“We can compensate by adjusting the saddle, but it shows the importance of looking after yourself as well as your horse.
If you’re asymmetrical because of injury or wear and tear, get yourself looked at by a good physio or other qualified person and if you’re not already doing so, get help from a good trainer.” Lesley Taylor, of Balance International, told me…data is all very fine but the key is in the interpretation.
What do the figures mean? We don’t know what pressure is ideal.
We assume that even pressure is what is required, but is it? Are all horses the same? Lesley believes in letting the horse choose.
However, in all instances, she recommends extra care over the sensitive “Junction Box” area over the withers and behind the shoulder.
Lesley recommends that saddles are fitted slightly wider in this area and then a shock absorbing JB pad used under the saddle to protect this area.
The logic is that this will allow the muscles to expand and widen below the saddle. I asked Sue Norton, a lecturer on the SMS’ April 2012 Introduction to Saddle Fitting course, about Lesley and Lavinia’s philosophy of fitting a slightly wider saddle to allow for the dynamic shape of the horse and this giving him the freedom to develop his musculature.
She told me “the subject of fitting a little wide to allow the horse to come up into his saddle as he works is excellent but we must have seen both horse and rider show their skills.
Our dressage customers will back this theory up over and over, ridden out for warm up the rider can look out of balance as the saddle, a little too wide, is low at the front.
Within 15 minutes the horse is engaging and balance is restored.
Vet required here but I assume that the muscle being used has an excellent blood flow and expands.
A bad rider in the same fitting on the same horse would in a matter of weeks create atrophy in the trapezius muscles where their weight has been forward continuously.
Note here the whole tree in the rails needs to be this slightly wider profile.” Lesley would not compromise on this.
She demands that since we wish to ride the horse we must learn how to ride him so he can be as comfortable as possible.
She despises the practice of fitting a saddle on the horse like a clothes peg to support an unbalanced rider. To feel the effect of a badly fitting saddle and/or rider for your self try on different knapsacks.
You’ll find that some fit and some don’t.
Notice how they affect your ability to move.
Try packing the sacks in different ways.
You will find that the easiest to carry has the weight balanced evenly left to right and has the majority of the weight low-down and still. When we think of tack we typically consider the saddle first but an uncomfortable bridle can also “block” the horse.
Again there is much controversy as to which is the best bridle and bit to use.
The answer is as for the saddle.
Each horse’s head shape and mouth are unique and comfort/fit is more important than brand or fashion. Even if the saddle fits well we riders can cause problems when mounting.
Martin Wilkinson Saddlers has also been involved in SMS testing (using the Pliance System) and warns its clients that the latest findings show that mounting from the ground is bad news for the horse’s back and the saddle — some tests registered more than double the peak pressure recorded when jumping a 1.40m fence.
To minimise the risk to our horse’s muscles try to use a mounting block, get a leg up or learn to vault on.
Don’t always mount/dismount on the nearside, alternate with the off side to even out wear and tear. One of the best ways to develop empathy with a horse in training and to become aware of the challenges to muscles is to train your self.
In this way we can feel the role of warming up, stretching, work and cooling down in our training regime.
Why not take up a physical activity such as gymnastics, martial arts, dancing….and see how far you can go? Mr Hamminger told me that the equine athlete’s needs are “similar to the needs of human beings”.
There is much to be learnt from human athletes.
Recently I spoke to an Olympic trained gymnast about his training regime. Ultimate strength and poise in human form I learnt that to work well training needs to become a habit.
That is to say we do it regularly.
He told me that he has found that the maximum time he can take off training without significant impact is 1 week.
After 2 weeks he feels like he is starting from scratch.
I learned that we must warm-up before stretching and working to avoid muscle strain.
He told me that he drinks lots of water, doesn’t smoke (the horsey equivalent would be access to fresh air) and eats quality fresh food, only consuming treats (like beer) in moderation. In order to reach full potential he said that training must start early.
In Russia the gymnasts begin their training at 6 years old. I guess some of you will be “Strictly Come Dancing” fans? I do modern line dancing and I love it.
I can’t help noticing that despite the fact that we’re all doing the same thing we all look completely different.
George Archer, our instructor, is truly through his back.
He is what GH would call a “back mover”.
In contrast the majority of the other dancers (irrespective of age) are “leg movers”.
They look like the torso of their body is a fixed rigid box and the only parts that move are their arms and legs.
This leads me to ask are we naturally back movers? Are horses naturally back movers? Is it a learned/trained activity? Do we all have the capacity to be back movers? I leave these questions for you to ponder. What if we don’t do any of this? I asked classical dressage trainer, Lynne Varley.
She said “If you leave the horse as he accepts you from the moment he is backed he will continue to develop a way of coping with the interference that carrying the rider causes.
It may take many forms not all of them acceptable to the average rider.
Hence why so many riders have problems with their horses, the problems the horse experiences increases with the expectations of the rider. So if you lived in the plains of the USA and could ride for miles without having to turn quickly or stop for traffic or even keep the horse straight at the side of the road then schooling could be simplified down to the horse accepting tack and the rider and going forward on command. But if you lived in Germany where the weather in winter made riding impossible except in an indoor school where you may have ten or more riders working at once schooling becomes a necessity if you are to avoid an accident. The horse is not designed by nature to be ridden and even the horse with the most perfect conformation will not know how to carry the rider correctly if he is not shown how.
So if you left the horse to do his own thing you may manage depending on what you wanted to do, but the horse would not develop in a physical way and any difficulties he experiences with carrying the rider would continue unaddressed and lead to long term problems both physically and mentally.” It is not just a lack of training that can cause problems.
Practice makes permanent…only perfect practice makes perfect.
Yvonne Sidorak told me that she sees horses with muscular problems who have been over-trained or who have been made to repeatedly execute training exercises incorrectly.
She emphasised the importance of warming up and cooling down to avoid muscle injury.
She told me “Proper warm-up increases body temperature and smoothes muscles.
This promotes flexibility and reduces the chance of injuries.
In warm muscle the metabolism works faster so it’s much easier for the horse to get the power which he needs.
A good warm-up not only has a positive influence on the force, but also on the speed, the agility and the endurance of the horse.
Insufficient warm-up causes poor blood circulation, elasticity decreases increasing the likelihood of injuries. We also need to remember that after exercise the muscles still need oxygen.
Insufficient cool-down leads to a shortage of oxygen.
The shortage creates damage in the muscle fibres.
This oxygen shortage is called ‘Anoxia’.”
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