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Do saddle and rider cause numbness
 Moderated by: DrDeb  
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snowdenfarm
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Joined: Tue Mar 18th, 2008
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 Posted: Sun Feb 25th, 2018 11:15 pm
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I know this is old news, but I just found a documentary from 2008 that raised some questions for me. It references a "scientific study" which concluded that horses' backs start to experience discomfort and numbness within 10-15 minutes under a weighted saddle (going from memory here). I have tried googling the individual and the study, but I cannot find anything more than references to that study and no other study that looke at soft tissue comfort/damage, only skeletal.

I googled this forum specifically and found your 2016 response to the question of whether you knew of studies that determined the point at which constant pressure caused the horse's back muscles to go numb:

"As to when the horse's back MUSCLES go numb -- they don't; there are no 'numbness' nerve receptors in muscles at all. What can go numb is the skin, and it is injury to the skin that mis-fitting saddles create, numbness being but the first of the ill effects. After that we get rubbing, then the killing of the cells that inject melanin into hair follicles (so that subsequently the hair in the overpressured zone grows in white), then crushing of the epidermal and subcutaneous fibro-fatty cells, and finally a bleeding lesion."

Do you know of any credible studies done on the affect of constant pressure from a well-fitted, weighted saddle on a horse over a specific number of minutes? Do I understand correctly by your answer that a well-fitting saddle (weighted, but without rider ability in the equation) will not cause numbness or soft tissue damage? Is it possible to have numbness over a long period of time without progressing to the further damage you mentioned? If not, does that mean that horses ridden their entire life with no visible damage have not experienced numbness?

Thank you so much for all of the information you share on this forum!

DrDeb
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 Posted: Mon Feb 26th, 2018 02:41 am
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Good and reasonable questions, Snowden.

First, as to 'credible scientific studies': the study you cite at the top of your post is an "info-mercial." There are a lot of these, and I unfortunately see more and more of them at the horse expos in the SO-CALLED "Horse University" section which is where I work when I am at these events. It does bother me, yes quite a bit indeed, to have to rub shoulders with the guy with the chiropractic reflector-tape, the gal who claims to have the only saddle in the universe that fits any horse, the Dr. Kook crossover bitless bridle, the so-called "treeless" saddle, the people vending "ear hobbles" to make horses calm, the ones peddling boots, pads, and liniments, and a whole universe of feed supplements -- all citing "studies" which are really only testimonials, their greatest power and value being, at best, that the remedy appeared to work, for a time, for those willing to give the positive testimony. These are NOT scientific studies.

Unfortunately, most people who are not professional scientists do not know how to tell the difference. The vendor himself may also not know how to tell the difference, but he doesn't really care, so long as the "study" he cites has the effect of scaring enough customers into buying what he's peddling. The chiropractic profession is famous for doing this; this is why many people rightly regard anybody who does this as a quack. When the chiropractor is properly trained and DOES NOT SELF-PROMOTE, then we can begin to regard him as professional. My very favorite local radio ad is from a certain Dr. King, a dentist, who speaks in the classic nasal, nerdy voice and comes on the ad saying, "I'm doctor Keeeng and I understand your fears" -- he's peddling sedation dentistry and sleep-apnea mouth inserts. I hope he gets a lot of customers but I myself would not ever, under any circumstances, go to someone who has an advanced degree and SELF-ADVERTISES. This just simply is not "done".

So as to your further inquiries: no, I know of no credible studies relating to numbness. Nor will there ever be, nor could there ever be, such a study; because who is going to report 'numbness' but the horse himself? And he can't, we notice, talk.

So the only way you have to judge whether your horse is in distress is when he tells you in the manner in which he CAN tell you, and that is, by objecting in some way to the saddling process, i.e. biting, cow-kicking, humping up, dipping down, shivering. And of course, if you have a horse doing this, I am FIRST going to want to examine and assess your horsemanship and your overall relationship with your horse: because it might be YOU and not the saddle that the horse is objecting to or attempting to dominate.

Assuming we do ascertain that it isn't that your horse has got you 100% figured out and has learned to intimidate you into not putting the saddle on -- assuming it's not that -- then we will look to see whether the saddle fits properly. If you don't know how to assess this, then please for the umpteenth time, follow my advice and go to Dave Genadek's website at http://www.abouthehorse.com and obtain his one-hour DVD entitled "About Saddle Fit". This program he sells for cost (our friends and associates do not self-promote, you see).

If your saddle fits, then the next question is whether you're a halfway decent rider. If you don't know how to sit the trot so that it is actually easier to sit trot than post to the trot, then you need to engage me to come teach a horsemanship clinic at your place so that you would then learn how. And if you can't post the trot either, then we need to work on that. And if you are not aware of your body and how to make the various bodyparts function independently of one another, i.e. the hands separate from the chest, the hips separate from the chest, the thighs separate from the torso, the lower leg separate from the thigh, the feet separate from the calves, then you need to learn that too. In short, I rarely see any rider at any clinic, mine or anyone else's, who has even the basic riding skills so that they can drive a vigorous walk, sit or post the trot, and comfortably sit the canter.

If you CAN sit "as one" with the horse, and your saddle fits correctly, I can 100% guarantee that you will never see any signs of trauma whatsoever, i.e. patches of white hair, serious dry spots, or rubs or lesions in the skin. If you are seeing those, then either the saddle does not fit, or the rider isn't sufficiently competent. What I am telling you here is that worrying about "numbness" is unnecessary: you have many other things which would be better and more communicative signs of whether the horse is being taken care of properly.

Further, you also don't need to worry about obtaining any scientific test -- history itself is the test. There are thousands and thousands of rider-horse combinations through history who have "somehow" managed to go for years quite trouble-free. Some horses are harder to rider than others; some horses are harder to fit a saddle to than others; some of us, including myself for sure, have less innate talent as riders than others. But "somehow" we worked that all out. I know from my own experience that it is possible to go as much as fifty miles on a horse whose tack definitely did not fit, and still bring that horse in without a rub or a dry spot, simply by altering my own riding technique appropriately. One does not want to have to do this, but I am telling you that in my younger days I did it and from this I learned quite a bit.

Finally, I have a question for you: why are you asking these questions? Are you afraid your horse isn't comfortable, and if so, what are the signs by which you came to suspect this? Or is it really that some threepenny peddler has scared you into a false concern, in his effort to get you to buy whatever 'miracle cure' he has for sale? Cheers, and food for thought -- Dr. Deb






snowdenfarm
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 Posted: Mon Feb 26th, 2018 03:37 am
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Thank you for the thorough (and fast!) reply. Yes, it really was just a threepenny peddler that scared me into a false concern. And yes, I do feel a bit silly now.

DrDeb
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 Posted: Mon Feb 26th, 2018 04:48 am
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Well, Snow, I don't mean to make you feel silly. It's right for anyone to concern themselves with the welfare of their animal. But if you're not getting "behavioral" signals from your horse, nor do you see physical symptoms in the skin, and you know your saddle fits and that you can ride well enough, then I think you need not worry.

If it's any comfort to you -- every working cowboy I ever spoke to -- meaning the real guys, not the skinny wannabee on RFDTV with the moustache, but people with real live feel for their horse -- every one of those guys I asked about this, told me that they would never ride a horse longer than two hours without taking a break, take the saddle off, hobble him and let him graze or graze him on the lead line. Set the saddle off aside on the fork and let the underside and the saddle pad air out some and dry some if needed.

One of the Civil War cavalry generals, Albert Pleasanton, made similar remarks, saying that many captains and lesser officers he observed did not take proper care of either their men or the horses. Pleasanton said, that if the column of troops would be stopped every two hours and the saddles removed, small fires made so the men could have coffee, even if standing, and the horse given even a few minutes to stretch down his neck and graze, and his back dry off a little, and then the column would be ordered to re-mount, "man and horse would begin again as if new." That's also how, for part of it at least, you deal with an emergency situation where you must ride a horse in tack you know does not fit the horse very well: relieve him every way you can, when you can. Cheers -- Dr. Deb



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