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SOUND OR SORE? the 1st part of many to come on checking your horse for saddling problems. "inprocess". >>Len

How to Tell if Your Horse Has a Sore Back
1. Four Physical Traits Common to the Sore-Backed Horse.

   It isn't enough to claim, "My horse has never had a sore back." You must prove it by making three clear evaluations which will positively confirm whether your  horse's back is sound or sore:
  • observe telltale physical traits that indicate back soreness;
  • record behaviors in your horse which are common to sore-backed horses;
  • palpate the muscles;

   The only way to know whether your saddle is not hurting your horse is to properly probe the muscles under the saddle for soreness.


   First, stand back and take a fresh look at your horse's general appearance.  As your eyes pass over his body, note these factors:
   1. Do the muscles in the top loin (gluteals) look especially tense (some would call them well-developed) so that they stand out dramatically?
   2. Does the muscle which extends from the poll to the point of the shoulder down the lower side of the neck (brachiocephalicus) look thicker and more developed than the upper half of the neck, resulting in an almost ewe-necked appearance?  This is caused by the horse's travelling with a hollow back which forces him to fling out his fordlegs to maintain his balance, overworking the brachiocephalicus, or in Latin, "Levator Humeri" / to elevate the Humerus.
   The brachiocephalicus lifts that Humerus starting extension of the foreleg.  It becomes overworked and contractied or in spasm  due to repeated pinching of the trapzius muscle at the wither or a rider that's too far forward, both causing the horse to attempt to rebalance his body by head & neck up and overworking the Hamstrings & Gluteals + the neck muscle & many others.
   3. Look for a hollow behind the shoulder on either side of the horse, (left).  Muscle in this region tends to diminish or atrophy when the nerves and muscles are pinched repeatedly.  One almost never finds this trait in the young, unridden horse.
   4.  Does your horse have a "dropped" back when standing undisturbed in the stall or pasture? Lordosis is most often a result of extended, saddle induced, back pain.


How two evaluate your horse for saddle related soreness, the length of time it's been there and how severe the damage is.


2. Evaluation of Behavior

   Now that you have thoroughly checked your horse for the visual telltale traits of a horse suffering from a sore back caused by saddling, it is time to evaluate his behavior.  This is the intuitive portion of your horse's examination.  You will use your intuition , the unexplainable "feel" you have for your horse.
   Once you have ruled out dentistry and shoeing as possible causes of bad behavior and performance, the following acts of disobedience are usually directly linked to saddling pain, or the anticipation of it.
   1. Does your horse resist being caught, act ticklish over the back, dip his back when brushed, act "cold backed"  or buck when first saddled?
   2. When girthed does he nip, side-step or rear in the absence of obvious girth chaffing?
   3. Does he refuse to stand still when mounted?  Does he move constantly rather than standing quietly after mounting?  Does he dip his back and throw his head regardless of how carefully he is mounted?
   4. Does he have a history of hitting riders in the face with his head and does he flip his nose?
   5.  Does he have difficulty walking calmly on a long rein, becoming more impatient as a training session or ride progresses, rather than becoming calmer?
   6.  Does he have difficulty taking a particular lead, or flexing his neck around to one or both sides without taking a step?
   7.  Does he "track up" more on one side in the rear than the other, and do his gaits appear uneven giving the appearance of illusive lameness?

3. Probe For Telltale Soreness In The Checkpoint Muscles.

   Three important muscles can let you know instantly if your horse is suffering pain due to his saddle even if there is no pathology visible on the back. The horse that is hurting responds to the pain by tensing the muscles that are overworked or damgaged.  This contraction works it's way to related muscles that work with and against each other from one end of the horse to the other. The Result is "COMPENSATORY MUSCLE SORENESS".  
     When the Longissimus muscles of the back are tight from pain in the wither- shoulder area, the loins or center of the back, the back is dorsiflexed (contracted)  This places extra work on the rest of his body which one might never believe could be sore from the saddle.
     We'll start with the Levator Humeri (latin for elevate humerus) or Brachiosephalicus in your modern anatomy books. To lighten the forehand the uses his hamstrings, gluteals, and Longissimuss Dorsi. When the later 2 aren't doing their job, the others have to work extra hard.
   The Gluetals quickly fatigue from a rider heavy on the forehand or when the Longissimuss is contracted. At that time, the Levator Humeri have to overwork to start extension of the forelegs. The head and neck go up to giving more leverage to the neck muscles to quicken extension of the forelegs.  Other muscles are over worked at the same time. The Latisimuss Dorsi helps move the shoudler & often is damaged directly by the saddle & or girth. the Trapesius gets directly damaged from the tree bars squeezing in on them from one or both sides.  The Romboidius works to lift the shoulder up & forward and is directly opposite the Trapesius. All of these muscles are overworked & often go into contraction along with the 4 Triceps on each shoulder. It goes from there to the Deep Digital Flexor muscle that wraps around the Ulna (elbow) where it works with and against the lower Tricep connected to that ulna from above. 
    That's when intermittant lower leg (suspensory) lameness starts from saddle pain. The Deep Digital flexor muscle gives most of the travel to the Tendon attached to it; which is the support cable for the foreleg of the horse. The muscle & tendon working with the Pastern & Fetlock is also the "shock absorption system" for the front leg.  Does your horse have a rough and choppy Trot?  Are you starting to get the picture? A tendon is not a rubber band but gets 90% of it's travel from the Muscle that it's attached with. When you lose shock absorption from the Fetlock dropping, you overload bone Periostium & Tendon sheath surfaces in the lower leg.
     The next most critical overload is at the Navicular bone where the Deep Digital Tendon continues it's journey to it's attachment at the Coffin bone of the hoof. Without a loose shoulder and Fetlock dropping with a loose pastern for shock absorption the Navicular bone is overloaded as well as the tendon.  Slowly damaged and deteriorating, hence a condition called "Navicular". NOT a disease but a Condition. Shoeing too long at the toe and low at the heel are contributing factors as is allowing the frog to hit the ground as  Barefoot or flat close shoeing can do in many horses.
   The first of 4 muscles to palpate for soreness is the semimembranosis (on either side of the tail in the hindquarters.) 1.5" out from the base or the tail, push hard and move your thumb back & forth to find what feels like a cable. There you will get the natural reaction of tuckin of the hindquarters. A sore reaction is to bounce the hindquarter & show obvious discomfort. This is most often "Compensatory Muscle soreness" from a overworked hindquarter and a soreback.  A really sore horse will kick out so be careful here. The only way you can get the necessary pressure to check this muscle is from behind using your weight.
    I once palpated a young stallion at the University of Florida's Vet school, so sore if touched here he would Kick out with both hind legs at once. I was flown there to do a full days clinic with students and staff. After I did deep pressure therapy down this horse's near side I was holding one hindquarter and pushing with my hand doing a finishing massage on the Semimembranosis with much pressure. I was curious as to why students and the public started laughing. I stopped and asked them what's so funny. They pointed, I stepped back and looked to see this formerly violent American Show horse stallion had dropped and had been slapping his stomach side to side. As I told them when I first palpated this horse: "Inside this horse is a sweet pasture pet, just waiting to get out" After doing that deep pressure therapy, the head Veterinary professor never challanged my evaluation of any of the other horses.
       The second muscle that tells the most is the  brachiosephalicus (following the lower half of the neck from poll to humerus,). To start massage on any horse you start here at the back of the poll. A sore reaction here is to toss the head or jerk it away. The stallion mentioned above would bite or rear a little. This muscle at this point: is where you make your one on one connection to the animal's mind. Once established you can go to the lower attachment under the point of the shoulder, at the base of the neck. A more dramatic flinching from pain takes place here. This attachment  gets  sore in most performance horses even with good saddling. The stallion above would rear & strike out when palpated at this point.
    I overcame this scared and defensive horse with a gentle touch and starting with his mind at the poll. When finished with really effective deep pressure massage on most  horses, you'll find they will follow you around for awhile with the lead rope tossed up over their back acting like they've found a new pasture mate.  PS> I'm not talking about the "Touch of Love" here. It takes muscle and is as much physical work as shoeing a horse. The massage schools take money to teach the touch of love,  (as I call it.) Nothing wrong with it but don't expect dramatic long lasting results!
      Now to check the TRICEP at the elbow. This one is quick & easy. No natural reaction here to palpating here. If the horse flinches at all here he has had a pressure problem at the withers for some time. The more severe the hores's reaction the more likely this horse will have intermittant suspensory lameness after working. When you check the trapesius on one of these horses, it will have been sore & damaged long term. 
       The fourth place I will take you is to the shoulders themselves & the attachment of muscles to the Cartilage of Prolongation. This is the place of damage Most Chiropractors & vets totally miss when trying to diagnose saddling problems.  A Vet that barrel races & her staff of Chiropractor & equine body worker couln't find any soreness in her horse. After working on this horse for over a year & a layoff from racing of 9 months, for the Vet to have a baby, no soreness. The horse continually dropped when going around a barrel to the right. So bad the rider had a hard time staying in the saddle. 
    She came to me at The BBR world championships in OK City, Okla. getting ready to compete. She told me the story and asked if I would check her horse. I did and after going around the horse palpating as described above & seeing little discomfort, I did the following.
    I picked up the right foreleg and held it up at the knee. I then reached back and palpated the shoulder with 3 fingers quite deeply. Kneading the muscle I found a horse with reasonable soreness from the tree bar. (There  always is discomfort here in a horse if it's been ridden much.) I told the vet her horse would be very sore on the right side.  This was a left lead horse.
   When doing the same to the right shoulder, the horse flinched muscles throughout the shoulder. She tried to pull her leg away from me and there was no doubt how sore this horse was on the side she dropped her weight on when in  that left lead. 
    You see, the saddle was dropping to that  side & the front of the bar drives deeply into the Trapesius muscle attaching to the Cartilage of Prolongation. The Lady Vet was amazed that this horse was still sore there with little riding for 9 months and her staff taking care  of the horse. THERE IS NO NATURAL REACTION TO PALPATING HERE WHEN THE  LEG IS EXTENDED. Massage will help a little but the horse's own stretching of the damaged muscle attachments, without the pressure in this spot, will do more than any therapy. Now do you see the need for a ProTecTOR PAD under every saddle?
    What I did for this horse was to put on the Protector pad using 2 balance shims on the right front only. The saddle was  made Custom for this horse by Stanley Allen of Allen Ranch. (It was old style saddlemaking with straighter bars and I told her it was as good as she could get.)  The Vet went to the practice ring & couldn't believe her horse didn't drop but a little on the first right barrel. Next run she never dropped at all. That's one owner you can contact in Bixby, if you're a barrel racer in OK.   Muscles under the saddle can also be palpated, but above are the main ones to find the long term effects of  saddling & or riding to your horse.
    For under saddle you need to probe these muscles firmly with the ends of three fingers or your thumb held stiff from your fist.  Remember that the force of the bite or kick your horse is likely to receive in the herd environment is far greater than any force you could possibly exert by using your fingers.  You will not injure your horse in any way by this probing, but you may discover that your horse's withers flinch as to remove a fly. Count to 3, it should have stopped at 2. To continue holding that pressure tells the story. If your horse steps away showing discomfort, he's obviously sore.
   Most novices probe too softly to illicit a reaction from their horse and are left with the impression their horse is not sore.
   TTEAM therapy instructor, Linda Tellington Jones, once told me that one must probe as firm as necessary to get a reaction to see if the horse is sore. I had asked because of people thinking I was palpating too hard and every horse would respond the same. They did back then because they were very sore endurance horses.  I will explain the effects of saddling to the rest of the horse and the vetebral column next.  Regards, Len > 816 625 0333

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3 Checkpoint Muscles


Your Horse's Reaction--What's Normal and What's Not.
    Extreme contraction of muscles is not normal and should never be attributed to a high-strung temperment or so-called sensitivity.  When probed, the muscles hould be flacid and should produce no more reaction in the horse than a wary expression on the face or fidgeting.  Fidgeting should discontinue as soon as the horse realizes you are not going to hurt him

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