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Helping the horse with back atrophy

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  • Helping the horse with back atrophy

    I've seen a few horses in my life with severely atrophied back muscles, but I've never had one to work with. He was ridden for several years by a larger novice amateur and, what I suspect, a poorly fitting saddle. He literally has a divot where the saddle goes, especially the outer edge of the back panels. There is a long large "shelf" of muscles across his back.

    He really struggled to keep his balance with this rider and had a hard time, obviously using his back. The owner finally decided to sell him and I must say this is an awesome horse with a lighter rider! I'm no skinny thing, yet he is now so easy, rhythmic and balanced. Previously his rider could not keep him steady in the contact and was constantly falling out of the canter. Now, his lateral work is awesome and easy, simple changes are spot on, and we even did clean flying changes which he has never done before. His eye is softer and I really think he is going to make some one a super fancy dressage mount. Heck, I', having more fun on him then with my super fancy dressage mount!

    So, those of you who have had experience with this type of problem how long, if ever, did it take for the horse's muscles to improve? He is for sale so I would like to give perspective buyers a general view of his condition. I also hope my chiro will be able to see him and give me some insight too, but she isn't coming around for a few weeks. He does not have any back soreness and is now supple and straight. When I lunge and ride him I see and feel that his back is moving and he is tracking up better.

    I've had him two weeks and am so impressed with this little horse! I even asked one of the junior riders at my barn, who mostly rides western, to ride him and I just about dropped my jaw! He looks nothing like the struggling little "jerk of a horse" I was sent to sell. She asked to be taught lateral work and he gave her an awesome tutorial on the subject lol!

    Thanks for any insight.

    Edit: still working on my first cup of coffee so I'm not going to edit my grammatical errors, sorry :-D

    He is 15.2, a larger bodied 1/2 arabian and 9 yrs
    Last edited by DukesMom; Nov. 18, 2012, 10:44 AM. Reason: I cant spell or construct a sentence

  • #2
    I have this and it's my own horse. He's 14 and I've had him for 12 years. He is naturally sway, downhill build but has uphill movement. When I was riding and working him properly he didn't have the muscle atrophy; however, as I rode him up the levels (he earned me my silver) his conformation was more than a bit challenging. As I tried to do as I was instructed I ended up more hand riding him and failing to get him to work properly through the back. I started to notice the atrophy at that time (took about a year); but also thought it had to be due to the saddle. Well it wasn't. He's not an easy fit but he's never been sore through the back. I handed him off to someone else to ride for 2 years and the problem worsened. Even at the lower levels they failed to get him working through the back. So now I've had him back 6 months and in the last 4 months I've been diligently working him with a lot of long and low work <gasp> encouraging more stretch through the back and keeping him stepping through with the hind. That's our warm-up (just like when I started him way back when). Once I feel him on my seat, listening and through the back I pick him up and start working on specific exercises and movements. I also do carrot stretches. I've seen some very slight improvement. My expectation is that what progress we will make will take at least another year to readily see a difference and that I will never return him to his "best" shape because of his age. Had I been in a position to make the corrections sooner, I think I'd have a better chance of more of a turn around.
    Ranch of Last Resort


    • #3
      Oooooooooooh, I'm a sucker for Arabs! What's the other half?

      My ArabxASB had this issue with the last trainer, but a poorly fitting saddle wasn't part of the problem. With a correct trainer, he's been filling in pretty nicely over the last month.
      Proud member of the Snort and Blow Clique


      • #4
        no one can predict the future, but if he is progressing happily at the normal rate horses do while in training with you, I wouldn't worry. Unless there is nerve damage to the muscle it *should* be capable of developing to some degree. What he needs to develop is those muscles on his underside so that he has a support structure.
        I personally would wait a few months before trying to sell him so he has a chance to get some good athletic development and some good experiences. Most shoppers are ammies and they typically don't go shopping for a rehab case, so you'll get a greater pool of buyers if you wait. Plus, the more time he has to build good experiences, the better prepared he is for a happy life ahead.

        (i've only had one cup of decaf )
        chaque pas est fait ensemble


        • Original Poster

          Prior to this rider he did not have any issue with muscle atrophy. I do feel that the saddle used on him was too long for his back which could have caused a fair amount of his difficulty with this rider because the riders balance wasn't that good on him and any weight bounced to the cantle would have caused him discomfort. He is just such a willing and happy partner, now. His muscles move and he doesn't have any conformation issues that would cause him to have difficulty moving up the levels. He is a small part paint (he's solid bay) but mostly arabian. He really looks like he is 1/2 and 1/2. He is a larger bodied guy.


          • #6
            My horse had back atrophy from an injury. The sellers guessed that he got bumped, dropped or possibly cast in his transport container coming from Europe. Whatever it was, it ended his career as a jumper and the sellers were forced to sell him at a deep discount to a non-jumping home. Lucky me!

            My vet examined him and gave me this advice: Lots of hill work, both at the walk and trot. Cavalletti work, and deep/low work to stretch his back and activate the circle of muscles. This was ditto'd by several clinicians and trainers. It took a year to rehab his back. The first two months we did NO canter work. Vet wanted to check his progress before we added canter.

            It sounds like your horse's issues are somewhat different and he's farther along now in his training than my horse was when I bought him. Mine was fairly green. Capable of getting around a jumping course with a strong German rider, but not much else. (He had no brakes installed!) Also, my horse has a knot in his back (near the back of where a saddle would go) from his "accident". A bit of calcification, I think?

            In any case, if the muscles are strengthened, the horse should be fine. It may take time.


            • #7
              Miss Mare had EPM and her back was very weak after. I spent most of this year doing stretches from the book "Activate Your Horses Core" by Narell Stubs and Hilliary Clayton. My trainer has seen huge improvements in her back since we started this. Enough change that we now can work on sitting trot! Ouch!
              We can see that before her back dipped behind the withers and was soft. It is now up and strong. She no longer flinches from brushes or the saddle. Can't hurt only tool you really need are carrots


              • #8
                Second the recommendation for the "Activate your Horse's Core" book and stretches.

                The book shows how to do them with carrots. I found my horse a bit too "eager" for direct carrot-luring, ended up using a broomstick target and clicker which works great too. Both my guys LOVE their stretches.
                Ring the bells that still can ring
                Forget your perfect offering
                There is a crack in everything
                That's how the light gets in.


                • #9
                  I'm in a similar boat. I traded my half-arab mare for a half-arab gelding who primarily showed Country English Pleasure (saddleseat). He has a very hollow back. Upon advice from this board and others, I turned him out in the field (since July) and have only ridden him a handful of times. He's mostly been grazing and being a horse. The 24/7 turnout has helped to relax his musculature, but not as much as I'd hoped. I'm planning on putting him back to work at the end of this month or early next month. I've been doing the few "core activating" stretches that others have showed me. I didn't know there was a book, I may have to look into that!

                  His walk is actually nice, swinging with a good overstep. Unfortunately as soon as you ask for a trot he hollows his back, throws the head up, lifts those knees and the hocks trail behind. I'm hoping I can reconnect his front and back.

                  Cavaletti and poles are part of the plan, however I am predicting that it will be at the walk for quite some time. No way am I gonna ride his high-headed saddleseat trot over poles...he won't even know they're down there! I don't have access to any hills.

                  I know that arabs are known for their high-headedness and trailing hocks, but I do believe that a lot of his way of going is artificial and manmade. He's 16 so it's going to be an uphill battle. I'm fine with a higher-than-I'm-used-to head carriage as long as his back is lifted and hind end engaged. That's going to be the trick though!