Tuesday, June 1, 2010

From the Tree Up - Panel Modifications

Finally, we return to the "From the Tree Up" series.  This time, we're going to look at two of the basic panel modifications:  the dropped or trapezius panel, and the K panel (you can find photos of both of these panels in this blog entry).  Both are used for horses with similar conformations (again, covered in that blog post), but I wanted to show things in a little more detail.

Here's our horse, Dee.  Dee was a Grand Prix jumper who'd been shown by a fairly big-name rider; he's 16 and retired from the show circuit, re-homed with a teenage girl who wants to start showing in the jumper division.

Dee is a BIG boy - 17+ hands - and more substantial than you might think from the photo.  Unfortunately, his back shows the signs of being ridden in an ill-fitting saddle:

This photo shows some serious issues.  The longissimus dorsii - the long muscle that runs on either side of the spine and is the primary supporting muscle for the saddle - is so atrophied that it's almost totally absent.  This photo shows it even more clearly:

This shot from the rear also shows some white hairs on the wither, and some fairly dramatic asymmetry throughout the back (and he was not perfectly square behind when the photo was taken, so the asymmetry in his hindquarters looks more severe than it really was). 

This sort of damage doesn't occur overnight.  Dee had been ridden in an ill-fitting saddle for a long time.  I knew that his back would muscle up considerably, but I also knew that his young owner would be more focused on her jumping than her flat work, so I wasn't thinking the changes would be so radical they'd rate a different saddle than the one I had in mind.

Here's a shot of Dee showing the way a standard panel would fit:

The red arrows show the area where the saddle would make no contact and be unsupported.  The standard panel wouldn't be deep enough to make contact with everything it should to support the saddle and rider.

This next shot shows how a trapezius panel would fit:

The orange area shows where the trapezius panel would make contact.  It's a definite improvement over the standard panel, but the red arrows again show where the saddle would be unsupported.

This next shot shows how a K panel would fit:

Of the three panel configurations, the K is definitely the best.  It would "fill in the gaps" left by the muscle atrophy and would offer the greatest are of support. 

Unfortunately, the rider didn't have the budget for a bench-made saddle, so we had to strike the best compromise we could between the horse's needs and the rider's economic reality.  Fortunately, we had a used close contact saddle with a trapezius panel, and we were able to use a shim pad to correct the spots that weren't quite perfect.  I'm happy to say that Dee's owner put in some good, consistent work, and his back is looking much healthier now.  He still has a good wither with dips below them, but the longissimus has re-developed nicely and he no longer needs the shim pad.  The trapezius panel works beautifully for him now.  I don't have any current photos of his back, but if I can get some, I'll post them.


Cut-N-Jump said...

Good thing for Dee that his new owner is taking the time and making the effort to find a saddle to fit him. Kudos for that. Plus the exercises, bonus Kudos!

I'm finding the similar issues with my own saddle fitting experiences at the moment. I have a dressage saddle, that mey not fit my lastest acquisition, a WB mare... I also found a smokin deal on a saddle with a wide tree.

But since she is just getting started and will be changing as we progress I hate to give up the saddle I have, want the other saddle I found, but ultimately want the one that will fit us BOTH. Decisions and choices like this can be tough. I'm hating it at the moment.

Melissa said...

I would LOVE to see follow up pictures if you get them!

Kristen said...

Thanks for this post! The detail was very helpful :)

Galadriel said...

Is the owner doing anything else--besides preventing further saddle damage--to help the horse's atrophied muscles recover? There are a lot of sports massage techniques that can help muscle recover faster and more fully.

saddlefitter said...

Galadriel, I haven't heard from the owner since the saddle purchase, so have no further info on that, sorry.

12345KATETHEGREAT said...

I have an appendix who had an ill fitting saddle. He's high withered but has a huge shoulder but has none of that muscle inbetween. Would a saddle with the k or trapezious panel prohibit him from building up that muscle though? And once he bulked up, would the saddle still fit?

saddlefitter said...

12345Kate, it's not possible to say for sure w/o seeing the horse in question, but it sounds as though your horse would benefit from a k-type panel. Withery horses often need that configuration, and it shouldn't hinder muscle development - quite the opposite. You might need to do some shimming at first, though. Again, without seeing the horse, I can't make much in the way of definitive statements, sorry.

MelissaB said...

Hi. I have a feeling my TB is in need of these panels. When I ride him in the current saddle and he sweats underneath there is a dry patch on either side with no sweat at all. It is just below the wither and behind shoulder and I think it it because there is no contact there (hard to feel underneath to check the contact) have you experienced this before and do you think this issue discussed above is my problem too?

saddlefitter said...

MelissaB, dry spots are usually caused by an excess of pressure rather than a lack of it. If you're finding dry spots behind/below the wither, it could be that your saddle is falling into the "holes" there and creating pressure, which is causing the dry spots. If you had a panel that offered a larger area of support, it might take care of the problem. I can't tell for sure without seeing the horse and saddle (and preferably, a template), so if you'd like to send some photos like these: http://pantherrunsaddlery.com/saddle-fit-evaluation-photos/ along with a conformation shot of your horse and a photo of the underside of your saddle to kitt@pantherrunsaddlery.com, I'd be happy to take a look.