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Riding without making horse's back sore

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  • Riding without making horse's back sore

    My horse has had a sore back, loin area is showing sensitivity with finger test.

    I have had two custom saddles and I am certain it isn't a tack fitting issue. (specialized saddle and now a desoto)

    I need to look at myself to see if I am the source of pain for him.

    I am a feather/lightweight, and I have been told I do not weigh too much for him. But I can't help but wonder what is wrong. He is a decent size, 15hh and not scrawny.

    I post and I try to ride centered, like dressage. Can some experienced people help me with how to ride "endurance" the right way?

    When I did a CTR a few years back I did get scored poorly for "deep in the saddle".

    The horse has had a few weeks off and I want to start back without being the source of discomfort.

  • #2
    Ordinarily when there's a back problem with a horse I start by checking tack and saddlery but also how the horse is worked and ridden. If I presume you're 200% confident that's o.k. then it sounds like you need a vet to arrange for a good clinical examination and start by ascertaining the root cause.

    You might though want to consider starting with a good horse trainer who can work the horse under long reins and observe if there's any obvious signs of discomfort or uneveness about his way of going and then do similar with you on board.


    • #3
      Ooooh, this is a good question. Not good that your horse is sore, but it's something that everybody needs to spend some time thinking about.

      Can you ride with an experienced endurance or CTR rider or two and see if they can pinpoint something for you? Or get some good video of yourself schooling your horse out in a field, then possibly post it here?

      I switched to treeless, because I worked with 2 saddle fitters, and probably 10 different saddles, which all supposedly fit "beautifully" and my horse was still crabby, posty legged going down hills, and developed white patches behind the withers. Before treeless, my horse had no trot at all. She wanted to walk, jig, or canter, and gallop was even better. Since treeless, she can trot out like a power house. The tree, no matter how well fit, was impinging her scapula.

      I am a HUGE believer in treeless now. I see so many of them at endurance rides and always ask people about them. People always tell me that they feel trees can never be fit "perfectly" to a back, because the back is so dynamic. Constantly flexing, changing, arching, dipping, and twisting with movement.

      And another problem with custom fit trees is that the horse can gain or lose 50 lbs here or there with the seasons, or with muscling, and then does the saddle still fit? In my case, it did not. Maybe specialized saddles are different though? I know that they're supposed to be more advanced than a standard tree.

      If a good treed saddle is working for a horse and rider, then there's no reason at all to change. Trees aren't "the devil" but I do believe that for certain body types, you will never find a tree that works for that horse for the long haul.

      For my particular style of riding, and my horses, I feel I made the best decision possible in switching to treeless. At this point, I'm sure I could never go back. I've ridden a short ride here or there in an Abetta or Aussie, and not only do I feel very uncomfortable, but I can tell a huge difference in the horses. They just don't have that totally un-inhibited, freedom of movement and you never feel like you can effectively communicate with the horse. But that's just "me." Treeless is not for everyone.


      • #4
        Has your horse been seen by a chiropractor? I ask because with my mare Cricket I started having saddle fit problems, or so I thought, maybe my original saddle wasn't the problem. I do not do long distance riding or endurance, I pleasure trail ride but do some 20 mile rides.

        Any how after changing saddles and having a massage therapist come out a few times she told me to have a chiropractor out. Best thing I could have done. I was super leery of chiropractors. Any how he came out, I showed him how my horse would dip if you ran your fingers down her back more toward her hip. He adjusted her pelvis, we ran our fingers down, no more dipping. I cried.
        Missouri Fox Trotters-To ride one is to own one

        Standardbreds, so much more then a harness racing horse.


        • #5
          That's a good point Cashela. Before making saddling changes, it is a good idea to have a thorough lameness exam. But, an exam on my horse showed no soreness, stiffness, or abnormalities at all. Therefore, the saddle fitter further concluded that my tack was fine, since the mare wasn't demonstrating soreness during the exam.

          So I guess it's important to explore the possibility that there is still a problem with the tack, even if the lameness exam comes up clean.


          • Original Poster

            I have explored the treeless option before. (but with other horses) I had a Torsion, one of the best ones. It always slipped, rolled and made me feel insecure. It just didn't work for us- and I tried!

            There are no lameness issues, other than he dips his back when you run fingers down it, and tightens the muscles over the loin.

            A vet is seeing him everyday- literally, my husband checks him daily. I am looking into the chiro, but my question still comes back to me. What am I doing wrong?

            I don't feel comfortable posting video on here, I don't want to be humiliated and torn apart and made to feel horrible about myself, no thanks!


            • #7
              Originally posted by Cashela View Post
              Has your horse been seen by a chiropractor? I ask because with my mare Cricket I started having saddle fit problems, or so I thought, maybe my original saddle wasn't the problem. I do not do long distance riding or endurance, I pleasure trail ride but do some 20 mile rides.

              Any how after changing saddles and having a massage therapist come out a few times she told me to have a chiropractor out. Best thing I could have done. I was super leery of chiropractors. Any how he came out, I showed him how my horse would dip if you ran your fingers down her back more toward her hip. He adjusted her pelvis, we ran our fingers down, no more dipping. I cried.
              I second this idea. I had the exact same experience with my POA and was also leary of a chiropractor. And I also cried when he left and I took my pony on the trail 15 minutes later and all issues of pain were miraculously gone.


              • #8
                Every time that I personally have had a problem with sore backs, I think its been the saddle. Desotos are really good though- I love mine!

                I would take some riding lessons, dressage or h/j and see what the trainer has to say. Or if you have a friend that is a good rider, ask her to help. Back soreness could be caused by letting your horse travel too strung out, with its head high, back dropped, braced against the hands, etc. Taking dressage lessons could help with that. You dont want your horse to travel collected for distance riding, but so many people let the horse just move terribly- open up any "Endurance News" to see that!

                Another thing you could try is get a hold of the book, "Beating Muscle Injuries for Horses" by Meagher. It is a short, simple, old book but it gives some great pressure point therapies that really work. My endurance horse sometimes gets weird in his hind end (not his back per se) but doing those points on him really helps. Its a lot cheaper and easier than paying someone to come in and do it, so worth a try to see if that is the issue.


                • #9
                  Another recommendation for chiro. My horse flinched when you ran a finger next to his spine in the right hip area. I had him adjusted and he was fine no more dipping or flinching.


                  • #10
                    Have you tried riding in a "light seat" - something between sitting deep and a two point? Any good H/J trainer can show you how to do this. People often use it on a young horse who hasn't got a lot of strength in his back yet. It will take a little weight off his loins and maybe help the symptoms.

                    You can try helping him to strengthen his abs, which will support his back better. Run your finger, or something a little more pointed, down the midline of his belly. He should lift up the area just behind the saddle. At first you may not see much lift but eventually he will be able to stretch his back upward like a cat (almost).

                    Also the chiropractor. My horse loved his chiropractor so much that he would wrap his neck around the chiro and sigh after an adjustment. A good chiropractor can show you how to do therapeutic exercises and stretches for the horse that loosen the muscles.


                    • #11
                      Do you take any riding lessons? I took Centered Riding lessons years ago (was an equitation rider in my youth), and now work with a Connected Riding instructor. I had a bucker, and the latter instructor worked with me on both saddle fit and my riding (treeless was not an option with his withers). It didn't stop the bucking (I found out that he was in the habit of throwing jockeys and exercise riders at the track), and he never showed any back soreness when palped, but I'm a much better rider for the continued instruction.

                      If you can find a good instructor, ask them the question and have them watch you ride. This will help a lot. Until then, perhaps your husband can video you riding so you can see for yourself if there is anything you are doing.

                      If you do end up suspecting the saddle to be part of the problem, don't discard the idea of treeless based on your experience with one type of saddle. They are all different, have a different feel. Contrary to popular belief, not every treeless model works for every horse and rider. It's a good idea to get trial saddles and ride at least 20 miles to see if that particular model works for you and your horse. I now ride in a Bob Marshall Sport Saddle, which is not comfortable for everybody, but it works well for me and my horses. I've also ridden in several other models and like them to varying degrees.
                      "Passion without knowledge is a runaway horse."


                      • #12
                        I am a huge believer in body work (massage).

                        My horse was dipping his back when I saddled him. The saddle fitter had checked the saddle and it fit fine. He showed me how to release tension points in his loin using an accupressure point at the poll. Immediate relaxation and now no more dipping.

                        Since then I've had my saddle fitter show me several more ways to release tension in various parts of my horse. Generally I video tape him so I can remember exactly what to do.

                        I have also had very good luck working from a DVD from Jim Masterson on accupressure massage. The segments are very, very clear. My horse loves it and it's really helped with relaxation. I really like the fact that I can do this myself. Since I check my horse daily, I can find areas where he's holding tension and release them before they cause any problems.

                        Another way that you can prevent soreness is by adding a Thinline pad. I use one when I jump, and when I go for long rides in my treeless saddle. They don't change fit much but they are very good at absorbing shock.

                        Good luck!
                        Equine Ink - My soapbox for equestrian writings & reviews.
                        EquestrianHow2 - Operating instructions for your horse.


                        • #13
                          Another thing you can check is the length of the saddle. If your horse has a short back and the saddle is too long it can rub at the loin and make the horse sore.


                          • #14
                            Check his hocks--referrred back pain is a classic symptom for hock arthritis issues.


                            • #15
                              Another thing would be negative plantar angles on the hinds. If your hubby is a vet, he should be able to tell you all about that.


                              • #16
                                Another vote for having a good chiropractor check him out. It might not be you. Horses can tweak their backs playing the field, slipping and catching themselves wrong, rolling up against walls, etc. and unless they somehow put themselves right, it won't get better until a chiropractor adjusts it.

                                If you have him adjusted and get his hocks checked and he still has issues, then you may start flogging yourself, but it seems that you haven't exhausted the other causes, yet.


                                • #17
                                  The first MFT that I owned had a history of getting a sore loin when ever I did any kind of distance ride on him. I could ride all week on 10 mile rides with no problem. But when I'd show up for a CTR on the week end he would get sore. I tried numerous different saddles and and had some folks who claim to be great at fitting a saddle evaluate my saddle. No obvious problems.

                                  Since I was competiting in CTR, the sore back always lost me points. And I suspected that maybe he was just getting excited at the CTR's because of the crowd of horses and hollowing out his back during the day. So I sold the horse to a friend who did not compete. The horse does well for him on week end trail rides. But still gets sore when we do 20-25 mile ride.

                                  We took him up last Thursday and rode him hunting and packed out 1/2 a moose on him with no problem. But he never went farther than about 10 miles. So it's something to do with the distance. We have just relagated him to a short haul horse or give him a day off between long rides.


                                  • #18
                                    I'll second or third the suggestion for checking out the hocks. Last fall my I was sensing discomfort/tightness in my Arab mare's back while riding - both on the trail and in the arena. My husband is also a vet and kept telling me he didn't really think it was in the back - he did a thorough lameness exam on her and she was sore on the left hock. We x-rayed and she was completely clean on both hocks, but knowing that she has a tendancy to be a goofball in the pasture, we went ahead and injected the hocks anyway. My husband suspected she had just done something to herself in the pasture and had set up a cycle of inflamation. Sure enough, once I started riding her again she was moving free and without the back tightness. And my husband must have been right about the cause because she's done 5 endurance rides this season with no recurrence of the problem, so it was likely just a one time thing.


                                    • #19
                                      Originally posted by Painted Horse View Post
                                      Since I was competiting in CTR, the sore back always lost me points.
                                      They don't pull you from CTRs for a sore backed horse?


                                      • #20
                                        That depends on how sore the horse is. I scribed for the lay judge at a CTR this past weekend. Plenty of horses lost points for sore backs and sore girths, but they were not pulled. None of them were severe enough to warrant a pull.
                                        "Passion without knowledge is a runaway horse."