This is established in one of two ways either by riders feel or by trainer’s observation. Usually if the rider asks this question it is because there has been a change in the way the horse is going or in the way the horse feels, this is often also noted by the trainer. The obvious signs to look out for would include:
* Horse not moving straight forward down long side of arena i.e. quarters in
* The horse is unbalanced at the canter; he is ok on one rein but cannot strike off on the other, goes disunited or constantly changes legs.
* Horse is unable to change diagonals fluently at the trot, from one circle to another.
* The horse battle to walk down a hill in a straight line
* Unable to bring the hind feet in line with the for feet
* Rider may feel that he/she is sitting ‘down hill’
* Loss of contact with one side of the back under the riders’ seat bone.
* The rider feels on stirrup is longer than the other when it isn’t.
* The rider has a sore back after riding.
All of the above are to be taken seriously, however a thorough examination is to be made to eliminate any other possible causes. I always make sure that my riders do take these signs seriously and that they do follow through with a thorough assessment. Ignoring these feelings often leads to a longer recovery period. And there is NO one in this world who knows your horse like you do. So DON’T ignore these feelings!
Now that we have covered the physical feelings we can go on to the typical physical indications. I must note that most of these are only visible after extended periods of discomfort. These would include:
* Uneven muscle development at the pole, shoulder or withers.
* Loss of muscle behind shoulder or along back
* Loss of hair anywhere under the weight bearing surface of the saddle.
* Small raised patches often appearing in the saddle area.
* Hollow patches in the long back muscles, from the size of a ten cent piece to the area covered by the palm of the hand.
* Back muscle that is raised higher than the spinous processes
* A difference in the height of the bones of the sacro-iliac joint – viewed from behind.
* Difference in the profile of the gluteal muscles – viewed from behind.
* A difference in the shape between the muscles on the inside of the hind legs, viewed from behind, when lifting the tail.
The above are signs of over or under use of muscle. These MAY be caused by pain local to the area or be caused by a consequence of avoiding pain anywhere else along the back. They could be primary indications or secondary symptoms of compensation.
By feeling the horses back you are looking for heat, a difference in muscle tone, and or a heightened sensitivity. The nerve endings are at approximately 5cm intervals all the way along the back. The horse SHOULD flex his back muscle slightly when these are activated. Intense twitching in any area of the back- sometimes before the hand has even made contact- should be regarded as an abnormal response. There seems to be an awful lot of misconception when it comes to understanding back pain and therefore expressions of pain can go unheeded until the horse develops a severe behaviour problem .i.e. We can understand and comprehend a sharp shooting pain. Our horses don’t understand it and therefore their reaction might be to run away from it as fast as possible or to just stand still and not move. He is then either labelled as a napper or as a horse that bolts. I am not saying for one minute that every horse that bolts or naps is doing so out of pain. All I am saying is try to always remain open to your horse’s actions and reactions!
To find out more about your horses back and body- Dont miss our combined Chiro/Physio talk in April 2013