• Does Your Saddle Fit YOU?

    At a show the other week, I saw a rather distressing sight. There was a lady riding the most gorgeous horse but she was having incredible trouble getting her horse to work ‘on the bit’. She spent 3 hours (yes, THREE hours in the searing heat), trotting this horse around the showground, huffing and puffing with frustration, getting very red-faced and clearly getting very cross with the horse. The horse kept tossing his head in the air, hollowing through his back and was obviously in distress, but despite this, he kept trudging away, desperately trying to please his frustrated rider but being physically unable too.

    So what was the problem? Was she a poor rider? Well, she wasn’t the best I have seen, but this wasn’t the real problem. It all boiled down to saddle fit. From a distance, I couldn’t really tell if the saddle fitted the horse well, but what was clearly obvious, was that the saddle didn’t fit the rider. She wasn’t a large lady, but her saddle was way too small for her. This was making it so she was unable to sit in the deepest part of the seat. Instead, it was pushing her towards the back of the saddle. Every time she landed from her rising trot she was almost landing on the cantle. This was having an almost reflex action on the horses back as when she landed it was putting all the weight towards the back of the saddle causing the horse to hollow through his back.

    It was such a shame. The horse was desperately trying to comply with his riders’ wishes but he was finding it physically impossible to, and you could almost see him saying ‘ouch’ every time she ‘sat’.

    You could tell by the riders grimace, and the comments she was making to her friend that she just felt the horse was being ‘naughty’. To be honest, I thought he was being a saint as many horses would have thrown the rider to floor long before having to endure 3 hours of suffering!

    As he rode past me, I also noticed a problem with her numnah. Like about 70% of people at the same show, the numnah was too small for the saddle. It didn’t come out from under the back of the panels and the end of the numnah was actually under the saddle panels. This causes a ridge of pressure under the saddle and can rub too (think creased sock in a shoe and then multiply the discomfort by about 10!). Add this to the fact that this was just about where she was landing when she sat and the poor horse was having a pretty bad day!

    Rightly so, much emphasis is put on whether a saddle fits a horse. But if the ‘fit’ of the rider isn’t taken into account as well, it can make a saddle that is well fitted to the horse, cause problems. I often hear stories from people complaining about saddle fitters. But I do wonder how often the saddle fitter fits a perfectly well fitting saddle, only for the rider to be the actual cause of the discomfort? The effect of the rider when fitting a saddle should never be underestimated.

    It is so important that a saddle fits a rider as well as the horse and there are many factors that can affect rider ‘fit’ besides seat size. This will be dealt with in a later post. But for now, I hope this has just highlighted the need for the saddle to fit the horse as well as the rider.

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  • Choke in Horses.

    A few weeks ago my 2 year old, Lacey, got choke. She had completed bolted her food (fibre cubes and balancer) and it got stuck. After about half an hour of discomfort, she managed to clear it and went about her business as normal.

    Last weekend, it happened again but this time was a bit more dramatic. She was unable to clear it herself which resulted in a visit from the vet who had to use lavage (passing a stomach tube down the oesophagus and flushing with water) to remove the blockage.

    For those that don’t know about choke, I thought I would write a blog post about it as it is fairly common and horse owners should be aware of the signs/symptoms and what to do when it occurs.

    Choke in horses, is just as it says, they are choking, but in horses choke can be quite different to when a human chokes.When a human chokes, the airway usually becomes blocked, this, if the blockage is not removed fairly quickly, can lead to death within a pretty short space of time. When a horse chokes, it blocks the oesophagus (food pipe), but the horse is usually still able to breathe so there does not tend to be the immediate risk as in when a human chokes.

    Whereas gagging/retching can often clear a human blockage, the horse does not have a gag reflex and cannot vomit, so along with coughing, it will arch it’s neck to try and physically clear the oesophagus. The muscles of the oesophagus will also go into spasm and start contracting in an effort to remove the blockage and this can be quite dramatic and distressing for both horse and owner.

    So, what are the symptoms of choke? Usually the horse will stop eating and will look ‘uncomfortable’ and often quite distressed. You will notice the neck extending, along with muscle spasms and as previously mentioned, this can be quite dramatic. There may be some coughing and often the food will start to come down the nostrils, along with saliva and other mucus as the blockage starts to clear. Again, this can be quite a distressing sight for owners. Some horses also display signs of colic, this is due to the fact that they are in pain and discomfort and don’t know what to do with themselves, but the presence of the other symptoms will usually distinguish choke from colic.

    What do you do if you think your horse has choke? Obviously the first port of call should be your vet. But, often, if it’s obviously choke, then initially it’s just a waiting game. Most horses will manage to clear themselves within about half an hour but if after a couple of hours your horse does not, then veterinary intervention may be required. The vet will usually administer an antispasmodic to try and relax the oesophagus. Sometimes this is all that is required, but occasionally it’s necessary to sedate the horse and pass a stomach tube down the throat. This is then flushed with water to try and break up the blockage. This process is called ‘lavage’. They will usually administer antibiotics too as there is a risk of aspiration pneumonia with choke. Aspiration pneumonia is caused by some of the ‘debris’ being breathed into the lungs and causing an infection.

    Causes of choke. Choke can be caused by several things. Often, it’s caused by greedy horses/ponies bolting their food. They don’t chew it properly so it tends to get stuck. Horses with poor dentition (teeth) can also get choke. Again, the food isn’t chewed properly and gets blocked. Some horses don’t cope very well with dry food and this can cause them too choke too.

    Preventing choke. There are a few ways to help prevent choke. If your horse is particularly greedy, you can put a large block of wood (or similar) in the bottom of their bucket to prevent them from taking huge mouthfuls of food. If dry food is the problem, adding some water can help it go down easier. Also, always make sure that your horse has regular dental checks (every 6-12 months, depending on circumstances) so that they are able to chew their food properly.

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  • Muscles of the Horse: Rectus Capitus Lateralis (Rectus Capitis Lateralis)

    Where is it? The RCL is located just behind the poll at the top of the neck. It attaches the back of the skull to the atlas (first cervical vertebrae).

    What does it do? When relaxed, it allows the head to flex. It also inclines the head from side to side.

    How does it get dysfunctional? Horses that get asked for a lot of flexion can suffer with pain/tension in the RCL. So, in particular, dressage/competition horses and horses that do a lot of schooling. Horses that are ‘forced’ into an outline with the use of side-reins/draw reins and other ‘gadgets’. It can also be caused by a poorly fitted bridle/headcollar or by ‘misuse’ of the headcollar, for example, a lot of hard jerking on the leadrope. If a horse pulls back from being tied, this can also cause problems at the RCL.

    What are the symptoms of dysfunction? Problems in this area can mean that the horse is reluctant to flex at the poll. It can affect turning, the horse won’t be comfortable to bend properly at the poll. It can manifest as head-shyness to.

    How can equine sports massage help: By releasing tension and working on stress points in this area, the horse will be able to bend better and gain more flexion at the poll. This will obviously have a dramatic effect on ridden work and the overall comfort of the horse.

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  • Rambo Plus Fly Mask – Review

    Last year I bought one of the new fly masks from Horseware Ireland – the Rambo Plus Fly Mask. I have always had problems with fly masks in the past, with problems ranging from quality to fit but one of the biggest problems I have encountered has been with eye clearance.

    This is why I was quite excited to try this one, as it’s revolutionary design meant much greater eye clearance without running the possibility of it being ‘pressed in’ as soon as the horse pushes against something.

    The fly masks are also treated with Vamoose, which is claimed to keep the flies at bay too, but I can't say I really noticed if this worked or not.

    They come with a detachable nose cover to help protect sensitive noses from the sun.

    The picture is of my 2 year old modelling the original pony size (with nose cover removed). As you can see, it appears to fit from the front, but unfortuately, it just can't be tightened up enough around the head and therefore it comes of very easily as soon as she rolls, or rubs on something.

    Here are my thoughts:

    Quality: It seems to be very well made and not too flimsy without compromising on comfort. After several uses, it still looks as good as new (apart from a bit of dirt!), and it appears to be very comfortable (but only my horse could truly answer this!)

    Eye clearance: This is a major advantage of this design. It has a kind of stiff ‘band’ that keeps the material well clear of the eyes and means that it can’t push in either. This works very well and would more than clear even the bulgiest eyes!

    Fit: I bought the pony size for my 2 year old NF x Cob who is by no means a small pony size but unfortunately it was too big for her. The pony size in this would definitely fit something that was more on the pony/cob size border. I have a major gripe with fly mask manufacturers in that they seem to make the pony size more of a cob size. I always have a huge problem trying to buy a ‘true’ pony size mask for my little 12.2hh Welshie. She gets terrible eyes in the summer and because of the Welsh breeding she has quite bulgy eyes. When I do manage to find a small size mask, they usually tend to collapse inward and rub her eyes which is as bad as having flies in them! The manufacturers seem to be missing a huge trick here; do they think that anything under 14.2hh doesn’t need a fly mask?? The fact that the smallest size in this particular mask, wouldn’t fit anything other than a large pony, means that a huge amount of pony owners just won’t be able to take advantage of this new design (including me), which is a real shame. This year, they have come out with a ‘small pony’ size, so off I went to buy it, thinking great, it will fit my Welshie, but alas, it is still way too big! I tried it on my 2 year old and whilst it fits her better around the head, it is too short in the nose, meaning that if you were using it for sun protection it wouldn’t be suitable. So, I would say, that the pony size would actually fit a cob, and the small pony, would fit a large pony!!

    Price: At around £20, this is priced very competitively. There are many inferior fly masks priced much higher.

    Summary: Out of all the fly masks I have ever used (and there have been many), this is by far the best. If the manufacturers could sort out the sizing so that all my ponies could benefit I would be very happy!

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  • The Importance of a Correctly Fitted Saddle

    Horses are generally very tolerant animals, they will often put up with an awful lot of pain or discomfort before actually ‘complaining’. Horses cannot speak, so when they do ‘complain’ they only have one way to tell us, by exhibiting various unwanted or ‘bad’ behaviours, often classed as just that, bad behaviour. This can manifest as bucking, rearing, napping, refusing to go forwards or even just ‘laziness’ and lack of interest. Often, people just put this down to ‘naughtiness’ and whilst some horses may be ‘naughty’ (usually due to past bad experiences), more often than not, bad behaviour is due to pain or discomfort and one of the major causes of pain and discomfort in horses is due to an ill-fitting saddle.

    The pain from an ill-fitting saddle is not always confined to the saddle area either. The logissimus dorsi muscle, which is the muscle the saddle sits on, runs from the poll to the rump and pain anywhere in this muscle can be referred to another part of it. This means that a poorly fitting saddle can affect flexion at the poll as well as preventing the horse from working underneath behind. The saddle can also affect the muscles in the shoulder, meaning your horse may have a restricted stride, as well as exhibit a number of unwanted behaviours. If the pressure from a saddle is prolonged, this can eventually lead to nerve damage which is irreparable.

    Some may wonder why the horse may suddenly start misbehaving after previously going absolutely fine in a saddle, but this can be due to several reasons. Possibly the horse has previously just been ‘putting up with’ the pain, but has got to a point where it can’t bear it any more and just needs to ‘shout’ about it. Secondly, due to change of shape of the horse (from possible weight gain/loss or differing workloads etc) the saddle may not fit anymore (it is very rare for one saddle to fit throughout the lifetime a horse). Or, the saddle itself may have undergone changes. Over time flock can get compressed or moved about, and trees can warp and break. This happens more often in cheaper quality saddles, but can also depend on the general care of the saddle by the user!

    It is recommended that you get your saddle checked at least every six months. A reputable equine sports massage therapist will check your saddle (and other tack) as part of their visit. We can treat problems created by poorly fitting saddle but they will return unless the rot cause is dealt with, i.e. the poorly fitted saddle is replaced/reflocked.

    Another overlooked saddle issue, is that it must also fit the rider. A saddle that doesn’t fit the rider as well as the horse will also cause problems as the rider will be unable to sit in the correct position and this will cause pressure points.. Again, your ESMT can check this too.

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