WELTS ON HORSE'S BACK AFTER RIDING Submitted by Ann Bates
Three years ago I purchased an Ortho Flex "Premier" saddle. It is basically a dressage saddle with the flex panels. Very nice saddle, very comfortable and lightweight. Two years ago I purchased an American Flex "Stitchdown" saddle. Different manufacturer, same type saddle with flex panels. Within 6 months Bambi developed very large welts on her back, directly under the back portion of both panels and about 6 inches in length. They weren't particularly sore, but the fact that they were there was quite alarming. They were also there when I switched back to my Ortho Flex saddle to see if it was that particular saddle.
Since they did not show up until 6 months later, I assumed it was the pad. I bought a Skito, Supracor, Merino wool, synthetic fleece coolback, 3/4" felt, you name it - I tried it. I had the vet out. He treated her for deep muscle soreness and put her on a 2-week regimen of massage and muscle relaxers. The problem was still there. I even had new panels installed to the tune of $700. No change.
Since Bambi is very "girly" and sashays when she walks (she can really work it), I bought a Myler kimberwicke bit. I thought that if I rode with a contact she would walk straighter. That didn't help.
This went on for a year and a half. I googled everything I could think of. Could it be heat bumps? Could it be a change in diet or an allergy? Could it be the way I was riding her? I had a lesson with Leslie Lovelace to make sure that I was not contributing to the problem. She said the problem was not me. Leslie shed the first light on what the problem might be. She put a thin white quilted dressage pad under my saddle and had me trot around for a few minutes. When we took the saddle off, the pad was dirty on the front and back of the pad and clean in the middle. That spelled possible saddle bridging. I started using a shim in the center where the bridging was. Still welts. Oh yes, Leslie also said that my saddle was probably not wide enough which made the front of the saddle ride ever so slightly higher on the withers which pushed the panels slightly into her kidney area. That was probably why she was welting.
Flex panel saddles are advertised to fit almost every horse. They don't tell you which horses they will not fit. They will not fit extra wide horses. That was confirmed by the flex panel saddle representative later, but never mentioned when I purchased the saddle.
OK. Time to buy a new saddle that fits. Since a friend had a Tucker saddle that she really liked, I decided to start there. Tucker makes a variety of styles, and the one that suited me best was the Equitation Endurance model. Summer at www.saddleupshop.com had me make wire tracings and take photographs of Bambi's back. Bambi was in between a wide and X-wide, thus requiring an extra wide tree saddle. To play it safe, I payed the extra money to demo one for 10 days.
Things were much better, but some of the days Bambi had some bumps. The nice thing though was that I could go down very steep hills with virtually dropped reins and Bambi didn't pitch a fit as she sometimes does. The saddle fit.
I ordered the new saddle. When it arrived, we took a few short rides to "break in" the new saddle. All seemed well. Then we started our normal 4-5 hour trail rides. WELTS! What is happening!
My vet could not understand why. Summer had never heard of this happening. Out of desperation, I had chiropractic and acupuncture work done on her back, plus ordered magnetic nano-patches. Hey, I'll try anything at this point. She had two sessions of the chiropractic/acupuncture therapy and the daily patches for more than a month. No change. Mind you, she didn't act particularly sore so I thought maybe this was just something unique to her. We were treating the symptoms, but nobody could figure out why the welts were occurring. I get rashes above my socks when I ride. They look funny but don't bother me. Maybe this is the same thing.
A week later after giving Bambi a bath, I decided to put the saddle on with no pad and take a few pictures. Maybe, just maybe I was not putting the saddle on correctly. I always rode Western and had no English training. I sent Summer a few pictures and headed off to Bass Lake for a couple hour ride. When I returned home and checked my emails, there was a message from Summer to call her immediately.
I had the saddle about 4 inches too far forward! The saddle was not level! It was so subtle that the problems did not happen immediately and nobody that I ride with noticed anything wrong with the way I tacked up. The expert did though.
I moved the saddle back four inches, adjusted the crupper and breast collar and went for a ride. No welts. Another longer ride. No welts. I just got back from Bridalveil, where we rode 50 miles in 3 days. No welts! I can use any of the pads. They were not the problem. I was! It was a rather humbling experience since I have been around horses most of my life. We never stop learning do we?
It is most important for the saddle to be level. You should be able to draw an imaginary horizontal line through the saddle. If the saddle sits high in the front and low in the back you are putting all of the rider's weight over the back 1/3 of the saddle, grinding the saddle in to the horses back at that point. Reasons for the saddle sitting high in the front can be anything from the saddle sitting too far forward to the saddle not being wide enough, and therefore not being able to get down around the horses shoulders. Then there is the reverse. If the saddle sits behind the scapula, the saddle sits low in the front and high in the back causing the riders weight to be thrown forward. The saddle drops down behind the withers and grinds in at that point causing the muscle to waste. The main point here is for the saddle to be level. Update: It has now been 4 months and I believe the problem is completely gone. I ended up getting a Saddleright pad and use a felt liner underneath. Bambi probably had tissue damage that has to heal. I'm hoping that by summer she will just need the saddleright pad & liner. One Year Later - It appears that the problem is a thing of the past. I am able to use the Saddleright pad and liner, or my woolback and coolback pads. Whew!
Welts on Bambi's back where the back of the bars would rest
Sometimes the welts would be solid and sometimes a series of lumps