Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Show me where it hurts

The title for this post comes from a line which was used in response to a rant posted by my husband Johnie Rotten. "JR, show us on the doll, where it really hurts." That cracked us up then and we do use it from time to time and laugh about it still. To whomever it was that posted that, Thank you! Also seemed appropriate to use it, since his Birthday is TODAY! Happy Birthday Mr. Rotten!

While giving credit where it is due, I also have to mention he is the one who taught me how to check their back for soreness. Not one of the farms I have worked at over the years, Not one of the 'big name' or so called 'trainers' in any discipline, ever did it themselves or bothered to show me or the other grooms how... Nope! I learned it from him. I have also learned a lot of other things, but this is one of the simplest and most important things, as a rider, when it comes down to the horses comfort.

In looking for pictures (so I don't have to take my own and make everyone wait for that too!) I found this series-

Thank you Equisearch! Yes the link is to the article which also has a bit more information as far as checking your saddle fit too. I highly recommend the read and consider the information with an open mind. Their website has a lot of articles and helpful information for all levels of experienced horse people.

The one minor difference in how we check our horses backs is that we start up near the withers with a finger on one side and thumb on the other side of the spine- right about where either side of the saddles' gullet area would lay. We gently push down on the back as we slide our finger and thumb from the withers back to the hip while watching for any twitching, flinching or reaction from the horse. We apply gentle pressure at first, then a little more the second time. If there is a sore spot- your horse will feel it and you will see their response. Then as the article states we move the 'line' down to where the thumb has made a line as pictured above.

Check from both sides as you may not see a response on the right while standing on the left. Check before and after each ride. Checking before the ride can be done while you are brushing them off. Checking after, just after you have pulled the saddle and are looking for dry spots under the pad anyways. Checking after the ride is a good time to do so, as the muscles will be warm from work, but also because if there is any soreness from the pressure of the saddle and a riders weight- your horse will certainly react. It will be 'fresh' soreness, not something that has become just a dull ache, which they may have developed a tolerance of.

If minor soreness is found before a ride, I recommend doing the stretches previously discussed and then groundwork for the day. Lunge the horse, letting them warm up the muscles, relax and going around at an easy pace. Afterwards, do a few more stretches and check for soreness again. If it is minor, then perhaps the horse just needs a little extra work that is focused on stretching and relaxing that area. Maybe they just slept on the wrong side of the stall? Give them a few days of this and keep checking for an improvement.

I do not recommend saddling them during this time, simply because if the saddle is causing the pain then it may just keep putting pressure on that area and likely no improvement will be made. If the issue 'resolves itself' through this process, then start just by saddling the horse and lunging them a few days, continuing to do the stretches and checking before and after their workout. If the soreness does not reoccur, then proceed to move on to riding again- still stretching and checking before and after rides.

The minor soreness may have been a one time deal or may be caused by the saddle, but without a riders weight- not enough weight to apply pressure to that spot. If the soreness comes back, then checking your saddle and pad are certainly one place to start as well as having your horse evaluated for chiropractic care. A massage would also be something to consider as well as having their hoof care and shoeing re-evaluated for proper balance. Finding the true cause of the pain can take some effort, but once it is found and resolved, your horse will certainly be grateful.


  1. Minor pain like that can seem inconsequential to some , but a hangnail on you is minor pain ,and how bad does it piss you off? also this is a place where more serious injury can start. If a horse is uncomfortable they will do one of a few things ,act out, refuse, become sluggish , or the truly stoic ones will shift to compensate for pain and do a much more serious injury to themselves .Much like cleaning that hangnail up before it becomes infected and you loose the finger,nipping back soreness in the bud is just as important. (JMHO)

  2. BTW Happy Birthday JR,and First!!!(sorry)

  3. Hey, Happy 30th Birthday, JR!

    Oh, I got a story about a mare and her back..
    Ouch, my back. Mare that face planted me.. And bucked me off. Smart mare. Silly moi.

    Amazing strings of bones, aren't they?

    Heat can help. Hot water bottles.. The worst thing you can do for any body is not move them much.
    As my dogs have just reminded me.
    Gotta go.

    happybirthdayDear JAYYY ARRRRRR.

    speed singing, dogs gotta walk.

  4. This is an interesting topic to me. I have been riding my friends horse andd the trainer (who DOES know what they're talking about)tells me that he goes better with me then his owner. I always assumed it was because I was taller and had been riding longer. However I watched a lesson the other day and saw some stills and this woman is incredibly STIFF. I mean her shoulders, elbows, hands, and hips are locked. She still grips with her knees. I'm wondering if this is one of the reasons she's hit a wall with him. He goes with is head up more with her then with trainer or myself. Hmmmm...going to have her do the test after her lesson. Very interesting & curse you FV for being first! :D

  5. FV- Boy do you have that right! Minor pain can become a Major pain in other ways...

    GL- as much as heat helps- so does ice. Trust me, I'm not one who would have ever bought into that one until it worked for me.

    Heat helps relax the muscles and allows them to stretch a little more easily. Also opens up things and allows the blood to flow and bring relief by removing the swelling and fluid build up through increased circulation...

    Ice reduces the amount of inflammation and decreases the circulation a bit, keeping the excess fluid from building back up again.

    From what I understand with human injuries- Heat the first 24 hours, then ice from there on out. Can't see where it wouldn't work for the horses too. And yes, movement to keep them from stiffening up, keep the circulation going and help reduce fluid build up.

    C3D- if the rider is stiff the horse will reflect that. Only on a much larger scale in relation to their body size. Just ask JR. My horse shows him all the things I am doing wrong. From all the way across the field we ride in. *grumbles about those occurances*

  6. I own a sensitive mare that I got real cheap because she needed corrective shoeing and threw her front legs funny. Laughed and skarfed the mare up, because I have seen that one before. Mare carried a stiff rider with spurs, who trained the mare to stop swinging her barrel. Motion has to go somewhere... Yanked the shoes, gave her a week off, then I rode the mare bareback and bare heeled for 2 weeks and really encouraged her to swing her tummy. She's the sweetest ride you could ask for, but she really lets you know when you've stiffened up. She just tries so hard to be obey the rider's body that she deforms herself!

  7. My real "question" is with him muscling up and the custom saddle from his "fat" days. And he was never fat but you know how people are. Plus I like my horses with meat on them..oooohhh..sorry..ramble. OK..I'm wondering if the reason owner has harder time getting him to relax is yes she's stiff, but I'm wondering about that saddle fit etc.
    She's always ridden this way and he is a forgiving horse. So I'm thinking he's made the accomidation for her stiffness but I'm really curious about the saddle fit, etc? I'm going to play stupid (owner thinks she knows everything) and have her show me how to test for soreness. hee hee..I'm betting he's going to flinch! This is so interesting.

  8. What's your favorite way to reform a stiff rider?

    I kind of like lots of trail work, riding on the lunge w/o reins, with eyes shut....

    Confidence builders. I think stiffness comes from both out-of-shapedness and fear. Mostly fear.... fear of looking stupid, fear the horse will do something scary, fear of screwing up the horse.

    Riding lots of different horses. Arena exercises like leaning down to touch opposite foot... back to the tail.... arms over your head.... egg & spoon.... that kind of thing. Doing silly things, too.

    Sitting trot, no stirrups. You can't be stiff and live through that.....

  9. "Heat the first 24 hours, then ice from there on out."

    It's the other way around. Ice while it's swelling, heat afterwards.

    Cooling liniment (gel) can help a lot.

    A lot of Cattypex's exercises could be done at home, on an exercise ball. And the balls are great for improving balance, too. I wish they'd make one I could throw a saddle on!

    I think I'll get one, and use it as a desk chair.

    Ruthie, still getting fitter.

  10. CP: I've tried the closing your eyes with her..she falls off the horse. She says she's old and her muscles won't relax.

    it's really weird b/c I mean she tries and our Trainer calls her out but she isn't relaxing.

    Since I'm not a "trainer" and she knows more than I (yes that was sarcasm) she really doesn't listen to me.

    Her only goal is to just ride so it's not like she'll ever enter the ring. I'm just going to have her show me the soreness b/c I'm betting the horse has some.

  11. Gah! How frustrating....

    Someone should video YOU riding the horse, and the TRAINER riding the horse, and then HER riding the horse.... I'm all for positive intervention!!! ;)

    Of course, you might actually value your friendship with her more than that ; )

  12. Really, the eyes closed thing is soooo easy.... esp. if you hang on to the saddle at first.

    Sally Swift's Appeal to the Great Spirit exercise is really awesome. Works best if you can tune out everything but how you and your horse feel together. It's a very right-brain kind of thing. Gotta eliminate the mental chatter....

    It's like when I went to college and took Voice as an elective (after 6 yrs. of lessons) and I got all nervous about getting it right, and kept running the mental checklist. My teacher finally said one day, "Goddammit, you KNOW how. Just freakin' open your mouth and sing!!!" Another time she said, "Pretend you're an opera singer." and... I sounded really good. :P

    I do have one of those exercise ball chairs... it's fun!

    One more thing: since I've gained so much weight over the years, my center of gravity is SO different, and I've had to re-learn how to get my body over my feet again...... it's weird!

  13. I learned how to do this same thing recently, although I wasn't told about the stretches before and after. Thank you for posting this!

  14. Haaaappy happy happy biiiirthday,
    Haaaappy happy happy biiiirthday.
    Haaaappy happy happy biiiirthday,
    To you to you to you.... ¡OLÉ!

    - Chi Chi's

  15. OK..not to hijack CNJ's blog but I'm taking pictures tomorrow to start my "conditioning"blog. I've got 2 horses. One an Irish Draught and one an Arab. Good weight but haven't been regularly ridden in over 9mos. I was going to get pictures of their back...what else should I take pictures of? I am going to get permission from their owner to start the blog but what you'd you guys/gals (hee hee) like to see on that sort of blog.
    Can't talk to owner of horse i ride b/c it would kill our friendship and she's an ex-teacher and feels she knows everything.

  16. CP-
    Sally Swift's Appeal to the Great Spirit exercise is really awesome. Works best if you can tune out everything but how you and your horse feel together. It's a very right-brain kind of thing. Gotta eliminate the mental chatter....

    Same with Yoga. In the balance poses- if your mind is scattered so is your body- All Over the place. Clearing your mind and letting go of thoughts, focusing on calm, quiet, relaxed breathing... seems you could hold that pose for quite a while.

    Ruthie- You are right. It is ice first then heat. See what I get for trying to take a day "away" from all the business stuff! Sheesh.

    Cycle- You're welcome! Did you find the info on stretches? My inbox is opento everyone.

    C3D- An overall body shot should show a lot. Close ups of the forearm (front and side shots) and gaskins Side and rear shots) will too. These two spots are generally pure muscle and are a great place to determine whether those 'halter' type horses are actually fit or just fat. The neck will also show development over time, so head and neck shots...

    And give me a link! I'll add you to the list on the right.

  17. I'm sorry this link is so long:

    It opens at the first exercise for "Yoga at your desk." There are three "sets." I'm doing as many of them as I can in a wrist cast... but the bending over ones are great for relaxing the hips!


  18. AC- glad to see you could make it!

    Snacks & drinks are always well received- any time if day- but here, so far, no real beer and popcorn moments we have all come to know and love.