In the spring of 2015, Larry & I attended Equine Touch Foundation Whole Horse Dissection Clinic with Dr. Ivana Ruddock at the home of Cate & Ray Stoltzfus in Shoemakersville, PA. I highly recommend a dissection clinic to anyone that wants to gain a better understanding of horse anatomy. Learning about the anatomy of the horse from a book is like looking at the Grand Canyon in a text message. Being at the clinic was more like being at the Grand Canyon sending the picture. However, I have to warn you that as you discover the ailments and issues the horses live with, you may come away a bit depressed. For us, it was heartbreaking thinking about what horses go through for us. We all constantly reminded each other, that it is a learning process and we didn’t know what we didn’t know. I still felt the need to rub on all my horses and apologize to each of them when I came home.
Of course, I was especially interested in the horse’s saddle support area at the clinic and how the saddle affects the horse.
She showed us over and over again how everything is connected with fascia. Since a large part of the saddle-support area is covered with fascia which communicates to the brain 4 times faster than the nervous system, she thought that a saddle pad that distributes the pressure out horizontally really was a huge benefit to the horse.
Here are a few clips that I took regarding the damage we can cause our horses with the saddles.
NERVE DAMAGE AND MUSCLE ATROPHY
If your horse’s neck dips in front of the withers or hollows out behind the withers, this is muscle wastage or muscle atrophy. Under the trapezius and the top of the shoulder are the spinalis and rhomboid muscles. When the horse is using himself correctly these muscles will develop and the horse will have a nice round top line. If the horse is not carrying himself correctly which will also result in many other problems, the muscle will not develop.
I often see saddles that pinch and prevent the horse from carrying himself correctly.
Although, the saddle doesn’t sit on the nerve it does branch out like little tree roots all over the shoulder and finally ending somewhere behind the shoulder. Every horse is different.
In this video, Dr. Ivana Ruddock showed us how trapezius muscle atrophy can be caused by saddles, blankets, pulling collars or breast collars putting pressure on cranial nerve 11.
LAMENESS AND BEHAVIOR ISSUES
If there is not enough room for your horse’s shoulders to move freely under your saddle:
- Your saddle will slide back because the shoulders will be pushing it out of the way
- The shoulder cartilage can be damaged if the girth or breast collar is too tight and won’t allow the saddle to move
- The horse may be tripping
- The rhomboid and trapezius muscle may become atrophied
- The horse may appear to be off or is actually lame
- The horse could be resistant to pick up a lead
- The horse may refuse to jump
- The horse may become anxious when riding downhill
- The horse may form large shoulders and large holes on the sides of the withers
- The horse may develop ringbone, sidebone or navicular
The saddle tree should rest on the muscles behind the shoulder and must allow enough room for the top of the shoulder blade and cartilage to pass through under the front of the saddle with each step. And the billets must be in the right place so the saddle actually stays there. Horses that jump especially need this room since they need to have both shoulders up and back at the same time. Sadly, it is the jumpers that have the least room because the little bit of room they do have is filled in with half pads.
Western saddle trees are longer and will sometimes slightly overlap the shoulder in the front and the lumbar in the rear. The saddle tree must have the proper shape to allow the shoulders to move freely and flare away in the rear. This means that most of the rider’s weight is in the same area as the english saddle in the middle. Sadly, most western saddles bridge which means all the weight is on the front of the bars and the rear of the bars, right where it is not supposed to be.
In this video, Dr. Ivana Ruddock showed us the top of the shoulder and the cartilage.
The horse in these pictures was an eventer. She was 30 years old when she died but had not been ridden for the last 15 years. She had damage to her left front shoulder cartilage, side bone and ringbone on her left front foot. We did not look at her right side. The ringbone and sidebone could have been caused by compensating for the damaged shoulder just walking around in the pasture eating grass. This is painful long term damage which could have been caused by poor saddle fit.
CARTILAGE DAMAGE = LONG TERM SUFFERING
Does your horse have large bony shoulders, high withers, and large shoulder holes? In this video, Dr. Ruddock showed us how big shoulders in front of large shoulder holes are developed and how a saddle damages the cartilage.