Monday, August 1, 2016

Horse Health 4 - hoof issues, back issues, and building muscle

**  Since writing this post, Jax has been diagnosed with PSSM (n/P1).  Click the PSSM Label to the left to see more **

"You don't have to ask twice" - a 6 year old Jax in his usual, very forward mood in May 2013, before his health problems began.


At the end of 2014, Jax suffered a minor SI injury, which after a couple months had healed nicely.  Mid-2015 he had either a relapse with other complications, or was suffering from Low Grade Laminitis due to either feed (metabolic laminitis) or farriery (mechanical laminitis) which re-aggravated his SI.  In June 2015 he was getting sensitive on certain terrain, at around the same time we switched farriers and he started receiving a "pasture trim" as opposed to the "barefoot trim" he was receiving before.

Recap of progressive issues since July 2015 (see Horse Health parts one, two, and three for more):
  • Sticky stifles, worse than they'd ever been (almost debilitating)
  • Sore back
  • Behavior changes
  • Possible feed/gut complications (ulcers, low grade laminitis - undiagnosed)
  • Atrophied right shoulder
  • Obvious twist in right hind leg at a walk, catching/hitching every step at a trot 
  • Can no longer canter
  • Hindquarters stiff and beginning to atrophy
  • Slight roach back and pelvis tilted with posty/straight appearance to hind legs (overextending stifles and aggravating them even more)
  • Difficulty lifting hinds for farrier
  • Can no longer trot, barely walks around in pasture
  • SI swelling
  • Early 2016 - Colic; switched from sweet feed to Strategy Healthy Edge and started on supplements, including Vitamin E
  • Won't fully weight right front foot - now won't lift fronts for farrier
  • Body soreness everywhere, chiro helps but short-lived 
  • Glutes/croup sore - light touch makes him drop his back
  • May 2016 - Long toe / low heel syndrome now apparent (been there all along, I just didn't know enough to see it) - apparently all four of his feet had been sore for a long time, but since it was bilateral (left and right) in nature there was no head bobbing or hip hiking

Rehab process since May 2016:
  • I researched and started trimming his feet using barefoot methods of Pete Ramey and other conservative trimmers.  Since I'm new to this, doing small changes each day instead of full trims.  Start with rasping from the bottom to remove flares (scooping quarters), rasping heels to just above live sole (or as best I can tell is live sole), and mustang roll of hoof wall which has been lowered to just above live sole.  Eventually learn how to work with bars, exfoliate the soles, move breakover back where it belongs, and get good balance to the hooves both medial/lateral (side to side) and anterior/posterior (front to back)
  • Took off grain completely, used soaked alfalfa cubes for his supplements
  • Handwalking up to 1/2 mile at a walk, some trotting uphills for stifles
  • Started lunging at walk/trot, 5-10 min (no longer than this due to possible SI issues)
  • Started lunging walk/trot over poles, 5-10 min
    • Stifles started doing better as toes shortened in hind feet
    • Trotting over poles starting to build up glute muscles, helping stifles
  • Light riding at a walk to build core muscles, 15 min, no circles, in grass
  • Starting to canter, some cross-firing, on lunge
    • Continuing to walk/trot over poles at lunge
  • Setback in early June, huge bruise in right front frog finally growing down (had been in his foot a while) and popped abscesses in coronary band and frogs, lame for a couple weeks (we stopped Previcox for 3 days before this happened, and NSAID use will slow abscess progression, so I assume these had been brewing for a while)
  • Back to lunging and light riding when back isn't hurting
  • Early July, about a 1 hour trail ride with one major hill towards the end
  • Still having muscle soreness/tightness in mid-July 2016 even though his feet are drastically improving.  Lunging at a canter seems to help but not enough
  • Find book "Beating Muscle Injuries for Horses" by Jack Meagher, start working "stress points" July 19, 2016
  • More cantering on lunge, including rollbacks and canter departs, canter-trot transitions to trot-over-poles to trot-canter transitions (canter to trot transitions were the hardest for his stifles, but eventually he started being able to do them smoothly with no catching)
  • Back and muscles rapidly improving, by July 23 go on a 6 mile trail ride (walk only) that's fairly flat and easy - some lumbar soreness after but improves instantly with some stress point work; starting to see glute muscles and hindquarters strengthen
  • Continue lunging, touching up hooves and trimming, and working on stress points
  • July 29, find evidence of recent low grade laminitis in the form of a small lamellar wedge in all four feet (have suspected it since started trimming but couldn't see it well enough to know for sure)
  • July 30, go on a 12 mile trail ride (walk only) with lots of hills and technical terrain, minor stress point work needed after but finishes strong and looks better than ever

July 29, 2016 - left front foot (click pic to see larger image), a slight reddish material at the toe, different from both sole and hoof wall, seems to be a slight lamellar wedge.  Also note the hole at the toe inside the wedge and the appearance of the laminae towards the quarters, where seedy toe had invaded the hoof wall due to separation (treating with liquid White Lightening - that's why feet look so clean).  All four feet have this wedge.  For more hoof pics and info see Horse Health part 3.


While we are still technically in the rehab process, the 12 mile ride gives me hope!  Jax was slightly sore in his right lumbar before the ride, but loosened up and stayed loose, with no sore muscles after such a long, hilly, and technical (rocky) ride (plus about two hours in the trailer there and back)!

If you look through my tack reviews, you'll see the types of tack Jax prefers.  I've finally settled on this setup for his rehab and we both love it:

July 30, 2016 - 12 mile rehab ride - Barefoot Physio Ride-On bareback pad, with Reinsman Tacky Too Trail pad underneath.  Cushioned his back wonderfully (bareback pad has inserts to keep me off his backbone, and both pads dispense pressure points really well).  This setup did not move an inch, even with Jax weighting his hindquarters and dropping down steep inclines.  Thanks to the cushy sheepskin attachment, I stayed nice and secure also!

Jax is sensitive skinned, so anything that moves around causes friction rubs.  Upon removing this setup after the 12 mile ride, his back was pristine, no lumps or pressure spots, even sweat pattern, and no lumbar or glute soreness.

Lots of rocks on this ride but he kept going strong - pic shows us on an easier part of the trail - at Lead Mine Conservation Area, see my Missouri Horseback Riding Trails post in the Southwest Missouri section.

Jax is still looking great a couple days after the ride, but just to be safe I'm giving him a couple days off, then starting back to light riding and lunging for a week or so, with another trail ride in a couple weeks.  His hindquarter muscles are building up wonderfully and shoulders are staying loose, with no major lumbar soreness, just minor soreness that goes away immediately with stress point work, and the stress points are breaking up easier each time we do it.


In August, 2016, Jax was diagnosed as PSSM positive.  See Horse Health 5 - It's PSSM for more.


Monday, July 25, 2016

Treeless Saddle Pad Reviews - Haf, Toklat, Skito, Equipedic, Barefoot Physio bareback pad



  • Haf pad
    • Tried with cheap eBay saddle
    • Sat too close to his withers and didn’t really help secure the saddle - mostly the fault of the saddle
Horse treeless saddle pad reviews - haf
Jax in his Haf pad, getting a neck rub after our ride
  • Skito for Bob Marshall
    • Somewhat slippery with a bareback pad
    • Bought used, new inserts are expensive and needed but the old inserts worked for trying out
    • Fits western-style treeless saddles very well, doesn't slip as much as it did with the bareback pad
    • I ended up selling this pad as it was just too slippery and Jax didn't really care for it
  • Toklat pad
    • Bought used, thought the inserts were a bit flimsy so made new inserts for it with memory foam and poron
    • Starting out, it kept both my bareback pad and my Torsion secure, and with the new inserts kept my seat bones from digging in his back.  As it broke in more, seemed to allow more movement for both the Torsion and the bareback pad
    • Kept my western-style show treeless very secure, but was too short on the sides to protect him from the girth rigging (not a fault of the pad, it just wasn’t a style meant for the western saddles)
    • If you've seen my Ghost saddle review, you know that I had pressure points under the saddle.  I had used my Toklat pad and thought nothing about the pad possibly causing this.  After a not-so-long trail ride in my bareback pad with the Toklat in mid 2016, I once again had pressure points.  Turns out, it was actually friction from the Toklat pad sliding around, a problem we didn't have until we started working on a lot of hills.  My first three or so years with Jax we had used only Reinsman pads, and apparently Jax does much better with Tacky Too products than wool felt, woolback, or coolback products - go figure.
Horse treeless saddle pad reviews - toklat
Jax in his Toklat pad and Best Friend bareback pad, checking out a new obstacle
  • Equipedic pad
    • Was quite impressed with the quality of this pad
    • Bought used, needed new inserts but the ones included were usable
    • Used once with Hilason western treeless, the combination slipped to the side (horse was slightly off from SI, so was probably him) and didn’t have good wither clearance (mostly the saddle)
    • Ended up selling this pad also, as with the Toklat above, Jax just didn't care for it.
  • My new setup - freaking sweet!
    • Barefoot Physio Ride-On bareback pad with Reinsman Trail Tacky Too saddle pad
      • Since my horse loves Reinsman pads, why fight it.  Bought the Barefoot bareback pad with inserts so I don't need a treeless saddle pad.  Also got it with the cushy sheepskin seat for me!
      • I've only tested it out on one really good trail ride so far, but his back was pristine with no friction rubs, no pressure points, and it stayed in place better than any saddle I've owned!  Also, since I love riding bareback, it's extremely comfortable.  The front rolls and cantle add an extra bit of security so I can sit out those spooks (only one on this ride but it was a pretty good one).  The area with inserts also adds a small amount of twist, helping with those wider horses (like Jax)
      • Since he has been sore in his back, I was leery of our first ride, but it went much better than expected and I think this setup really helped him (see my Horse Health posts for more, especially part 3)
     
Horse treeless saddle pad reviews - Barefoot Physio bareback pad
July 20, 2016 - taken before Jax' back was 100%, still some lumbar soreness, but he still seemed to like the new setup (just tried on, didn't get to try it out). 
     
     
See Horse Health part Four for our rehab plan, tack to help sore muscles (including the barefoot bareback pad), and to see how quickly correct hoof balance and stress point work has put Jax back into work!
 
 
 

Horse Health 3 - correcting hooves, stress points, muscle soreness

(Click on pictures for larger images)
** Since writing this post, Jax has been diagnosed with PSSM (n/P1).  Click the PSSM Label to the left to see more **

We'll start this post with some hoof images, as without proper hoof form and comfort, the muscle work and ridden work wouldn't help (as has been the case for the last year or so with Jax).

If you've read the horse health one and two posts, you already know the myriad of problems Jax has had in the past year, that most of those issues can now be attributed to hoof form and imbalance, and that I've taken over trimming him since early May 2016.

Here's some pics to show some of the changes so far (see horse health two for more).   Some additional posture type problems Jax was beginning to develop before I started trimming him were cowhocked (always had this to a degree but getting severe), toed out, left front no longer straight (turning out at the knee and looked crooked?), and more base narrow than usual (he's always done this a little).  Also, he has a tendency to tight-rope walk in the fronts, but it was getting much worse, and his hoof boots were wearing on the outsides only - perfect tread on inside while outside tread was gone!

After just the first trim, leveling the heels and taking the toes and quarters of the hoof wall back to the white line, Jax was no longer standing toed out, but was still base narrow.  You can see by the first pic how close his feet were, by the second pic his legs are more vertical.  Also note in the first pic that he is pointing his right toe and standing with it more forward, indicating this foot is painful.  Note: the scooping of the quarters looks severe in the earlier pics, but less severe in later pics.  As his heels and toes start to take on a more appropriate shape, so do the quarters.

contracted heels, central sulcus thrush, horse inside heel higher
May 23, 2016, fronts a couple weeks after I started trimming Jax.  Notice some heel contraction, deep central sulcus up to hairline (thrush), and right front seems slightly sheared (inside heel longer on all 4, but much worse on right front).  At this point, I didn't know anything about contraction or sheared heels.  Rasping heels down to just above live sole was all I knew, luckily it helped.  By the time the next pic was taken, I could see the problems and was better equipped to handle them.

contracted heels, sheared heels, horse medial heel higher
July 20, 2016, fronts.  Central sulcus much better, feet have spread out and heels no longer contracted.  Front right still having some contraction/higher heel bulb on the inside, seems to be relaxing more with each trim.  Note this right foot is the same that had the atrophied shoulder, the huge frog bruise, and other issues (see horse health one and two)


It's extremely important to note: I did not trim Jax in an effort to fix his posture, his posture reflects the health of his feet.  When I bought him (Aug 2011) as an untrained four year old, he was toed out and base narrow.  With my barefoot trimmer (Jul 2012 - Jul 2014; Jan - May 2015) he had lovely straight legs and feet.  When I noticed his poor posture around April 2016, I knew it was all due to the pasture trims.


More before and after pics:

Right front:


long toe low heel, crushed heels, underrun heels, coronary abscess
June 3, 2016 - Right front, coronary abcess, crushed heel, forward toe

horse lameness caused by thrush, frog shedding
June 3, 2016 - Right front, thrush extreme enough to be a potential lameness issue


white lightening thrush treatment, healing abscess, horse corrective trim
July 15, 2016 - after White Lightening thrush treatment, abscess closed up and almost halfway down hoof capsule (extremely fast growth!), heels almost back to where they belong, and flare growing further down to the ground

Left hind:


horse lameness caused by negative coffin bone angle, bullnose
June 3, 2016 - Left hind with crushed heels and bullnose shape.  This shape is often associated with negative palmar/plantar angle, meaning the coffin bone is tipped back and lower in the back of the foot.  Can cause extreme lameness and lumbar soreness.  Usually is caused by crushed heels.


corrective trimming, correcting long toe low heel, hoof bruising
July 18, 2016 - Left hind with heels supporting better, flare growing down, and no bullnose shape.  There is a slight crack with some thrush/white line issues in front still but it is growing out as well.  Also a giant bruise on his heel bulb from dinking around in the pasture.  You can see that about 1/3 of the way down some pink shows through the hoof wall.  This is bruising that has faded since I've been trimming but is still present.  The more translucent yellow hoof wall on the upper part of his hoof seems far healthier.

Correcting long toe low heel and it's associated lameness
July 15, 2016 - Left hind with a gorgeous thick frog and some sole needing to exfoliate.  All his frogs are beginning to look like this except the right front, it still has some thrush issues and bruising.



Muscle stress points


"BEATING MUSCLE INJURIES FOR HORSES" BY JACK MEAGHER

I've tried to help Jax with his sore muscles ever since the first time I found them, but he really was never comfortable enough for me to touch him, let alone prod him.  The chiropractor seemed to give him some relief, but it was short lived (due to foot pain causing more body bracing).  I found a reference to the book above online, so decided to get a copy on Amazon.  It's a very quick read, and easy to understand, and I decided to start trying some of the techniques.

If you've read other parts of this site, you may already know that I'm having some health issues of my own, namely, torn up tendons in my arms affecting my right arm the most.  Opening a soda bottle is difficult without Ibuprofin, so the idea of massaging and trimming my horse seemed a little daunting.

Fortunately, it's the tendons on the top of my forearms, leaving me quite capable of lifting feet and using a rasp.  But, my hands, thumbs, and fingers are also affected so massaging Jax has to be done in small increments.

Lucky for me, the basis for this book is "stress points," small areas of spasm and adhesion in the muscle that need to be broken apart.  It lays out exactly where those points are, and exactly what you need to do if you find a knot.  I was able to do specific segments each day (points 1-13 on day one focusing on neck and shoulder, 14-20 on day 2, 21-25 on day 3, then start over or retouch some of the worst spots).  The book also stresses the importance of working the horse after the massage to help loosen up the muscles even more, and states that ridden work when appropriate is one of the best tools to use.

I started working on stress points with Jax on July 19, 2016.  Keep in mind, by this time his feet are decent and shouldn't be adding any stress to him.  On July 23, 2016, Jax was feeling great, and I took him to a trail close by for a pretty long ride.  He did amazing!  He usually gets back sore during the trailer ride, and I'm guessing it's from vibration on his feet causing him to brace up.  So, this time I put his hoof boots on him for the trailer ride and it seemed to help.  He had some slight soreness over his lumbar when he came off the trailer, but a couple seconds of touching up stress point #13 (spot in withers that affects the entire back) loosened it right up!

He did great through the ride, was a bit strung out but at this point he has no real muscle so I wasn't surprised. No stiffness, no leg hitching or twisting, but because he is weak in his stifles he did "slip out from under me" with his hinds a couple times at the beginning of the ride.  After the ride, no lumbar soreness, some soreness around his glutes (which have been atrophied, so that's not surprising) and overall in very good shape.  After the trailer ride home, he was a bit shaky but walked out of it in just a minute or two.  Overall, a very good training/conditioning ride for him.

The next day, I went out to check on him, and while he's a bit tired, Jax is fine.  I touched up #19 (spot just above tail head, seems to be the worst spot on him) and a couple others.  No back soreness, no glute soreness.


Horse standing under, camped under, pasture trims, sore heels
Remember this pic from Horse Health 2?  This is a typical stance for Jax since mid 2015, just after he received his first "pasture trim" - front legs pulled back under him, back legs pulled up under him, and muscles rigid.  Also, toed out and base narrow in fronts and hinds, and cowhocked in the hinds.  This is a typical stance for horses with painful heels.  It causes lumbar soreness and stiff hindquarters, and can be caused by heels being left too high.  Usually the pain is in the front legs, the hind legs are forward to take weight off the fronts.

Corrective trimming to fix toed out, base narrow, cowhock issues
July 20, 2016, right after the first session working on stress points, I was only able to do neck and shoulders during this session.  His shoulders were horribly tight with multiple stress points.  Compare this to the photo above - he now stands with legs vertical, hinds straight down where they belong, with nice, loose muscles.  This would never last if his feet were still in pain, and one of the points made in the book by Jack Meagher is that foot/lower limb lameness contributes greatly to stress points.  Since I hadn't worked on stress points behind his shoulder yet, this posture indicates that my theory is probably correct, his right front caused most of the problems.

I had no idea when Jax started having health problems a year ago that it would all lead to hoof form.  Jax has specific postural and mechanical features that help his feet get out of sync, such as the tight rope walking and slightly base narrow stance which can cause the inside heels to grow taller.  He's also a heavy horse (just under 1,200 pounds).  During his 2nd - 4th year, he was in a situation where his feet weren't kept on a trim schedule, and bad hoof distortions during this age may have attributed to his weaker hoof form as an adult.  Whatever the cause, the main points I want to make with these posts:
  • become knowledgeable about hooves - they can make or break your horse.  If your farrier thinks long toes, crushed heels, and flares are not a problem, GET A DIFFERENT FARRIER!
  • also, weak hooves can be helped by a (GOOD) barefoot trim - crushed heels and long toes with weak laminar connections are not just "how the cards were dealt for that horse."  It can be fixed, and until it is, your horse may not be capable of anything you ask, causing not only physical, but also behavioral problems.
  • barefoot trims can be done by competent farriers or competent barefoot trimmers.  It's not about whether the person can nail on a shoe, it's about whether or not they can do a balanced trim.

Want to know more about hoof shape and how it can affect horses?  Start with Pete Ramey (www.hoofrehab.com) if you want to try trimming your own horse.  He will help you understand hoof form and function, get some decent first trims on your horse, and make very clear the areas you need to leave alone! Barefoot For Soundness (www.barefoothorse.com) is also great for learning, as is www.heikebean.com.  The more you learn from these sites, the more you can start searching other methods (there are many variations on "barefoot trims") and specific problems, but make sure you have a VERY solid base first, there is a lot of misinformation out there.  I had to seek out other sites to figure out the bars and soles a little better, but the links I've put here seem to have only good information so you won't have to weed out the bad.


See Horse Health part Four for our rehab plan, tack to help sore muscles, and to see how quickly correct hoof balance and stress point work has put Jax back into work!



Sunday, July 24, 2016

Horse Health part 2 - si, stifle, hoof issues

(Click on pictures for larger images)
** Since writing this post, Jax has been diagnosed with PSSM (n/P1).  Click the PSSM Label to the left to see more **

Recap of issues, from part 1 and some new info:
  • Starting July 2015, stifles catching horribly in canter to trot transitions, by August canter nonexistent
  • Started getting a sore back when worked (or not worked, really any time) around August 2015 
  • Road rides and anything on hard terrain makes him nervous or grumpy.  The only access we had was to roads, no trails, and he would get really stiff afterwards
  • Seemed to get better for a time around late October 2015 (maybe right after hooves trimmed?), tried to do some trail/obstacle competitions and got extremely sore in early November.  Onsite chiro found right shoulder was atrophied, blamed on saddle fit; also found twist in right hind
  • Back soreness and hindquarter stiffness now an everyday thing, need NSAIDs to help relieve soreness.  Very stiff in walk, no trot now, any type work just makes it worse (stopped riding on his off days, even though vet told me to keep riding him)
  • SI knot starting to develop again along with a bit of a roach back, leading us (me, vet, chiro) to believe the possible SI injury from a year before was being aggravated.  Started having chiropractor out about once a month
  • Around December 2015, could no longer hold up his hind feet for farrier
  • January 2016, colicked, either due to NSAID overuse or hindgut issues from feed (see part 1)
  • Around March 2016 (around the time of part 1) he could no longer stand on his right front to have his left front trimmed.  Has been taking Previcox (COX-2 so it won't affect his stomach) and seems to be helping.  Had farrier trim with mustang roll and chiro visit right after, he had 2 solid weeks without pain
  • After those 2 weeks in March, even with Previcox, lumbar soreness won't go away, SI swelling prominent, no more riding or work of any kind
  • Shaky on trailer rides (though he's proven over and again that he's not scared of the trailer), is this related to pain?  Been doing this since he's been sore
  • Vet and chiropractor services being utilized, to no avail, all through this time

After months of reading veterinarian studies, published horse health articles, and even just personal experiences on internet forums, in early May 2016 I found one issue that I hadn't yet considered: hooves.  While SI issues, sticky stifle, and other symptoms could almost match problems Jax was having, there was always something that didn't fit.  Then I found Long Toe / Low Heel syndrome.  The symptoms for it matched everything that was happening to Jax.  Sticky stifles and SI issues can be aggravated by misshapen hooves and lead to a dead lame horse.

I knew Jax wasn't being trimmed on a proper schedule, due to lameness after every farrier visit I was loathe to put him through it as often as I should have.  Turns out, that was a huge mistake and caused even more distortion in his hoof capsule.  I started reading online and studying books about barefoot trimming, thinking my goal was to "touch up" the trim and keep his feet in decent shape between farrier visits in a way that was less stressful (having his hinds wrenched up for the farrier was the main problem). 


1st Trim in May 2016 showing front hooves.  Didn't think to take pics before trim.  Notice the flaring, cracks, and other issues present.  Had I been a bit more competent with the tools and knowledgeable about hooves, I could have done a much better first trim.  Luckily, with practice comes (at least some) skill, and these hooves will look better fairly quickly.


After about two weeks of reading and studying different cases, I finally tried my hand with a rasp.  It took a long time, and much more study and practice to really get the hang of it (in fact I'm still studying on an almost daily basis), but after about a month I came to one very solid conclusion, his feet were hurting, and the professional trims he had been receiving were not adequate.  He was receiving a "pasture trim," whereas in the past he had received a "barefoot trim."  And, it just so happens that we had to change farriers, and thus trims, right before he lost his canter mid-2015:

  • The first pasture trim from the new farrier was June 14, and the picture of his feet below is just one week later, showing his toes being way too long
  • Trouble started around July/August of 2015
  • Note: we had used this farrier before during the six months leading up to the initial SI injury.  He had been shaky getting off the trailer at the trail head, leading to fatigue and the muscle/ligament strain.  Was he shaky because of foot pain??  Did this whole thing happen because of his feet??

Pic from June 22, 2015.  It's hard to see, but his front toes especially are way too long - taken one week after 1st pasture trim by a certified farrier.  Notice he's standing under himself with the front legs (more on this on part 3).  Also notice the tight muscles around his stifle, point of hip, and over his back and croup.  Shoulders and neck also starting to get tight.  By the time I started trimming him, almost a year later, his hinds would not lift any further than this, and he couldn't keep them up for very long.

Remember the atrophied RIGHT shoulder diagnosed by the onsite chiro at the ACTHA event in November of 2015?  His RIGHT front was the worst hoof.  He also seemed to be suffering from high/low syndrome, where the heels are taller on one hoof and shorter on the other (his fronts were affected, with RIGHT heels shorter).  His heels had been left long in an attempt to make them grow taller.  Turns out, Jax has a bit of a weaker hoof, and he's a heavy weight, so his heels just crushed forward instead.  Also, due to the way Jax walks/moves and due to the way he was trimmed, Jax had high inside heels compared to his outside heels (this can cause MAJOR soundness issues, and is usually evident in the hinds by a slight wobble in their hocks as they walk).  His frogs and bars were never trimmed, soles not exfoliated, and he had severe thrush in his frog (which didn't contact the ground because his heels were too long) and in his white line (because his hoof wall was pulling away due to long toe, making access for bacteria and other nasties).  As his toes grew further forward, his breakover moved forward, and his stifles got worse to the point that it was catching every time he moved his right hind forward.

The horrible shape of his frogs.  This is the left front, right front is much worse with a deep cleft in his central sulcus down to the hair line.  This pic was taken June 3, 2016, after I had started trimming but before I was brave enough to touch the frogs.  Since I'm so new to trimming, I've taken a "less is more" approach, and was trimming small amounts each day (I've also learned that "pathological" hooves don't hold shape, so they need trimmed more often).  By the end of July his foot started holding its shape.


Also taken June 3, you can see the coronary abscess that broke out, and the underrun heels.  Let me stress, this horse NEVER had an abscess while receiving a barefoot trim.  This is his right front, the same leg that had the atrophied shoulder.  Concerning the abscess, turns out NSAIDs can slow down the progression of an abscess, causing more pain for a longer period of time.  This abscess finally burst after taking him off Previcox for a few days.

There were myriads of bruises in his hooves.  Bruising above the quarters which were flared, in the heels which I could only see after rasping his hooves down, in the toes and white line due to tearing and stretching of the lamina, and then we get to this beauty:


Picture was taken July 15, 2016 of right front.  I had been trimming and working with the frogs since some time in late June, and had seen this bruise earlier (but it looked a lot smaller, I think this is growing down from inside his hoof capsule).  After two treatments of liquid White Lightening for thrush (which works amazing!) I could see this dark spot under a flap of frog, so I trimmed back the flap and found this.  Notice there is a bruise on the sole beside the frog, I suspect this bruising was caused by impacted bars (once I learned how to trim bars, I had to do it every day as they seemed to "grow down" really fast).  Since my horse is high energy and runs through his pasture like mad (especially since I've started trimming him), it's possible this bruise was due to impact rather than hoof shape. 

An interesting aside, in early June, a couple weeks before finding this bruise (or at least realizing the extent of it), Jax went lame enough on this right front foot that he wouldn't pick up his left, resulting in me taking him to the vet.  (Keep in mind the left front is the same one he stopped picking up for the farrier around March of 2016).  Vet suspected navicular and used hoof testers and found nothing (he used a LOT of pressure, something that should have made even a sound horse flinch, but Jax never did - darn stoic horses).  After looking at pictures and seeing things when trimming I know this bruise has been around for at least a month, probably longer.

Front hooves, July 18, 2016, after another round of White Lightening.  Cracks are gone, flares growing down, mustang roll keeping chips from forming.  Still have a ways to go to get good hoof form, but he's becoming much more active in the pasture and no longer stiff in his hindquarters, except for the hitch and slight stiffness in his right hind.  Still has some lumbar soreness as well.

 
I've been trimming his feet for a little over two months now, definitely no expert, but the changes we are seeing are phenomenal and his feet are starting to look really good.  His right hind had been catching/hitching with every step forward at a walk and trot (canter nonexistent) before I started trimming him, and now he canters decent (on lunge, I'm only riding him at a walk right now), and the trot looks great except for the occasional catch in his stifle.  All of his feet, but especially the right front, is still showing old bruises growing down in the hoof wall, and he's slightly touchy on that right front most days, but with hoof boots seems to feel good.  While this is all great, his hooves looking better and so on, what about that stiffness/hitch in his right hind still present at a walk?  And the lumbar soreness?

After watching videos with SI injuries, stifle problems, hock issues, along with kissing spines and neurological problems, still nothing fit that explained that right hind hitch.  Then I saw a video, I think on the easycare blog, about a horse that had its soles trimmed too thin by a new farrier.  That horse had the EXACT same hitch in his hind legs that Jax has!  So I looked up videos of laminitic, navicular, even foundered horses, anything related to hooves, and ALL of them had that hitch to their hind legs.  What's more, even if the problem was in the front, the hind legs still hitched.  And it seems, rather than a diagonal (right front sore so left hind hitches) issue it created an issue on the same hind as the sore front.  So, with all the right front problems, the right atrophied shoulder, and the hitch in the right hind, it would seem the right front hoof is the problem, and has been for over a year!  No one, from the vet (at least 3 different ones) to the farrier, pointed out that his feet were pathological.  Long toe / low heel is not rare, some think it's normal.  Jax may be affected more because he's such a large horse.  And, since the problem appeared to be hindend related, no one was looking at the front feet.

Because his feet were extremely sore, it would also seem that he has been holding himself in an unnatural posture due to hoof pain, which may be the actual cause for the slight SI swelling, as well as the sore lumbar area (his roach back was fixed after one chiro visit and didn't return, but the soreness kept coming back, leading me to believe the roach back eventually would have come back as well without chiro intervention).  After each chiropractor visit, Jax would be nice and loose for a week or two (sometimes only a couple days), then right back to where he started because the initial cause hadn't been fixed - it was all in his feet. 

In Horse Health part 3 I'll discuss methods we're trying to relieve body soreness from unnatural posture that seem to be successful so far, namely stress points in the muscle and getting back to the trails!  Keep in mind though, as long as the hooves are in bad shape, no amount of chiropractic, massage, or ridden/in hand work is going to fix this.  Stay tuned!


Thursday, March 10, 2016

RENEGADE HOOT BOOT REVIEW


So, my forever horse, Jax, is barefoot. Not because I don’t like metal shoes, but because he can’t wear metal shoes. His feet are great, they hold metal shoes really well. The problem is he forges when playing out in the pasture, and every time metal shoes are on his feet he gets a splint. Every. Time. He has had a total of six splints since I’ve had him, one was on a back leg from getting kicked, but all the others were from forging. Three of the six came in a six month period, right after I bought him, while wearing metal shoes. The other two were also from forging, but it’s only happened twice without shoes in a 3.5 year period.

So, after finally figuring out where these splints were coming from, I starting looking into metal shoe alternatives. After a lot of research, I found that hoof boots, more specifically Renegade Hoof Boots, looked to be my perfect solution. I’ve been using them on Jax for about three years now, and he is doing great with them. His feet are even tougher than they were, and many trail rides he can do without his boots now. Of course when riding on gravel roads he needs the boots, but many trail rides which consist mostly of woods, grass, and some rocky creek beds, are no problem for Jax completely barefoot.

Jax ready for a road ride in his Renegade hoof boots
I want to lay out some of the pros and cons of hoof boots in general, then more specifically about Renegades. I have A LOT of people ask me about the boots, mostly because I live in an area where very few people have even heard of hoof boots, let alone seen them.

Pros:
  • 1st on my list, of course, fewer splints
  • His feet are beautiful! They seem far healthier now that he doesn’t have nail holes in his hooves
  • He is comfortable at any gait on any surface, galloping on gravel is no problem (he is booted on all 4 hooves)
  • Pavement is no longer slippery, in fact he has great traction on every surface
  • Horses at our boarding facility can’t have back shoes, so now he is protected on all 4 feet during rides
  • He used to get quarter cracks in his back feet, now he has no cracks anywhere
  • I usually get about 8-10 months out of each front set of boots, a little longer from the back set (I get more time out of them now that he goes barefoot more, and we ride on very rough surfaces)
  • If you don’t ride very often, these boots can last for years, allowing you to save money on shoeing for just a couple of rides per farrier visit.
Cons:
  • If they don’t fit just right, they will come off in certain situations such as deep mud or faster gaits
  • Some boot styles require hooves to be trimmed about every 3 weeks
  • It’s not saddle up and go, hoof boots take time, especially if your horse’s feet are muddy (winter time is the worst)
  • If you ride a lot on tough surfaces (such as gravel), you may be spending more money replacing the boots than you would on shoes.
  • Not all styles fit all hoof shapes, you need to shop around

So far I’ve tried (or seen in action) three styles of boots:
  • Cavallo Simple Hoof Boots - too clunky for the type of work I do with my horse. I didn’t try these, but tried them on a horse for a client. The size was off, but even so, I didn’t care for them.
  • EasyCare Easyboot Gloves - tried these on, and tried a couple trail rides in them. The toes stuck out really far and tripped him up. Lost them several times in muddy areas. I think I just bought them a little too big, but like the Cavallos, I didn’t care for them enough to try a different size, and I didn’t like the idea of trimming my horse every three weeks.
  • Renegades - I chose Renegades because 1) they were the correct shape, Jax has round feet; 2) they looked easy; 3) he did not need to be trimmed every three weeks; 4) they are extremely adjustable. So far I’ve only tried the classic style, the next set I get will be Vipers. I LOVE these boots. I’ve helped others to purchase some because, after seeing them in action, people are usually impressed. Jax’s feet grew a little and he went a size up in his front boots (from 2W to 2WW), so I tried using his old front boots on his hindlegs (usually wears a 2, tried 2W). The boots were just slightly too big and I ended up losing one, so be aware that they won’t work correctly if you don’t have the right size. That said, I can go a normal 6-8 week trim schedule and the right fitting boots will fit the entire time, getting slightly tight towards the end of the trim cycle.  I've had these boots come off a total of three times since owning them: 1) During a pretty bad wreck (see Cheap eBay saddle for more); 2) Some time during the ACTHA trail ride we completely lost the bottom half of a hind boot (see SI Injury for more); and 3) During a trail ride, we sunk into mud up to Jax's belly, and in his struggle to get out the boot came off his hind hoof but stayed attached to his fetlock so we didn't lose it.  In all three cases, the front boots (that fit) stayed on and 1 of the hind boots (2W, so too big) came off.  When we used the size 2 he never lost a boot.
Jax took to his Renegades fairly quickly, just a few OMG high-legged steps the first time he had them on. I had rode him a lot on gravel roads in just front shoes, and you could see (and feel) the difference in his expression and his movement the first time he realized his back feet were now protected from the gravel. While I have no disdain towards metal shoes, Jax will always be barefoot, just because I know he is comfortable in his boots (and fewer splints).



Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Peeling Back the Layers of Horse Health

** Since writing this post, Jax has been diagnosed with PSSM (n/P1).  Click the PSSM Label to the left to see more **

Horse health, like the layers of an onion, can stink and make you cry. If vet visits, chiropractors, and just plain guessing can’t make your horse better, what do you do? This past year has brought one ailment after another.

Such a good boy, coming back into work after the initial injury

Jax, my heart horse, has not been right for a little over a year. Around the end of 2014/beginning of 2015, I took Jax for a trail ride to some trails we had never been on. It was his first long(ish) trailer ride, just a little over an hour, and he was a little shaky getting off the trailer. After a slight rest, we saddled up and began our ride. Jax always gets excited in new places, and I could tell he was anxious at the start, but he settled as we went down the trail.

After just a mile or so I noticed he seemed a bit shaky again. I figured he may just be nervous (he tends to shake if he’s scared) and continued on. We came to a slippery spot which I didn’t see until we were right on it (it was on a slight downhill). I tried to pull him up out of it, but he slipped down into a rut and lost his footing. After some scrambling, he righted himself, but he seemed a little off afterwards. I decided to turn around and head back to the trailer.

On our way back, he had to step over a log. Something he’s done many times before. But this time, he didn’t get his feet up and got caught up on the log. He fell forward onto the log, with all of his weight going forward onto his front legs which were laying down on the log (imagine the typical jumping stance with fronts legs bent and stretched forward, he was in that exact position, with the front of his cannon bones laying on the log and his full weight on top). His back feet stayed planted, stretching his back legs considerably. He couldn’t pull himself back up, so I jumped off to get my weight off of him. He finally pulled himself up and I checked him for cuts, etc, and seeing nothing walked him a couple steps. Now he really seemed off. Nothing major, just no forward and not quite right. I decided to walk him back to the trailer, he wasn't limping, no major change in movement, just sluggish. On our way back, there was a long, steep downhill. He refused to walk down it. After much coaxing and a lot of stopping to rest, he finally got down the slope and walked back the rest of the way without incident.  Uphills and flat didn't seem to be an issue.

And thus the beginning of our problems. Right before this happened, he was put on sweet feed to keep weight on him (he gets really skinny in winter, and never really puts on much weight the rest of the year). After we got back, I took him to the vet to check him out before riding again. He was flexion tested and given a full bill of health. After a couple more days I attempted a short trail ride. My horse is very forward, let me stress, VERY FORWARD. He has a big, fast walk, trot, and canter. He never creeps along. EVER. On this ride, he had no forward, and he couldn’t keep up with a horse that he usually left behind. I knew he was hurt, so we began about a 3 month hiatus from any work.

Jax slightly skinny after a few months off, even on grain,
using his "extra energy" for nefarious purposes (April 2015)



After three months, he looked and felt great. By April 2015 he was riding walk, trot, canter and was back up to riding 12 miles with no problems. He had developed a swelling over his SI ligament on his right side immediately after the initial injury, but by May 2015 that was gone.  You may wonder why I would ride him if he had some swelling left.  The answer is - Jax is a high energy horse.  If you don't use his energy, he will... and it won't be a "healthy" use of his energy.  So, once he starts to act like he wants to move around and do things, we do it together in a (hopefully) controlled manner.

As I started bringing him back into work, I noticed that his urine was discolored. It was fine until the very end when it would turn a reddish brown. I took him to the vet again, and the general consensus was that it was from the color of his supplements/grain. We continued work and even started some local schooling shows and light start on barrels at a trot.

Jax with mild stiffness in hindquarters (click on pic to see larger image).  Notice he's standing a bit sickle-hocked, and there's a slight roach to his back.  His feet are kept close together rather than stretching out.

Around July/August 2015, Jax stopped cantering. He was starting to look like he was very stiff in his hindquarters after our rides. I decided to try some Aspirin supplement on the days he was stiff, and that seemed to help. I was giving him more and more days off, I just couldn’t stand to ask him to work when he was obviously having problems. After on and off issues in his hindquarters, I thought we had finally turned the corner and he was getting better. In November of 2015, we went to the ACTHA Festival in Mora, MO. Three whole days of trails and obstacles! I got my Ghost treeless saddle demo in time for this event and we were ready. After the first day I noticed Jax had dry spots under his saddle. On the second day I checked Jax’s back and he was sore. After cancelling our rides for the second day, I decided to try a different treeless on his back and maybe some treed saddles as well, since there were plenty of vendors at the Festival.

Jax tried to murder every person who touched his back. He wasn’t just uncomfortable, he was absolutely miserable. I took him to the chiropractor on site and she adjusted him as best she could, but he was not nice to her. She said his right shoulder was atrophied (possibly due to saddle fit) and his right hind was twisting when he walked.  This horse has never had a mean bone in his body, he’s as sweet as they come. I decided to scrap the rest of the weekend and take him home.

Back to the vet, and then a chiropractor visit. Chiropractor noticed a slight deviation around his SI. She didn’t bend and twist him, she used some machines to vibrate and lightly pop him back into place, and found issues with his neck, withers, back, and SI. It seemed that something was off on his right side and was affecting his entire back and neck.  After her visit he was much better for a couple weeks, until farrier day, then he was immediately sore again. Back to the Aspirin supplement. Got him okay for a couple days, then a little sore again on a January 9, 2016. I thought I should leave him without the Aspirin for a while just in case his stomach was getting sensitive to it, but he was so stiff (almost looked like he was tying up) I decided one more dose wouldn’t hurt.

Sunday, January 10, Jax colicked for the first time in his almost 9 years. He’s never had a sensitive stomach. The weird part of it was he looked like his back end was tying up, along with the obvious stomach distress. We got the vet out to put mineral oil in him, and he started eating and feeling better.

My sad looking horse, right after a mild colic episode in January 2016.  Notice how rigid his muscles are in his hindquarters.
The colic scared me. Really bad. I decided that the colic and the strange color to his urine was two reasons too many, and switched his feed.  Even if it was something as benign as food coloring, I wasn't going to risk another colic episode. I started reading about Hindgut Acidosis being caused by grain fermenting in the hindgut instead of being digested in the stomach. You can tell that is happening when they “discard” grain in their droppings. He had been doing that since being on sweet feed. So I switched him over slowly to Strategy Healthy Edge.  I also switched his supplements, making sure he gets Vitamin E (which helps tying up) and joint supplements, along with a full spectrum of vitamins, amino acids, and probiotics (I selected every supplement to work with his new grain and his mostly grass hay diet, I didn't just randomly select them).  With supplements there's a chance that your just paying for expensive horse pee, but if there was even a chance of it helping I wanted to try it.

Long story short, he has not colicked, nor has he been stiff in his hindend or looked to be tying up since switching his feed. After a couple weeks off we had a great 6 mile ride where he used his hindend and went comfortably down hills. Problems all solved, right?

A couple days later his back right leg started hitching more than usual. He’s always been prone to sticky stifles when he’s out of shape, and with all the other issues he definitely was. He also had this hitching when I first brought him back after the initial SI injury.  So we started (again) working in hand to strengthen his back legs. No back soreness, everything was going great and the sticky stifles were getting better. So we started ridden work. After some very short rides he started getting sore in his lumbar area.  Through all of this, Jax has stayed high energy and maintained a willingness to work.  Once again, if I give him time off when he's this high energy, he will end up hurt some other way.  He was also getting regular chiro visits, about once a month.

So, back to the vet. After explaining everything, I showed him a small knot that I had just found that had formed over Jax’s right SI area. We’ve concluded now that the SI has been a factor through all of this, and the sticky stifles aren’t helping. He’s gotten over this issue once before, so it's just a matter of building muscle without aggravating the injury.

He’s now on a COX-2 inhibitor for inflammation and with the addition of liniment over the SI area, Jax’s sore back is a rare occasion, even with short periods of ridden work. The small knot has dissipated, he no longer stands sickle-hocked, and his back no longer has a roached appearance (this went away after the first chiropractor visit).  However, his stifles are still sticking, so the next step is farrier work with more of a mustang roll to help breakover, and another chiropractor visit. In my next Horse Health post, I’ll update on if the mustang roll helped, and exercises we’ve used to keep Jax strong while (hopefully) helping to heal this SI issue.

See Horse Health part 2 here for what has actually been wrong with Jax!

English Style Treeless Saddle Reviews and Comparisons


Have you ever wondered about those cheap treeless saddles on eBay? The ones that forums say will maim your horse or break and send you crashing to the ground? Here's a list of my experiences with both the cheaper english-style treeless saddles, then with some nicer brand saddles for comparison.

Let's start with a description of my horse. Jax aka "Love of my Life" has massive shoulders, long sloping withers, and well-sprung ribs. He is long legged with a short back, and he's a BIG moving horse. I've had saddle makers try their trees on him in an effort to find something to fit him to no avail. I've tried Western, English, and Aussie saddles, all of them restricting the movement in his shoulders and causing him obvious discomfort, especially on the downhills. After reading many opinions and testimonials on treeless saddles, I finally decided to try treeless, but with very little cash I went the cheap route first.


1st TREELESS - CHEAP EBAY TREELESS SADDLE (ENGLISH) REVIEW
  • $135 + s/h, made in India
  • Used with a Reinsman contour pad, not a correct treeless pad, but it seemed to work for my horse (I did add panels onto this saddle to keep my weight off his spine)
  • Very comfortable, decent construction and materials
  • Horse never got sore in this saddle
  • Took me a while to get my feet under me and gain my balance - had to shorten stirrups A LOT
  • Made my very wide horse seem much wider, my hips eventually started popping
  • Floppy construction - saddle was not secure, sold it after slipping.  SEE FULL SADDLE REVIEW...

During my time riding in the saddle above, my horse tripped on a trail ride, straining his SI ligament.  Since that time it's been difficult to really assess a saddle, since his SI gives him lumbar soreness at times, so some of the saddles below may not have gotten a fair assessment, especially the Ghost treeless saddle.

  • 2nd Treeless - Jumping Saddle - ($65 on auction, reg. $120 + s/h, made in India) - okay saddle, not very nice to look at (black synthetic and bright orange).  Saddle was slightly too small for me, and the seat was pretty hard.  Not sure it was truly treeless as there was some very rigid materials used.  Had detachable panels which I used on the treeless saddle above to make sure it would not sit on Jax's backbone, meanwhile this saddle sat in the tack room.  Reattached the panels to this saddle and sold it after I sold the saddle above.
  • 3rd Treeless - Spanish saddle ($160 + s/h, made in India) - decent quality leather and very comfortable. However, no rocker to it at all, and the seat area was very stiff. Sat like a flat board across his back, touching only withers and loin. Worked on the leather a bit and got it more flexible, then shimmed the detachable panels underneath so they would sit flat along his back. Looked like it fit ok, so took it for a short trail ride. Got back and found that the edges of the panels had poked his withers. Decided this saddle wasn’t worth the effort and sold it on eBay, mentioning it would only work on a flat-backed horse.
  • 4th Treeless - Freemax Synthetic ($110 on eBay) - sat it up on my horse, hated the quality, sold it for dirt cheap on eBay.
After purchasing and selling at a fraction of the cost the 3 saddles above, I decided that maybe a higher end treeless was worth a shot. 

5th Treeless - GHOST FIRENZE TREELESS SADDLE (DEMO)
  • Used with a toklat pad, inserts were in need of replacement
  • Very comfortable, nice construction and materials
  • Naturally good position even with shorter stirrups
  • Thin leather flaps under the thighs and saddle has a bit of a twist, so much more comfortable for my hips.
  • Very secure saddle for the rider with the thigh blocks, and did not slip on the horse.  SEE FULL SADDLE REVIEW...

6th Treeless - TORSION CLOSE CONTACT TREELESS SADDLE REVIEW
  • Used with a toklat pad, with new inserts with poron
  • Very comfortable, very nice construction and materials
  • Naturally good position with long or short stirrups
  • Close-contact style means no thick flaps under the thighs, gives the saddle a bit of a twist
  • Very solid construction - fits my high withered, wide-shouldered horse wonderfully and DOES NOT SLIP. With a fleece saddle seat saver it’s very secure.  SEE FULL SADDLE REVIEW...
If you've taken the time to read all of the reviews, you'll see that some cheaper treeless saddles do have some good points.  However, those saddles can't come close to the quality of either the Ghost saddle or the Torsion.  As I said in my review, I don't think I gave the Ghost saddle as much of a chance as I'd have liked, and I'll definitely consider it if I get back in the saddle market.

Anything you put on your horse can hurt him.  A $2,500 saddle, if not well fitted, can hurt him.  The cheaper saddles in and of themselves can be used successfully if you know what to look for, and if you absolutely watch your horse for any behavior or physical changes.  ALWAYS be a watchdog for your horse's health and happiness, but don't be afraid to experiment.  In the end, my experience is that the Ghost/Torsion saddles are just plain easier.  You don't have to fuss with them to make them work.  They are better for your safety if you have a fast or spooky horse.  They make mounting out on the trail MUCH easier.  And if you don't know what to look for when considering your horse's comfort under saddle, these better brands have more customer support and better technical specs for making sure your horse, and you, are not injured.

Torsion Close-Contact Treeless English Saddle Review


  • Used with a toklat pad, with new inserts with poron
  • Very comfortable, very nice construction and materials
  • Naturally good position with long or short stirrups
  • Close-contact style means no thick flaps under the thighs, gives the saddle a bit of a twist
  • Very solid construction - fits my high withered, wide-shouldered horse wonderfully and DOES NOT SLIP. With a fleece saddle seat saver it’s very secure.

I bought this saddle in great used condition on eBay for $399 + s/h. I have not worked in this saddle as much as I would have liked, my horse is still in rehab mode from an SI injury. I can say that for the rider, this saddle is wonderful. I can also say that this saddle fits him beautifully, no slipping, sits perfectly for his shoulders and withers, and does not seem to make him sore.  His back looks just as good after riding in this saddle as it does before I put it on him.  While he tends to get girthy with saddles that aren't a great fit, he has no issues with this one.

This saddle also works well for me and doesn't make my wide horse feel enormous.  It has a low cantle, but with a fleece seat saver it is quite secure.  Unlike my cheap eBay saddle this saddle is not floppy, it is quite structured, and perfectly contoured to my horse's back (with enough flexibility to work on many different shapes).  Overall I am extremely happy with this purchase, and after a bit more rehab for my horse, plan to put many miles in this saddle.

See all of my English Style Treeless Saddle Reviews.


Ghost Firenze Treeless English Saddle Review


  • Used with a toklat pad, inserts were in need of replacement
  • Very comfortable, nice construction and materials for the saddle, pad, and all equipment that came with the demo saddle
  • Naturally good position, even with shorter stirrups
  • Thin leather flaps under the thighs and saddle has a bit of a twist, so much more comfortable for my hips than my previous Made In India treeless saddle
  • Very secure saddle for the rider with the thigh blocks, and did not slip on the horse. 
  • Wonderful customer service


I did a 2 week demo on this saddle, and it was as secure as a saddle can be. Extremely comfortable with a decent twist, stayed securely on my horse. I took my horse on a couple trail rides, the first went really well, but after about the third long ride I saw dry spots under the stirrup area. I must admit two faults to my trial:
  • During the time I demoed this saddle, I was very stiff and had to ride with short stirrups (a combination of riding in the cheap eBay saddle, and having tight hips). I could feel when I was riding that I was putting way more pressure on the stirrups than usual, probably a combination of short stirrups and my unfamiliarity with thigh blocks. I believe this was a major cause of the dry spots.
  • My toklat pad inserts were nearing the end of their lives, and maybe this just didn’t work with extra weight in the stirrups.

That said, I chose to try this saddle because of the variability of the girth placement. However, because of this variability the girth kept slipping too far forward and pulling the front of the saddle down. My horse has an unusually forward girth groove, and laid back shoulders with long sloping withers that push saddles back, so he is just a hard fit anyway. Had I tried different padding options I possibly could have fixed the issues.

Overall, I loved this saddle.  I would have bought one if I hadn't gotten dry spots on my horse's back.  My first trail ride was a Halloween ride with obstacles made to spook your horse, and while my horse did wonderful for most of the obstacles, he had some massive spooking, spinning, and thoughts of bolting for one of the obstacles.  This saddle kept me very secure, I felt like I could ride out anything my horse had to offer.  I was sad when it didn't work out.  If my horse wasn't having other issues at the time of demoing this saddle, I probably would have purchased it anyways to see if I could have ironed out the kinks.  The lady who I worked with for this demo was wonderful and tried to help me through everything, but in the end I decided to try something different.

See all of my English Style Treeless Saddle Reviews.

EDIT JULY 2016 TO ADD: After a not so good ride with the above mentioned Toklat pad and my bareback pad, it's completely possible that the spots above were caused (or at least helped) by friction from the pad slipping on hills, rather than pressure from the saddle.  See my Treeless Saddle Pad Reviews page for more.


Cheap Ebay Treeless English Saddle Review

  • Bought on eBay for $135 + s/h, made in India
  • Used with a Reinsman contour pad, not a correct treeless pad, but it seemed to work for my horse. Also, I removed the panels from another treeless saddle and attached them to this saddle. Without those panels, I wouldn't have used a regular saddle pad.
  • Very comfortable, decent construction and materials
  • Horse never got sore in this saddle
  • Took me a while to get my feet under me - shortened stirrups
  • Made my very wide horse seem much wider, my hips eventually started popping
  • Floppy construction - saddle was not secure, sold it after slipping

This was my very first treeless saddle. After trying and failing repeatedly to fit a treed saddle to my horse, I finally found something he was comfortable in. The saddle construction and materials were decent and looked good on the horse. However, it was very floppy, like a bareback pad. The Torsion Close-Contact saddle has a much sturdier construction and holds its shape well, keeping it from slipping. This cheaper saddle slipped every time my weight shifted too far to the side and there was no mounting from the ground. My first ride in it I rolled it under my horse’s belly. Learned quickly that I needed to make ABSOLUTELY SURE the girth was tight.

The thick flaps on this saddle made my already wide horse feel enormous.  When I first started riding in this saddle, I could not get my feet under me and I had to shorten my stirrups.  This helped keep me in a good position, but the lack of twist in this saddle would later become a problem.


For about 1-2 years I rode solely in this saddle, up to 15 miles at a time 1-2 times a week plus some arena riding, and it did really well for me.  I gained a very secure seat (because I couldn’t let my weight go to the side) and had a lot of great rides, both trail and arena, in this saddle. The construction of the saddle was quite durable, and I never had any pieces break.  However, any spook that sent my horse sideways, or barely knocked me to the side, ended with me on the ground. After about 2 years it got worse as the saddle started breaking down, and I was starting to notice a pop in my hip ligament that I never had before due to lack of twist. Finally, after a really bad fall that absolutely shouldn’t have happened (my horse spooked and my saddle ended up, once again, under his belly), I sold this saddle as a knock-around saddle to play in but not for serious endeavors.

Overall, I enjoyed many rides in this saddle.  I made a few alterations, such as beefing up the velcro under the seat and adding the panels, and I switched out the leather seat for a suede one for added security.  The only reason I sold it was because it just wouldn't stay on my faster-than-the-speed-of-light cutting bred horse.  Though my hip started popping while riding in this saddle, I can also attribute this to tight hips and a previous riding accident.  Getting more exercise, lifting weights, and most importantly starting Yoga has fixed my hip, even though I still ride the same horse with a thick bareback pad.  I'd consider this saddle to have been a good intro to treeless for me, though it would have worked out much better on a steady-eddy type horse.

See all of my English Style Treeless Saddle Reviews.