The Physio & the Saddle Fitter ~ Fixing Coco’s Back

Over the last few months I’ve found Coco showing some signs of discomfort and pain. Some obvious, others not so obvious. The signs varied from riding issues to hints I’ve picked up from spending time with her on the ground. The one thing they all had in common was it all pointed to back pain which is the last thing you want your horse to be feeling.

What signs was Coco giving me that she was in pain:

  • When I ran my hand across her back with a bit of pressure she would flinch at times
  • She would walk away whenever I started doing up her girth
  • She started walking away when I tried to mount her
  • She wouldn’t track up properly
  • She started pinning her ears back and bucking when I asked for a transition into canter. She would very reluctantly move forward which was the complete opposite to the Coco I know 

Tracking up

Fixing the cause The Saddle:

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The Berney’s GP Saddle

While some of the above symptoms are relatively small on their own, once looked at as a whole I actually couldn’t believe how obvious the problem was. The bucking issue was the last one to arise and as soon as she started this I stopped riding in the saddle I was using. Her saddle was a Medium-Narrow Berney Bros which I had bought when I first got her and to be fair, she has filled out quite a bit since then so it was only natural she would outgrow it. I suppose I just thought I would catch it before it caused any issues. 

I started riding Coco in Darielle’s Wintec saddle that she had bought for Dante. It was a much wider fit and while it wasn’t perfect, Coco was definitely more comfortable in it. Within a week of riding her in this saddle Coco had completely stopped showing that uncomfortable behaviour. The bucking stopped and she was much happier to move forward in her canter.

Wintec Saddle

The Wintec Saddle

Unfortunately all of this happened in the weeks before my holidays to Texas so I really didn’t have the money for a new saddle. I decided to hold off on doing anything until I got back so Coco got a well earned break while I was away. 

When I got home, my first issue was finding a saddle that wouldn’t break the already damaged bank. Thankfully, a friend from my yard was changing her saddle so I tried this on Coco and it seemed to fit her ok. I wanted to be sure though so I booked a saddle fitter to come out. Generally she was quite happy with the fit but I did mention that if I didn’t

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My newly fitted Thorowgood Saddle

use a saddle pad, a small lump would develop on the right side of Coco’s spine, up near her withers. She advised me to keep using the saddle pad but she also reckoned Coco might need a little bit more room so as it’s a Thorowgood saddle with an adjustable gullet, she decided to swap the medium-wide bar for a wide one. She also made some adjustments to the flocking. Within a day, my saddle was ready for collection and we were all set to go! 

Session with the Physio:

While I knew Coco’s pain came from a poor-fitting saddle, I still needed to do something to fix the damage it caused. I had intended on getting an equine physiotherapist out to look at Coco at some point this year as I genuinely think that every horse should have a visit from a physio at least every 6 months or so. And youngsters even more so. They’ve got so many new muscles developing that it’s good to have them checked up on to make sure everything is developing correctly. 

So I organised for a highly recommended equine physio to come out and see Coco one evening after work. She spent a good hour and half working on her and talking me through everything she could see and feel during the session. It’s amazing how much you can learn from just one session. She found that Coco’s left hip flexor was blocked which was stopping her from stretching her hind end forward and using herself correctly over her back. She also noticed that her shoulders were very tight and she was quite tense across the right side of her back, up behind her withers. 

The physio spent the next while working her magic all over Coco’s body, some of which was thoroughly enjoyed by the pony and others she wasn’t too fond of. She finished up with some laser therapy across all the areas she found which were causing Coco discomfort. The laser lightly stimulates the cells which ultimately causes the muscles to relax.

Despite all of the work she did, the physio was generally very happy with Coco. She thought she was in great condition with good muscle and a great topline. She did mention that the old saddle definitely caused some issues but that mostly the soreness was from her muscles building and coming together as she started using herself properly. Nothing she found was out of the ordinary for a young developing horse, which I was delighted to hear, so I won’t need to have her out again for another 6 months. She left me with some carrot and shoulder stretches to do with Coco to keep her supple and so far Coco really seems to be enjoying them..although this probably has more to do with the carrots than anything else!

The Result:

I had both the physio and saddle fitter out in the same week and since then, the change in Coco has been fantastic. She is so much more willing to stretch down in trot and canter and really use herself across her back now. There’s no more behaviour issues, aside from the odd fresh youngster moment of course. She doesn’t move away when I go to do up her girth anymore and while she still moves a bit when I try to mount her, she does give up much quicker than she did before. She generally just feels like a much happier horse! And now that I know for certain that there’s nothing that can be causing her any pain or discomfort, it’s onwards and upwards from here.

Coco Stetching

 

 

 

9 thoughts on “The Physio & the Saddle Fitter ~ Fixing Coco’s Back

  1. gingerponyland says:

    I had the same problem with my boy when I was first bringing him into proper ridden work. He developed top line so fast his saddle was suddenly way too small. Luckily we had the saddler out and his back checked just in time before any lasting damage could be done.

    • Orla says:

      It’s crazy how fast things can change in them though! Coco was out on grass only a few weeks and she completely ballooned and bulked and suddenly her saddle didn’t fit anymore 🙈

  2. heatherwallace says:

    Wonderful! It is so incredibly important to listen to your horse when she starts exhibiting different behavior. Saddle fit and growing bodies can cause a lot of tension and pain, which makes for a very unhappy horse. I am so happy that you have found a solution and she is feeling better. It makes the equine massage therapist in me very happy!

    • Orla says:

      Yes..before her back issues I always felt I had a good grasp on Coco’s signs of discomfort but I think I could have picked up on her saddle issues a bit quicker! We got there in the end though with thankfully no lasting damage 😊 I will definitely be making the Physio a regular visit though!

  3. Amy Brooks says:

    Good job for listening to your horse and getting her the care she needed from the physiotherapist and then finding a better fitting saddle. I have come across horses who are suffering from back pain because of a poor fitting saddle, and some people’s idea of a solution is just throwing another saddle pad underneath it. Ug.

    • Orla says:

      I liked to think I had a good sense of when Coco is trying to tell me that she’s feeling uncomfortable but I’ve found that she’s quite good at getting on with things regardless of her discomfort so I definitely need to be a bit more vigilant in the future. I have learned a lot of her signs now though thankfully!

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