Special Needs Horses

Not every body is perfect … Three Common Anatomy Issues that Affect Saddle fit

special needs horse bodiesHorses are just like us — they’re not physically perfect. Some are left leaded, some right; some are born with high withers, some are born to be round; some are wide, some are narrow. And to complicate matters, our riding habits and saddles can create anatomy issues that make saddle fit difficult.

Shoulder Pockets

Shoulder pockets are one of the most common anatomy issues a horse can experience. This condition can be caused by poor saddle fit, it can be a natural condition or it may be a transitional body change during the aging process. No matter how it occurs, however, horses with this condition can benefit greatly from the dispersion capability of the CSI Saddle Pad Flex-Plate. Shims may or may not be necessary for this back shape.

Uneven Development

uneven backed horseJust like us, horses are right or left handed (leaded) and this can cause one side of the shoulder to be larger than the other. Usually horses are more dominant on the left side and many times we exacerbate this problem in certain western disciplines (such as roping) where we spend more time loping our horses on their left leads than on their right. However it occurs, uneven development causes uneven saddle fit. A common symptom is frequent saddle adjustment by the rider — which can cause irritation to the horse in and of itself. The CSI pad can benefit any horses with uneven development. Shims may or may not be necessary depending on the severity of the problem.

Sway Back

swayback horseAs our horses age their bodies change. Often one of the results of this change is a sway in the back. This condition causes bridging issues with the saddle where the tree contacts only behind the wither and over the loin and not down the center (like a bridge). This can cause all kinds of issues from soreness to resistance. It can be easily helped, however, with a CSI Saddle Pad and shims.

If you have a sway backed horse, it is a good idea to do latisimus dorsi muscle exercises to help them strengthen their top-line. Do this by “tickling” it by applying pressure under the belly (belly button area) until you see the top-line lift. Ask the horse to hold the lift for several seconds for maximum effect.

Using Shims to Affect Your Saddle fit …

Before you shim, you need to know that shims are only TEMPORARY solutions and should be used only when necessary and as part of an overall rehab program. You should re-access your shims every few rides.

The majority of horses out there don’t need shims with the CSI Saddle Pad system. The CSI Flex-Plate is very, very effective at resolving minor anatomy issues. However, there are some conditions which can benefit from having shims.

Another common saddle fit issue is working with a horse with a sway back. Let’s take an in depth look at the shimming process for a swaybacked horse.

using a shim on a horseApplying the Shim to the CSI Pad

You will add velcro to the top of the shim. This makes it removable and re-position-able. Applying the completed shim to the CSI Pad is as simple as positioning it correctly and closing the lid of the pad.

placing a shim on a csi saddle pad

Shimming Tips

Shimming is the solution to the more dramatic versions of the conditions above. There is in depth information about shimming on this page and in other places on the site. If you choose to shim, be sure to keep these tips in mind:

  • Shim using the thinnest shim to correct the issue. Do not over shim as this could cause other problems.
  • Check shims OFTEN. Your horse’s body changes frequently, keep checking the shim and the fit of your saddle and pad to make sure you still need the shim.
  • Remove the shims if you ride a different horse and check the shims if you change saddles.
  • When you shim, what you’re really doing is filling in with foam or felt or other material where the horse should naturally have muscle. Keep this principle in mind at all times when you’re cutting your shims.

Beveling Thicker Shims

Thicker shims should be beveled for your horse’s comfort. Just cut the edge of the shim at an angle to create a bevel or slope.

beveling a horse pad shim

Still need more help? Get a saddle pad fit consult.

If you have a horse with special needs and want help evaluating it for fit with a CSI Saddle Pad, you can get a free phone consult with one of our saddle pad fitters. To give you the most effective advice, you should be prepared to take some digital photos and email them to us at csisaddlepads@gmail.com. Here is a list of photos I’d like to see to evaluate saddle and/or saddle pad fit:

(To get good relevant photos, place the horse on level ground in an even stance.)

  1. A photo of the horse’s back with no saddle or pad. One from each side.
  2. One photo looking down the horse’s back from behind and above. Use a bucket or the fence to help get a good angle where we can determine if the horse is even or uneven behind the wither.
  3. Two photos of the horse with just the saddle, not cinched. One from the mount side and one looking down the gullet from the front.

You can download a handy PDF of both how to use shims and the photos you need to take to get help with shimming. Just click on the images below: