This is something I am hearing a lot at the moment, and i am happy to hear that so many of my clients have had saddle professionally fitted to their horses!
However there is a but…. and that is the saddle only fits that horse if the said horse does not change shape! By shape I mean muscle up – develop a good topline, or even lose topline, gain or lose weight, or develop a low grade lameness which can cause muscular asymmetry affecting the saddle!
This time of year I tend to see horses drop weight and topline, usually due to the cold weather preventing work, lack of winter turnout, or bald winter paddocks with a lack of grazing.
The last couple of winters have been extremely mild, in terms of the cold that is, not the mammoth amount of torrential rain we have endured this winter. Maybe we have been riding more, feeding more with many winter grazing fields being closed due to flooding, but I can honestly say that the horses of Wirral have never looked better coming out of winter!!
Unless you are one of those poor horse owners that looks at your horses now, and is dreading summer grazing!
So back to the point of this post…..
Over the last few weeks I have been asked to see numerous horses displaying abnormal behaviour under saddle, anything from bolting to bucking! As you know from my previous blog I routinely check saddle fit as part of the assessment.
I have seen numerous saddles over the last few weeks that have been professionally fitted, or even made to measure that simply put do NOT fit now! I am sure once upon a time they fitted perfectly, but not any more, this isn’t to say that they will never fit again, or cannot be adjusted to fit at this moment in time.
So how does poor saddle fit affect the horses?
What I am seeing at the moment with horses carrying excess winter weight is saddles that are tight across the withers, (imagine wearing a shoe 2 sizes to small then being asked to run 5K! ouch!!) when riding the horse the rider may feel like they are slipping or being pushed to the back of the saddle. On palpation what i generally feel is pain or spasm through the withers and a degree of tension through the back where the panels of the saddle end, this is due to the weight distrubution of the rider not being even, and the weight actually being pushed to the back of the saddle which can cause pain and bruising as well as reduce the engagement of the hind quarters. The tightness over the withers can restrict scapular movement and result in a shortened, choppy stride in the front.
So the horses may respond to the restriction by hollowing through their back, taking shorter strides, refusing to take up a contact, an inability or reluctance to bend as well as any host of out of the ordinary behaviour issues!
While I’m talking about saddle fit I may as well tell you how a saddle which is too wide can affect the horses and rider too! The rider may feel like they are being pushed forwards when riding, this is due the tree, or gullet being too wide. The front of saddle will dip in dig in behind the shoulder causing pinching as the rider rises in trot, the back of the saddle will often lift up and down and can cause soreness and soft tissue bruising.
There are a multitude of other saddle fitting issues that I could address but we could be here all day!
So how can physio help….
Physio can relieve the pain caused from poor saddle fit, this is usually cleared in one or two sessions for low grade pain, I tend to treat with a variety of manual techniques, electrotherapy and home exercises to stretch out the sore muscles. But of course there is no point me treating your horse if the same saddle is going straight back on!
So if your horses has put weight on recently take a minute to have a good look at how the saddle fits, if in doubt seek the help of a professional!
Any questions regarding Physio for your horses, or how it can benefit your horse give me a call!!