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  1. #1
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    Sep. 18, 2009
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    Question Uneven musculature in the shoulders



    Last night, while brushing my mare, I noticed, when I stand directly behind her and look forward towards her withers, that her left shoulder looks substantially more muscular (at the top, nearest the withers) then her right.

    A little more info: When I ride, tracking left is defiantly her weaker direction and she tends to drop her left shoulder. I have been doing some exercises and lateral work (that my trainer suggested) to help with this, but I try to be conscious about making sure to do everything both directions to avoid her developing more to one direction.

    I used to think it was her left shoulder that was weak, but after noticing the difference in her musculature I’m beginning to think otherwise.

    Any one have any idea what could be causing this? Is this normal? Abnormal? Something I should be really concerned about or something to workout over time? Could this be a sign that something is wrong on the right side, where the musculature is less? Maybe I’m just not being as conscientious as I thought about work both direction and need to spend more time to the right? Could this be related to the saddle fit? All of the above? None of the above?

    Thank you!



  2. #2
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    It's not unusual for a horse's musculature to be unevenly developed. It's what we work against (and with) every day as we aim for balance.

    Some are VERY one-sided and spend a lot of their weight-bearing time loading one front leg. I'm guessing if you look critically at her feet, the left front will also be larger/wider. "Falling" to the left is just a symptom of her being more comfortable carrying more weight on that foreleg. Why? Perhaps there's an issue with the right front that needs to be addressed, or perhaps it's just her natural inclination and training will take care of it. I always try to rule out physical causes first, because a horse can only fully cooperate if its body can comfortably do what its mind asks it to do.
    Athletic Horses. Educated Riders.
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  3. #3
    Join Date
    Feb. 23, 2008
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    I don't know how common it is, but when I had a chiropracter/DVM come help me with my former horse, one of the things I told her on the phone was how much better she was one direction than the other and we wanted to figure out if there was something physical besides just needing more work - ie a structural problem we were missing. The chiro said "go stand behind her and tell me if her shoulders are different sizes". Holy canolli, her left shoulder was seriously larger than the right! I'd never stood back there and looked.

    She had been an Amish driving horse, so no gymnastic work had been done to keep her evened up, and on top of that most roads have a slope, so she had been going slightly crooked most of her working life. She was 12 at the time, and we did lots of stretching, bending and flexing work, but never did get the muscles evened out (and then she died, but that's another story). If she had been younger and we'd had more time, I suspect we could have evened out the muscling with more dressage work. We used a shim on the saddle pad to help keep it resting evenly.



  4. #4
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    Jul. 14, 2003
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    Default

    It is fairly common. Horses have a dominant side just like people do. If you are right handed, isn't your right hand a lot stronger and more dexterous than your left? Horses that are not ridden straight--like many trail horses--end up getting stronger and stronger on one side over time. Some riders, without the benefit of riding instruction, do not understand that the horse should canter on both leads, and they simply allow the horse to choose whichever lead he wants to take in the canter. Most horses will favor one lead over the other. Some riders are crooked, too, and a horse that is always ridden by the same rider will mirror the rider's crooked posture.

    In some cases, the "single handedness" can be exacerbated, because of an old injury that made a horse favor one side over the other in order to be comfortable. Even after the injury has healed, the horse continues with the same crooked posture out of habit.

    I have found that it is tough to change the habit and the musculature in aged horses. Lots of times some arthritis has set in, and it is uncomfortable for the horse to change his posture. In younger horses, correct longeing, round penning and correct riding can all help. Unmounted stretching, massage therapy and chiropractic may also be beneficial.
    "Against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain" ~Friedrich Schiller



  5. #5

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    I'd have a chiro out, if you can see this, most likely the shoulder needs to be adjusted...esp since the horse isn't using it correctly.
    Equine Massage Therapy Classes and Rehab for Horses
    http://www.midwestnha.wordpress.com[/INDENT]



  6. #6
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    May. 6, 2009
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    My WBX has been lame for most of the last three years. He points with his LF, and has since the initial injury. I recently noticed a difference in the musculature of his shoulders, and the vet called it "profound."

    So, I would take that seriously.
    2012 goal: learn to ride like a Barn Rat

    A helmet saved my life.



  7. #7
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    Jul. 24, 2006
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    Default

    Pretty normal in a general sense.

    As others have pointed out, horses (and people) are generally stronger on one side than the other. This leads to more muscular development on the strong side. The work we ask them to do can exascerbate or fix it, depending on how aware and proactive we are. But an ill-fitting saddle, crooked riding, or a number of other things can make it difficult for the horse to develop equal muscling.

    I just had a saddle fitter completely change the flocking in my saddle because my 1.40m jumper is so much bulkier around the left side of his withers (we've been "fighting" a crooked pelvis since I picked him up off of the track, but the redevelopment to "even" is a very very long process in this case). Having the saddle adjusted made an absolute night-and-day difference.

    Anyhow, I wouldn't be particularly worried about it. I think it never hurts to have a chiro out to take a look at a horse, but if she's sound and going well then just focus on working her evenly. Lateral work and flatwork exercises are definitely the key to getting her to go more evenly. A quick note, though, that if you routinely work her weak side more than her strong side you'll eventually flip her strong/weak sides!



  8. #8
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    Jan. 31, 2003
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    While I think there are a lot of valid reasons why this happens, I would take it pretty seriously. Horses have a shoulder sling, not collarbones, and the entire apparatus in a horse is very prone to misalignment and injury. Often horses are never lame from a shoulder problem but become NQR or appear to have feet or knee problems that really originate in the shoulder.

    I would never fit a saddle to uneven shoulder development, I would use a skitto or mattes pad to make the back even and then put a slightly too wide saddle on. Reason being, accommodating the shoulder with the saddle will twist the saddle and potentially damage the tree... It will also push down into the other side and create a new problem.

    If you can figure out what the underlying issue is and address it things will go much smoother but it is possible i is from a very old injury and now only PT dressage will help it.
    "Kindness is free" ~ Eurofoal
    ---
    The CoTH CYA - please consult w/your veterinarian under any and all circumstances.



  9. #9
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    Nicely said Eqtrainer. I think it's fairly common simply because both rider and horse naturally have a dominant side.



  10. #10
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    Ditto ET.

    I would look at her feet - bet the LF is more upright. Then the issue is - which caused which.

    AND, look at the RH - hoof issues, whether they are the cause or the result, are often diagonally related.

    I totally agree about using a wider saddle and shimming the less developed side. The last thing you want is a crooked saddle, which WILL happen, either due to uneven flocking compression, or twisted tree, if you just put it up there as-is. You can always reduce and eventually eliminate the extra shimming as things even out.
    ______________________________
    The CoTH CYA - please consult w/your veterinarian under any and all circumstances. - ET



  11. #11

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    My WBX has been lame for most of the last three years. He points with his LF, and has since the initial injury. I recently noticed a difference in the musculature of his shoulders, and the vet called it "profound."
    The pointing shows that there's a shoulder problem-you really should get a chiro out to adjust this.
    Equine Massage Therapy Classes and Rehab for Horses
    http://www.midwestnha.wordpress.com[/INDENT]



  12. #12
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    Jul. 14, 2003
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    Quote Originally Posted by MassageLady View Post
    The pointing shows that there's a shoulder problem-you really should get a chiro out to adjust this.
    FWIW, this is the classic heel pain stance usually associated with navicular syndrome. I think I'd get an xray, pain meds and corrective shoeing before I called the chiro.
    "Against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain" ~Friedrich Schiller



  13. #13
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    Sep. 18, 2009
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    Quote Originally Posted by MassageLady View Post
    The pointing shows that there's a shoulder problem-you really should get a chiro out to adjust this.
    What is pointing? And how can I identify this?



  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by JB View Post
    Ditto ET.

    I would look at her feet - bet the LF is more upright. Then the issue is - which caused which.

    AND, look at the RH - hoof issues, whether they are the cause or the result, are often diagonally related.
    Just went through this over the winter. A noted chiro in my area pointed out my horse had 2 different sized shoulders, not to be concerned, it's common. A year later the shoulder was so sore she was having muscle spasms. Vet came out and noticed right away one heel was much lower (on the smaller shoulder) than the other and advised putting shoes on all the way around . . . the horse had always been barefoot. It has been 3 months and the horse has shown much improvement. The striding is much more even and no more spams, it's like a new horse.
    "You gave your life to become the person you are right now. Was it worth it?" Richard Bach



  15. #15

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    When my mare had navicular, she also dug holes for her front legs-to take the pressure off. Is the horse doing this also??

    Pointing the leg, does take pressure off the shoulder area too. what I mean by pointing, is just that--pointing the leg out in front

    yes...please check the hoof too-wearing a 'gym shoe' and a 'high heel' is not very comfortable LOL
    Equine Massage Therapy Classes and Rehab for Horses
    http://www.midwestnha.wordpress.com[/INDENT]



  16. #16
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    Sep. 24, 2008
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    A quick note, though, that if you routinely work her weak side more than her strong side you'll eventually flip her strong/weak sides!
    During a clinic with Stephen Clarke, I asked him about exactly this and he said that was JUST what we were trying to accomplish. The chances of EVER getting a horse truly balanced and exactly the same strength on both sides was low, so if they keep switching "strong" sides, you'll know that you are indeed, building them up as evenly as possible.

    NJR



  17. #17
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    Why would you want to keep having a strong and weak side that you have to keep "flipping"?

    Why can't you work the horse evenly, with the work being dictated by how much the weaker side can take, and eventually it catches up and then you can can still work evenly with the goal of strengthening both at the same time?
    ______________________________
    The CoTH CYA - please consult w/your veterinarian under any and all circumstances. - ET



  18. #18
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    I suppose you'd have to ask Mr. Clarke at greater length, but the impression that I got was that the average amateur would never be able to keep the horse absolutely even at all times, and should always be noticing the changes of strong and weak side as they develop more and more through training.

    NJR



  19. #19
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    Look at the horse's heels, I bet they are uneven and that the feet need to be balanced.



  20. #20
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    Pointing means that he always stands with the LF out in front, putting more weight on the RF.

    I have been through the ringer with this horse, and he has had multiple reasons to be lame in that leg. He has returned to soundness three times, and didn't hold up three times. I have never had the chiropractor adjust him specifically for his shoulder as that was never an issue before. I can't imagine that would be a quick fix.

    A lot of his problems were caused by a combination of bad conformation and careless shoeing.
    2012 goal: learn to ride like a Barn Rat

    A helmet saved my life.



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