A horse can develop major changes to its back within two months, said British veterinarian Sue Dyson, MA, VetMB, PhD, at a Saddle Fit discussion at the 2020 AAEP Convention. It is important to constantly monitor how a saddle is fitting as a horse develops musculature from work, or if muscle atrophy occurs when a horse has been laid off for an extended period of time. Weight gains or losses can also impact the fit of a saddle.
For a horse that is girthy when saddled, try a different saddle to see if that relieves pressure points. The trial saddle needs to fit well or it ends up creating new problems. There are instances where a horse with gastric ulcers displays girthy behavior. Similarly, musculoskeletal pain is a stressor that can lead to gastric ulcer disease. Dyson noted that if the saddle problem isn’t fixed, despite successful treatment of gastric ulcers, the bad behavior might remain.
If a horse is moving symmetrically but continues to display abnormal behavior, it is possible that musculoskeletal discomfort is arising from an ill-fitting saddle.
Erin Contino, DVM, MS, MCVSMR, Assistant Professor at Colorado State University’s College of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences, at that same AAEP discussion noted that, “Horses are trying to tell us something about a physical reason for their behavior. It pays to give them the benefit of the doubt and look for saddle issues.”
In some cases, specific horse and rider combinations just don’t work due to size disparities or structural differences.