I got this question from one of the osteopaths I work with in Germany, and asked my friend Dr. Joanna Robson, DVM (author of Recognizing the Horse in Pain) to give me her wisdom so I could respond on behalf of the client this was concerning. Apparently the Osteopath seemed to think that there were subluxations occurring on the horse’s spine due to the centre of balance of the saddle being too far back.
My understanding is that the question is whether a saddle can push down three vertebrae if the deepest part of the saddle is too far back - I'm interpreting that you mean the seat and where the rider sits, rather than the panels. The ONLY way this would be possible is if the rider is riding bareback with direct seat pressure on the spine, or if the seat of the saddle literally sits on the spine due to ill-flocked panels/poor fit. And then it depends on which region of the back we are talking about.
In my experience, the most affected vertebrae are T17-T18-L1-L2 which are often affected by a saddle that is too long and the panels of which twist or fall to the side and shove the vertebral spinous processes to the left or the right, NOT anterior. The pain also causes the horse to protectively tighten the back muscles which further pulls the vertebrae out of alignment. So direct trauma or secondary muscle traction are to blame.
If correctly fitted and centered, the channel of the saddle protects the dorsal spinous processes so that even if the rider is sitting in the deepest part of the saddle too far back, it would necessitate DIRECT pressure to cause anterior vertebrae, or would result from the rider's tilted and incorrectly driving pelvis. Rather, when the deepest part is too far back or the panels are too long, the horse may experience tremendous pain over the lumbar transverse processes, which are not designed to carry the weight of a rider and saddle. The horse then hollows its back, hyperextends and has resultant SI, Hock, and Stifle problems.
Thanks Joanna! Well the good news is that generally a saddle (with a tree that is not broken and fits the horse) cannot cause this – but by inference, this could sometimes be caused by a rider riding bareback or in a treeless saddle, which could result in this happening. I know – treed vs. Treeless is a very controversial topic – one which I will address and give you my opinion on in a future blog. Until then – happy riding! I am in WPB for most of the winter season now and looking forward to some good weather! Drop by and see us at the shows – we’ll be exhibiting most every weekend and it’s really nice to see familiar faces in unfamiliar surroundings!
Jochen Schleese, CMS, CSFT, CEE