Bodywork Bonanza

I forgot to take photos at the appointment, so you get gratuitous crosstie shots

After Dino's rather outrageous behavior at our most recent lesson and horse trial, I decided to rule out physical discomfort before attacking the issue from a training standpoint. Luckily for me, a fantastic bodyworker and saddle fitter was coming to my trainer's barn this past weekend, so I signed Dino up for a session.

My wallet is now significantly lighter, but I'm SO glad I did this for my pony! 

The experience was wonderful overall - the woman I used was incredibly professional, kind, friendly, answered all of my questions, and is another pony person to boot! She shared with me that she has Welsh Cobs which she rides and drives, and we gushed about our love of ponies throughout the appointment. It's always so fun to meet another adult who adores ponies as much as I do! 

The massage and bodywork came first - she said that it can sometimes change a horse's posture so dramatically that it can affect saddle fit, so we'd work on Dino before assessing his saddle. 

He responded really well to the whole process, allowing her to muckle, poke, prod, stretch, bend, pull, and push his body in ways I never have. She found a lot of tightness in his neck, and some in his lower back, but said that overall he was not a pony who was in any kind of incredible pain from his saddle or his work. Whew! She also noticed when watching him walk that he seemed a bit arthritic, but overall he was in great musculoskeletal shape. After over an hour of work, we let Dino have a little break before bringing him out on the crossties to assess saddle fit. 

You guys, the change in Dino's posture post-bodywork was incredible. He looked like he had grown a couple inches, he was standing perfectly square, and both his topline and underline looked stronger. The improvement in the way he held himself alone is enough for me to want to commit to getting him worked on regularly! But, on to saddle fit.

Saddle fit problem, or mostly a big jerk?
I was terrified that the fitter would take one look at my set-up and declare it awful and tell me I had been torturing my pony with the saddle I had thought fit him nearly perfectly. 

To my great relief, the saddle I have DOES fit him perfectly, as I had thought. The fitter loved the shape of the saddle for Dino's back, and commended my choice of a TSF girth to accommodate the set-back billets and Dino's forward girth groove. She agreed with my thought that I no longer needed my lovely Fleeceworks pad, but showed me something very interesting about Dino's back.

When viewed from the rear, you can clearly see that he has significantly less muscle on the left side of his back than the right. There is one spot that shows particular atrophy, but overall the left side of his back is very under-muscled. Her thought, based on the location of the atrophied spot, was that at some point he had been ridden in a poorly-fitting pony saddle which created a pressure point on the left side, and essentially shut down all muscle development on the left side of his back. The unevenness in his back causes the saddle to sit unevenly, perpetuating the whole cycle of stunted muscle development and overall crookedness. This explains why my left seatbone is always going rogue, and why I feel like Dino is harder to bend left. It's something I had never looked for before, but the difference was really quite dramatic! 

After we had made this discovery, the fitter cut me some felt shims on the spot, sewed them together, and then stitched them loosely to my saddle pad on the left side.

Pad with felt shims sewn on
Silly me did not expect to ride at this appointment, so I climbed on to test-ride our new shims in jeans, cowboy boots, a borrowed helmet, and borrowed bridle. It was classy, let me tell ya. The leg pinching was outrageous. 

But the change in balance was awesome! I no longer felt the need to constantly shift my left seatbone back into place, and Dino felt forward and stretchy under saddle. Even with no spurs and no stick, in my trainer's indoor, he trotted forward happily. Two thumbs up for bodywork and a balanced saddle! 

Our homework from this appointment is to ride in our shimmed up pad until Dino grows some new muscle on that side of his back, to feed him for muscle building (i.e. MOAR PROTEINS), and check in with our lovely bodyworker to determine when he'll need her next. My next step is also going to be to look into joint support for my WonderPony once my checkbook recovers from this most recent expense. 

If anyone in my area of Eastern Pennsylvania is looking for a WONDERFUL bodyworker/massage therapist/saddle fitter, I would be more than happy to pass on this woman's contact information! She was truly fantastic to work with and has the best interests of the horses at heart! 

In summary, I'm happy to report that Dino is just fine, and mostly just too full of pony'tude.


  1. Not to blow her cover (she won't mind) but OHMYGOD it's Tara Crowley isn't it? She is the one that had Connor for a year when he was younger. I met her and PJ over dinner at Connor's breeders a few months ago. They own Connor's full brother Cadence, and also Castleberry's Crackerjack!

    1. YES IT IS!!! OMG I LOVE HER!! What a small world - I'll have to mention that I know you the next time I talk to her!

    2. :D Aren't they amazing people? I sincerely wish she lived close enough to work on Connor, having a bodyworker that is also so good at independent saddle fitting is amazing. You're so lucky!

    3. I haven't had the pleasure of meeting her husband, but Tara is just LOVELY in every way! I was skeptical of the bodywork at first, wondering if I would really see any improvement from it, but the changes I saw right there on the spot were incredible! And it was so good to have my saddle fit knowledge and choices affirmed.

    4. Yeah, she's not going to placate you either, if your saddle didn't fit and would never fit she would be upfront with you. I'm so happy you're working with her!

  2. Sounds like it was money well spent! Glad Dino is feeling better and excited for your rides coming after this :)

  3. Glad the pony is ok. I love bodywork too!

  4. What a great appointment, and so good to know that while there are a few small things you can do to keep Dino happy and healthy, there weren't any MAJOR issues, so you can move forward with confidence :)

  5. Yay for checking things off the list!

  6. This is so fascinating! Did your saddle fitter think that Dino's back could possibly develop more muscle in that area, or is it shut down permanently? Is there anything you can do to help supple and strengthen? I AM SO CURIOUS!!

    1. She thinks that he will develop on that left side with the saddle now sitting in a more balanced position, as long as he gets enough protein to support muscle building. I asked her the same thing and she said to just ride him, work on our dressage, and get his body moving in this new, even way. She also suggested that when I am grooming him, etc. to set him up square and encourage him to stand properly, to make that good posture more of a habit for him. We'll see how it goes!

  7. Riesling is atrophied on his left side as well. Thanks for the reminder to shim up!


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