Sore backed horse? Saddle or Training Issue?

So you have a horse which keeps having a sore back.

To help your sore backed horse you get the physio out, the osteopath, the vet, the chiropractor, the equine body worker.  They work on your horse’s back, it seems to get better but it yo-yos back and forth, sore one day, not so bad the next.  The vet and the other professionals suggest it may be your saddle, so you get that checked, you might even get a new saddle or four!

There is only one thing to say, a sore backed horse can cause expensive solutions, expensive journey’s into different treatments, different saddles and an ever dwindling bank account.

Sore backed horse

I speak from experience of course having ridden horses for years, out hacking, in endurance, drag hunting and various riding club events from dressage and show jumping to Le Trec.  My adventures, riding my horses long distance across Wales and back, and around the UK  mean I am no stranger to brushing my horse and seeing that tell tale rippling and even dipping along the lumbar region.

“Rest” says the vet and the equine body workers. “New saddle” says the saddler or at the very least flocking or more pads or gel underneath, but if you are reading this you will know that those solutions don’t always work and now …… I know a secret; a top tip secret. Those solutions are just papering over the cracks, shoring up a back that is not strong enough to carry you or strong enough to support an engaged hind or keep an outline or a frame where the head comes into the vertical. Bio-mechanically it has just all gone wrong!

You see the horse’s natural posture, crookedness and gait conspire against it.  A flight animal, it’s natural posture means that the back and the core are very rarely engaged, very rarely does the back lift, even when riders think it is and that, my friends, results in a sore back. If you want to read more about this then Dr Kerry Ridgway has a great article here.

I tell you this now because I have a lovely Irish horse called Smurph and a few weeks ago I noticed his back was sore.  His saddle looked like it needed re-flocking so I called the saddler.  It did need adjustment and so I was pleased, then I carried on with his training, lunging, ground work and flat work which is still at a basic level but progressing nicely.

Sumrph Dressage

Smurph, his training is progressing well.

A few weeks went by, a holiday in Majorca for me, more training and his back was sore again.  Nothing enormous, no behavioural problems but I won’t ignore even the slightest problem.  Knowing now it couldn’t be the saddle I got the physio out and she confirmed and treated the back and advised some rest.

About now I had a bit of a light bulb moment. I have decided that sometimes it takes a long time to have a light bulb moment if you are me! I think Dr Kerry Ridgway and Klaus Schoeneich and Georges Dewez will all be pleased with me, but they will all also look at me with a knowing smile and say ‘yes’ (in a long drawn out kind of way) when I say that I realise that it is the way I am training him that is causing that sore back.

I would like to wait a while before I tell you more because right about now I am only a short time into an experiment where I ask my horse to work forwards into a contact where his head and poll are up and ask him to learn to kick equally from behind whilst I ride in a half seat, well forward, so as to take the weight off his back.

So far so good, I haven’t changed saddles, he hasn’t got a sore back and the physio is happy! I feel a top tip coming on!

If you would like to find out more about training for horse straightness. Find out more about training for a horse with strong uplifted back which kicks evenly from behind, then watch out for events with Klaus Schoneich and Georges Dewez over the next year.

Written by Sarah Braithwaite (just an obsessed, whole horse health, horse owner who now owns and runs Forageplus Ltd)