The weather was slightly more cooperative today than yesterday. At least this morning when I planned to go work on horses. I was slated to work on two horses for this trainer. Hers and a client’s. Both are horses I had worked on before.
The first horse was the training horse. I had worked on him a few months ago, he had been sore coming back into training. Lots of tightness in his back. The trainer had essentially barred the owner of the horse from riding him while he was getting back into shape. Why? Because the owner is from all accounts quite heavy and not the, uh, best rider. Basically, this horse was sore from not being in good enough shape to pack that much poorly controlled weight. If I recall correctly there was also an issue with the way the owner’s saddle fit the horse. So, I helped him get loosened up and less sore, the trainer worked on developing his muscles better, used a saddle that fit him well and all was good.
Then the owner began riding him again. The trainer noted some stiffness in the horse and asked me to work on him again, bringing us to today. As I ran my hands down the horse’s back to check for soreness, sure enough he dropped away from fairly light pressure as I got to his lumbar region. He seemed worse on his right side than left side. FYI, the lumbar region is the equivalent of our low back. The owner wasn’t there, but still the trainer and I exchanged pretty telling looks.
I’ve been in the same set of shoes as this trainer. When I was training and teaching I had clients that were less than svelte. Or would that be more than svelte? Frankly at this point in my life, I’m falling into the same category. What I found was that horses who were substantial enough themselves and properly conditioned could deal just fine with a heavier rider. If, and only if, the rider had good enough control of their own body to not cause the horse undue work and stress. The flip side is that I have seen very fit, relatively lightweight people that can make their horses sore by riding poorly. Personally, I want to encourage more people to ride. I feel that if someone is struggling with their fitness and riding is the motivating factor to get moving and get fit, then lets get going with it. It may mean that the horse has to put up with a little extra work.
This particular horse should be able to carry someone with extra weight. He is close to 16 hands with quite substantial bone to him. His owner is more than willing to provide extra support for this horse to help him through this. The issue with the saddle seems to be resolved. She is having me come out to do what I can for the horse. I haven’t spoken with her, so I don’t know for sure, but would guess that she knows when she rides him that she is asking for a lot out of him. If she is willing to take care of him right, then it’s workable. This is a workable situation.
Now that you’re all set up for it just like I was, here’s what I found that I didn’t expect. The horse had some bite marks that were mostly healed up along the right side of his back, along the shelf of his ribs. I don’t know that he was actually sore from being bit. I believe he was sore from tensing his muscles to try to escape the bite. Most of the tension in his back seemed to originate from there. The fact that he was considerably more sore on the right side made a whole lot more sense once I figured that out. It may be that carrying his owner after that didn’t help. However, in talking with the trainer, the time frame for when the new horse was introduced to the herd this guy is in predated when the owner started riding him again. The premise being that the new horse instigated disruption in the herd hierarchy, leading to mild violence which he received the business end of. And, the owner riding her horse was not the root cause of his back soreness.
Most of the horses around here are in the process of shedding their winter coat, and with the winters we have they grow some serious coat. This bite most likely showed up as a scrape (no serious bloodshed), and may not even have been noticed through all the hair. I didn’t even notice it as I was first checking him out, with my fingers deep in his coat. I just happened to be working along the outer edge of his paraspinal muscles and ran across something that wasn’t hair and wasn’t skin. I’m sure it would have been obvious if he’d been all shed out in his summer coat. Not so much though right now.
What I am most curious about now, is if the owner riding him makes him sore at all. Today certainly taught me a little about going into things with a set of expectations about what the cause of a problem is. In fact, I’m really thankful that the owner wasn’t there, so I didn’t have an opportunity to make a complete ass of myself. How horrible would it be to insinuate that she was the cause of the horse’s soreness, just to determine it was from something completely different.
By the time I was done with that horse, the wind was picking up again. The trainer’s mare has been blanketed and has a much shorter coat. When we pulled the blanket to work on her, she got cold. Hopefully it’s warm enough tomorrow I can go work on her and see how the gelding is doing.