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Saddle rack causes horse lameness – you’ve got to be kidding.


Dr. Keith performing applied kinesiology on a horse

Thanks Iowa clients for a wonderful challenging case load with my last May trip to Iowa.  I was very busy and unable to see all the people who desired appointments.  Therefore I have decided to make two trips to Iowa in June.  I will visit Equine Referral Clinic on June 11th and 12th and again on the 25th and 26th with a trip to the Ames area on the 27th and Pre-Des Moines areas on the 24th.

After reading the title:  Saddle rack causes horse lameness, you immediately think the horse was being a horse and ran into or got caught in the saddle rack.  No, nothing that straight forward occured and I apologize up front, I did not take photos.  I am bad about taking photos or video.  I just want to help the horse and solve the problem and don’t think about taking photos.  This particular case was a challenge to find the root cause of the problem and a majority of people would not think of looking at equipment in the tack room as the cause of the lameness.

To set this scenario up, I was examining this 11 year old, all-round performance gelding for a left hind leg lameness.  It was a 0.5-1/5 grade lameness occasionally seen under-saddle, and was more commonly felt as an arrhythmic gait.  He would drag his left hind foot on the cranial phase of the stride.  The owner had received the typical suggestion from her routine veterinarian and trainer, “Oh the hocks need injecting”.  This typical answer did not set well with the owner and decided to have me evaluate the horse.

Upon exam of the nicely muscled gelding with good confirmation; I discovered some pelvic issues, mild pain in the left SI (sacroiliac) joint, discomfort in lumbar area, a right cluneal nerve entrapment, and some tenderness on the cluneal nerve entrapped side just behind the shoulder blade.  Hocks and stifles palpated normal and showed no response to a pain challenge.   Two months prior I had examined the horse and at that time treated it for the lumbar issue and cluneal nerve entrapment.  However, the lumbar issue and cluneal nerve entrapment had returned causing a slightly abnormal situation as on most cases this combination of findings, is usually resolved by the chiropractic adjustment and they do not readily come back.  To explain, the cluneal nerve entrapment is an entrapped nerve by a spasmodic lumbar muscle generally on one side of the back.  The entrapped nerve produces ‘P Substance’ which is irritating to the muscle.  It is not an uncommon finding in horses and even people who are experiencing back pain.  Other findings in the lumbar region of the horse included intraosseous faults or IOF’s in the lumbar vertebrae.  The IOF’s are distortions or compaction of the bone.  These repeat findings along with pain in the left SI and the pelvic issues suggested an external cause to the hind leg issue.

While discussing these finding with the owner, the owner made a comment that the saddle pad was wearing out and probably needed replaced.  I looked at the pad which had a design of breathable neoprene construction against the horse.  The neoprene was starting to tear from excessive stress on the center-line over the withers while the rest of the pad looked to be in good shape.

In regards to external issues as causes of Chiropractic problems, four major ones occur.  All four are influence by us and not the horse.  The four include proper and balanced hoof care, environment be it stalled or pasture, saddle fit, and riders ability.  Hoof care was good and the owner had not changed farriers for quite sometime.  The horse was in a stall with daily turnout usually with significant time.  The primary saddle was a five year old western saddle that had been purchased new and used on him for the time.  The rider was an accomplished young adult that had been riding for quite a few years.  Of those options, which one would you look at first?  Yep, you are right the saddle.

I checked the saddle before putting it on the horse.  The gullet width was good but the skirting under the pommel was of different angles going out from the gullet with the right side having a flatter angle.  Also in looking down the gullet from pommel to cantel, the horn was not in the center of the gullet and pointed to the right.  Essentially, the saddle was misshapen.  Although the saddle seemed of good construction and not that old, it needed to be worked on or replaced.  But why did the saddle change, for if it had always been liked that we would have seen the problem in one of the earlier treatments.  Had the rider changed?  Was the owner now riding heavy on the right and needed chiropractic care?  I just happened to put the saddle away in the tack room where the owner showed me where it went.  As I put the saddle on the rack and let go of the horn, it seemed to fall forward.  I thought maybe I did not get the saddle on the rack completely.  Since, the rack was a little below my waist I squatted down to look at the saddle and the rack.  In doing so, I realized the skirting support part of the commercially made saddle rack only came about 2/3rd of the way forward toward the pommel on the saddle.  Consequently the area under the pommel, concho, and off side billet was not supported.  This especially occurred if a second effort was not used to ensure the saddle was against the back wall, even than lack of support would let it lean down and to the right.  The horse owner had been at this stable for about 10 months.  Over that period of time, with the humidity, dampness of the saddle due to sweat, pull of gravity, and lack of full support of the saddle rack; the saddle leather remodeled to a misshapen appearance.  In fact, getting down to eye level with the saddle on the rack, the top front point of the skirt under the pommel was about 1/2 inch lower then the top of the left skirt.  This resulted in uneven and undo pressure on the horse’s back especially the right side.

Lesson learned – check your saddle rack to make sure the saddle is properly supported.  It is yet to be determined if a saddle master can repair the saddle or if a new saddle needs to be purchased.  But for sure, just injecting the hocks would have been a waste of time and money with more on that in the future.


About Dr. Keith Wagner

Since 1989, Dr. Wagner has been dedicated to the health of your horse, from the weekend pleasure horse to elite Olympic level performance horses. Dr. Wagner excels at improving the health of his equine patients by using Chiropractic, Acupuncture, Applied Kinesiology, and Traditional Western Veterinary Medicine.