I have a client who is having problems that some of you also may have experienced. She has a horse with an old injury at the withers which, with pressure from any saddle over time with repeated contact created immense pain for him, which eventually resulted in him bucking off the rider. He is now pain free, has had Mesotherapy, and has shown that he (at this moment) is not in pain but has now a learned behavior to not tolerate anything on his back, any saddle etc. He is still bucking and crow hopping on the lunge.
I was asked whether we have any strategies for desensitizing and re-learning to tolerate and understand that the saddle is not going to hurt. Conceivably this has been bothering him since he was started under saddle, in other words, a very old injury. Everything is an association to saddle pain, cross ties etc., and everything is an anticipation of pain to come.
I decided to call in an expert and turned to my friend Dr. Joanna Robson, DVM, author of “Recognizing the Horse in Pain and What to do about it” for her advice. Here’s what she said:
While glad that the report is the horse is no longer in pain, the question is “is the client sure of that? Has a full veterinary evaluation ensured that the horse is completely sound outside of the back? That the suspensories, etc. and the feet are all good?” Also, she would consider stomach ulcers especially in a horse that was dealing with so much pain for so long. It's possible his back is much better, but there's still an unresolved issue present. Is he bucking on the lunge only with the saddle on his back, or with nothing on his back?
If the horse is truly sound and pain free throughout, then this can be a very difficult issue to work with according to Randy Leighton, the cowboy that she sent her young horses to. He said this is the hardest issue they deal with - the learned behavior of bucking is unfortunately sometimes never fully resolved. He feels that it can take 6 months to a year of patient, gentle retraining to get them better. You have to get them trusting from the ground again before you get someone on the back, and then it has to be someone that can stick with the horse through the problem.
Thirdly, it would be important to get the trainer’s input, since the rider's balance and whether or not the horse is being stretched is very important when bringing the horse back into condition.
Hope this helps!
Jochen Schleese, CMS, CSFT, CEE