Does your saddle fit properly? What does your horse do when you put the saddle and pad on? Stand happily? Or pin ears and swish tail? Watch their eyes closely as well as body language next time.
I invite you to go out to your horse and tie them, standing on a level surface. Next, stand on a stool or bucket five to ten feet behind them. Notice the alignment of the horse’s body. Is one side of the rump higher than the other? How about the back – is one side lower than the other? Next, evaluate the shoulders is one bigger or higher? Chances are, you’re noticing some differences between one side of your horses’ back and the other that a straight firm tree’d saddle will not fit well-because the horses’ body is not symmetrical or balanced. Ms Battles philosophy is it’s easier and cheaper to fix the body issues giving you a happy safe sane sound equine partner for many years to come.
It’s easy to understand why a proper fitting saddle can be difficult to find and why sometimes thousands of dollars are spent in this endeavor! As well as why some good mannered horses will buck when asked to canter under saddle!
Over the past two decades of doing Equine bodywork, I have found that 99% of the issues I’ve seen in horses starts with the misalignment of the first rib under the point of shoulder at the base of the neck where C7 ties into T1. Importantly all the nerves serving the head, foreleg and shoulder are in this region. Any blockages here negatively affect the blood supply to the muscles and energy flow to the hind end. This can lead to excessive muscle tension (tightness), which in turn can overload the tendons and ligaments of the lower leg. Amazingly, imbalances can be seen in this region even in foals from 7 months old. Can this be the cause of Wobblers syndrome?
The misalignment of the first rib can have additional consequences for the horse like not able to move that side shoulder correctly they choose not to canter on that lead. This is what starts the high/low hoof syndrome that farriers and barefoot trimmers are dealing with. When a horse stands on one low heel and one high heel 24 hours a day, everything above the hoof is shifted out of alignment. Just imagine how you would feel standing on one low heeled shoe and one high heeled shoe all day. Your body would have to adjust to this unevenness in your shoes. The high/low syndrome also affects the movement of the horse. Issues that can arise include not wanting to take the proper canter lead, connecting to only one rein, and heaviness on the forehand. Most trainers and riders try to train these issues out of the horse by repetitive schooling, to build up so-called weakened muscles. This repetitive movement in a body that cannot move correctly over stresses joints causing pre-mature arthritic conditions in horses under 12 years of age like sidebone and ringbone as well as arthritic hocks and knees in younger horses. Another result in stressing the whole skeletal system in a compensation pattern is overly tight muscles and a body that develops saddle fitting issues as well as behavioral issues like pinning ears and swishing tail while being saddled. Also kissing spine symptoms can arise.
The tremendous impact of compensation eventually ends up affecting the stifle and hock joints, presenting a weak hind end or locking stifles and can also create Ewe neck conformation as well as roach back and hunters bump calcification. In the front hooves the load-bearing side will be loading and landing properly, it will be lower heeled, bigger hoof. The misaligned first rib side will typically be a higher heeled, narrower hoof. This is often mislabeled as a club foot, however, it is not the same thing as a horse born with a club foot. The horse’s compensation can create medial and lateral imbalances in the hind hooves as well. When the horse is standing on four hooves that do not match in height, size or shape, you can imagine that the body on top of them will not be able to hold its structural integrity or function efficiently.
These cumulative compensations can also lead to imbalanced internal organs, as well as an imbalanced meridian energy system.
How do horses mis-align their first rib? It’s as easy as running through deep mud in the winter, or a hind foot overreaching and ripping off a front shoe. Also, horses who lean heavily on solid fences to graze the other side usually drop both first ribs, which creates strain on both shoulders. The psoas muscle, due to this strain, has to work harder to pick up the heavy front end. This can also lead to the painful “Kissing Spine” symptoms.
A technique that has been very successful in bringing the horse back into balance is Equine Musculoskeletal Unwinding therapy. You can learn this at home with a home study program and submitting case studies, or by attending a clinic. Yoga stretches are also very useful in keeping your horse balanced and supple. Together, these bodywork techniques can add 10+ years to your horse’s rideable life!
About the Author:
April Battles is a holistic horse therapist, whose areas of expertise include developing and teaching Equine Musculoskeletal Unwinding therapy; a blend of Osteopathy for deep myofascial muscular and skeletal releases, Craniosacral therapy, massage therapy, bio-energy therapy, equine kinesiology, acupressure and Reiki. She is a Certified Instructor for Quantum Relief for horses and humans, as well as a certified instructor for Ting Point Therapy. For more information, go to www.holistichorseworks.com