Tag Archives: saddle fit

Case Study of a Big Guy!

Yesterday I went to a work on a half draft/warmblood cross that has been having some lameness issues in his front legs. I had the owner walk him for me, and walking away he looked quite good. But when she walked him toward me I saw he was almost crossing his front legs when he walked.

I got to work and found several tight spots on the right side (the side of the inflamed joint) of his body. I focused on aligning the entire structure of his body.  I have found that the only way to have long lasting results is to make sure all the soft tissue is supple, the nutrition program is of the highest quality, the exercise program is balanced, and the saddle fits.

After an hour of rolfing, I had the owner walk him out again. This time his front legs were about 9 inches apart, but still not square under his shoulders. Sometimes stopping is the hardest part of my job. The horse was happy and relaxed and I stopped working on him rather than go too far and irritate him. The vet will be out soon to assess what we need to do next.



The Importance of the Rhomboid Muscle

The rhomboid muscle is very important for several reasons:

The shoulder blade hangs from the withers by the rhomboid, making it responsible for the swing of the shoulder.

The rhomboid goes from the withers all the way up the neck to the poll, making it responsible for the ability of the neck to stretch.

If a saddle is placed too far forward it will put pressure on the rhomboid, interfering with the muscles’ function. If the saddle is too narrow, it will pinch the rhomboid muscle, eventually causing it to atrophy. If a saddle is too wide, it will sit directly on the withers, eventually causing lameness. If you see a hollow looking spot behind the scapula, there is most likely muscle atrophy.

Where the rhomboid attaches to the withers it is very thick and strong. When there is a problem with the rhomboid, you may notice tightness in the shoulders and a loss of coordination in jumping. Massage to the stress points in the rhomboid is extremely effective, and improvement in the horse will be immediately apparent.

Does Your Horse Buck?

I often hear about horses with a wicked buck that routinely dump excellent riders. A playful buck after a thrilling jump is one thing, but if your horse is consistently trying to unseat the rider, chances are that horse is in pain.

Bucking is a defensive move, a way to protect from predators. If a mountain lion jumps on the horses’ back, bucking is a good way to get rid of it! If something hurts in the hind end, bucking seems like a logical way (to the horse) to get rid of the pain.

Give your horse a back massage. Tight muscles will hurt with the added weight of a rider. The long back muscles, lumbar, top of the haunches, and areas around the croup all should be relaxed, elastic, and pain free.

Saddle fit should be one of the first checks when investigating the cause of bucking.

Make sure the bit fits and is comfortable for your horse.

Be careful about feeding very “hot” feed until the problem is resolved.

Make sure your horse is getting enough time outside the confinement of a stall.


What’s Going On??

I don’t know if it is just coincidence, but lately I’ve had too many calls about swellings right behind the shoulder. One owner even thought maybe it was a big bite (it wasn’t!). In almost every case, the problem can be traced back to saddles that are either placed too far forward, or just don’t fit. Pain free shoulders are essential for athletic performance. They also need to be flexible, which is very difficult if they are being pinched. So many behavioral and performance problems can be traced back to a saddle that does not fit, or is improperly placed.

The muscle that seems to be bearing the brunt of poorly fitting saddles in the horses I’ve seen is the thoracic serratus . The serratus muscle is shaped something like fingers. These fingers attach to ribs. The shoulder blade is moved backward by the thoracic serratus, and moved forward by the cervical serratus muscles (in front of the scapula).  A horse with pain in the serratus muscles will be girthy and will lose suppleness in the front legs. The horse may lose some of its scope when jumping.

The treatment for the horses I have worked on is first to use cold laser to reduce swelling, inflammation, and pain. Then I check to see if there are spasms that need to be released through Stress Point Therapy. Then we make sure the saddle is placed correctly, and properly maintained with a professional saddle fitter who can add or adjust the stuffing.

How Tight is Your Horses Tail?

Have you ever been surprised by how tightly your horse can clamp down with his tail? This tightness is symptomatic of tension in the lumbar and sacrum regions. Causes can be jumping in difficult footing, getting the tail stuck in a fence, a saddle that does not fit causing bruising and pain from rubbing the lumbar area, or accumulated stiffness from age or compensation. When the muscles and fascia are in a healthy state, the tail should freely lift up and over the back. The tail should hang symmetrically and swing freely. Check the tail if you are having trouble with lateral movement. A stiff tail will affect the movement of the haunches and lumbar area.

Myofascial release is very effective for tightness of the tail. It might take a while for the horse to move in freedom again. Muscle memory is a powerful thing when an animal is trying to avoid pain, so be patient when incorporating bending and lateral work after this kind of bodywork.

Problems of the Shoulder Blade

Unlike other bones in the horse, the shoulder blade has no attachment to the rest of the skeleton. It is held in place only by muscle and fascia. If the muscles and fascia are overly tight, the horse will lose flexibility and the front legs will lose range of motion (your trot lengthenings will not score well!).

The first thing to do is to check saddle fit and placement. The saddle must not be placed so far forward (as is too often done) that it touches the back of the shoulder blade. The saddle should not slide forward when you are riding. Since, as mentioned above, the shoulder blades are not held by other bones, they are easy to shove forward. Not good!

I have found myofascial release very effective in resolving restrictive tension surrounding the shoulder blades. Once free, you will feel a wonderful change in your horses movement and enthusiasm for work.


Does a “Cold Back” Have Anything to Do With Temperature?

The answer is “No. Temperature makes no difference.” What is commonly referred to as a cold back is usually one of two things:

1) The junction of the longissimus dorsi (long back muscle) and gluteus maximus is stressed. This stress point is very common in race horses, jumpers, and horses that tend to rear. It is the first place I look when a horse seems to be sore in the lumbar area. The pain might be manifesting in the lumbar, but the source of the problem is further back.

2) When I hear that a horse is cold backed when his girth is tightened, I immediately think there is a spasm in the very sensitive posterior pectoral muscle. (No 14 in the diagram below). This area responds very quickly to sports massage, along with good saddle fit.


The Important Long Back Muscle

The top line of a fit equine athlete should appear to be a continuous flow. Angular areas are where I go first to find soreness. Most common areas for breaks in the flow are in front of the withers, behind the withers, and behind the saddle. Today I’ll focus on the area behind the withers. This is where the long back muscle attaches at the back of the withers.

The longissimus dorsi is a complex muscle, and very important to riders. It is where you sit, where the saddle sits, and it is used in lateral flexion. I often find the forward attachment to be sore after cross country day, especially in upper level horses that have big drops to navigate. But any horse that jumps and lands hard can become tight   The resulting spasm is usually easy to find, and fairly easy to release.


Does Your Horse Have a “Cold Back”?

There are several reasons a horse might have pain in their lower back. One is poor saddle fit. Another is sensitivity to the pad being used under the saddle. Another is a urinary tract infection. The reason that I have encountered the most in my work is from a spot on the  horses’ body that receives more stress than any other. I check every horse, regardless of discipline, on this spot early in their massage session: it is the place where the long back muscle and the gluteus muscles meet:

The junction where the longissiumus dorsi and the gluteals meet is responsible for propulsion and power. If you see a horse start taking shorter strides behind and complain more about being saddled, this is a place that probably needs work from a massage therapist.

This muscle junction usually responds quickly, and the horse is  very happy to get relief. Once the release is done, I recommend a nice, relaxed, forward canter to further aid the adjustment.

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