Taking Care of Your Horses Back
 By mosquito   •   18th Mar 2010   •   10,531 views   •   3 comments

‘No foot no horse’ – that’s true, but ‘no back, no riding’. If your horse suddenly nips when you put the saddle on, starts bucking, or hunching its back when you get on, then there may be a problem with its back, and even minor back pain can make your horse irritable and not able to perform its best. That’s why taking good care of your horse’s back to prevent injuries, and keep your horse fit and flexible is so important. So here’s some advice on how to do it.

Saddle fitting
Badly fitting saddles are a leading cause of back pain in horses. Wherever possible, have your horse fitted in person by a professional saddle fitter. Many tack shops will come out and do this for you. You can get an idea of potential problems by looking at the sweat marks on your horse’s back after a ride – if there is sweat on the spine, or only in a couple very small areas, then chances are you have ‘pressure points’, and on the spine these are a real problem. Always lay your saddle gently on your horse’s back, and pull the saddle pad up into the gullet to ease pressure on the spine.

Western saddles are actually less likely to cause injuries even though they are heavier, they spread the rider’s weight over a larger area. Dressage saddles are the hidden culprits – they are heavy, the hold the rider’s weight in a small area, and the deep seat often means a closer contact with the horse’s back – add that to a thin saddle pad to improve the subtle communication between horse and rider, and difficult technical movements, and dressage horses often need more back care than any others.

Remember too that your horse’s shape can change, and so a saddle that was perfect a few years ago may not fit anymore. Your horse may gain or lose weight, develop or lose muscle tone, or just change shape with age. Even if your saddle has always fit perfectly in the past, a regular check by a saddle fitter every year can prevent a lot of discomfort. And of course, if you are in any doubt as to whether your saddle tree may be broken or damaged, take it to your tack shop to be checked out. Never ride with a saddle that has a broken tree.

Most horses will benefit from an occasional visit from an equine massage therapist. These specialists can sped up recovery form minor or recurring injuries, but they can also do a lot just to make your horse feel better and move better. If you ask a lot of your horse – frequent or top level jumping, endurance riding, high level dressage or working cattle or barrels, then chances are your horse’s back is spending a lot of time recovering and repairing itself. A good equine massage therapist may really help. Ask your vet for a recommendation many vets work with regular massage therapists, and they will be able to find you a good one. Make sure any therapist you choose can show you valid credentials and licenses for your country or state if in doubt check with your vet to see what they should have.

Preventing injuries
Back injuries in horses are terrible, there’s no two ways about it. The horse’s back is essential not just for you to ride, but it to feel good and be able to run, eat, and sleep. A back injury can mean a long time of discomfort in your horse, or even worse – it could mean the end of its career. The best approach is always to prevent injuries. Be realistic about what you and your horse can do. Don’t ride your horse over endlessly bigger and bigger jumps – stick with where you are both comfortable until you and your horse are balanced and fit before you raise the poles. Jumpers too need to continually work on improving their canter to keep jumping comfortable and safe. Dressage riders shouldn’t work on the toughest movements every day, and barrel racers can alternate practice sessions with trail rides to let their horse ‘straighten up’.

In short, whatever you do for your main sport, mix it up with regular gentle exercise like a trail ride or basic arena work. It’s not only good for your horse’s back it’s good for its mind too. And never, ever push your horse too far. Horses – especially those most willing to please you – may take a chance at a cross country jump, a ditch, a river crossing of some other obstacle that is just too much for you and it. That’s an accident – and an injury – in the making. Be realistic, and if you are in doubt about an obstacle, don’t attempt it.

If you find your horse suddenly isn’t performing as well as it should, and it trots up sound, then maybe there’s a back injury to blame. Think about what you’ve done in your schooling or training recently, and ask yourself, honestly, if you’ve asked for too much. A few days off and a massage may just do the trick.

Certain conditions
Some horses have conditions that make for bad backs. Very poor conformation in the shoulders, withers, and the back can lead to continual strains and injuries, and make saddle fitting difficult. A sudden onset of back pain may be a sign of a condition called kissing spine, where two of the hose’s vertebrae rub together. Massage therapy may help, but for sever conditions like this surgery may be required. Leg injuries can be a hidden culprit too the horse ends up injuring its back when it tries to take pressure off sore feet or legs. Hock ailments like arthritis and OCD are often causes of back pain too.

Saddle sores
Most riders have seen a girth gall at some point these can happen easily. But saddle sores from under the saddle area are not uncommon, and they can be harder to spot. Prevent infections and skin sores on your horse’s back by keeping your saddle pad clean. It’s better to buy several cheap saddle pads and use a clean one often than to ride in one expensive but dirty one.

Washing your hors’s back every couple of days with a mixture of warm water and Epsom salts can clean and toughen the skin it’s good for the girth area too.
Hidden bruising is a type of saddle sore too. The main cause is loosening the girth too quickly after exercise. As the circulation returns to your horse’s back, it can break the blood vessels and cause bruising and sensitivity. Loosen your girth gradually after a ride, so your horse’s back recovers gradually. You can see my article on cooling off your horse for more advice on protecting your horse’s back after a ride!
DejaVu  MOD 
Very informative article!! I think many horses tolerate pain so well, the owners never realize the problems ill-fitting saddle causes.
  Mar 18, 2010  •  7,701 views
Great topic, and job well done. A lot of riders don't realize how delicate horse's backs really are. I'd also like to add that, if you ride western, you can put your horse's saddle on without a pad or blanket, and see if you can push down on the horn and lift the back end up slgihtly. If so, your saddle gives your horse room to mvoe his shoulders =)
  Mar 18, 2010  •  7,755 views
Cruisin Past Curfew  
Great article! Very informative!
  60 days ago  •  7,655 views
 More News by mosquito
Old Joe - Chapter 5
10th Nov 2012   |   Horse Training   |   mosquito
I couldn’t believe my eyes. For having been so little there before, it looked like a whole town had been turned inside out. Ben shook his head, and walked down to the trail slowly, carefully, picking out way around what was now de ...
Your Horse From the Ground Up - The Hindquarters
21st Oct 2012   |   Horse Training   |   mosquito
We’ve seen how the lower legs and hoof all work together to help the horse move, even without any muscles there. Now let’s start looking at how the muscles of the horse really give him power, speed, and balance. Where better to st ...
Your Horse from the Ground Up - The Lower Leg - Part 2
8th Sep 2012   |   Horse Training   |   mosquito
We’ve taken a look at the solid structures of the lower leg – the bones – now let’s see what makes those bones move. First of all, remember that there are no muscles below the knee or the hock, so there’s no actual ‘engine’ to mov ...
Old Joe - Chapter 4
25th Aug 2012   |   Horse Training   |   mosquito
There was no shelter, no trees, nothing. Ben called again and we turned further right, angling away from the train. We were going uphill, and that seemed even more foolish to me until we reached the crest. What goes up, goes down, ...
Old Joe - Chapter 3
5th Aug 2012   |   Horse Training   |   mosquito
It wasn’t long before Luke rode up alongside us on Snowy. I couldn’t see him for my blinkers, but I could hear Snowy’s little quick hoofbeats and smell his carroty breath. Snowy reached over and gave me a nip on my muzzle; I turne ...
Old Joe - Chapter 2
29th Jul 2012   |   Horse Training   |   mosquito
As the sun grew higher in the sky, the dew dried on the grass, and the last few lingering clouds fluttered and disappeared. The bright blue sky – with that deep blue of a cold morning – changed to a softer hue, as a muggy haze be ...
Your Horse From the Ground Up - The Lower Leg - Part 1
19th Jul 2012   |   Horse Training   |   mosquito
Now that we have the foundations – the hoof – let’s move up our horse and find out a little more about how he moves. In this article we’ll visit the lower leg. For the most part, the front and hind legs (below the knee and hock) a ...
Old Joe - Chapter 1
15th Jul 2012   |   Horse Training   |   mosquito
I heard the rooster crow, and shifted in my stall to try and stretch as much as I could. First he crows, then Farmer Ben comes along, Bess and I have breakfast, and we get to work. Sunday was yesterday, when we got brushed up nice ...
  View All News by mosquito
©2002 - 2023   PonyBox LLC Create Account Advertise Terms Privacy Contact Us
486 Members Online 271,657 Registered Members 3,206 News Articles 14,547,181 Unique News Article Views 342,813,446 Website Views