Saddle fit can feel very overwhelming and confusing. There is lots of conflicting information out there about what kinds of saddles fit the best. One thing that I think most people can agree on is that almost all saddles are built too narrow for our big bodied horses.
Balanced Saddles has put together a very informative article about saddle fit and how that changes as our horse changes through proper riding, or improper saddle fit. We can build our horse’s back up with the proper fit and teaching our horse to carry himself correctly. On the opposite side of that we can actually damage our horse’s back when our saddle fits improperly and/or we ride incorrectly.
I have been working very hard with Billy’s posture and teaching him to use his topline correctly, but teaching him to properly use his hind end may come when I really start riding him. I’m curious about how a young horse that has a bit of a weak back starting out, will respond to riding and challenge of carrying a rider. I can’t afford to jump right into an expensive saddle at the beginning only to have to sell it and buy again in a couple of months when he changes. To get me through that stage I have my Wintec saddle, but I am interested in correctly padding his back to encourage proper muscle build up. I know from just watching him grow and mature over the last few years that he is going to go through even more body changes when I start riding. Helping him to mature correctly is top on my list.
We can use our conformation/posture photos to help us understand our horse’s body and how we can help them through correct saddle fit. As you ride, over time you can take similar photos of your horse from both sides, front and back and see if there are any changes. You will be able to see muscles changing in the back getting bigger, or are they changing side to side? Are the muscles of one shoulder bigger than the other? Are your horse’s hips staying level or are they beginning to drop one side or the other? The photos will be so helpful with this. Because we are around our horses every day we may miss some of these things as they start and not realize what is happening until the muscles are so atrophied that we have to do some rehabilitation. If we can catch these things quickly we can effect change even faster!
Your horse is your mirror can also apply to posture. Do you drop a shoulder when you ride, causing you to be off balance just a tiny bit? This will show up in your horse’s shoulders as well. Do you ride with one stirrup longer than the other? This will throw off your horse’s hips and could cause soreness in the back. It’s amazing to me how many people are riding with two different length stirrups and don’t even know it! Some people ride with different length reins, pulling their horse’s head off to one side just a little bit, but over time you will develop the muscles in the neck differently on one side than the other.
There are so many ways our horse’s will mirror our posture. I highly recommend a chiropractor for your horse (and yourself!) and an equine massage therapist or body worker. It’s amazing what a good one can do for your horse in just one session!
I also use essential oils to help with Billy’s different posture issues. Young Living’s Valor is an amazing oil for helping the horse (and human) realign. In fact it’s been called “Chiropractor in a bottle.” The oils along with body work, massage or chiropractic care can work wonders.
Finding a good saddle that fits properly and learning to ride in a balanced way, in harmony with your horse can work wonders too.
Every once in a while I like to take conformation photos of Billy to see how we are doing on my gymnastic program. I can evaluate where I need to focus some of my attention to help him develop and mature.
After I take my conformation/posture pictures I then put them in an online photoshop program called PicMonkey. There I add lines that help me be objective when looking at these photos. What does Billy look like now? What is the desired outcome for his posture? I have been doing this since I got him as a yearling so I have a lot to compare to! If you haven’t done this at all, now is as good a time as any to start!! You will see changes in your horse in as little as 6 months time. The trick is to be sure they are good changes.
One thing I look for is balance. This has changed with Billy since I brought him home and I suspect it will continue to change when I start riding him.
Here is Billy as a yearling.
As you can see he fits in a box nicely. But when I break that box into 3’s, the middle section is bigger than the hip and shoulder sections. This shows his back is a touch too long.
Here he is as a two year old.
This picture shows that his hip has gotten bigger, but his back section is still longer than the other two. I suspected that this would really start to change as his wither and shoulders move back and he started to use his hind end more. We did some hill therapy and continued with our canter trot transitions on line.
Here is Billy again, this picture was taken last summer and he was three.
As you can see his is starting to become more balanced and equal! Now I would like to focus on his croup flattening out and getting stronger. This will cause his hind end to tuck under more and give him more power from behind.
Here is a picture of my Andalusian stallion, Destino. This picture was taken when he was a 2 year old.
In this photo you can see that all sections are equal. Shoulders, back and hind end. This is the ideal and something to strive for. He was always balanced.
Some people think that to understand their horse’s weaknesses is to disrespect their horse. They feel that this is bad mouthing their horse and putting their horse down. These people won’t be honest about an evaluation. I feel that the reality is, it’s highly important to understand all your horse’s weaknesses so you can strengthen them and respect what your horse is capable of. If you understand what your horse can do then you can help him excel in those fields!
For instance Billy is not a jumper. He can jump a blue barrel, but he is not capable of jumping the blue barrels standing upright. That is fine with me. My Andalusian could clear a 7 foot fence from a stand still and that became a problem as far as keeping him IN a pen. If he didn’t want to be in there, he would simply jump out. The fact that Billy isn’t a jumper doesn’t phase me. But if my ultimate goal was to do 3 day Eventing it would be of utmost importance that I understand Billy’s down falls and not expect him to head out and jump 5 – 6 foot fences on a cross country course. That would be an ideal way for him to feel like I was doing things to him instead of with him.
Lucky for him I love dressage and that is my strong suit. With the correct handling I believe it will be Billy’s strong suit too. As long as I keep it interesting so he doesn’t feel like I’m drilling him. I have to take into consideration his physical and his emotional well being.