Kraus: Poor Saddle Fit Can Cause Lameness, Shoeing-Related Problems - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report

Kraus: Poor Saddle Fit Can Cause Lameness, Shoeing-Related Problems

An incorrectly-fitted saddle can cause lameness, gait faults, shoeing problems, and even personality problems, explained farrier Steve Kraus in the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine's Equine Seminar Series. 

Known for troubleshooting lame, injured and underperforming horses, Kraus is an American Farriers Association Certified Journeyman Farrier who has been the head of Farrier Services and a Senior Lecturer of Large Animal Surgery at Cornell, and the instructor of the Farrier School there since 2010.

Prior to that, he worked for over 40 years in his own farrier business in Central New York. He has lectured to farriers, veterinarians and horse owners all over the US, Canada, South America and Europe. He has been a featured speaker at the International Hoof Care Summit, Laminitis Conference, Equine Affaire, and the American Farriers Association Convention. Kraus has written many articles published in the American Farriers Journal, The Horse Journal, and The Professional Farrier. In 2016, he was inducted into the International Farriers Hall of Fame.

Kraus explained the basic signs of incorrect saddle fit as follows: saddle sores, dry spots in the sweat pattern under the saddle, white hairs, muscle atrophy, and even temporary swelling. Saddles should not extend past the horse's 18th thoracic vertebrae, at which point the ribs end, he explained.

Conversely, a correctly-fitted saddle has the following properties: stability (saddle does not rock on the horse's back), good wither clearance, even contact across the entire panel, and the points (forks) of the tree do not impinge on the horse's scapula. Kraus showed that the flaps of the saddle can go ahead of the scapula, but the tree itself cannot.

While Kraus admits that certain half-pads can positively impact saddle fit, he prefers to avoid that mechanism because it takes the rider further away from the horse, decreasing the rider's ability to feel what the horse is doing.

He went on to explain a number of issues that may be caused by an incorrectly-fitted saddle, and shared the most-likely causes of those problems:

  • When a horse lacks impulsion, or desire to move forward, it may be caused by the saddle forks (points of the tree) pinching the horse's scapula (shoulder blade).
  • A horse showing short, choppy strides or less extension of his gaits, it may be caused by the saddle hitting his withers.
  • Gait faults like forging or overreaching, or even a horse refusing to jump, may be caused by the saddle pinching the horse's back.
  • A horse who bucks under saddle could be faced with a saddle that is too long, placing the rider out of balance.
  • A horse who demonstrates poor turning or flexibility could be affected by a saddle which either pinches or is too long, or both.
  • Finally, an ill-fitting saddle can cause actual lameness and/or spinal injury, so Kraus recommends always having your saddle checked by a master saddler.

Kraus also explained that riders can cause some of the same issues, even in a correctly-fitted saddle. He recommended that riders ask for help to determine whether their own balance issues are affecting their horses, and also that they should not ask their horses to carry more than 30 percent of the horse's body weight.

The full seminar is available here.

The Cornell Equine Seminar Series is presented by the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine's Equine Hospital, the New York State 4-H Horse Program and Cornell Cooperative Extension. Held monthly, equine experts present on important equine health and management topics. The event is free and open to the public. 

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