I'm an endurance rider and my horse has never come up sore - until July when we did our first 50-miler and had to walk the last 13 miles due to rain. He was very sore and we determined this was poor saddle fit (though he didn't even come up sore on the 25-miler I'd done two days earlier...). I gave him about 6 weeks off, then did a little conditioning and tried a few new saddles. We finally found one right before the next ride that seemed to fit him really well but he still came up sore on the 25-miler. In fact, he was extremely sore. We decided that this had more to do with the previous injury not healing up all the way, so his back got re-injured and they said that any saddle I put on him would probably sore up his back.
I was told to stay off him completely for 2 months and I personally decided his endurance season was over until next Spring. I've done so, and now it's time to start working on riding again. Though we're pretty sure this was due to a poorly-fitting saddle, I want to be sure I cover all my bases, so here's my plan and was wondering if anyone else had suggestions or tips:
Get a new saddle that fits him - I'm planning on getting a Specialized saddle once I get the money. In the meantime, I'm only riding short, easy rides and working on fundamentals like collection until I can get a saddle that fits.
Take equitation classes - Though I ride in an English saddle and post, I've never taken actual English lessons. To be sure I'm riding balanced and not doing something in the saddle to cause a sore back, plus just improve my riding and expand my skills, I want to take a few classes.
Strengthen his back - Here's where I'm kind of feeling around in the dark. Someone mentioned he tends to move with a high head, which may be causing him to hallow out his back and contribute to the problem. I'm already working on keeping his head low, but I've seen posts on here about strengthening the top line (by keeping his head low??) and going over cavaletti. I really need help on this one if you have any suggestions :-?
I'm doing most of my training at a trot, with a little cantering and walking, because that's what we ride at in a race and I seem to understand that's best for strengthening and developing horses anyway. Physically, he looks really good now. He doesn't (and never had) any muscle wasting and finally put the weight on I've been trying to get all year. 2 months off does wonders! However, I'm ready to make sure he's good and ready for next year. Thanks!
I saw another post that mentioned that loping in the round pen one the wrong lead may be connected to back pain - he does cross-fire a lot, particularly to the left. This has been the entire time I've had him (about a year) and I was told it is because he still needed to figure his body out. He's a 7-year old Arabian and didn't have a whole lot done with him before I got him in February, but has bee worked consistently since. Other than the sore back (and only on those two occasions), he has performed exceptionally well in endurance without any pushing or encouragement - he eagerly goes wherever I ask him to.
Someone also mentioned something about throwing heads as a result of back pain, which he as been doing some lately but I think it's more connected to having tension on the reins since I'm consistently asking him to keep his head down. He's very responsive and quick to learn, but I think he gets annoyed every now and then since this is kind of new. He's just sticking his head out to the front to get away from the hackamore - I think I'm going to put him back into a snaffle bit until we get a better foundation.
He does have a couple of white spots on his withers (about 2 places on each side), testament to a poorly-fitting saddle. I know one set is from the original saddle, while the other set may be from that saddle or one of the other ones we tried. Either way, I'm riding him in a completely different saddle for now and only doing light rides and no conditioning rides. Lots of round-pen work and short trails!
So first who is this 'we' you keep speaking of? The vet and you? I hope the vet is in there somewhere.
Second, don't do any conditioning with a saddle that doesn't fit, that will not help him.
Does he crossfire without a rider or with one? My old arab was crossfiring a lot at first in the round pen as muscle developed it was just with a rider. I have been out of lessons for 6 years so I had to redevelop my muscles. I was unbalanced and it caused her to be unbalanced.
"We" involves the 2-3 different vets at the rides, one of which is from my area, plus other very experienced endurance riders. I'm not planning on doing any actual conditioning until I have a properly fitting saddle. For now, we're just doing short rides focusing on fundamentals, like head lowering and collection. He seems to only crossfire without a rider - he is fine with one. It seems he's fine when he's relaxed, but starts crossfiring when he starts thinking about what it is he's doing. It's almost like he overthinks it and then starts crossfiring - it almost always starts of fine and then turns into crossfiring. If I push him and get after him for it, he'll switch to the correct lead, then go back to crossfiring on the back. He always has the correct lead in the front. He doesn't seem to crossfire when I ride him, though. I'll have to ask someone to watch to confirm that for sure.
I can feel when my girl crossfires, it completely throws me off balance.
How big is the round pen? I notice my girl does it on tighter circles to regain her balance. But I also notice she does do it when she gets all pissy excited.
That's why I'm thinking he's not crossfiring when I ride - I'm not thrown off balance and I occasionally glance down to double check and it looks like he's on the correct lead. He does it in any size round pen or on the line. The current pen is small, but he's doen it in a 60-ft pen as well. I prefer using a round pen over a line, but I've let him all the way out on the line before and he still does it.
Personally, I think the crossfiring thing is more mental than physical judging by the pattern and behavior. He always starts out on the correct lead and doesn't crossfire until I get more involved. If he breaks into a lope on his own in the round pen, it's on the correct lead. If I ask him to, he may or may not begin crossifirng. If I am persistent about asking him to do things, he's almost always crossfiring. If I get after him and speed him up, he well usually get tripped up and correct himself, then fall back into crossfiring. At one point, when I was focusing on correcting this, the amount of crossfiring decreased. I think he's still developing his body and is over-thinking things.
I think I read somewhere that it can become a habit too. I would keep after him when he starts and get him back to the correct lead.
That's the plan :) I wanted to make sure I included it just in case it was a sign of something I needed to address from a medical standpoint. However, I don't think it is.
As for strengthening up that back, though, I don't really know what I'm doing. For right now, it's trotting and keeping his head low. I may build myself some cavaletti once I get the chance, since a lot of people seem to say that helps strengthen their backs, but I'm still just feeling my way around in the dark on this one.
Backing and more backing. Up hills is even better.
Somehow my girl just recently started carrying herself better, nice rounded back at the canter with low head at the trot. Not sure how that happened as I was focused on getting her to stop rearing and bolting. But we have worked on a lot of hills and backing so I think that really helped.
Sounds like you are taking some good steps towards getting it worked out! One thing to keep in mind- when you are asking for him to keep his head down and "collection" it sounds like you may be doing it backward if he is doing lots of head tossing/ having tension etc (could also lead to back pain) make sure that you don't pull his head down with the reins and hold it where you want it...rather push from behind so he is working over his back. Put your hands where they need to be, have steady contact, and PUSH him onto the bit, rather than pulling him onto it. If he tosses his head, keep your hands where they should be, control the gait with your seat and add more leg- don't pull harder, add more leg! The lessons you mentioned will help tons with this, maybe try to find an instructor with a dressage background who can help you strengthen his back and improve his way of going! Best of luck!
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