SADDLE FIT & Balancing the onesided horse! by
Most horses are left lead
horses so what I'm about to explain is using the left lead horse for the example. Just reverse your thinking
when applying it to the right lead dominant horse.
A left lead horse drops his right front shoulder while carring the majority of his weight
on the right fore. Therefore we can say he's a right-handed horse. Just like a right handed person carries more weight
on their right leg during movement so does the horse, if he's right-handed, left-lead.
In doing this the saddle drops to the right.
The upper left wither catches the saddle from dropping further. That area gets sore as does the lower right scapula
from the extra weight and pressure/impingement from the tree bar. What most people don't realize is what is happening at
the other end of the horse!
Since the horse operates in diagonals Rt.Ft. vs Lf. R. and Lf.vs Rt.R. we have to work with and
consider, the rear as important as the front. (The gaited horse is treated slightly different in some cases.)
How the saddle can
perpetuate the problem!
the dropping of the shoulder in carrying weight and the saddle then causing pain, the natural reaction of the horse is
to pull away from the direct pain. This means dropping the right shoulder further therefore causing more pain. This is what
causes the problem to be magnified!
The problem isn't helped by the right handed rider. He's sure his stirrups are even as he sits
with a stable right leg and at speed, a swinging left. He carries more weight on that right leg all the time, it feels natural
when the saddle is off to the right. If you don't believe this, watch riders from the rear and you'll swear that
the majority have right stirrups adjusted longer than the left. "EVERYBODYS COMFORTABLE IN THIS SITUATION".
Except the horse gets more sore and more one-sided. He eventually has many problems such as lameness and shoeing. Right
suspensory lameness and a flater hoof with less heel on the right. An excellent concave hoof on the left that's
smaller than the right. Just look at the endurance horse that goes 50 miles at a trot. With 660, 8ft strides per mile
X 50 there are 33,000 strides divided by 2. That equals 16,500 strides on a weak diagonal. Now let's look at why that's
The right front favored to carry the majority of weight in the left lead horse means the left rear doesn't work as
hard. He becomes lazy on that left rear. The right rear is doing 50% more work than the left in a well developed unilateral
left lead horse. The gluteals and longissimus are also working harder as they contract to elevate the forehand and laterally
stabilize forward movement more on the right than the left. Why? Because of the lazy left rear and the right fore is just
carrying the weight. It's not being elevated as much and the lateral stabalization that takes place, as with
the left fore, is lessened dramatically.
The legs of the horse are offset from the centerline (spinal column). When
pushing off with a weak hindquarter and the back not working in conjunction with it, the rearend of the horse is shoved the
opposite of the hind that pushes. When the DOMINANT LEFT LEAD horse pushes off with that lazy left rear, the hindquarters
are pushed to the RIGHT! The lateral stabilization of forward movement is not induced by the lessened muscle action of the
horse's back on the left side. It takes a clinic to explain any more of this, I don't expect you to
conceptualize all of lateral stabilization. You can watch a competitive trail rider doing a trot while standing the stirrups
and see the fatigued horse's back. The hindquarters of such a horse look like it's doing the rumba down the trail.
Back and forth with every stride of the power trot, loin rubbing is the result. This only happens when the horses back isn't
locked down via pain from excessive pressure at the front of the saddle. The one sided horse has the rear wiggling
to only one side. The lazy loin is the one with the lessened saddle contact and all the movement. The weight bearing
right fore drops the saddle to the right and the movement of the right loin is little. The right longissimus
is contracting full force for elevation of the forehand and the left lead. Lateral stabilization thru segmented muscle action
is complete on the right side. There is firm contact and little movement, under the saddle, of the right loin in
the dominant left lead horse. With this in mind let me tell you how to check any well used horse
for his degree imbalance in a matter of seconds. HorseTrader's are you listening?
Simply run your fingertips down the horses
back about 5 inches out from the spinous process. From front to rear, this is a check for friction sensitivity (soreness).
If the regularly ridden horse is tested in this manner you will get a response. There's movement of the loin
area under every saddle. If the response is greater on one side than the other, that's the side of the favored
lead. Why? Because it's the lazy hind working with the weightbearing front diagonal, carrying more weight
of the forehand than the lead side.
The degree of difference in reactions to this friction test tells you how one-sided (unilateral)
that horse has become. A normal reaction of the horse to friction in the loin is 1" to 3" dip. A really friction
sore horse is going to dip 2 or three times that. The well used horse that dips twice as much on one side than the other
is well developed on the one hind showing least reaction. The lead is on the side of most reaction. The
imbalance is easy to determine without ever getting on the horse or watching it move. How deeply inset this is,
and the difficulties of balancing the horse thru riding and saddling can be told thru another 8 muscles
to be palpated and examining the feet. All this tells a story of the rider as well but the saddle often limits the riders
ability to correct the problems of training, such as bending to the right and taking a right lead. Most training techniques
for bending to the right are close to teaching to work with pain and pretty sad. Are you listening horsetrainers?
I hope this gives you a better picture
of your horse. Thanks, LEN
Now the Saddling techniques
used for development of the lazy left hind in the left lead dominant horse. Or the lazy Right hind in
the right lead prefered horse.
To re-balance how your horse uses his body, you must switch his timing. To
do this in 3 strides is like a real Santa Claus for English riders. For the gaited horse the only means for such is
what I'm describing thru mechanical means via the saddle and the way you allow your horse to carry his body's
load. For the western riders it's much the same as the gaited horse. Just a simple adjustment of the shims and your
The left lead horse is burdening his right and freeing up his left for the lead. Even at a walk and trot the muscle action
is not even. What we are going to do is to burden his left and free up his right. Start by shortening the right stirrup strap
2 holes. Then lengthen the left strap the same. When I tell some riders this they say "oh I can't ride
that way, I'll feel unbalanced!" Wait until we then use a Corrector with all the front balance
shims on the right, none on the left. When a member of Britians Dressage Team (Elaine Wilson)hesitantly mounted
her experienced horse, (that would no longer bend to or use his right fore), she sated " Theres no way I can
ride like this, I'm to off center!" As soon as her horse had taken 2strides at a walk she was completely centered
on this horse for the 1st time in months. He had been dropping the saddle and rider to the right that far,
without the rider, trainer, or saddler catching it. The rider thought she was centered before. In 15 minutes of
riding, the horse was using his right again. There were a number of tears in the eyes of those watching
that had been trying to correct the problems of this horse for months. She and this horse went on to become
members of the national team. That's how fast it can work on a previouly trained horse that's just operating
under pain. Now lets go to the less trained horse that has developed quite one sided thru saddle pain, no use or training
in the right lead, and a less experienced rider.
The saddling formula is the same, but now we have to retrain the horse to use
his lazy left rear. This is something he doesn't want to do. When riding a unilateral horse at the canter it's obvious
that he won't take or doesn't hold a right lead. Riding at a trot and posting tells the rest of the story. He
doesn't like a rider rising to the left diagonal. He will throw them off of it as soon as he can. On some horses
it's hard to stay on it at all, the horse acts like he can hardly trot with you there. That's the very onesided horse.
It's so uncomfortable for you to hold the rhythm, it tortures your lower back. Why would a horse
that prefers his left lead, throw you off rising to the trot on extension of his left leg? Because
your weight will be coming down when he has to push off with his lazy left hind the next stride. It then makes him work with
that lazy left hind as soon as he switches his timing!
That is what you want! Using the KISS method for those of you that can post but are unsure
of which diagonal you're on, JUST POST TO THE DIAGONAL HE TRIES TO THROW YOU OFF OF. After 35 miles of posting, (2
training rides), on a really one-sided foxtrotter I owned, I had to look when I changed diagonals to be sure of which one
I was on. Yes I square trot my gaited horses if at all possible. It lets me even them out. It's the only way they can
compete in endurance. Their gait, other than a pace, will wear them out and there's no way you can do competitive times.
The pace is usually a nightmare for saddling. I can put that same gaited horse back into gait with
a snaffle on. I used to have a stallion out of Walkers Merry Lad. I called him ten speed, I never got him into a square
trot. Mary Koefod rode him in a 50mi. endurance ride and let him rack for 32miles. She thought it was a blast.
He then wore out and did a square trot the rest of the ride. The only time he ever did it again.
For western or english riders doing
arena work, post on the wrong or weak diagonal all the time. Don't start switching until your horse is using his weak
hind. In lessons you're taught to switch regularly and for the turn. You never change the horses habit of developing his
favorite side if you do this. Cantering in a right lead and many other things will develop that lazy rear. I'll leave
the rest to you. None of this is complicated once you grasp what is going on and know how bad it is in your horse, and have
a method to remedy. Have fun, Len Ps. You can pull the shims out of the right side when you have him working
on the left diagonal while posting. Once you achomplished the switch in timing they're not usually needed except
for balancing the rider. For the trail rider, keep them in longer if you just ride at a walk. You may need them
until your saddling problems disappear. Then go back to ft. to rear balancing with them.