From Endurance to Dressage
I have a really great team of professionals who keep my horses fit and healthy. My vet, farrier, chiropractor, trainer, and saddle fitter are all genuinely concerned about the well-being of my two boys as well as my success as a competitor. Unfortunately, they rarely get to meet - how cool would that be?, but I make sure to pass on any observations to the team member who most needs to know.
Even though she was out less than a year ago, I was able to have Tina Fitch, saddle fitter extraordinaire, out on Wednesday to evaluate my saddle's fit. I use the same saddle on both horses, so I am pretty vigilant about keeping up on its suitability for what, at first glance, looks like two, totally different shaped bodies. Speedy is 15'1 with good withers and a well sprung ribcage. Izzy is 16'3 also with well formed withers and a lot of back.
Even though my saddle has felt balanced while I ride, I decided that with the move to Third Level, it was worth having it looked at again sooner than expected. It didn't take Tina long to say that everything was in great shape; no adjustment was needed. She liked the fit better on Speedy and reminded me that she doesn't love it on Izzy, but with careful placement of my half pad, it still works.
I didn't get off scot-free though. Before she even looks at a saddle, Tina always gives the horse a pretty thorough hands-on exam. Seeing where a horse is tight or tender gives her an idea of what she might expect to find on the saddle. To her surprise, and mine, she immediately discovered that Speedy's back was pretty tight. That's the first time she's ever noticed anything amiss.
She asked a lot of questions - was my trainer happy with my position? I think so. Has Speedy been behaving differently? He's been kind of grumpy. What pad am I using? The same one as last time. Try as she might, she just couldn't find an issue with the saddle that would account for the tightness in his back.
I told her that we made the move to Third Level this year which has meant an increase in Speedy's workload. She agreed that the work we were doing could explain the tightness, as could just general anxiety associated with his "winter of woe." I had told her about the three abscesses, the Cushing's diagnosis, the lacerations to his front legs, the knocked out tooth, and the recent bubble wrap debacle. His pasterns are nearly healed by the way.
Tina shook her head in amazement and said that all of that combined stress could have just added up to a tense, sore back. While she was working on the other two saddles, I put in a call to my chiropractor. He was at a cutting show, but assured me he'd make it to the ranch within a day or two to give Speedy a check. Like I said, I have a great team of professionals.
While a saddle fitting isn't free, getting a professional evaluation of my horses' backs and comfort level is worth the fee. What I thought was just grumpiness as Speedy recovers from his woeful winter, might actually be due to some soreness. And if my chiropractor can adjust him before it turns into something more serious, the saddle fitting (and chiropractor) fee will be more than worth it.
Asking my horses to work so hard for me means that I owe them these small courtesies. They're worth it.
For the last two years, Izzy has had body work about every three months. This year, I decided to see how he did by spacing the visits out on an "as needed" basis. He saw his chiropractor in early November, and hadn't needed him since.
On Saturday we did a technical trail ride that had a few dicey sections. There wasn't anything horrible, but Izzy did slip and slide a few times throwing his head and neck up to regain his balance. The next day all was well, but the day after that, he was pretty adamant that his neck was broken and no amount of suppling on my part was going to get it to bend.
It took me all of 20 minutes to realize that he needed an adjustment. In the past, it's taken me three rides to figure out that he's hurting. The first ride I always blame on poor riding. The second ride I blame on his sassy attitude. The third ride is usually when I start questioning what the heck is wrong with my horse. As soon as I ask what's wrong with you?, the lightbulb goes on. Not this time; I figured out within 20 minutes which saved us both a lot of frustration.
It took CC less than a minute to pinpoint where Izzy was hung up - the C7, the last cervical vertebra. Normally, the trouble originates in Izzy's poll. Once the C7 was dealt with, CC moved on to Izzy's rib heads. He was a little tender on the last couple, but a firm nudge had him feeling much better. And that was the extent of the adjustment - a single cervical vertebra and a couple of ribs.
CC has been doing my horses for a number of years now. After all of this time, I finally discovered the method(s) that he uses. CC combines traditional chiropractics with the Masterson Method, developed by Jim Masterson. Coincidently, my endurance pal Marci has used CC as well. After he mentioned the Masterson Method to her, she bought the book which she generously lent it to me. I have found it to be thoroughly interesting.
Chapter 1 is titled, "What is the Masterson Method?" The first sentence offers a sort of explanation. "The Masterson Method - Integrated Equine Performance Bodywork - is a unique interactive method of equine bodywork in which you learn to recognize and use the responses of the horse to your touch to find and release accumulated tension in key junctions of the body that most affect performance." It's a mouthful, I know.
CC explained that he takes many of Masterson's techniques for helping the horse to release tension and combines them with the traditional approach of manipulation, or adjustment, of an affected joint and tissues. This restores mobility, alleviating pain and muscle tightness, allowing tissues to heal.
I am sold. In my experience, CC has more than proven himself to be an excellent chiropractor/bodyworker and horseman. My horses love him, and they ALWAYS feel better once he's done. If there's a name for the method he employs, great. If not, I am not opposed to winging it.
I only wish he worked on people.
I am so fortunate to have such a knowledgeable chiropractor in my area. Not only is he good at his job, but he's a trainer, judge, and all around excellent horseman. When he works on one of my horses, he always talks about the roles that nutrition, training, and riding play in their skeletal and musculature health.
While he gave Izzy a once over, I explained what indicators I had seen. Izzy wanted to carry his haunches to the far right, he couldn't canter on a left lead, and he was suddenly more spooky and tense than usual. And oddly enough, all of this appeared over-night.
While Izzy needed a bit of work here and there, it was the C7, the transverse process of the last neck vertebra, that was causing most of the discomfort. I knew that the C7 was the bottom vertebra, but I had to look up the transverse process part. Don't want you thinking I am a smartypants.
CC explained that when the horses are "out" at the C7, all kinds of things start going wrong. I get that. Just watching him work made me identify all the parts of my own body that protest when asked to reach or stretch or lift.
Every chiropractor works differently, but I appreciate CC's approach. He works slowly and methodically, getting the horse to relax and let go on his own. Rarely does he need to jerk the horse, but he does occasionally need to catch them by surprise. He had to use the surprise method to get that C7 joint to finally settle back into place. After working Izzy's body to the right, he came over to the left side, asking Izzy to bend and flex his neck to the left. When it seemed that Izzy was completely relaxed, CC gave a firm push, rocking Izzy back on his haunches.
Izzy has had CC adjust him three to four times a year for the past three years. Even with all those visits, this was the first time I've seen Izzy get so much relief that he did the tongue thing. He always licks his lips during an adjustment, and he gives snorts and signs, but this was totally different.
His tongue practically fell out of his mouth. He swung it around, flapped it a few times, and let it hang out. And then he did it again. The longer CC worked, the more active Izzy's tongue became. Anyone who is skeptical of the efficacy of chiropractics needs to come and see one of my horses get some body work done. There's no mistaking the relief my horses feel.
Once the C7 was taken care of, CC spent some time stretching Izzy and showing him that he didn't need to brace his body in expectation of discomfort. I love that strategy because that is what our horses do - resist when they anticipate pain. CC also worked the remainder of Izzy's body from his poll to his tail.
While I was dismayed that Izzy had found a new place for me to keep my eye on, I was relieved that his hocks weren't the issue. I asked CC if the misalignment could have been due to our recent work with the counter canter and half pass. He thought maybe, but it was more likely that Izzy just tweaked something during a random moment, and it took a while to show up.
This week is already packed with work commitments combined with shortened daylight hours, so it seems a good time to give Izzy a few rest days. I don't think he'll mind too much. By the way, if you're local and looking for a good equine chiropractor, let me know, and I'll pass on CC's number.
Somebody needs to tattoo the answer to that question across my forehead. A week ago, I wrote about how reliable and easygoing Izzy has become. I had just finished the best ride he'd ever given me. I'd even taken to calling him McDreamy. Life was great.
The very next day, he turned into a monster. On the ground, he was still polite, but tense and spooky. He started craning his neck while being tacked up, something he hasn't done in a long while. Walking to the arena, I could hear him suck in short breaths, and his eyes had lost their softness. Under saddle, he just couldn't. He couldn't relax, he couldn't soften, and he couldn't canter left.
It took me three rides before I finally snapped in frustration, What's wrong with you? And like a lightening bolt from above, I remembered: He probably needs to see the chiropractor. I have been having chiropractic work done every three months, but when he didn't need an adjustment in May, we decided to try for an every 4th month schedule.
November was to be his adjustment month, but I was hoping to do it mid-month when I had a bit more time. I guess that was one week too many for the big brown horse.I put in a call to the chiropractor over the weekend. If everything goes to plan, he should be out this afternoon. I have a jam packed week, so I really hope we can get it done today. The way Izzy felt on Saturday, I am not riding him until he gets some work done.
So in answer to the what's wrong with you question, It's not you. It's ME needing to stick to the schedule.
I am not sure why Izzy gets all the cool stuff - Speedy's the one doing all the work, but he does. Last week, the chiropractor was out for his quarterly visit.
When CC was out last time, Izzy was in great shape and no work was needed. I knew he wouldn't get off so easily this time, and I was right. Nothing was seriously out of whack, but he had a few issues.
Izzy's tension starts in his poll which then creates a domino effect. Once his poll gets sticky, the problem moves on down the line through his neck, withers, ribcage, and pelvis.
Besides working out some general body soreness, CC is also a great resource for training questions. CC is a western trainer, but training problems are often the same no matter the discipline. When I explained the bitting issue, he said I should mix it up. I should switch back and forth between the bit Izzy likes and the legal one. CC explained that by this stage in Izzy's training, he doesn't get to be picky.
He said that in their training program, they might use two different bits for one ride. If a horse needs a reminder, go to the bit with more oomph! and then switch back. Basically, he felt that Izzy has a job to do, and he doesn't get to have so much of an opinion about it.
I know Izzy enjoys the body work, and he really likes CC. Even though it was hot as blazes, CC took the time to play with Izzy when he was finished just like he always does. Having the chiropractor out multiple times a year isn't exactly cheap, but it's sure worth it.
I know Izzy thinks so!
About the Writer and Rider
I am a lifelong rider.
I began endurance riding in 1996 where I ultimately completed five, one-day 100 mile races, the 200-mile Death Valley Encounter, and numerous other 50, 65, and 75 mile races. I began showing dressage in 2010.
Welcome to my dressage journey.
About Speedy G
Speedy went from endurance horse to dressage horse. After helping me earn a USDF Bronze medal in the summer of 2020, he is now semi-retired. Speedy is a 2004, 15'1 hand, purebred Arabian gelding. His Arabian Horse Registry name is G Ima Starr FA.
Izzy was started as a four-year old and then spent the next 18 months in pasture growing up. I bought him as a six-year old, and together, we are showing at Second Level. He is a 2008, 16'3 hand warmblood gelding. His Rheinland Pfalz-saar International (RPSI) name is Imperioso.
National Rider Awards
State Rider Awards
State Horse Awards
CDS Sapphire Rider Award
Third Level: 63.514%
Third Level: 62.105%
2021 Show Season
(r) Ride-a-Test Clinic
(Q) Must Qualify
2021 Pending …
2021 Completed …
10/24-25 SCEC (***)
11/7-11/8 SB (***)
2021 Qualifying Scores
Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC)
2nd Level Qualifying
3 Scores/2 Judges/60%:
Score 1: 60.610% Bhathal
2nd Level Qualifying
5 Scores/4 Judges/61%:
Stuff I Read