Where does my horse hurt?

Posted by on June 19, 2017

Did you know that different disciplines place strain on particular parts of your horse’s body? It seems sort Dressage horse with riderof obvious once you start thinking about it, but here’s the thing: I don’t usually think about it. I’m guessing you may not think about it a lot either, so I’m going to write about some different horse-related activities and point out some body parts that might be sore because of the specific way your horse is moving.

1. Trail Riding/Endurance

horses trail riding

Trail and endurance horses need to have strong hindquarters to use when going up and down hills and walking over downed trees. They need to use their neck for balance on rocky terrain. Since the horses are being ridden for long periods of time over a variety of ground conditions, saddle fit is very important. It is also necessary for the rider to be well-balanced in the saddle so the horse does not have to compensate on one particular side of the body.

Physical areas of concern: hindquarters, back, and neck

Signs of potential problems: Head bobbing, prancing, not wanting to stop, stiff on one side, rushing up or down hills, moving sideways down a hill

 2. Western Pleasure

Horses that participate in competitive Western Pleasure events carry a low headset with a collected gait. They need strong core abdominal muscles for holding a rounded back. The hindquarters should come up under the horse nicely to drive the horse forward. The low headset places even more weight on the horse’s forehand (and in a “normal” position, a horse carries 60%-65% of weight in the front!).

Physical areas of concern: hocks, stifles, hips, shoulders, abdominals, and neck

Signs of potential problems: irregular gait cadence, not dropping head, not rounding out the back, not bringing hindquarters up under himself, picking up wrong leads

3. Contesting (Barrel Racing, Pole Bending, Keyhole, Gymkhana, etc.)

Horses that participate in contesting events must have strong hocks and hindquarters and be flexible horse barrel racingthrough their neck and back. Lateral movement is also important in some events. If the horse gets hot at the gate, it could be an issue with anxiety. Massage therapy may help alleviate this.

Physical areas of concern: hindquarters, hocks, hips, shoulders, abdominals

Signs of potential problems: knocking over barrels or poles, inability to use hindquarters to propel

4. Reining

Reining requires a great deal of lateral flexion, concentration, and rounding the back. A great deal of stress may be placed on the hocks and hindquarters for sliding stops, rollbacks, and spins.

Physical areas of concern: hocks, back, hindquarters, neck, and abdominals

Signs of potential problems: inability to concentrate, not bending on the circle correctly, not spinning correctly or stepping out of the “circle,” unable to push off hindquarters after rollbacks, reluctant to sit down for slides because it hurts to round his back,

5. Hunter Under Saddle

Horses that participate in competitive Hunt Seat events carry a headset even with or slightly above the withers. They need strong core abdominal muscles for holding a rounded back. The hindquarters should come up under the horse nicely to drive the horse forward in an extended gait.

Physical areas of concern: hocks, stifles, hips, shoulders, abdominals, and neck

Signs of potential problems: holding head exceptionally high, hollowing out the back, not bringing hindquarters up under himself, picking up wrong leads

6. Jumping

horse jumpingA horse needs to be able to extend his neck and push off from both hind legs equally with enough energy to clear the jump. Similarly, it is important that he lands on both legs with equal weight distribution. In other words, he needs to be using both sides of his body equally and stay straight. If there is pain on one side, this won’t be possible. He should be able round up his back, collect his gait, pick up correct canter leads and change leads easily.

Physical areas of concern: neck, shoulders, hocks, stifles, abdominals, and hips

Signs of potential problems: refusing jumps, stiff on one side, not staying collected, problems picking up a lead going one way,

7. Dressage

Dressage horses must be masters of bending at the poll, moving laterally, collecting and extending gaits, and rounding the back. Horses need strong, well-developed core abdominals.

Physical areas of concern:  neck, chest, back, and abdominals

Signs of problems: inability to bend at the poll (bends at C1 or C2 instead), difficulty with shoulder in and shoulder out, hocks, lead changes


To learn more about how equine sports massage therapy can help your athlete, contact us today at handoverhands@gmail.com!

Posted in: Horse behavior

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