CASE STUDY – SUE & HER 20-YEAR-OLD HORSE ‘MORGAN’ by Letitia Glenn of Natural Horseman Saddles.
AM I BEING A ‘BAD MOTHER’ WHEN I AM RIDING MY OLDER HORSE?
When we have aging or older horses, it’s likely we’ll have questions and concerns if we hope to relive our dream rides of yesteryear. “What if, by riding my older horse, I’m causing pain or damage, making the end-of-life process even more uncomfortable!” Am I being a responsible and caring owner of my aging horse?
SADDLE FITTING FOR THE AGING HORSE
Saddle fitting for the aging horse is a hot topic for many. None of us wants to hurt our special friends…especially ‘older’ ones who may not be as agile and fit as they once were. Of course, keeping our horses healthy via all the obvious means: up-to-date care of feet, teeth, vet checks and exercise is important before even considering adding a saddle and rider on top of an aging frame…but most horses really love the attention and mental/emotional stimulation of venturing beyond their paddocks now and then. Obviously, the less impactful their saddle equipment, the better chance for fun.
Here’s a splendid example of how you CAN continue to ride your aging horse with comfort.
MEET SUE AND MORGAN…
Sue and her 20-yr-old longtime buddy, Morgan, have had little chance to go on riding excursions in many years. Morgan experienced a damaging series of episodes, which resulted in a significant deterioration of his topline muscle (among other issues). His Veterinarian declared him strong enough to carry a rider and believed moving his joints would loosen them up and feel good to him while improving his health and longevity…but his back sags deeply in the center when he’s standing still.
Sue has loved NHS saddles for years on all her horses and tried to ride him in her Hybrid Cruiser saddle but found it “bridged” because his back-sag was so radical. It pressured him at the front and rear of the saddle but seemed to leave the center of his back unsupported. This caused rubbing at the rear of the saddle and included, among other things, carrying his head high, which resulted in his abdominal muscles remaining droopy and his back hollow. She consulted us and sent photos per our Free Saddle Fit Evaluation so we could go to work for them and prescribe a pad/shim interface to give them the best comfort/fitting advantage.
Tickling Morgan on the midline underbelly causes him to tighten his abdominal muscles and show us how high he can push up his back. This gives us clues about how to help him meet the bottom of the saddle by installing tapered foam shims in his AirPad. Our experience over the course of 20 years led to prescribing a dramatic shim pattern of layered tapered foam shim shapes to connect him “just enough but not too much” with the underside of the saddle.
THE SHIMMING SOLUTION/PATTERN USED
Here’s a photo of the shims we prescribed for Morgan’s sunken back to come up closer to level with the height of his croup and wither. We tucked those 4 sets of shims in the pad’s shim pocket on top of the air cells (Need more information about AIRPADS and what makes them so unique? CLICK HERE). It felt like a wonderful cushion of protection/connection for him.
Because we build our saddles generously shape-sized to welcome the horse’s MOVING back (when it is lifted higher and expands broader) rather than fitting his standing back (when it is narrower and sloped downward), our experience has proven our methodology consistently. Horses love it. Saddles built to fit the horse’s standing back (angled narrower in the shoulder region, downwardly curved in the center) tend to force the back and belly downward, cause high head carriage and shortened strides. Using too many shims underneath the center of such a saddle could cause further discomfort, pain, and damage. We do not recommend using as many shims as illustrated here unless you’re using an NHS saddle, which facilitates a therapeutic ride.
Connecting Morgan “just enough” with the underside of the saddle for their first ride provided an experience Sue could hardly believe.
The shims encouraged him to push up underneath Sue and travel with long, powerful, rhythmic, efficient strides. His tightened abdominal muscles enabled him to lift his back so his topline elongated and his beautiful head and neck stretched out long and low for balance. She had her dream horse back!!! She didn’t ride too long, of course. Building his strength over regular trips like this (and hill therapy exercises will help, too) will cause the sag in his back to become more and more shallow. Maybe not to the profile of a 10-year-old horse… but significantly better than what he had become. And he’ll need fewer shims!
THE SMARTFLX SHIMS – THE MAGIC STARTS HERE…
Would you like to know more about our SMARTFLX system or shimming? Be sure to read our 4 part series on SHIMMING, or for a quick summary, check this out. Our saddles, combined with our Pads and Shims, are a complete and flexible system that adapts to multiple horse’s needs. Use the lot, or simply improve the fit you have with your current saddle by enlisting the help of our SMARTPADS and AIRPADS and shims.