Polo Players Edition

NOV 2011

Polo Players' Edition is the official publication of the U.S. Polo Association. Dedicated to the sport of polo, it features player profiles, game strategy, horse care, playing tips, polo club news and tournament results.

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Page 30 of 67

S A D D L E F IT Increase your equine athlete's comfort and performance by Mehrdad Baghai If the horse is 70 to 80 percent of your game, what is the fastest way to up your game and personal performance? If you increase the performance of each horse in your string by five to 10 percent, imagine the results. How often do you palpate your horses' back muscles? How often do you check the fit of your saddles? Many polo players spend thousands on special feed, supplements, etc. but ignore their horses' back health. Below I identify the three major areas of a horse's back, and explain the impact of the saddle and a rider's weight on those areas. If you have ever experienced back pain, imagine how you would feel if someone forced you to carry weight and run a marathon, and got punished for exhibiting discomfort and poor performance. The shoulders (scapula) of the horse move in a fluid semi-circle forward and backward when in motion. If you restrict it by placing an object, like your saddle, behind it and adding weight, your horse will cease to perform properly. The pommel of your saddle is in the shape of a V. The ends of the V are referred to as the points. The points are extended forward in various degrees, depending on the knowledge of the saddle maker. If these points are too far forward or too long for the shoulder of your horse, it will inhibit the shoulders movement backward, therefore reducing the strides. It will also make the horse very sore behind its shoulders. The trapezius (traps) muscles are small muscles on either side of the withers, moving with each stride. Next time you pony a horse look down at the them. You will see that the major weight-bearing portion of the saddle is on top of these muscles. The points and stirrup bars are usually right above them, and can inhibit these muscles. Since we have no ideas on how to make a saddle that completely eliminates the pressure, we try hard to minimize it. In polo ponies with ill fitting saddles, the traps seem to be sore often and can atrophy very quickly. Every time you put weight in your stirrup to get on, you put pressure on the traps. Every time you lean out to hit the ball the pressure above the traps increases. However, proper fitting of the saddle can greatly minimize the impact. The tree needs to fit properly, and the padding under it needs to be soft and alive. Too narrow of a tree will pinch the traps, while too wide of a tree places more weight on them than necessary. The lumbar region includes the longissimus muscles which run flat on either sides of the spine. These muscles help the horse to lift the back, which is needed to stop, turn and take off. These muscles are very flat and thin and were not designed to carry much weight. They are directly under the rider's seat. Riders with busy, bouncy seats and/or hard padding under the saddle can hurt these muscles very much. These muscles are easy to palpate, and the horse will likely react to the palpation if the muscles are sore. If you pony a horse, look down and you can see how these muscles work. The basic signs of a sore back in an otherwise fit horse can include: •not stopping easily •running away from the bridle •dropping its back when you mount The three major areas of a horse's back include (1) the shoulder, (2) the trapezius, and (3) the lumbar region. The saddle tree is shown as it is meant to lay on a horse's back. If it is broken, if the pommel sits too high or too low on the withers, or if there is not enough cushion under it, it can make the back sore. •poor lead changes •lifting head up and inverting back •frequent stumbling •rub marks on the back •white hairs on the back under the saddle, indicating scarring •open wounds on the back •behavioral changes If your saddle tree flexes, it likely has a broken tree. Polo saddles are rigid and don't flex. The pommel of the saddle should not sit too high or too low in front. If it does, it doesn't fit the horse. The padding under the saddle should be smooth with some give to it. If the padding is broken down or is too hard, it will cause soreness. To determine if your horse has saddle soreness, palpate its back. Simply rub your fingers firmly on the muscles, without digging in your fingernails. If the horse drops its back, you have a problem. Repeat this two times on the same muscle to avoid a mistake. Get in the habit of palpating your horses' backs routinely. It will save you a lot of frustration and vet bills. Saddle fit is not difficult. You just need to know how to organize your string with the right saddles. You can contact a local saddle fitter to do this for you. There are independent saddle fitters in every area. They can often recommend a therapeutic pad to be used with certain saddles, or adjust and re-flock your saddle for a better fit. Your equine athlete will thank you for this. Mehrdad Baghai, the master saddle maker for JRD Saddles since 1989, is a polo player living in San Francisco, CA and Palm City, FL. For more information go to www.jrd-tack.com. POLO PLAYERS EDITION 29

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