the horse to move freely.
will have your saddle for a lifetime, but not your horse. So does your saddle fit more than one horse properly?
putting on the saddle without a pad do you have 2" of complete clearance between the saddle and your horse’s spine while
sitting in the saddle? You should.
give your saddle a snuggie? That is, pull the blanket up into the gullet so as to not bind your horse’s spine. You
Do you have a three-inch rotation around the horse’s
point of hip, where no saddle or blanket is interfering? You should.
When using a breast collar do you have it adjusted so that
you can pull it away from the horse’s shoulder 3"-4", allowing the shoulder to move freely? You should.
When you raise your horse’s leg up and forward, do you
have the 3-4" of free shoulder movement without interference from the saddle? You should.
When using a crupper, can you raise it off your horse’s
rump 3"-4"? You should.
you and your saddle weigh more than 20% of your horse’s weight? You shouldn’t.
going either up or down hill does your saddle slip forward or back, so that you see more than 2" of sweat? If so you need
either a crupper or a breast collar.
you have the proper length girth? When cinched up your girth should be no more than 6" away from the D ring on a western
saddle and halfway up the billets on either side on an English saddle.
you are completely cinched up and mounted can you get two fingers between the pad and spine of horse? You should.
using a rear flank cinch, mounted up and ready to go, is your rear flank cinch hanging more than an inch? It should NOT
When in the saddle, have someone check your girth. If they
can pull it away from the horse’s body more than an inch it is too loose.
Classic signs your saddle doesn’t fit are: Dry spots in the
sweat pattern, patches of white hair, raised spots or bumps where any equipment touches, a horse that resists being saddled.
Look and listen to what your horse says.
Anyone can make a beautiful saddle from the tree up, but if it doesn’t
fit your horse what good is it?
it just make sense to get a saddle that does?
No saddle will fit
every horse but a flex-panel system will come as close as you can to doing so.
Excerpts from: Jack Meagher
The moving parts of the body
were created and intended to move through a specified range of motion freely, easily and completely. When for any number of
reasons they lose the ability to do this there will be a problem....
Muscular problems are most common
to horses which are engaged in some form of competition. Athletics, horse or human, produce a situation unique to all sports.
The amount of strain and exertion require to achieve maximum performance. What is maximum? How do you know when you have reached
it? You don't...
Muscles can be an entire cause
or a reflection of a deeper cause. It is always proper to eliminate a deeper cause first. This is veterinarian expertise.
The proper therapy for a muscle problem could be the improper one for a deeper cause...
by Cathy Sheets Tauer E.S.M.T
I begin any saddle fit or work as a Sports Massage Therapist, I always perform an evaluation on the equine. The following
is a very light overview of what I do to uncover areas of concern. Realizing that muscle represents 60% of the entire body,
massage makes so much sense. Massage is a practical, hands-on, non-invasive therapy for equines, enabling them to reach their
full potential. Massage is most effective as a preventive measure and is not a substitute for veterinary medicine. Massage
increases the range of motion, flexibility and circulation. It releases tension and improves the horse’s disposition.
Equines love massage. How do we know if our equine friends have pain? They cannot talk, but do communicate non-verbally. Resistance
in training or increased agitation resulting in poor performance and bad behavior are symptoms that something is wrong. Proper
fitting equipment and massage address the cause of such trouble.
the Horse First" lets us know that they are enjoying our company as much as we enjoy theirs. Horses no longer are a beast
of burden for man but a partner in a leisure activity that everyone can enjoy. As for equipment, there is no question as to
what our equine friends should be saddled in: a properly fitted Delrin panel saddle. This saddling system allows the horse
to move freely, bending and flexing. It’s orthopedic. Since as a rider we will never know how it feels to be saddled,
doesn’t it make sense to get a saddle that feels as good to your horse as it does to you? If your current saddle fits
correctly and your horse can move freely and is not in pain (as determined by physical palpation) then you have no reason
to change your saddle. But how can you be sure?
at the figure below, the circled areas are pressure spots, the cross hatch marks are where you run your thumb or finger tips
in a smooth flowing fashion, observing areas of concern. When you begin, use 10-15 pounds of pressure. Along the top of the
spine you should use 20# of pressure. (You should have NO reaction but if you do, contact a veterinarian or other professional
for further advice.) Use a bathroom scale to judge your pressure and test on yourself first.
As told by: Mary Schriber- Equissage
When you are near
the equines face, watch for teeth. There is a pressure point on the cheek where you can place your thumb and effectively
prevent him from tuning toward you. It is not necessary to dig your thumb into the pressure point,
just simply rest it on the surface. This action will dissuade any biting response. Also, as you work your way past the shoulder,
keep your eye on the hind leg nearest you. Inspired by the fact that a horse is capable of kicking a fly off his ear, you
are cautioned to place your free hand or fist, with elbow locked, near the stifle joint both as a warning and as a preventative
for you, and a reminder for your client.
Discover What a Saddle
The purpose of a saddle is to offer the rider support and to distribute the rider’s weight - efficiently
over a large surface area.
The Delrin spring panels
are positioned between the hard tree and the horse. These thin flexible panels are attached to the tree with mountings that
provide a ball and socket effect allowing the skirts to flex at different angles from front to rear. (When the horse turns
the panel flexes in an arc on the side of the turn and straightens on the opposite side). The panels move with the horse,
allowing freedom of movement, preventing painful pressure points which can be the cause of bad behavior, resistance to training
and poor performance. A rider will never know how it feels to be saddled but still wants the horse to be as comfortable as
How to specifically test
your saddle for fit on your horse
My horse has never had
a sore back... How do you know?
Use physical palpation
to determine if a saddle is potentially causing back and performance trouble.
By: Lisa Dawes Brown with supplemental additions by Cathy Sheets Tauer EMST:
you are certain your horse does (or does not) have a sore back you can confirm your convictions by making clear non-biased
evaluations. You will need to observe physical traits that indicate back soreness, record behaviors in your horse, which are
common to sore-backed horses and then palpate the muscles. (Do this before riding and again 8 to 24 hours after riding.)
Do the muscles in the loin (gluteals) or "rump muscles" look especially tense ( some would call them well-developed)
so that they stand out dramatically? (Figure 1and 1a) Please note that some breeds of horses
"naturally" have over developed gluteals.
Does the muscle which extends from the poll to the point of the shoulder down the lower side of the neck (brachiocephalicus)
look thicker and more developed than the upper half of the neck, resulting in an almost ewe-neck appearance? This may
be caused by the horse traveling with a hollow back which forces him to fling out his legs to maintain his balance overworking
the brachiocephalicus. The brachiocephalicus helps pull the humerous forward which extends the foreleg. It becomes
over-worked and thicker due to repeated pinching of the trapezius muscle at the withers which causes the horse to raise his
head and lock down his back muscles. (Figure 2 and 2a)
Look for a hollow behind the shoulder on either side of the horse. Muscle in this
region tends to diminish or atrophy when the nerves and muscles are pinched repeatedly. One almost never finds this
trait in the young, un-ridden horse. This hollow of atrophied muscles will disappear once the horse has free lift and
use of the back if permanent damage has not occurred. Also note that the older horse will have gradual wasting along their top line and this is not to be confused with pinching
from an ill-fitting saddle. (Figure 3)
Figure 1 Figure 1a
The gluteals in the top of rump will often look "well-developed" when they are being forced
to work too hard. In fact, they are in spasm because the back is unable to function as it should due to pressure points
from the saddle. Figure 1a show normal development.
Figure 2 Figure 2a
The neck is over-developed
due to being ridden with a high head and hollow back. This maybe caused by pinching the trapezius at the base of the withers
when the rider is positioned too far forward. (Figure 2)
Correct neck development (Figure 2a)
A hollow behind the shoulder frequently indicates long term pinching just behind the shoulder
by the arch of the saddle. It is thought that pinching of nerves causes atrophy of these "saddle muscles" as the old-timers
used to call them. With a properly fitting saddle this hollow will diminish as the muscles regain their proper function.
Once you have ruled out dentistry
and shoeing as possible causes of bad behavior and performance, the following acts of disobedience are usually directly linked
to saddling pain or the anticipation of it.
Does your horse not tolerate
saddling, cinching or mounting?
runs away, nips, sidesteps, and tosses head?
Hollow-backed, cold-backed, dry spots under a wet blanket?
Rears when girthed?
Does not travel well down-hill?
Refuses jumps? Hard to catch?
Difficulty walking calmly?
Quits working mid-season?
Tacks-up (moves tighter on one side) more on one side than the other?
Do his gaits appear uneven?
Head tossing is a common result of discomfort under the saddle.
This cold-backed horse is throwing his head even before the rider puts weight in the saddle.
This horse humps his back against the pressure points of the saddle. When this series of photos was
taken, this horse had no evidence of bruising on his back, but by the end of a summer's riding, white hair was beginning to
grow on the sides of his withers from excess pressure.
This horse is alert but content while being saddled.
Test for soreness in the "check
There are three important muscles
that can let you know instantly if your horse is suffering pain due to his saddle even if there is no pathology visible
on the back. Most riders use enough padding and rest their horses just enough to prevent bruising of the back from
becoming visible. But their horses are hurting and they respond to the pain by tensing the muscles which are being pressed.
This tension flows to all connected muscle groups. The horse operates in a tense and unnatural form and this places
stress on other parts of his body, hard to believe a saddle could affect so many parts of the body.
Three major check point muscles
are: The semimembranosis (on either side of the tail - in the hind quarters), the brachiocephalicus (following the lower
half of the neck from poll to shoulder) and the triceps at the elbow. Many other muscles could also be probed, but these
three, combined with your other findings, are all you need to make a trustworthy diagnosis. You will probe these
muscles quickly and sharply with the ends of three fingers or your thumb held stiff. Remember, any force of the bite
of kick your horse is likely to receive in the herd environment is far greater than any force you could possibly exert by
using the ends of your fingers, however sharply. You will not injure your horse in any way by this probing, but you
may discover that your horse's muscles jump violently when probed. Most novices probe too softly to illicit a reaction
from their horse and are left with the impression their horse is not sore. TTEAM therapy inventor, Linda Tellington
Jones, once stated that one must probe as firmly as necessary to get a reaction to see if the horse is sore. She sometimes
probes very strongly, in fact. If there is no soreness, there will be little or no reaction.
YOUR HORSE'S REACTION-WHAT
IS NORMAL AND WHAT IS NOT
Extreme contraction of muscle is not normal and should never be attributed to a high-strung temperament
of so-called sensitivity. When probed, the muscles should be flaccid and should produce no more reaction in the horse
than a wary expression on the face or fidgeting. Fidgeting should discontinue as soon as the horse realizes you are
not going to hurt him.
"If any muscle is sore, in spasm or strained, the pain can be detected at its origin
Checkpoint 1: Semimembranosis
(either side of the base of the tail). This muscle originates on either side of the root of the tail. This is
a long and rather narrow muscle which runs down the back of the hindquarters beside the tail and attaches five to eight inches
above the horse hock. Standing to the side of the horse's rear, not directly behind, probe sharply as described with
the tips of your first three fingers in to the muscle's origin beside the base of the tail. The muscle should feel loose
and relaxed-technically, "quiescent". The horse should react by slightly tucking his hindquarters and slightly raising
his back - both natural reflexes. But if he is tense from soreness, he will "hump" his back and tuck his hind quarters
violently and he may even hop with both hind legs. If so, he may have a great deal of trouble directly under his saddle.
Checkpoint 2: Brachiocephalicus
(from the poll to the shoulder covering the lower half of the side of the neck). Probe the base of the neck in front
of the shoulder blade about five inches above the point of the shoulder. If your horse is sore, this muscle will jerk
visibly and the horse will probably try to step away from you or turn his head toward you, curving his neck away. He
may even bend away while many related and attached muscles jerk throughout his neck and shoulder. This muscle helps pull the
humerous forward, extending the foreleg.
Checkpoint 3: Triceps (muscle forming a wedge
shape from the shoulder blade rearward to the elbow). You'll feel this muscle as the fleshy area just to the rear of
the bony ridge, which runs the length of the shoulder blade. Probe just above the bony elbow. This is a wedge shaped
muscle that is from the shoulder blade to the elbow. If your horse is sore, he will jerk, move away and may
bend his knee, all in varying degrees, indicating a sore back. How violent the reaction depends on how sore and how
much spasm his back is in. You can also determine if your horse has been made sore by girth interference.
Confirm your findings with palpation
of the saddle area
There are three types of soreness
to look for when palpating your horse's back. 1) Deep muscle soreness caused by excess pressure in a concentrated area;
2) Friction soreness caused by movement of the horse under the saddle and/or by stirrup straps; 3) Spondylosis or impingement
of the spinal processes caused by jumping, rider concussion and the horse's traveling with his back muscles in contraction.
What to watch for: When palpating look for your horse to react in one or more of the following ways. He may raise his head,
dip his back , flatten his croup, step away from you , toss his head, pin his ears, or flick his hide where you are palpating
him as if he is ridding himself of a fly. (termed here fly-jerk). He may tense the muscles around your fingers, and
his muscles may shudder in the area you are probing. Remember to study his face as you are working. He may
only tighten his lips, clench his teeth or have a steely expression about his eyes. From the time they are young horses
are taught how to operate with saddle pain. Many "old pros" will not readily admit they are hurting. That
is why you must palpate properly, know the natural reflex points and always keep an eye on the horse's face.
what Mary Schriber of Equissage says: When you are near the equines face, watch for teeth. There is a pressure point
on the cheek where you can place your thumb and efficiently prevent him from tuning toward you. It is not necessary to dig
your thumb into the pressure point, just simply rest it on the surface. This action will dissuade any biting response. Also,
as you work your way past the shoulder, keep your eye on the hind leg nearest you. Inspired by the fact that a horse is capable
of kicking a fly off his ear, you are cautioned to place your free hand or fist, with elbow locked, near the stifle joint,
both as a warning and as a preventative for you and a reminder for your client.
Regardless, you should be able
to get some kind of reaction from your horse as you palpate him. If after studying this method carefully and applying
it, you cannot illicit any response from your horse, even when probing his natural reflex points, you can be sure your horse
has severe long-term saddling problems.
Natural reflex vs. Soreness
reflex points along the back, especially at the base of the withers and at the loins, cause a mild momentary dipping or a
fly-jerk reaction. If you continue holding pressure at a natural reflex, the reaction will dissipate after a few
seconds and the horse will relax. If his reaction gets worse or he steps away after a few seconds of holding,
you can be sure you have found a sore spot.
Probe gently but firmly:
probing for deep muscle bruising, replace the poking action with a firm but steady downward pressure of 15 to 25 lbs for 10
seconds with the tips of your first three fingers or your thumb. (Always use finger tips, never fingernails nor any
narrow blunt object.) Why hold the pressure for a full 10 seconds? Because the slight natural reflex will dissipate
with in a couple of seconds, and the horse which is not bruised will no longer show a reaction to the firm pressure.
But if the horse is sore, he will show an obvious reaction to the sustained pressure even after 10 seconds is up.Where
to Begin: Start where the arch of your saddle rests on either side of the withers. This is the trapezius muscle. If your saddle
rests farther back, it will be at the area where the trapezius meets the longissimus dorsi. If you position the points of
the tree of your saddle directly on top of the shoulder blade, begin probing there. If a fly-jerk which continues longer than
three seconds, the horse is bruised. If your horse is very sore, he will initially give the fly-jerk reaction and then step
away, dip his back noticeably, bend his knees or toss his head. He may literally go down under sustained pressure. The horse
is severely bruised if he does any of these things. If he is not bruised, the fly-jerk will dissipate and he will probably
relax and go on munching hay for instance, while you continue to hold pressure. (Fig. #4 Rhomboid muscles, under the trapezius
muscles and fig. #5 Trapezius muscles covering the rhomboids).
#4 Rhomboid muscles, under the trapezius muscles
#5 Trapezius muscles covering the rhomboids.
Continue down the length of
the horse's back: Probe your horse's back this way anywhere the saddle rests to locate sore areas. Very few horses
ridden extensively with any saddle will not be sore where the fork rests. Some will also be sore under the middle of
the bars or panels and some also under the rear of the saddle tree near the loins. Probing either side of the spine, moving
down the length of the back, the sore horse's reaction will be slight; if very sore his back will drop sharply.
Probing the loins: When
probing the loin area be on the lookout for friction soreness which will cause the horse to flatten his croup or drop his
back. With deep bruising the horse will continue to show pain when pressure is applied longer than 15 seconds. So, If
he continues to show pain or steps away from you, he has deeper damage. If, on the other hand, it is only friction
soreness ( the palpation technique for which is explained below) then the reaction doesn't normally last any longer than the
count of 5. Palpating for friction soreness: Friction soreness is easily spotted and frequently called "ticklishness,"
because horses react to it when being brushed or touched lightly. (This maybe the case, but you must test to see if indeed,
your horse has true friction soreness.) Since riders may not see shaved hair, sores, or swelling, they deduce that their horses
are ticklish. It is also the most overrated type of soreness because most veterinarians at endurance races and competitive
trail rides can easily spot it while missing deep muscle bruising, which is far more serious. To palpate for friction soreness,
spread apart your fingers and curve them as if you are about to play the piano. With about three pounds of pressure run your
fingers down the horse’s back from the front to the rear, beginning on either side of the spine and alternating your
way downward until all saddle contact areas have been covered. The sore horse will dip his back or flatten his croup or step
away when you pass over a sore area. (Fig. #6.)
#6 Detecting spondylosis: Spondylosis deformans goes largely
undetected in many horses suffering from it. It is characterized by irritation, pain, swelling or degeneration of the periosteum
(surface) of the dorsal spinal processes. This occurs when the articulation surfaces of the vertebrae or tops of the spinal
processes rub together (impinge) when the horse’s back hollows excessively. The impingement usually happens between
the 10th and 17th thorasic vertebrae when caused by improper saddling and riding. It is very common in distance racing horses,
who are allowed to travel great distances with hollow backs and heads up. It is also common in jumping horses who suffer vertebral
impingement by the propulsion created by the hind quarters when starting the jump with all the back muscles contracted at
the same time. The test for spondylosis is simple.How to check for Spondylosis: Beginning at the base of the wither, with
three or four fingertips in line with the middle of the spine, press downward and hold. While maintaining a minimum of 10-20
lbs of pressure, slide your fingers toward the croup. No matter how hard you press, there should be no reaction! If the horse
raises his head noticeably, dips his back or tries to drop to the ground, he is suffering. A very sore horse will be able
to tolerate only light pressure here before dropping his back or bending his knees. Spondylosis is extremely painful and use
of the horse must be stopped immediately as it can create a very unpredictable and sometimes explosive animal. With continued
use, the body will form false joints of calcification between the spinal processes. Next, the vertebrae fuse in a condition
called ankylosis, nature’s way of alleviating pain, which also results in a stiffer, nonathletic horse. If you do experience
any reaction from palpating your horse’s spine, contact a veterinarian for medical treatment and consultation, for you
may not have spondylosis but other issues that will need to be resolved before you ride your animal again.
Spondylosis- The pathology
Always extend the foreleg to
probe the rear edge of the scapula
Another important point
to probe for bruising is often missed by veterinarians and therapists and unknown by horsemen: the rear process of the scapula
called the "cartilage of prolongation".
When the horse extends his leg forward, his scapula rotates up to four inches to
the rear. It is in this rotation that it strikes-or must squeeze under-the arch of the saddle, however padded.
The scapula takes incredible punishment, especially during jumping and the sitting trot.
Yet when the horse is standing
still, one cannot probe the "fin" of cartilage, because it is hidden under muscle bulk. It can be extremely damaged
and can cause lameness which is never diagnosed, because it can not be palpated when the horse is standing square.
How to: Have a helper stand in
front of the horse and elevate the front hoof (leg straight) to normal extension, such as during extended trot or gait.
Firmly probe the rear of the shoulder blade now. Often, horses which showed no soreness when standing square, nearly
go to the ground when probed on this otherwise hidden cartilage of prolongation.
Find rear edge of the scapula with your fingertips
Trace around the scapula with a piece of chalk
or spit on your finger and wipe the wetness onto the shoulder for a visual outline
Have a helper elevate and extend the
foreleg and again find the rear of the scapula, tracing around it. Notice how far the scapula has rotated to the rear.
Be sure your saddle doesn't interfere with this rotation.
The arrow points to the "cartilage of prolongation"
Conclusion: If, after studying these methods carefully and applying
them and you cannot illicit any response from your horse, even when probing his natural reflex points, you can be sure your
horse has severe long-term issues. He is locked up and is blocking all stimuli. Therefore, contact a professional for further