Tag Archives: back muscles

The Perils of Riding Young Horses

Continuation of an article by ©2005 By Deb Bennett, Ph.D.:

What Does it Mean to “Start” a Young Horse?

Let us now turn to the second discussion, which is what I mean by “starting” and the whole history of that. Many people today – at least in our privileged country – do not realize how hard you can actually work a mature horse – which is very, very hard. But before you can do that without significantly damaging the animal, you have to wait for him to mature, which means – waiting until he is four to six years old before asking him to carry you on his back.

What bad will happen if you put him to work as a riding horse before that? Two important things – and probably not what you’re thinking of. What is very unlikely to happen is that you’ll damage the growth plates in his legs. At the worst, there may be some crushing of the cartilages, but the number of cases of deformed limbs due to early use is tiny. The cutting-horse futurity people, who are big into riding horses as young as a year and a half, will tell you this and they are quite correct. Want to damage legs? There’s a much better way – just overfeed your livestock (you ought to be able to see a young horse’s ribs – not skeletal, but see ‘em – until he’s two).

Structural damage to the horse’s back from early riding is somewhat easier to produce than structural damage to his legs. There are some bloodlines (in Standardbreds, Arabians, and American Saddlebreds) that are known to inherit weak deep intervertebral ligament sheathing; these animals are especially prone to the early, sudden onset of “saddle back’” However, individuals belonging to these bloodlines are by no means the only ones who may have their back “slip” and that’s because, as mentioned above, the stress of weight bearing on the back passes parallel to its growth plates as well as parallel to the intervertebral joints. However, despite the fact that I have provided a photo of one such case for this posting, I want to add that the frequency of slipped backs in horses under 6 years old is also very low.

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How Do I Start My Massage?

I usually start most equine massages with the back muscles. I have the owner walk the horse on a straight line away from me and then back towards me. Then I have them walk on a smallish (12 meters or so) circle around me in either direction. So much can be seen at the walk. I can see if the pelvis is level and if the tail is centered and swinging freely when the horse is walking away. I can watch the pectorals and the straightness of the neck when the horse is walking towards me. On the circle I can see if the horse is bending.

I make a mental note of the problem areas, but then work on the back first as it is what connects the front and hind ends. If I can relieve pain in the back, the horse will be more relaxed for any deep tissue work that comes afterwards. If the back muscles are tight from having the weight of a rider, my focus will be on spreading muscle fibers.

If the back muscles are very sore, I will go more gently and focus on the muscle attachments at each end.

If there are no problems in the long back muscles, I still will do a relaxing massage to start off the body work. Endorphins will be released, and the horse will be happy!

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