Learned Pain; Two Recovering Backs

People often say, “I don’t want to spend a lot of money on a saddle right now, his back is going to change so quickly.”  I cringe every time, but especially when talking about a young horse.  Do you really want your horse to associate riding with discomfort?  By choosing a cheap, and thus almost certainly ill-fitting saddle, to back your young horse with, you are teaching him that saddles are something to be tolerated at best.  It’s much better to spend the money on an adjustable, properly fitted saddle from the start!

Spike is the kind of sensitive soul who told his owner clearly that every saddle ever placed on him was uncomfortable.  As the years went by and the saddles continued to be not quite right, Spike’s knowledge that saddles equal pain became cemented in his brain.  Unfortunately for Spike, he is a very difficult horse to put a saddle on!  His back is very short, very downhill, and he has a massive shoulder rotation.  Kay, his owner, is a body worker experienced with equids in many shapes, include lots of mules and donkeys, and she really did try everything!  Finally, in early April, she stopped riding Spike and started working on helping him forget about the pain of the saddles.

This fall, when she felt he was ready to try again, I came out with some demos for them to try.  It’s always hard to do a fitting for a horse that is not currently in work, and this was exacerbated by Spike’s distrust of the saddles themselves.  They had also just gotten a new mule in the pen along the arena that Spike was acting wary of.  He was so tense he would barely walk forward under saddle, and trotting was out of the question.  Still, as I gradually adjusted the flair and Kay became level on his back, we could both tell Spike was starting to relax a little.  Kay ordered a gorgeous Baroque saddle with coccyx support for herself, and unique panels for Spike’s unique back.

I delivered their new saddle yesterday, the first saddle Spike has ever had that fits him correctly.  Plus, the ergonomic features of the seat really helped support Kay’s lower back pain and kept her in the center of the saddle, which is something she has struggled with due to past injuries.  It took about ten minutes to get the flair adjusted front to back, and Spike let us know where he wanted the balance.  He was stepping well and acting a bit sassy.  Then, I added a touch of asymmetrical air to support Kay, and all of a sudden Spike stretched down into the bridle and started breathing deeply.  They walked around for another ten minutes or so, and Spike continued to lengthen his stride and lift his back just a touch.  I was thrilled to see such a huge change in such a sensitive horse, and I cannot wait to see how his topline develops now that he AND his rider has a comfortable saddle.  By summer I expect they are back to their dressage lessons and frequent trail riding!!!

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