A full review of my experience is posted on the blog in an earlier post, however I'm going to attempt to better explain the technique that I was shown to determine how sensitive or sore my horse's back is....
Before Susan came out, I was familiar with 2 ways of checking Farley's back for soreness:
1. The first method is how I observed endurance vets check the back during checks - by applying pressure downwards over the length of the back and observing whether there were any "ouchy spots" that the horse moved away from.
2. The second method is what is shown in Rooney's Hind Lameness Series, which also covers back soreness. There is a normal physiological reaction that a horse will exhibit if you apply pressure with a finger or pen on the horse's back, from wither to loin. The horse's back will dip. This is NORMAL and not a sign of soreness.....to test for soreness, you do the same thing a SECOND time - if the horse's back dips the same as the first time, than not sore....if the horse tenses his muscles in his back OR resists the movement downward and tries to NOT dip his back, than it can be a sign of soreness.
Both methods have their draw backs. With the first method, horses can quickly learn that if they react, you quit poking! The second method is complicated AND I've found that a thin skinned and sensitive horse, like Farley, doesn't particular enjoy me causing the that physicological reaction, even if her back isn't sore. The response to it can also be variable depending on her mood, how reactive she's feeling that day etc.
The method I've been using is (and yes this would be better with pictures, but with my life right now, I'm just grateful to still find the time to write!) is as follows. I'm certainly no expert, so as always, check with your saddle fitter. When I have my saddle reflocked this winter, I will be having Susan check my technique to make sure I haven't "mutated" it over time.
- Stand at the horses side
- Raise the arm closest to the horse so that the wrist to the elbow is parallel above the horse's back.
- Place the 3 middle fingers onto the horses back, stiff, just behind where the saddle fits. I like to stabilize the fingers with my thumb behind the fingers. Most of the pressure is on the middle finger, supported on either side by the index and ring finger.
- Move the fingers up the back towards the wither in a straight line.
- I do the test in 2 spots on each side of the back, with 3 different pressures.
- The first spot is right below the back bone, where the top edge of the panels would sit on the horse's back.
- I start with very light pressure. I don't go really really fast, but I don't dawdle either - I move my fingers along to the wither very business like.
- Then I do to a normal, comfortable pressure - as hard as I can without exerting any effort to push down.
- Then I push down very firmly and repeat.
- I then move my fingers down the side of the horse, to where the bottom edge of the panels of the saddle would rest and repeat.
- Then I move to the other side of the horse and repeat the same process.
I think the keys to the process is that the pressure is coming from back to front, which is a bit unusual for the horse and as a result that don't react from expectation.
I try to do this while the horse is relaxed - in her paddock, while eating etc. If I do it while she's tied to the hitching rail, or right before I saddle, she's more reactive and anticipates me, and I get more "false" readings.
I look for any signs of muscle tension or tensing in response to the pressure. Also look to see if the skin "shivers.
It's surprisingly easy to see exactly the spot that the back is sore, and track "how" sore the area is, and whether there is improvement over time. At least for me and Farley, this way of monitoring her back has yeilding more consistent results than anything else i have tried.Farley has always gotten good scores (A's) at rides, although after hard rides (100's) and multi days I felt like her back was more sensitive than usual - but I could never pinpoint any soreness. When I got her hocks injected in the spring, the vet pointed out some areas that he thought were a bit sensitive and told me to watch them. It was hard though - she wasn't real reactive or consistent. That is when I decided to bring a professional out to evaluate my saddle fit.
Before the flocking readjustment, Susan showed me her technique, and Farley showed some signs of soreness in the middle of her back, on the test closer to the back bone, under medium pressure. It was worse on the left side than the right. There was also some sensitivity (skin shivers) up near the side of the withers.
After the flocking adjustment, I monitored her back daily and saw some improvement in the 4 weeks leading up to Tevis. She still reacted to medium pressure, but the reaction was less pronounced, and she was moving much better under saddle.
It was really tough to tell, after Tevis, if her back was sensitive. She had edema from the saddle pad and girth and honestly seemed a bit sensitive EVERY where.
As of right now, she doesn't react to any level of pressure either high or low on the back. After the 50 last weekend, that didn't change - which was reassuring. The saddle fit still needs to be adjusted to remove some of the rock, but overall the fit remains close enough that I don't anticipate any problems at the 100 at the end of this month. Although truthfully, even if she does start getting sore or sensitive, from past history, I don't think the vet is going to pick up on it during the check.