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What would cause a horse to become progressively uncomfortable during a ride?

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    What would cause a horse to become progressively uncomfortable during a ride?

    I have a sweet 4 year old OTTB gelding that came off the track in December. I would say that the first month and a half things went very well, easy to ride in the arena and out on the trail, no problems wtc going either direction. He is a very easy going horse that rarely spooks and doesn't (usually) have any nervous behaviors.
    He is now clearly uncomfortable being ridden, he will start off his usual happy and relaxed self, and then about 10 minutes into the ride he will start showing progressive signs of discomfort; rushing, tail swishing, resentment of leg and this will proceed to bucking and bolting if I continue the ride.
    I had the vet evaluate him last week and she found him to generally have a sore back and recommended a round of bute and muscle relaxer as well as chiro and stretching exercises. I have done all that and then rode him today and he felt exactly the same, I couldn't perceive any improvement.
    He is also extremely reluctant to walk downhill. When riding his shoulders get tight/locked and he actually has to kind of stumble to go back to a normal stride.
    I will of course be having the vet back for more diagnostics, but I also wanted to see if any of you have ideas of what may be going on.
    The saddle was adjusted to fit him, but I'm starting to wonder if it may be contributing to the problem. He passed his extensive pre-purchase vet check. Gets group turnout in a large field every day and seems to frolic without any signs of discomfort.

    I would look at the saddle first.

    Realize that if saddle is hitting him it could take a while for his back to heal even with a better saddle. I would give him a couple weeks off then try new saddles. Just because some rep or fitter told you it fit doesn't mean it does. Also his back might have changed.


      He's telling you the saddle doesn't fit. Believe him, not the fitter.

      I have one that is very sensitive to saddle fit and placement. If he gets pinched he is very wary for several saddlings afterwards even if the fit and placement is correct. I find that getting him to move on the longe helps him to relax and realize that it's okay before I get on.

      Your horse may also hold some expectation of pain since it's gotten as far as it has. He may need more than one week unridden for his back to recover before you start messing with the fit. He may not since he starts out the ride happy.


        Original Poster

        Well that's two votes for saddle. I didn't really start to think saddle until after my ride this evening, I took it for granted that when you have a saddle adjusted to fit, that you can check that box off.
        I will give him more time off and then try him in a bareback pad.
        The vet also suggested shockwave treatment and injecting SI joint, so we have a few more things to try as well. I am just dubious as to whether these will help given the lack of improvement thus far.


          Chicken egg problem. Ulcers may be exacerbate saddle fit. Change of feed might make tummy hurt, he might miss a pal,,I leave my recent OTTB. With net full of hay all the time..all the time. He gets alfalfa twice a day. And a bucket of beet pulp twice a day..Purnia Out last helped being good client for shoer helped. Checking saddle fit often. In 5 months New Kid. Way better.

          OTTB is a perfect storm of stress. Good simple feed. Good shoeing. Good tack fit.


            Saddle. When mine was not fitting right, horse would give me about 20 minutes of riding and then do fun things like rear. I got the memo!


              "...last week and she found him to generally have a sore back and recommended a round of bute and muscle relaxer as well as chiro and stretching exercises. I have done all that and then rode him today and he felt exactly the same, I couldn't perceive any improvement."

              ​​​Chiro (how many adjustments?), stretching, etc for a week isn't going to fix something that's likely been developing for quite a bit longer, four months or so.

              Also did he get time post track let down time?
              How has his body changed since leaving the track, but also due to simple physically maturing (they change alot during this time between breaking and maturity).

              "... I didn't really start to think saddle until after my ride this evening, I took it for granted that when you have a saddle adjusted to fit, that you can check that box off."

              He's 4, and just off the track. His body should be changing quite a bit because of both of those facts.
              Last edited by Angela Freda; Apr. 16, 2020, 11:17 AM.
              Yo/Yousolong April 23rd, 1985- April 15th, 2014



                I would also suggest the saddle if it was fitted when you started riding him. 4 year old changes so much let alone changing after a couple of months of different type of riding then before. It is something that is easy to check off and probably one of the least expensive things to check.
                Jacobson's Saddlery, LLC
                Society of Master Saddlers Qualified Fitter


                  Be careful about riding him again with a bareback pad. Without a saddle, your weight doesn't get distributed at all across and along the back; instead there tend to be real pressure points under your sitz bones. If his back is still sore at all, he's likely to react badly.

                  It can take several weeks for the back to stop feeling sore. If you can get him a saddle that fits, when you start him back under saddle, you'll need to take it slowly and really get him to work through his back muscles, which is something that he may try to avoid because of the memory of pain.

                  Good luck.
                  "The formula 'Two and two make five' is not without its attractions." --Dostoevsky


                    Another vote for saddle. Some horses don't like "textbook perfect" fit. Some like a little extra room in the shoulder, half size wider than normal. More rarely, horses fit a little snug, as any flopping/shifting annoys them. But usually, I find TBs dislike having their shoulders pinched. If you're using a breastplate, be sure it isn't pulling the tree points even tighter into the shoulder.
                    A clever person solves a problem. A wise person avoids it.
                    ? Albert Einstein



                      Original Poster

                      He had about a month off before I took ownership of him in mid January.
                      I just checked my records, his saddle was adjusted (was narrowed) March 8th, which is around the time when he first started giving indications of discomfort under saddle (really only realizing this in hindsight bc I thought it was behavioral at first). He does have a huge shoulder, so I'm not really sure what saddle would work best for him if the saddle is the problem.
                      I didn't make it clear in my first post, but the reluctance to walk downhill was there from the beginning, and it's not just when saddled. I also feel that the shoulder tightness/locking was also there all along, just not as frequent or pronounced.
                      I appreciate the replies!


                        The reluctance to walk downhill is often a sign of an SI injury. Could be a ligament strain or pull in that area, which can heal---but it takes a long time. If it's a ligament, an injection in the SI won't help. That will only help if there are arthritic changes in the SI joint. I would try to find a vet that's good at evaluating backs and necks. Here are some other tests you can do to see if it might be SI related.


                          SunnyCalifornia I had some saddle fit issues with my OTTB that seemed to be magnified when terrain was added in to her training. She also has big shoulders and an enormous set of withers. The first saddle I bought for her just never really worked, even with some tree and flocking adjustments.

                          Eventually I ended up getting a Black Country saddle with wither gussets that provided clearance and in her case, stopped the saddle from riding forward onto her withers and shoulders. It really made a difference for her. If memory serves me, the tree points of that saddle are oriented in a way (straighter points rather than more forward? I could have that mixed up) that allows greater freedom of movement for a big shouldered horse. Before I changed the saddle I tried an anatomical girth but it did not work for the shape of my horse’s girth area (the girth gapped at the back and caused uneven pressure points).

                          I hope it’s something as simple (ha!) as the saddle. Good luck!​​​​​​


                            I'd be suspicious of the saddle too, given the timeline.
                            However, it would be interesting to know; does he show the same amount of discomfort if he is being worked on the ground, i.e. lunging, ground driving, long lining? If after 10 minutes of in hand work he also starts to act up, there might be other things going on.
                            The issue about going down hill could be due to physical injury, it could also be due to physical unfitness and mental uncertainty. A lot of horses don't have that much of a chance to go up and down hills carrying a rider, or even without a rider. Nor do riders. It takes more strength and balance than we think.


                              Besides saddle fit, I’d look into ulcers and stifle issues. Sometimes the longer you ride the more the ulcers are aggravated.
                              The walking down hill issue makes me think stifles. Could be as simple as he is growing still and his stifles are a bit weak, or could be something more serious. how does he walk down hills with no rider?


                                I've found riding in a nice, thick bareback pad, with a cinch (no stirrups) to be a great way to spend several rides to see how they feel versus with a saddle. My guy loved me riding in a bareback pad and it let me know his various past saddles did not fit. Once I found THE saddle that fit he felt the same in it as bareback.

                                Also had Magali and Frederic Pignon (Cavalia) say the same thing - they have used riding bareback as a way to rule out saddle discomfort. They talk about it in their book Gallop to Freedom.


                                  Lunging him without and with the saddle might give you useful information.


                                    A poor fitting saddle can cause the horse to exhibit pain in many different locations...shoulders, wither, back, loin, haunches, hocks, hooves. The saddle not fitting will cause them to move in a way that is not correct..which causes them to use muscles incorrectly (muscle sore) which can cause them to move their joints in ways that are not correct (sore SI, hocks, etc). You can treat the pain, but it you don't fix the reason for the pain, you will have the pain recur.

                                    Check some videos on line about how to check for correct saddle fit. Watch from many different saddlery companies and fitters. The basics will come across and they will say the same thing. You then need to spend some time with your horse, your saddle and the pad or pads you use to see if you are feeling what you should feel.

                                    I will second that TB's are VERY sensitive to pressure. Even if it only seems slightly more than any other place along the saddle panel. As my fitter describes it, some horses like to have the saddle floating on their back.


                                      I will echo everyone else about it taking time for back pain to heal. Especially if there's SI pain involved.

                                      ​​​​​​The good thing is that you now know some of your horse's warning signs about the saddle fit and next time you'll catch it sooner.


                                        Originally posted by SunnyCalifornia View Post
                                        Well that's two votes for saddle. I didn't really start to think saddle until after my ride this evening, I took it for granted that when you have a saddle adjusted to fit, that you can check that box off.
                                        I will give him more time off and then try him in a bareback pad.
                                        The vet also suggested shockwave treatment and injecting SI joint, so we have a few more things to try as well. I am just dubious as to whether these will help given the lack of improvement thus far.
                                        From being a long time member of this board I have come to believe that many " so called" saddle fitters miss the mark. It can take a long time for them to heal from a really sore back and even when cleared by a vet the anticipation of pain can cause them to act like they still hurt.

                                        Finding a saddle that fits has got to be the hardest part about owning a horse these days......... Give him a good rest before riding again, but do keep him fit with lunging or ponying or round pen work etc... if possible.