Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Not all spots come from breeding

How many of us have seen a horse with white spots on their back? Ever had someone tell you the horse is a Paint, Appaloosa or part of either breed because they have spots? Many people do not know the spots are a result of poor saddle fit at some time in the horses life.

This photo is of a horse named Jack from the website Horses With Amie, that I found online by looking for "Saddle Sores". None of our horses have these type of spots, so I had to go in search of a photo showing them.

This picture is a great example of the resulting 'white spots' where the saddle has pinched the horses back and reduced the circulation in that area. Over time and with continued use of an ill fitting saddle, these white spots will appear.

If you wish to go all out and check your saddle fit with an image like the one above, by all means go ahead and do so. This one is from Infrared Survey.Com and available for those of you in the Charlotte, NC area for $100 per horse.

However, there really isn't the need to spend any extra money to check saddle fit. Just tack the horse up and lunge them as usual, long enough to build up a sweat under the saddle. Pull the saddle off and check for dry spots. If there are any, you have a few issues to resolve before things get worse. Run your fingers down their back, along the spine from the withers on back to their hips. Press down gently as you do so. If there are any sore spots the horse will give you a noticeable reaction.

If the dry spots are left as is and the same saddle is continued to be used, over time those white spots will develop. They usually start as a few white hairs, before they end up as a definite 'spot'. The nerves are being pinched and causing soreness. There is also a decreased amount of circulation in that area. The size of the spot will be in relation to the size of the area being effected.

I had a gelding ages ago, who started to develop these spots. The saddle was pinching him near his withers but the dry spots were not so noticeable. What was noticeable was his behavior changes when wearing that saddle. He would occasionally buck, dive on the bit and a few other not so wonderful things. I began noticing white hairs appearing near his withers... They began to multiply and the white haired area was growing. Saddle fit was the direct cause.

I sold the saddle causing my horses spots and bought another that fit him. I also started to focus on currying that area a bit more to regenerate the circulation and restore feeling. What happened? The grey hairs went away and the normal dark ones came back. When riding him, he no longer bucked or dove on the bit. His resulting bad behavior was gone too. Hooray!

Now to some degree, these spots *can* be reduced in size or disappear altogether. This of course depends on how long the spots have been there and if the same saddle is still being used. It also depends on how much extra currying you are willing to do to help bring back the circulation in the area. By checking their back before and after each ride for soreness, this will help you catch things, long before they have gone that far.


  1. Good idea to post this one, the damage a poor fitting saddle can do is amazing , a friend of mine had a horse that was "off" shoulder issue, kind of one of those on again off again injuries , she was using a wintec(sp?) just too small for her guy , changed off to a "traditional" saddle with QH bars , and a cutout pad and Magic ! he was all better. It was funny in that we checked for pinches and sweat marks and everything seemed OK ,It just looked odd to me so we tried. I hate it when you see some old soldier whith big old white spots on his /her withers . Just know there was a lot of ouchie days building them!

  2. FV- in bringing my mare back into shape and trying to get her 'show ready' even if it is only flat classes right now...

    Last week after our ride, while checking her back I found a small spot where the saddle pad had a seam and it rubbed a small raw spot near her withers. Oh the horrors!

    The pad was pulled and washed, I stayed off her back but we did ground work for a few days and I am using a different pad now that I am back on her again...

    Then after the long weekend, plenty of rain and being away, I figured I would ride last night.

    She was covered with mosquito bites. They seemed to mostly be all over the saddle area??? Another few days of no riding for us again...

  3. Good that you caught it . I have decided to keep the fat baby(avitar)for now and show her at halter next spring, she needs to be seen ,and I can't seem to advertise her (they hardly ever sell if you don't list them)So I am going to be needing all the help I can get also will be showing Phoenix , my young stallion . Time to realise I can't just wish it away ,someone has to do it and they are mine.So any way it is good that you have started this blog , you, GL and a healthy dose of Ativan(kidding) and I might just make it through!

  4. Hey girls!!! Waves madly. I swear by Gel Impact.
    Yes...they might be a little pricey.
    $150-$229. But those pads protect enough to make the investment worthwhile.
    Wool and lovely gel packs. That combination can compensate for a lot.
    Those hard to fit horses especially.JMO

  5. FV- easy to catch in a way.

    I check before and after each ride, but when the horse is taller than you are- seeing the top of withers while standing on the ground, can be a little tough sometimes...

    Admittedly, long ago, I did not often check their backs for soreness. Taking it even further- I didn't know how. Even while working in some Big Name Barns! The trainers rarely did check and NONE of them bothered to teach the grooms how.

    Good luck with your young ones and hitting the show ring! Hopefully through this blog and everyone sharing things- they will look like a million bucks, without you having to spend that to achieve those results!

  6. Waves back at Dena! Whose blog remains blocked... LOL!

  7. Dena,

    Well, well, well my pretty, where might I ask have you been?

    Since I have Ms. Madame X, who is cold-backed, I have been a bit spastic about the whole thing. And then I have Wizard who is a bit high withered and Buck who I don't think he really has withers, well, the back worries are there.

    Whinnie likes my Hartley, hates the Prix de Nations, Wizard is vice versa, Buck prefers to eat and not be ridden at all.

    I have Beval pads for Whinnie and Wizard. Seems to do the trick.

  8. Great post!
    My battery died as I started reading..
    No really.

    It's so crucial to have correct fit, or to have the right pads to ensure the correct fit.
    That's why I can't understand why what the saddle "looks" like, is somehow important.
    It isn't. Fit is.
    If the pink saddle fits, wear it;)

    What about people that push the saddle forward, after throwing it on?
    I've seen that recently..
    Slide the saddle back, to the sweet spot!
    You can't push a saddle FORWARD, into the correct position.
    Unless Horses have developed Rhodesian Ridge-like-backs;)

  9. Hey De! waving back . glad you came out to chat!

  10. I get all paranoid about saddle placement, and often have someone double check for me, since these days I only get the once-a-week lesson, on various horses.

    They're always like, um, yes, it's fine.

    I'm fortunate to have a saddle that fits a variety of average horses. I hate using other saddles, since my legs are so damned short, and of course one is shorter.

    How about the old days, before saddle pads?

    Were there just more saddlers around, to stuff & restuff till it worked for your weird shaped horse?

    Or did horses just have to deal with it?

    Had to point out to a 4Her that her restless mare had a girth gall. She was like, "Oh......" She DID do what we all suggested, it just wasn't intuitive. Not mean... just dense.

    I never knew those white spots were reversible!!

  11. Hi Dena! Tried to access your blog and was turned down, waaah!

    I always strip the saddle off a problem horse. If they go okay bareback...huh..., it's a saddle problem. (I do have a suede bareback pad that is chaps for your butt!) I worked as a nurse's aide, and pressure sores (bedsores) can KILL people! Christopher Reeves died of a pressure sore, which is caused by too much pressure per square inch. Cuts off capillary circulation, and the tissue dies, and the wound gets infected from the necrotic tissue.

    Carpet padding is my friend. You can buy the really nice stuff cheap and it layers really nice with fabric glue. I put it on a medium thin under pad. The 'bridge' area of the horse's back is the most important. If that area is bearing the correct amount of weight the saddle fits. Propping up the cantle or pommel will create pressure points, because the saddle and our weight is supported by the withers and the lower back ,(instead of the bridge), where weight should NOT be. Our weight has to be spread out in pounds per square inch over a specific muscle group. The best site I've found for saddle fitting is "Saddle Fitting For The Thinking Rider" at

  12. I know with the old Calvary saddles, they had a wooden tree that you filed to fit your horse, and same with the old wood pack saddles. You still used a saddle pad, usually felt, that would conform to the animal's back.

  13. Hey you silly things!!! No one has been turned down on my blog.

    I have a very special surprise.
    That has nothing to do with sooper sekret anything.

    I am just having a hell of a time with the programming! And it is making me crazy.

    Oh wait. I already am. Whew...that's a relief.

    And I was trying to do an email in the interim and I am always interrupted.

    And I have been fighting...ooops, I mean making new friends on the fish board.

    Anybody wants a new pad that is pricey let me know and I will get you as close to wholesal as I can.

    See eveyone soon. It is a good surprise.

  14. For GL- 14th! Go buy those lotto tickets now. Would ya?

  15. I will give you all a hint. It involves four columns and xml parsing.

    Because I will not expose my friends to the hell of wordpress worms, trojans, and other icky stuff.

    Because as it is everyone who gets it that has my number calls me to help them when they get hit with that crap.

    If it happens to you completely disengage all power supply and usb port connections.
    And when you reconnect you will need to use system restore to a slightly previous time.
    Go to far back and you will have to redownload things.
    And it will make you cranky.

    And to think I was a complete techie idiot a year ago.

    Ohhhh I haz learned sooooo much.

  16. Except apparently how to completely spell my words before punching publish.

  17. CP- the spots are reversable to a degree. As I said- it depends on how long they have been there and the amount of damage that has been done.

    Currying helps stimulate the circulation and hopefully bring things back to life. Which may reduce the size of the white spot as things come back. On my horse, because I caught it soon enough and made a saddle change and got to work- they disappeared altogether.

    Here's another thing to shred everyones curiosity. On grey horses, scars come back with dark hair covering or surrounding them, while chestnuts, bays and black tend to have white. Since I have not seen a grey with dark spots from poor saddle fit- A) does it happen? And B) if not, does it get noticed for the horses sake? Hopefully- due to the lameness or behavior issues some of us have discussed.

  18. Huh. My red mare got a nasty gash on her butt from a stick that was SO fun to keep clean and debride and such after it got infected (long story involving a short stay at a cheap barn in an attempt to save $$ while I was at college), and it healed up fine, but the hair grew in several shades darker.

  19. Ok that is odd. I have seen it usually come in white on colors and black on greys. Anyone have any explanation on this???

  20. C, I think that fall under the "because snakes don't have armpits rule " My old stud was a copper red chestnut with a blanket .Bad bite on his neck from a snarky mare came in a liver color . Scrape on his leg came in white. So maybe a circulatory thing or just one of those ?'s

  21. Our Old man has the wither spots I'm embarrased to say. But let me ask this...can this also cause swayed back? Joe is swayed now and if you would have seen him in his younger life..never would have guessed. He's been fit for the saddle (I say that loosely)

  22. You never know with scar tissue....

    I've had lots of surgery, and sometimes when I touch the scar, I *feel* it somewhere else on my body.

    My sister was in a horrible car wreck about 10 yrs ago, and had a gash in her head that went to the skull. She's pale blonde, except around the scar, there are some darker, stiffer hairs.

    I first became aware of sore back issues when my friend's Arab got very tender. Then it seemed like all of us in the barn got all paranoid, and forever poking our horses' backs to see if they winced.

  23. C3D- Good question!

    Looking at it logically, like I seem to tend to do... there may be some degree of the sway that *could have* come from it.

    If something is pinching and causing you pain, I would figure you may do what you can to decrease it or avoid it altogether. The horses would do the same- hollow or hunch their back in some way, to escape the pain. In doing so their movement is altered and their overall soundness may become compromised as they compensate for the way they hold their body and adjust.

    In doing so, the surrounding muscles atrophy in some areas while they are built up in others. If the atrophy happens to the muscles supporting the spine, maybe it does allow their bone structure to reposition itself in some way and changes the overall conformation and topline of the horse. Things slowly move and shift their position as circulation is reduced and muscle tissue atrophies.

    I am in a thought process that will lead to another entire post...

    Of course aging and genetics play their parts in things too and cannot be left out.

  24. If someone has access to AQHA..Horses name is Joe Profit. I know he's got Poco Bueno in there and if I remember it was grandsire. I'd like to get his pedigree (mom lost it)...would be interested to see if genetics is part of this? He's built like a tank and it's just odd to see him like that.

  25. CNJ- in your opinion, how much riding would it take to produce the white hairs up on the wither? My Riddler came with no history other than left to starve and no human contact in at least a year. He has a round quarter size white spot up on the right hand side of his wither. I have not ridden him yet, waiting for a better, more flexible rider as I have no idea what experience mounting him may bring to the table.

    And FWIW- my girl friend has an AQHA Halter horse that rolled in red ants. Bites everywhere, especially on his butt. She treated them with a drying agent and every single bite turned the hair white. He looked like a huge snowflake app.

  26. Dena- can you take a look at the Shiloh site I sent you and recommend a western pad from there? I doubt they would have much in english but since they are so close, maybe they have a pad worth me taking a look.


  28. NC- I'm not sure how much it would take to produce a white spot in it's entirety. I figure it may have some relation to the severity of the pinching and how much the circulation in that area is reduced.

    My geldings spots were coming in on both sides but were rather large (softball size or better) and looked like roaning when I noticed them.

    I was riding him regularly, with a day or two off each week. 1/2 hour to one hour rides of arena work, or a few hours out on the trail, depending on what was trying to be we were working on.

    If the saddle tree is cracked, broken, twisted, warped or just doesn't fit- too narrow or wide, that will be the start of issues. From there- the thickness of your pad comes into consideration. So does the amount of weight on the horses back, the frequency of rides or work and even shoeing can all add to how slowly or quickly things go wrong or the white hairs appear. If the leading factors are spotted and eliminated quickly enough, you may be able to restore circulation and feeling to the area and reduce the size of the spot. Sometimes it goes away altogether. Other times- it's there for good.

    Either way though, saddle fit spots or not- most horses really enjoy a good scratchin' on and around the withers, which is normally where these spots first appear. A good currying will help stimulate the circulation and relax the muscles, almost like a good massage. When the horse enjoys it- they may lean into it or start making some seriously funny faces.

  29. NC- I forgot to add, try currying and massaging the area with the white spot on your horse, and let me know if it goes away or shrinks in size.

    I have not had a horse come in with those spots and gotten to try to erase or shrink them. I would be interested in hearing if they shrink or go completely away. Even after having been there for some amount of time. How cool for him would that be, to restore feeling in an enjoyable way?

  30. GL- I can't believe it took me this long to catch your comment about sliding the saddle back and relate the effects that can have.

    Back in the day at one of the big name farms, there was a horse I dealt with who could be the sweetest horse in the barn. Unless you put his saddle on and slid it forward before tightening it...

    There were a few days the trainer was a complete prick to everyone, so SS would be pulled out, tacked up and the first horse to be ridden. The saddle was slid forward and then tightened as all of our apologies were offered and thanks given as he would be taking one for the team.

    The trainer would get a bad ride, seeming to have a tough time getting anything accomplished with the horse and as SS came back to the barn, the trainer would hop on his golf cart, bark orders of groundwork for the rest of the horses and leave for the day.

    We did give the horse a good rinsing and a rubdown as thanks and to make sure the hair was all lying flat and In one direction again, stuffed his face with treats and told him what a good boy he was. Funny that the trainer, for being the supposedly knowledgeable, intelligent one he was, never thought to dismount, check for anything under the pad, check for fit, soreness or anything else. He just rode the horse and then left for the day.

  31. CNJ, I understand what you were doing, serves the a**hole right, but it just boggles my mind that someone would ever think that sliding a saddle forward would be comfortable for any horse any time.

    I am just surprised that this has to even be mentioned.

  32. CCC- No it wasn't the right thing to do, as far as the horse is or was concerned. But it does illustrate a couple of points really well.

    1) just what an issue sliding the saddle forward or back can create for the horse,
    2) how even the smallest of an issue can affect the overall outcome of your ride on a horse
    3) how little some people, let alone trainers, out there think to look into an issue to find the cause without just writing it
    off as the horse misbehaving.

    As I said before, the big name trainers I worked under rarely checked a back for soreness, let alone teaching any of the grooms how to do it. Some of the things I seen, heard of or learned about, let alone experienced... Well, like we say a lot- sometimes the only thing we learn, is how NOT to do things!

    In that case, by us pulling out that horse for him to ride first, he left before subjecting the entire barn to his bad attitude. Because of that one horse- the rest in the barn were spared that day. I am happy to report that he did make a career change and no longer 'trains' horses.

  33. OK, guys, I'm looking at a (free) horse right now (YAAAAAY!!!!!!!!), and I will need a saddle pad.

    I don't think he needs any special cushioning (17 yr old TB-looking AQHA guy, has done H/J and dressage all his life)...

    Any brand recommendations? I have an all-purpose saddle. He MIGHT come with a Stubben Siegfried saddle (Jumping model) if I play my cards right.... woo hoo!

    All these pads are square, anymore....

  34. CCC said: "I am just surprised that this has to even be mentioned."

    I know!! I watched a video posted where the person slid the saddle forward. The horse was having bucking issues, diagnosed as fractured withers.
    BUT, I mean, come ON!! No-one said a WORD about the saddling method!

    I almost fell off my chair.

    Never, ever, ever push the saddle forward, once it's on. It should be slid back, 'til it stops, in the horse's "sweet spot" for a saddle..
    You have to hope the horse has one:)

  35. CP- if nothing special is needed, Dover, Greenhawk, Libertyville, Stateline, Horse Tack Co., Equestrian Intl. and a whole host of others offer up some decent pads for a reasonable cost. Some are on sale for $10-$15 others go up to quite a bit more.

    At the low prices, it's sensible to buy new and not take on anyone elses problems- like torn stitching, missing straps squished down padding or holes in the fabric.

    Of course ya gotta let us know how this all turns out!

  36. cp - I just got a Thinline Contour(cheapest at Vallyvet) and I think I love it. Good for the horses back and yours.

    I got it in hopes to help my boy as I've noticed the softball sized dry spots after rides. :/

    I asked the fitter if it might help, because my trainer suggested it. The fitter said well, it's liek changing your socks out when your shoe is too small. *Might* help a bit but doesn't fix the problem.

    Opposite of the average person it's causing me to worry about hurting him so much I've cut back on riding - I have a wider saddle on it's way. I'm crossing my fingers the new saddle works (it should per a saddle fitter's recs - who is completely unaffiliated with the company I bought the saddle) but you don't know until you try them. He's my first horse so I'm hyper senitive to hurting him - and now that I know the fit isn't great every time he keeps his head high instead of rounding up I get a pang of guilt. Great post!

  37. Weeeelllll, hubby wants to meet the horse (good sign), and I'm this much closer to finding a place for him.

    He's such a sweet horse. He has some very mild high ringbone, which has been successfully managed for several years with supplements, turnout vs. standing in a stall, and shoeing. He's been bute-free and sound the whole season that I've known him, and ridden regularly. He's a pretty mover.

    I know that we might not have a whole lot of years of soundness, but he also deserves to not be a used-up lesson horse somewhere.

    I feel like he's a good, kind candidate for easing back into horses, and absolutely kid-friendly enough for my 4-yr-old daughter to start learning things. If he ends up a pasture puff in a couple of years, then... it's time to add another horse to the family, right?


    Because my husband's wanted a truck for YEARS....

  38. cp - My dreams of a truck and trailer may actually come true because of my husbands desire for a truck. :)

    The truck, was the entire reason for the agreement to the horse. ;)

    I couldn't stand the thought of my boy going back on the Arab A circuit. He'd paid those dues and deserved to have some fun and be a horse.

  39. CP- Sounds like you have reasonable expectations for the horse and are willing to take the extra steps to keep him comfortable. Keep us posted and let us know how things turn out.

    AB- taking your horse back onto the A circuit does not mean you need to comply with the atrocities some of the others have created as the 'norm'. We have 1 Arab left under our ownership. If he does make it into the ring neither he, or any of our client horses- training or lessons, are sweated, gingered or any of the other things, many of us dislike about the way the horses are prepared. That includes the push 'em, too fast/too soon, shortcuts & gimmicks so many use and call it 'training'.

  40. Very good post, this post tell us that we should use proper saddle while riding horse. saddle should provide comfort to horse and to rider .i use Australian Saddle.