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 A dear friend of mine told me a very interesting story of her time in the UK when she was studying for for BHS exams. They all groomed and tacked up their horses then took them into school for the lesson. Once they started the lesson their instructor made them line up, dismount, stand in front of their horses then describe the horses from age to conformation, including foot shape and type of shoes, muscle development, any skeletal and muscular asymmetries, the biomechanics of the horse, tack being used, and bearing that in mind, how they would work the horse to in light of all of this. His premise is, if you don't know about your horse, how can you have a beneficial and productive training session where your school the horses instead of exercising it?

So often as riders we lose sight of the horse as an individual and just work them. As a rider it's your job to to assess your horse and train him accordingly, this means as rider you need to be aware of the muscular structure and biomechanics of your horse, this will enable you, during your ride to optimise your training.

There are two quotes I adhere to diligently in my riding, George Morris' " Every second you're either schooling or un-schooling your horse there is no inbetween" and Thomas Ritters' "Dressage movements should be regarded as diagnostic and therapeutic tools not as an ends in themselves" Bearing these in mind will help you accomplish your goals by making you aware in your riding  and make you ask questions, like "Why does he find this difficult?"

The next  step is understanding you and your horses biomechanics and conformation. In understanding his an your conformation you will know from the outset where there will be strengths and weaknesses,  Also by assessing the "conformation" regularity you can see how you're progressing, this will help develope your "eye", as by knowing what an "Advanced" horse should look like, you will know where you need to improve, which will lead you to looking for exercises that will improve your horse, also it will lead you to "experts" whose advice and opinion you should adhere, (as an example with my physio and I, she advises me what work I should stay away from before a show, or what muscles need to develope in order for the horse to become proficient in certain moments that are challenging for them conformationally)

One of the best articles I've read on assessing you horse and basic biomechanics is "What the Topline says about Horse and Rider" By Manolo Mendez

Understanding the biomechanics, will help develope your "feel" (feel being based on timing and the ability to make early adjustments and your awareness of your horse) So in understanding biomechanics you first need to understand how a horse moves, then understand how it uses it's body in the movements you wish perform, by knowing this, you will know the correct timing to give your aids, then in knowing his faults you will know which movements will challenge him, and why, and also what movements will build the muscle he needs. The paces are listed below. The best book to read in terms of understanding the movements is the FEI Dressage Handbook, this gives a clear idea of what is expected in each movment.

The Paces

THE WALK - The walk is a marching pace in a regular and well-marked four time beat with equal intervals between each beat. (left hind, left fore, right hind, right fore)This regularity combined with full relaxation must be maintained throughout all walk movements.

THE TROT - The trot is a two-beat pace of alternate diagonal legs (left fore and right hind leg and vice versa) separated by a moment of suspension.

THE CANTER - The canter is a three-beat pace where, in canter to the right, for example, the footfall is as follows: (left hind, left diagonal( simultaneously left fore and right hind), right fore, followed by a moment of suspension with all four feet in the air before the next stride begins. Once you understand the gaits and biomechanics the next step is to understand the principals of Dressage and the Scales of Training

The Principals of Dressage

1. The object of dressage is the development of the horse into a happy athlete through harmonious education. As a result, it makes the horse calm, supple, loose and flexible, but also confident, attentive and keen, thus achieving perfect understanding with the rider.

These qualities are revealed by:

  1. The freedom and regularity of the paces.
  2. The harmony, lightness and ease of the movements
  3. The lightness of the forehand and the engagement of the hindquarters, originating from a lively impulsion.
  4. The acceptance of the bit, the submissiveness / throughness (Durchlässigkeit) without any tension or resitance.

2 .The horse thus gives the impression of doing, of its own accord, what is required. Confident and attentive, submitting generously to the control of the athlete, remaining absolutely straight in any movement on a straight line and bending accordingly when moving on curved lines.

3. The walk is regular, free and unconstrained. The trot is free, supple, regular and active. The canter is united, light and balanced. The hindquarters are never inactive or sluggish. The horse responds to the slightest indication of the athlete and thereby gives life and spirit to all the rest of its body.

4. By virtue of a lively impulsion and the suppleness of the joints, free from the paralysing effects of resistance, the horse obeys willingly and without hesitation and responds to the various aids calmly and with precision, displaying a natural and harmonious balance both physically and mentally.

5. In all the work, even at the halt, the horse must be “on the bit”. A horse is said to be “on the bit” when the neck is more or less raised and arched according to the stage of training and the extension or collection of the pace, accepting the bridle with a light and consistent soft submissive contact. The head should remain in a steady position, as a rule slightly in front of the vertical, with a supple poll as the highest point of the neck, and no resistance should be offered to the athlete.

6. Cadence is shown in trot and canter and is the result of the proper harmony that a horse shows when it moves with well-marked regularity, impulsion and balance. Cadence must be maintained in all the different trot or canter exercises and in all the variations of these paces.

7. The regularity of the paces is fundamental to dressage.

The Scales of Training

These are the six building blocks of the German Training Scale. They are interdependant and interwoven each stage should be achieved before moving on to the next. They are not, however, a checklist of success. The lower rungs should always be revisited to check that progress is genuine and that the horse is fulfilling all the preceding requirements.

Relaxation, Rhythm and Contact are part of the “familiarisation phase” when a horse is encouraged to rediscover his natural balance when carrying a rider. He is encouraged to relax, to find his natural rhythm and to seek an elastic connection to the rider via the rein

The second phase is the  development of the thrust from the hindquarters an takes in impulsion and straightness.

The third phase develops the carrying power of the hind legs; collection.

Because Balance and Flexion are inextricably linked in dressage some believe these should be included in the Training Scale. Balance is connected to Rhythm and Straightness and without straightness there is no Relaxation, the horse cannot come into self carriage through accepting the bit evenly -on a Contact- neither can there be any true Impulsion unless the horse moves in a relaxed, straight manner.

Flexion is entwined with Straightness as you can’t straighten a horse if you can’t bend him. If, during your ride you think to work on the elements of rhythm, balance and straightness, you should find yourself achieving relaxation, impulsion and collection as a matter of course.

Looking in more detail at the elements; the following is taken from "The Principles of Riding", which is part of the "Official Instruction Handbook of the German National Equestrian Federation"

Relaxation

Looseness is a prerequisite for all further training and, along with rhythm, is and essential aim of the preliminary training phase. Even if the rhythm is maintained, the movement cannot be considered correct unless the horse is working through its back, and the muscles are free from tension. Only if the horse is physically and mentally free from tension or constraint can it work with looseness and can it use itself to the full. The horse's joints should bend and straighten equally on each side of its body and with each step or stride, and the horse should convey the impression that it is putting its whole mind and body into it's work. Indications of looseness are a swinging back, snorting, and a closed but not immobile mouth. Looseness had been achieved when the horse will stretch its head and neck forwards and downwards in all three gaits.

 Rhythm

The term "rhythm" refers to the regularity of the steps or strides in each gait: They should cover equal distances and also be of equal duration. The rhythm should be maintained through transitions and turns as well as on straight lines. No exercise or movement can be good if the rhythm falters; and the training is incorrect if it results in loss of rhythm.

Contact

Contact is the soft, steady connection between the rider's hand and the horse's mouth. The horse should go rhythmically forward from the rider's driving aids and "seek" a contact with the rider's hand, thus "going onto" the contact. A correct, steady contact allows the horse to find its balance under the rider and find a rhythm in each of the gaits. The poll should always be the highest point of the neck, except when the horse is being ridden forwards and downwards. The contact should never be achieved through a backward action of the hands; it should result from the correctly delivered forward thrust of the hind legs. The horse should go forward confidently onto the contact in response to the rider's driving aids.

Impulsion

A horse is said to have impulsion when the energy created by the hind legs is being transmitted into the gait and into every aspect of the forward movement. A horse can be said to be working with impulsion when it pushes off energetically from the ground and swings its feet well forward. Impulsion is created by training. The rider makes use of the horse's natural paces, but "adds" to them looseness, forward thrust (originating in the hindquarters) and suppleness

Straightness

A horse is said to be straight when its forehand is in line with its hindquarters, that is, when its longitudinal axis is in line with the straight or curved track it is following. Straightness is necessary in order for the weight to be evenly distributed over the two halves of the body. It is developed through systematically training and suppling both sides of the body equally. Most horses are crooked. Like right and left-handed people, this crookedness has its origins in the brain and is something the horse is born with. If the horse is straight, the hind legs will push exactly in the direction of the centre of gravity. The restraining aids will then also pass through the horse correctly, via the moth, poll, neck and back to the hindquarters, and they will act on both hind legs equally.

Collection

The aim of all gymnastic training is to create a horse which is useful and ready and willing to perform. For the horse to meet these conditions, its weight, plus that of its rider, must be distributed as evenly as possible over all four legs. This means reducing the amount of weight on the forelegs, which naturally carry more of the load than the hind legs, and increasing by the same amount the weight on the hind legs, which were originally intended mainly to create the forward movement. By training and developing the relevant muscles, it is possible to increase the carrying capacity of the hindquarters. On the other hand, the forelegs, which support rather than push, can only be strengthened to a very limited degree through training. It is therefore more sensible, and indeed necessary, to transfer some of the weight to the hindquarters. The increased flexion of the hind legs results in the neck being raised. The horse is then in a position, if the carrying capacity of the hindquarters is sufficiently developed, to move in balance and self-carriage in all paces

The Practical

So once you have all the theoretical information in place it's time to implement it. For me ideally each horse and rider should have a work routine, that will not only develope them physically but mentally as well.

For the rider this involves keeping up your end of the deal, being not only supple but fit, in terms of muscle strength and cardiovascular endurance. For the mental aspect this involves finding a "mental coach" who you can approach for help with certain challenges, it also requires you to be prepared and focused for each ride as well as competition.

Each horse will require a different routine to optimise their training, in so much as possible this should include strength, gymnastic, suppleness and fitness training. This can include, track work, schooling sessions, lunging/long lining, Cavalletti and Jumping Training, as well as hacking. I personally try not to school my horses more than 3 days a week, and not more than two days in succession.

Each week I endeavour to plan the horses training along the above lines,I find planning lends to more productive training, though this planning needs to have some level of flexibility,as there are often unforeseen circumstances.

Each schooling session should also have some planning so as to be productive, again this can't be set in stone, as you never know what you'll encounter on any given day.

For example I on each of my horses, have a "warm up" plan for each of them, I like to start most of them off in the walk doing leg yields, then working in deep in either the trot of the canter, with some there is more of an influence on rhythm, while on others it's most about suppleness, the best thing to do is be aware of each horses "faults" and work in with those in mind, as well as the training scale, with an emphasis on rhythm, suppleness and contact, for me it's also important to ensure the horse is in front of the leg. One should always, in a warm up - start as you you mean to go on. Once the warm up is concluded I like to progress straight into training, for each session, I have an idea of what I would like to achieve, and the exercises I'm going to use to achieve my goal. Goals can range from improving the trot, to transitions, to shoulder in, each one is not exclusive from the next however you should have a clear goal, I often also include whatever "challenge" the horse faces, such as rein backs, until the issue is resolved, I also in each session train the following; the centre line and halts, walk pirouettes and corners. In terms of the corners these are possible the most useful and neglected aspect of training, when a horse learns to wait and engage in each corner, it will give you invaluable time during a test to "reset and refocus".

Once you have a routine in place it will help identify which days you horse will be "optimal" on, this will allow you to then plan which day in the training will be the best "competition" day, therefore allowing you to plan your competition routine.

 

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 2015 Dressage Mini Derby winner, 2014 FEI Dressage World Challenge Advanced winner and budding pole dancer

Siobhan Records is very fortunate to having been born into a "horsey" family. With mom, Lynda, having successfully competed in Open Showing, Eventing and Showjumping, whilst her dad being a whipper in for the Rand Hunt Club as well as doing Carriage Driving, it was obvious that Siobhan would grow up riding horses. Mom Lynda often jokes that Siobhan was born to do dressage, as her water broke when she was lunging a horse in a dressage arena!

Siobhan started riding at the tender age of two and a half, and already started competing in Lead Rein classes at the age of three, on a Shetland pony called Tokolosh, who strived to live up to his name. Her first special horse was Glanwyn Harmony, who Natalie Hobday found for her in 1989. Her close relationship with Harmony was worth her weight in gold and provided Siobhan with so much confidence and happiness. The combination competed in all the disciplines, from showing, jumping, eventing, dressage to even mounted games with the Rand Hunt Pony Club.

Siobhan feels blessed and grateful for having fantastic instructors Delia Gardener, Leigh Lippert, Claire Webb and Natalie Hobday, who were willing to share their knowledge and instill the fundamental basics of what it is to be an "Equestrian". She'll never forget a specific dressage lesson she had with Natalie when she was about five and a half and she had forgotten her girth. There was no passing the buck onto anyone else, and as Natalie said "your pony, your responsibility". Needless to say, she had her lesson bareback!

Through the years to come, Siobhan competed in dressage on Zemaituka, and was chosen for the Children’s Provincial Team for 4 consecutive years from 1996 to 1999. She then rode Sensation, a fantastic thoroughbred mare in Juniors, which took her from Novice to Medium, and into the Junior team from 1999 to 2002. At this time there were more and more Warmbloods coming into the sport, Sensation proved with corrected and dedicated training, that any horse can successfully compete.

Zemaituka and Sensation instilled her love for the Dressage Derby Style of competition, where the top three riders qualify and swop horses; it's a competition that really reflects rider ability.

Claudia Privato's horse El Encanto Tercio has been a truly special horse to Siobhan. She started competing him in 2012, in Novice, and have collected a host of titles such as the Gauteng Novice Champs, SA Novice Champs, the Elementary Victor Laudorum at Gauteng Champs, the Mini Dressage Derby, and the South African leg of the FEI Advanced WDC. He is now graded Advanced and they will do their first Prix St George's in 2015.

This year’s Galencia Property SA Derby in October was very special to her, as she was defending her 2013 Mini Derby title on her own horse, Rathmor Caprice. The show being Caprice’s first Elementary Medium show. Besides Caprice, she also had Tercio and Royal Darco in the "big" Derby Qualifiers. It was El  Encanto Tercio's first Advanced.

The Derby format is an interesting one, each rider rides their own horse and then the riders swop and rider their opponents’ horses, with the horses running order remaining the same. It's truly a test of each rider, as you only have 3 minutes on each new horse before you ride your test.

At the end of round one after our rides on our own horses Sue Horne on Cellehof Trademark was on 460.5, I was on 488.5 and Catherine Berning on Ciroc R was on 521.5 points, giving Catherine a 33 point lead. Round two had Catherine on Trademark with 469, Siobhan on Ciroc R with 484.5 and Sue on Caprice with 438. This meant that at the end of the second round Catherine being in the lead by 17.5  on 990.5 points, Siobhan on 973 and Sue on 898.5. This made for great excitement in the last round. Siobhan was first up on Trademark who gave her an amazing ride, to score 494.5, next up was Sue on Ciroc scoring 426, then Catherine on Caprice scoring 469.5. The final scores were Siobhan on 1467.5, Catherine on 1460, and Sue on 1324.5, and the winning Horse being the beautiful Ciroc R.

Only 4 days after Derby came the very competitive FEI World Dressage Challenge. With great support in place, the horses having Spa treatments at Manor D'Or, then physio from the amazing Kerryn Sinovich (née Legg), she was all set to go.  Siobhan does a lot of cross training with her horses to try and keep their fitness levels up. This includes working on a gallop track, jumping and a long hack every week.  Nutrititional care, shoeing (by Tobie and Joe van der Merwe) and veterinary support (from Lauren Morrison at Northrand) keep the horses in tip-top shape.  To be successful a rider needs a good support system, especially with having 3 Major shows in a 4 week period!

The FEI World Dressage Challenge is a fabulous initiative, allowing riders from different countries to compete against each other without the expense of traveling. South Africa fall under Zone 1, which means we compete alongside Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador and Uruguay. This year’s international judges were Mrs Maria Schwennesen from Australia and Mr Peter Engel from Germany. Sadly due to unfortunate travel related circumstances (an airline strike) Peter was unable to judge in Chile, so only Maria's marks were counted.

In South Africa, unlike the other countries that compete, we run our qualifier and the competition at the same show, which is very taxing on the horses. In total only 40 horses are eligible to compete in front of the FEI judges, so qualifying is a task in itself, horses also have to qualify with a combined percentage of over 58% in the PSG and 60% in the Advanced, Medium. Elementary and Preliminary Classes.

At this show she had Mrs Cheryl Kempin’s homebred Equinox Padover in the Elementary, her own Rathmor Caprice in the Medium, and Mrs Claudia Privato's El Encanto Tercio in the Advanced and Mrs Lynda Weinstein's (my mum) Saddle Fitting Specialists’ Royal Darco in the PSG. All the horses qualified to ride, however due to FEI rules Siobhan could only take two horses through. Her selection was Caprice and Tercio. Caprice put in a beautiful test to come second to Megan Berning’s Zo Special. With these horses retaining their first and second places in the Zone 1 results, Tercio gave it his all to win the Advanced Class and come second in Zone 1 to one of Argentina’s top riders, Fiorella Mengani.

Not only is Siobhan a formidable rider but also excelling in one of South Africa’s most exciting new sports, Pole Dancing. She has been doing Pole Dancing for almost a year, training with Venessa Lack at LAF Studios, and she finds this incredible work out very complimentary to her riding, as it requires a lot of core control and muscle isolation. This year she qualified for the Intermediate Division of Miss Pole SA. Sadly the competition was on the same weekend as Gauteng Dressage Championships, which took priority. She train three times a week, for two hours on a Monday and Wednesday evening, (an hour of fitness and an hour of pole) and then an hour private.

Between her hectic riding and dancing schedule, there is not much time for anything else. Siobhan is a voracious reader and adores her Kindle, especially since she is partial to fantasy fiction which isn't always the easiest to obtain here in SA.  Her favorite authors are Anne Bishop, Patricia Briggs,Trudi Canavan and Jacqueline Carey.

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“The University of Sussex in the U.K recently released findings from an interesting study about how horses communicate with each other.  They found that, even though horses have impeccable eyesight (better than both dogs and cats), it is their ears that they rely on most when communicating with each other.

This got me thinking about how much we know about horse to human communication.  Paying attention to a horses’ ears as a means to gauge what she is thinking is a trick experienced riders have been relying on for ages.  Often new riders invest in books covering the matter or watch video after video on the internet, but they struggle to develop a similar intuition to that which old horse hands sport.  Less experienced riders also sometimes misinterpret equine communication by attributing the wrong message to their horse’s behaviour.  It’s always worth-while to be taken back to basics and recap the fundamental factors to bear in mind when trying to understand your horse better.”

1)     Do all horses communicate in the same (or a similar) manner?

Horses all communicate in a similar manner, much the same as all people communicate in a similar manner. However for those who have traveled to places where no one speaks your language, communication is oft times interesting. Yes there are universally understood signs, but often a lot is lost in translation. The same stands true when you're communicating with your horse. One needs to bear in mind when working with your horse, as with people a lot of mannerisms are learned, often people misinterpret the signals they're seeing. In the end you need to learn your horses language, and he yours. The huge challenge is how to effectively communicate with your horse, it's a daunting task, one only has to Google horse behavior to come up with thousands of pages of contrary views, along with internet chat rooms filled with people with no experience sagely handing out nonsensical pearls of wisdom. It's no wonder people are confused, never mind their poor horses.

2)     From your experience, can you give us five helpful tips when it comes to reading/understanding your horse better?

As George Morris famously said "Every second you're with your horses, you're either training or untraining" , most riders in South Africa don't have much to do with their horses in terms of working with them on a daily basis, this often results in challenges, you may instill positive behavior for the hour you send with your horse, however if it's not reinforced, it won't become a learned behavior and you will continually face the same challenges.

People need to spend time with their horses and get to know them, just because one horse behaves in a certain fashion, doesn't mean that the next horse that behaves in that fashion is doing it for the same reasons. Horses have a past just like people, often reacting as a result of past experience, riders need to bear this in mind. So often people arrive at the yard, the horse is waiting tacked up, they get on ride then hand the horse back. They have no idea what the horse is like to lead, groom or lunge. That's in the end the difference between a horseman and a rider. Horsemanship needs to be instilled at an early age, however most parents don't see the benefit of theory lessons on rainy days, or learning to muck out stables and groom on pony camp, these lessons make horsemen, and result in learning to communicate with your in a better fashion. You need to walk before you run.

One thing I've noticed is in the end, horses all become a reflection of their owners. As the old English Proverb says; "Show me your horse and I will tell you what you are".

Learn from people with experience, there is no such thing as a stupid question. If you're going on to the internet go to reputable sites. When it come to communicating with your horse nothing beats hads on experience under the watchful eye of a professional.

Horses are often unique in the way they communicate, for example, I have one horse who I compete at Advanced, with him when he's relaxed and working in a good fashion both ears are pricked forward, however with another if his ears are pricked I know he's not paying attention to me and I'm about to experience a rodeo show, instead of the harmony of classical dressage. Always remember each horse is different.

3)     What would you say is a common misconception about communicating with your horse or understanding your horse?

No matter how hard we try, a horse will never perceive us as another horse. Either mares or stallions can be "Alpha" horses in the wild, depending on the situation, the same applies domesticated horses. Horses are not dominant, contrary to popular belief.

Not all signals mean a negative nor do they mean a positive. For example a horse with his ears back can means he's grumpy or it can mean he's listening to something behind him.

 

 

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 Why do saddles need fitted

The primary reason for fitting saddles is for the comfort and welfare of the horse, this fact should always remain at the forefront of your mind. Saddles are also fitted for the following reasons:

  • A new saddle/ second hand saddle
  • The horse and/or rider has changed shape
  • The owner feels the horse is displaying discomfort
  • To optimise the horse and/or riders preformance

For horses that are in moderate work 3-5 days a week, saddles should be checked every sixth months, providing no drastic changes have taken place. Young horses and competition horses should be checked every three months, this also applies to horses who have weight to gain and/or lose. Newly purchased saddles should be checked six to eight weeks after purchase.

Things your saddler fitter will ask you about your horse and the Reasons behind the questions.

All Saddle Fitters should template, and all those qualified with the Society of Master Saddlers are mandated to do so. As well as filling in information about your horse, your saddle fitter will also measure your horse, this means that at each visit you will be able to see how your horses has changed.

  • Age

Age is a very important factor as it will give you an indication of the changes that will take place. Horses generally mature skeletally at the age of six, though larger horses tend to mature a little later. As a general rule of thumb, blood horses such as Thoroughbreds and Arabs, tend to mature fully at five and a half six, while Warmbloods and Cold Bloods mature at seven or eight.

Thoroughbreds tend to grow in an upward fashion, starting off towards a medium wide fit with a broad twist, with the wither becoming more prominent as they reach maturity. Warmbloods, depending on their blood, generally grow in an " up and out" pattern, with most of them ending on the wider side of a medium fit. All horses tend to do 75% to 80% of their growing in the spring. Older horses tend to lose muscle tone, with their backs becoming more dipped as they age.

  • Work Being Done

This is a very important factor, not only in terms of muscle condition, but as a gauge to possible adjustments to the saddle that may be required.

Horses is certain forms and amounts of work should hold a certain muscle tone. As a rider/trainer/saddle fitter you should be able to recognise these attributes in the horse, furthermore you will also learn to recognise when a horse is working incorrectly, resulting in muscle loss and atrophy,added to this you will learn over time that there are certain trends in terms of yards, riders and instructors. For example if a horse is in correct work 4/6 days a week, it should have significantly more muscle tone than that of a horse in work 1/2 days a week, if it does not then there is a problem, either in the horses way of going, or the way it is being trained.

If a horses work is to be increased this will have an influence on its muscle tone, for example horses that are being backed or horses that are returning to work, this fact will need to be considered when fitting the saddle,as the horse will most likely change shape. One must remember that fat takes up more room than muscle. Careful attention needs to be paid to horses where a rider has decided to become competitive after a few years of owing a horse, especially in terms of the horses soundness and the riders capabilities.

It is also important to note who the trainer is, and if any one else other than the rider you see will be working the horse, as rider weight and ability can influence the way the saddle fits.

  • Vetting/History(including treatments)

Information regarding whether or not a horse has been vetted and any history of lameness is very important to note, as well as the date on purchase.

Staring with the date of purchase, this is important to note as it will give you an idea of changes to the horses condition and muscle tone. If you know your clients well you will be able to gauge on whether the changes will be positive or negative. It will also give you an idea on whether there may be a positive or negative change in the horses temperament.

If you are uncertain as to whether the improvements will be positive or negative cast your eye over the other horses either belonging to the owner, or those in the yard. From this you should be able to tell whether the thin horse in front of you in likely to gain weight or remain in the same condition.

Noting whether the horse has been vetted and by whom will give you an indication of its soundness and suitability for the work being done, and may also allay any concerns with a horse that may be presented for saddle fitting, which may be irregular in its movement. It is important to get the client to confirm what type of vetting was done, as there is a vast difference between an insurance vetting and a five stage vetting, it is also important to note whether x rays were taken. Any problems that the client is aware of from the vetting should be noted. You must remember that you are not a vet, there is a very fine line to walk between expressing concerns over a horses soundness and passing judgement, however since the welfare of the horse is paramount, any concerns should be noted and the client advised.

History of the horse is important to note, for example if a horse has kissing spines you will want to note the following; when it was diagnosed and by whom(there is a vast difference between an assumption and proper diagnosis), what treatment was given in regard to medication, physio/chiro,rehabilitation work. The same will apply to other injuries. This is why as a saddle fitter your knowledge will also need to encompass to a degree some knowledge of veterinary as well as farriery skills. History is important as it can make you aware of future problems that may affect the fit of the saddle and the way the horse goes. For example if a horse has a suspensory injury and you are fitting it prior to the beginning of remedial work, it is important to note the work that will be done, as incorrect work may result in the horse becoming unsound again, ofttimes with you as the saddle fitter being blamed for the unsoundness.

Intermittent and undiagnosed lameness' also need to be noted with care, as again if they are a reoccurring issues, the saddle may also be incorrectly blamed.

It's also worth your while to note the name of the Physio/Chiro and for what reason their services are used. Often if I see a horse with a sore back I will recommend a physio to help improve the situation.

  • Condition (including Height and Weight)

Calculating a horses weight is the most accurate way of measuring weight, the following formula is one of the most accurate:[Girth (cm) × Girth (cm) × Length (cm)] / 11,900 = Weight(kg) Horse's body type (i.e., very heavy or thin barrel) might affect the accuracy of this estimate.

This calculation might not provide accurate estimations of weight for very tall horses and should not be used to estimate weights in miniature horses.

Calculations specific for estimating the weight of growing horses are more complicated, and a scale is recommended to monitor growth rates in these horses. Weight determination in growing horses is more important for ensuring smooth, consistent growth patterns than for ideal "body weight" with respect to fat coverage. Rapidly growing foals can be prone to developmental problems and orthopedic diseases such as epiphysitis or osteochondritis dissecans.

Problems with saddles fit and the consequences

Too narrow(width)- often if a saddle is to narrow in front it will pinch behind the scapula and trapezius, and may in some instances result in atrophy either side of the wither. Also the saddle will often not be in balance creating pressure points towards the rear of the saddle, this May result in the horse moving in extreme cases short behind. There may also be bridging, this is were there is a gap between the panel and the horses back.

Too wide(width)- in extreme cases the underside of the pommel will rub on the wither, causing a fistula wither. The points of the tree will also sits to low down, trapping the scapula. Also since the balance of the saddle will be out, this may cause the back of the panels to "bounce"

Bridging-this is where there is a gap in the contact between the panel and the horses back.

Out of balance- this is were the saddle doesn't sit in balance, either because the tree shape or panel shape is wrong for the horse.

Side rail angle- if the side rail angle is to narrow it will "pinch" on the spinal processes and may rock. If to wide, it will cause the saddle to sit to close to the horses spine.

Too long- where the saddle sits past the 18th rib

Sitting left or right- when saddles are not sitting straght it may be rider related, check the saddle first to make sure the tree is not twisted, followed by the stirrups, the rider, then the horses development. Most often the saddle sitting to one side is a result of a crooked rider.  Asymmetry in the horse may be a result of unsoundess or incorrect work. 8 out of 10 horses are more developed on the left.

Wrong tree shape

Wrong paneling. 

The Rider

Rider weight has become a very intensely debated subject, ultimately the facts are the facts, yes some horses happily carry more weight than others. However is you expect your horse to be an athlete, should you not expect a little athleticism from yourself? when saddle fitting I ask a rider their height, weight, age and gender. All of these are very relative to how the saddles fit.  Rider skill also weigh heavily into the equation, the latest study to this effect is being presented in the UK this month by Dr Sue Dyson MA, Vet MB,PhD,DEO, FRCVS of the Animal Health Trust. the Society of Master Saddlers has also done similar studies, with very interesting results.

Below is a  very interesting article, especially considering that there are very few TB's weighing over 559kgs, and most warmbloods don't go much over 650kgs. In regard to young horses, the vertebrae only fuse at 6 years old, so rider weight plays a huge impact.

To get a fairly accurate assessment of your horses weight you can use the following formula:[Girth (cm) × Girth (cm) × Length (cm)] / 11,900 = Weight(kg). This formula is far more accurate than a weight tape.

To determine your weight, put your riding gear on, grab your saddle and jump on the scale. Then it's one small step to work out your percentage of your horses weight.

Different breed do carry weight differently, with some breeds being more capable than others,depemding on their bone structure, but the basic premise of the article below is sound

At the end of the day the welfare of the horse is paramount, and being an "equestrian athlete" means holding up your end of the deal.

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The pursuit of mental and physical harmony with our horses has to be the ultimate riding goal. That is where the magic happens. Our traditional training methods aim to build a horse’s muscles, reactions and fitness to power him when jumping over things, galloping fast or performing impressive dressage movements.

The Horse...

Some horses will test you.
Some will teach you.
And some will bring out the best in you.