Winters are long here in VT, and since I don't have access to an indoor, I don't ride much. But I have my mare Lyric at home, so - fortunately - I still have horsey activities. I muck, groom, feed, blanket, unblanket ... and was utterly horrified the other day when I pulled her blanket off and noticed that her topline has pretty much vanished. Sure, she always loses condition over the winter, but this was way more dramatic than usual. She is twelve, admittedly, and she is a big mare (16.1, 1250 lbs., 8.5" of bone), and it's true that she hasn't been worked in 4 months, but still ...
Of course, the first thing that sprang to mind was, "Holy crud, will her saddle still fit?!?" I ride in a Passier Grand Gilbert with Freedom panels, and it's always fit her rather beetle-y shape beautifully. I started thinking quite seriously about a month of ground and in-hand work before I even consider saddling up and riding. I do have a Mattes shim pad and can "fill in the dips" if I need to, but have my doubts that it would be of much help in this case. I'll be posting some photos in a couple of days.
A horse's body changes as s/he ages, as does a human's. Physical activity, childbirth (or lack thereof), work and genetics all play a part. As a horse ages, it's not uncommon to see a change in saddle fitting needs. Often, the abdominals aren't as toned in an older horse, which will allow the back to drop and the wither to become more prominent. Arthritic changes and general wear and tear come into play more and more, and they have an affect on the physiology, too. Often an older horse needs a tree with more scoop, and panel modifications (dropped panel, wither gussets) are often helpful as well.
So why this dramatic change in my mare's back? Well, I had her bred last summer. Vermont springs being what they are, I didn't want Lyric to foal too early and have to contend with a foot of mud (or snow!). We missed our window of opportunity in June thanks to the stud being on the other side of the country, malfunctioning fax machines and the Fourth of July, but we short-cycled her and got two good inseminations on a nice, ripe 38 mm. follicle in late July. Unfortunately, the follow-up ultrasound showed absolutely nothing going on. We figured we'd just left it too late and caught her in transition, and aimed to try earlier in the season this year.
But after I got over my shock at the state of her topline, I started looking at her belly ... Her normal hay belly is sort of evenly round, and now she's pretty pear-shaped - carrying most of her bulk quite low. And in spite of her tummy, she's rather lean otherwise, though she's getting about 40 lbs. of hay a day. My vet came to do spring shots, checked her teeth (which aren't at all bad), looked at her belly and said, "Let's palpate."
Again, nothing conclusive. She's so big that he couldn't reach in far enough to feel anything (I told him I still think he's a good vet, short arms and all), so we're going to check again in a month. If she is in foal, she's a little over 7 months along, and the baby will start growing quite quickly now; in another month, my vet's arm should be long enough to tell if there's anything there.
I'm trying not to get my hopes up, but I am sort of starting to think about names. The stud she bred to is Devon Heir, so I need a name that begins with "D". Suggestions welcome, and I'll post photos soon.