Thursday, July 21, 2011

Saddle Fit

Well, the chiropractor said that Ivan has some soreness through the withers and shoulders due to a bad saddle fit, and while she said it's likely from his days at the track, I'm going to go ahead and have the saddle fitter come out and check him out. In the meantime, I started looking stuff up, and I found this article very helpful!

The Science Of Saddle Fit

by: Lisa Kemp
February 01 2011, Article # 17752

Proper saddle fit can maximize your horse’s comfort and performance.

A saddle can either encourage comfortable movement and clear communication between rider and horse, or it can result in discomfort and behavioral problems. Evaluating a saddle's fit requires an understanding of saddle construction, the anatomy and dynamic movement of a horse, and the literal impact of the rider. If you haven't evaluated your saddle's fit recently, it could be time to do so.

If Only They Could Say 'Ouch'

Saddle fit has often been likened to the fit of a shoe. While we humans can't fully comprehend what wearing an ill-fitting saddle feels like, it's possible we've worn a shoe that rubbed us the wrong way. We were probably irritable and changed our gait and weight bearing to accommodate the sensitive foot; horses do the same when a saddle pinches or applies uneven pressure.

Some physical signs can indicate ill saddle fit, including the prototypical "saddle sore." Duncan Peters, DVM, MS, says to think of a saddle sore as a "rub sore."

"In my experience, saddle sores are usually due to motion combined with pressure over an area that abrades the epidermis, or outer layer of skin, and exposes the underlying tissues," he says. "Certainly, there is a saddle fit or padding issue that contributes to a saddle sore's development."

Other indicators of saddle fit issues include suddenly appearing white hairs, scars, or hard spots in the saddle area, atrophied wither muscles, temporary back swelling following saddle removal, and other "wear and tear" signs on the hair and skin underneath the saddle.

Acute or Chronic?

As director of the sport horse division at Hagyard Equine Medical Institute in Lexington, Ky., Peters sees more than his fair share of equine athletes with veterinary problems. Still, he says that overt lameness directly linked to poor saddle fit is uncommon.

"The issues we see related to saddle fit are primarily behavioral, where the horse is irritable in their training or with a rider on top of them. We'll see actions such as tail swishing or ear pinning," says Peters. "While some horses can work through some discomfort once they get past the initial uneasiness of poor saddle fit, other horses can be more sensitive and will continue to show decreased performance as well as have difficulties in carrying out some aspects of their work."

Even if there's no lasting physical damage from an ill-fitting saddle, in a competitive environment those behavioral nuances can mean the difference between winning and losing. And if the situation persists without correction, Peters points out that chronic saddle discomfort can lead to additional issues over time.

"For example, from the chiropractic viewpoint and terminology, certainly structural shifts can occur because the horse is trying to carry himself so he's comfortable," he says. "In some cases chiropractic manipulation or acupuncture techniques may help to alleviate some symptoms, but if the same problems keep resurfacing, it becomes important to dig deeper and look for other causes."

Considering The Saddle

Saddle design and construction have similarities and differences but a shared goal: to have a comfortable horse and rider that are able to move and perform in balance and harmony with each other. To that end, both expertise and effort go into the design and fit of saddles:

English Saddles In his role as president at Custom Saddlery, in Aiken, S.C., Cary Wallace has discovered that many people don't fully understand all the variables that go into designing a saddle that's fitted to both rider and horse. "English saddles are pretty simple pieces of equipment, but fitting them is both an art and a craft," he says. Most English saddles start with the tree as a frame, with a wide variety of tree shapes and materials affecting the final saddle design and fit. "The tree is important in positioning the rider properly on the horse's back, with some being more supportive and others being flatter or having more sweep to them," says Wallace. "Many of the good English trees today are also adjustable for the horse, with a U-shaped steel bar or plate in the front."

English saddles need to be periodically reflocked, or restuffed, to take into account changes in a horse's back due to weight loss or gain, musculature changes due to greater or lesser work, or even saddle reassignment to a different horse; the flocking is the natural or synthetic wool stuffing in the padded pockets underneath the saddle. You should consider girths and saddle pads also, but evaluating the horse and rider visually is one of the most important factors in getting the fit just right.

"Ideally, we want to watch the saddled horse in motion, both with and without the rider and at all gaits and in both directions, and get feedback from both the rider and, if possible, the trainer involved, when we're reflocking a saddle," reports Wallace, who says that identifying problems related to fit can be complicated. "Sometimes it's hard to chase down what's bothering a horse. Recently I was at a client's house, and instead of the saddle fit being a problem, it's possible her horse had developed ulcers."

Wallace says riders should keep an open mind when it comes to selecting and using tack. "Never underestimate the difference that small changes in tack and equipment can bring about. Trying something new will either reinforce you're doing the right thing, or you might find something more suitable."

Western Saddles Jeff Habighorst is a leather craftsman at Blue Ribbon Tack in Phoenix, Ariz. A halter competitor who took home a reserve grand championship at the 2010 All American Quarter Horse Congress, Habighorst designs saddles at the company owned by his parents.

"We do everything from the ground up, and for years we've used a computer-sensor pad to generate data about where weight and pressure are on a horse's back when we're designing a new saddle," says Habighorst. They make about 400 saddles each year, and he reports they've had few fit problems because of all the groundwork they build in with a new design.

The Western saddle process also starts with the tree. "In a Western tree, you've got a bar on each side of the horse's spine; you've got to have the right 'rock' or angle in the bars so it corresponds to the sway of the back, but it also has to fit more than one horse," he says. If the tree is too tight the saddle could pinch the withers; if it's too flat in the back it can hit the horse in the hipbone. And, a Western saddle should generally fit between a horse's withers and his last rib.

Design changes to fit the rider could require another look underneath the saddle. "Depending on the size and weight of the rider, we might be moving the cantle (the hind part of the saddle that slopes upward) forward or back. Every time you change something in the saddle's swell (the front of the saddle tree that holds the two parallel bars together) or cantle or rigging, you have to consider the effect on the horse's back."

Habighorst says that everyday riding equipment is just as important if not more so than show tack, and that problems can arise from alternating between the two.

"A lot of the veterinarians and chiropractors I talk to see problems arise when there's a new saddle," he reports. "For example, maybe there's a problem with the horse's everyday saddle, but he's gotten used to it over time. Then, the show saddle might be a better fit, but because it's different, the horse is unable to work through it, and you have behavioral problems that affect the horse's performance during competition."

A Need For Awareness

Poorly positioned or unbalanced riders can exacerbate any slight saddle fit issue, as can the wrong kind of, or too many, saddle pads. And some riders are simply unaware of what constitutes good saddle fit, despite the best of intentions.

"The rider is a huge factor; they need to look at how their riding is affecting the horse. I ride, so I understand from both perspectives (rider and treating veterinarian) the rider's impact," says Peters. "And, while many riders think nothing of throwing on an extra pad, some studies have shown that more padding can actually make things worse."

Several new tools can help riders understand and improve their riding techniques. One tool that debuted at the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games can be placed on a horse's back and transmits wireless signals that are interpreted for the rider and trainer by a certified instructor. The system measures the rider's actual movement, aids, and balance, and instructor feedback on this data can help improve overall harmony between horse and rider and correct detrimental rider habits.

As for saddle pads, the Movement Science Group Vienna, at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna, Austria, conducted several studies in 2009 in which they looked at the effects of a variety of pads (gel, leather, foam, and reindeer fur) underneath both well-fitted and too-wide dressage saddles. Study conclusions indicated that well-chosen pads can help reduce force and pressure distribution on a horse's back, and that selection of pads is also highly individual to each horse. Researchers also advised owners not to rely on pads alone to fix poor saddle fit.

In 2009 the New Mexico State University's National Agri-Marketing Club also conducted a saddle fit study, this time on roping and barrel racing saddles. What started as a look into the marketplace for rodeo saddles eventually turned up some surprising data about saddle fit.

"We found that many roping saddles had more pressure on the left side, correlating with greater left-side mass of the horse due to uneven exercise in a primarily counter-clockwise direction," reports Skyla Cockerham, club president at the time of the study. The results also indicated that each additional inch of pad thickness increased the probability of bad fit by 23.3%. Above all, they found that many riders were unaware their saddles were causing a problem. "The riders knew when their horses had saddle sores, but they thought it was just something that was to be expected in a demanding sport," reports Cockerham.

Medical and Management Options

From the sports medicine perspective, there are many tools and techniques available to help the veterinarian assess whether a horse is experiencing a saddle fit issue, a primary back injury, or some type of low-grade soreness, say in a hock or an ankle, that is masquerading as back pain.

"Diagnostic modalities such as radiographs, ultrasound, and nuclear scintigraphy can help sort out the nature of the discomfort; therapeutic modalities can encompass acupuncture and chiropractic as well as electromagnetic blankets, (extracorporeal) shock wave therapy, and physical massage," says Peters.

He adds that periods of soreness can be treated with systemic anti-inflammatory medications, muscle relaxants, local injections, or mesotherapy (a pain-dampening technique that stimulates the middle layer of the skin), but that changes to a horse's exercise routine might also help. "With many back issues, we can incorporate longer warm-up and cool-down periods, shorter periods of intense collection work, and more cantering."

And finally, some back soreness can be related not just to saddle fit, but to more advanced movements or exercise, as well.

"It's not uncommon for a horse that's going into more advanced training, say from second to third level in dressage, to experience temporary soreness," advises Peters. "You're asking the horse to use different muscles, and they're paying the price until they build the capability to carry themselves in the new activities." It's not unlike when we go to the gym for a big workout; there's going to be a period where things simply hurt until we build our capacity-- something to keep in mind when we're asking our horses for greater effort.

Take-Home Message

Saddle fit isn't the only factor to look at when a horse demonstrates back pain or exhibits resistance behaviors; oftentimes significant detective work is required on the part of owners, riders, trainers, saddle fitters, and veterinarians to determine what is bothering that horse. As Peters points out, "It would be so much easier if (horses) could talk to us." But since they can't speak verbally, we need to listen to their body language and explore our options to find the right equation for the right saddle fit.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Summer Stalling vs Turnout Question: Answered!

This makes me feel better about the fact that I don't have my horses inside being pampered with a fan. :)

Summer Horse Housing: Barn or Pasture with Shade?

by: Nancy S. Loving, DVM
July 06 2011, Article # 16926

Q: I live in Northern Illinois where the summers can be very hot and humid. My question is - where is the best place for a horse during the hottest part of the day--in a barn with fans or outside? We are on a hill, so we usually have a pretty brisk breeze blowing.

My thermometer in the barn is at 96 degrees right now, probably hotter than outside in a shady spot. One place seems about as bad as the other in the heat. Any ideas?

Dusti Coyle
Wilmington, Illinois

A: We all know how it feels to stand in the baking heat of the sun without respite. When overly hot, a horse will sweat, which is a normal process to eliminate heat from the body to maintain a stable body temperature between 97-101°F. One way to determine how solar radiation is affecting your horse is to measure his respirations, which are normally 18-24 breaths per minute. On a hot day, he's likely to breathe more rapidly to dissipate heat from his body. A dark-haired horse tends to be more affected by direct sunshine. It helps to compare one horse's respiratory rate to a few others experiencing the same ambient conditions.

The presence of a breeze helps to wick heat from the horse's body, improve the air that he breathes, and keep the insects at bay. It's also valuable to consider whether your horses can find shade under a tree or run-in shed or alongside a building or structure.

Most horses compensate quite well living outside in the summer heat of temperate climates provided they have ample water to replenish fluids lost in sweat and a big enough area that they can move around to find optimal air circulation and available shade.

When electing to confine a horse inside, remember that a barn environment doesn't always present ideal conditions for a horse's airways--breathing in particulates and ammonia fumes is particularly difficult for a horse with airway inflammation. Respiratory secretions circulate through the barn in droplets dispersed with coughing, sneezing, and movement, increasing the chance of passing infectious disease. Still air in a barn makes for a stifling environment, particularly as equine body heat continues to be released.

There are situations where a horse should remain in a barn during the heat of the day, such as an anhydrotic horse that has lost the ability to sweat. Until this condition is resolved, the anhydrotic horse should be kept inside with cooling fans and misters. Other situations that necessitate indoor stabling include a need to protect against insects, or to shield a horse with skin photosensitivity or eye issues.

Whenever possible, horses fare better outside in turn-out where they can roam at leisure, graze a little green grass or nibble some hay, and mingle with others in the herd. This is the best mental and physical situation any time of the year for a herd animal like a horse.

Monday, July 11, 2011

When is it too hot to ride? | Birmingham Dressage and Combined Training Association

I enjoyed today's post by my local DCTA association, so I thought I'd share!



When is it too hot to ride?

by Birmingham Dressage and Combined Training Association on Monday, July 11, 2011 at 10:36am
With the heat & high humidity wave we are having in Alabama, I thought this was a good time to remind everyone to be careful with their horses. As all of us Southerners know, its not just the heat, its the humidity! When the humidity is over 75%, a horse's ability to cool itself is greatly reduced, no matter what the temperature. When making the decision if its to hot to ride, you have to consider the temperature, humidity & wind. To figure out if its safe to ride use this simple formula...

The Formula:
air temperature + relative humidity - wind speed = answer

Less than 130: All go-horses can function to cool themselves assuming adequate hydration.
130 - 170: Caution-a horse’s cooling mechanisms can only partially function as intended. Some cooling management procedures will need to be performed.
180 or above: Stop-a horse’s cooling systems cannot and will not function adequately. All cooling procedures will need to be utilized to keep the horse out of serious trouble.

For example
Temperature (F) + relative humidity (%) - wind speed
This morning (7/11/11) at 10:00 am in Oneonta, AL:
Temperature (F) 84 (so not that hot)
Relative Humidity (%) 80 (but VERY humid!)
Wind Speed 1 (MPH) (and no wind)
Answer = 163- use caution! As someone who has had heat exhaustion more than once, if I decided to ride, I would opt to go on a leisurely trail ride & not work my horse in these conditions, even though my ArabX handles the heat better than I do :)

Of course, you should consider both your & your horses level of conditioning, level of work & heat tolerance when making these decisions. And make sure you are aware of the signs of heat exhaustion in both horses & people!

If your horse does get overheated, remember that research at the Atlanta Olympics showed that the best way to cool a horse down quickly is to use cold water (ice water) with the sponge & scrape method. Do not leave the water on the horse since it heats up quickly & can actually slow down the cooling process- scrape the water off and apply more- repeat till the horse is cooled off.

For more information check out

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Horse | Trailer Smart for Safer Hauling

I thought this was a useful article :) I've reposted it below!

Trailer Smart for Safer Hauling

by: Kentucky Horse Council
July 04 2011, Article # 18471

We've all been there. A truck that isn't quite large enough to haul that heavily loaded bumper pull gets pushed around when the horses bicker over the hay bag. The old trailer doesn't have any brakes or tail lights, but it's only a few miles down the road. Your brakes lock, but it's only on one wheel and you're a good driver, so why worry?

Ignoring limitations when hauling your horses is dangerous and can cause injury and maybe even death to you, your horses, and others. No one is such a good and conscientious driver that they can compensate for hauling too large a load with too small a vehicle or for a lack of brakes and tail lights.

While it is impossible to eliminate every risk when hauling horses, we can certainly reduce them significantly by choosing and matching our towing vehicle and hauling equipment carefully, properly hitching and loading our trailers, and practicing careful driving habits.

Consider the following when selecting your trailer and towing vehicle:

·         Is the truck correctly sized to haul the loaded trailer? It is best to get an outside professional opinion on matching the truck and trailer.

·         Does the vehicle have a correctly installed frame hitch, rated to tow the loaded weight of the trailer? Again, seek professional assistance if you're unsure.

·         Is the ball correctly sized for the coupler? A 2-inch ball is correctly sized for a 2-inch coupler, while a trailer with a 2 5/8-inch coupler needs a 2 5/8-inch ball. Joining a coupler to a smaller sized ball might at first seem like a workable solution, but as soon as you cross the first set of rail road tracks or bump in the road, your truck and trailer can easily be separated.

·         Does your truck have the right electrical outlet for the trailer wiring? All livestock trailers should have working brakes and lights, which requires a proper electrical connection.

·         Does the trailer have a solid floor? Make sure you check under the floor mats. Moisture becomes trapped under floor mats and can cause wood to rot and steel to rust, and urine causes aluminum to corrode. Aluminum floors can also crack. All livestock trailers should have a stout floor, no exceptions.

·         Is the trailer appropriately sized for the animals you intend to haul?

·         What are the benefits and limitations of a tow behind verses a gooseneck trailer? Which is most appropriate for your use and hauling vehicle? Generally a gooseneck trailer is more stable and less likely to sway when hauled. A gooseneck has a smaller turn radius and will track inside the curve when following the truck through a turn. Tow behind trailers track behind the hauling vehicle even when on a turn. An anti-sway bar can be used to reduce sway when hauling a tow behind trailer.

Every time you hitch up you should also verify:

·         All the lights are working;

·         The ball is properly attached to the draw bar;

·         The correctly sized ball for the particular trailer you are towing is on the draw bar;

·         The draw bar is properly attached to the hitch receiver (be sure to check the pin);

·         The trailer coupler is properly secured to the ball (Most tow behinds have a clasp that needs to be closed or a pin that needs to be placed. Failure to secure the coupler may result in the separation of the towing vehicle and trailer);

·         The safety chains are attached correctly (Tow chains should be crossed under the trailer tongue and secured to the towing vehicle using the hooks next to the ball.);

·         The trailer floor is sound;

·         The trailer is properly ventilated for the season and number of animals being hauled;

·         Tire pressure of both the truck and trailer tires is adequate;

·         Tire tread of the truck and trailer is suitable; and

·         The emergency brake box is charged and properly connected.

Remember, trailers need maintenance just like vehicles, so have your trailer serviced annually. The service should include a check of the wheel bearings (as they may need repacking), wiring and lights, brakes, alignment, tire wear, emergency brake box, and structural integrity.

Loading the Trailer

In general it is a good idea to balance the load in your trailer. Your goals should be to keep the trailer level when it is loaded and situate your horses in a manner that limits risks.

Remember to load your heaviest horse on the driver side of the trailer. Also if you are only hauling one horse it should be loaded on the driver side. This helps keep the trailer from flipping if your passenger-side tire runs off the road.

In slant load trailers the heavy horse or single horse should go into the first stall. Keeping your weight toward the front of the trailer, rather than toward the back, helps avoid trailer sway.

Evaluate your rig once the trailer is loaded. If the trailer buckles down at the tongue (and the truck is properly sized for the load), you need to reconsider how your horses are distributed in the trailer and shift some weight to the back. Similarly, if the trailer buckles up at the tongue (and the truck is properly sized for the load) too much weight is in the back of the trailer.


Speed up and slow down more gradually, take turns slower, and allow more stopping room, but when you’re on straight and safe roads, you can go as fast as is legal and manageable for your vehicle. Remember, when your horse gets off the trailer he should be uninjured and not afraid of getting back on!

Accident or Intention

An accident is "any event that happens unexpectedly, without a deliberate plan or cause." It seems that definition is worth remembering and perhaps we should step back and carefully survey every trailer driving calamity before casually assigning the word "accident."

Hopefully we can all agree that when we wreck it is not because we had a "deliberate plan"; but how many of us can truly say there wasn’t a "deliberate cause?" When hauling livestock we have a duty to be trailer smart by selecting and maintaining appropriate vehicles and equipment, carefully loading animals, and focusing on the safety of our human and livestock passengers, other motorists, pedestrians, and cyclists.

Article reprinted with permission from the Kentucky Horse Council.