What is Muscle Atrophy and how does it Affect Saddle Fit?

So what is Muscle Atrophy and how does it affect saddle fit.

Muscle atrophy is the wastage of muscles where the saddle sits – mainly in the ‘junction box’ (behind the shoulder just behind the wither).

What causes Muscle Atrophy?
It can be caused by injury but all (but 1) cases I’ve seen have been saddle fit related.

Which means?
You can change the shape of your horses back through incorrect saddle fit.

Sadly most people do not realise what an impact saddle fit is having on their horse. Most horses are obliging creatures who put up with a lot. The following are what I’ve seen that can be an indicator of bad saddle fit.
– Reluctance to go forward, can include laziness and lack of impulsion to rearing and bucking!
– Lameness
– Shying
– Girthiness

What’s the Beginners guide to tell if my horse has muscle atrophy?
When you do a wither template there will be inward curves in extreme cases

If you have a template like this (curved inwards) – chances are your horse has muscle atrophy and not performing to the best

A well conformed wither should show a nice curve with no ‘sharp’ points or flat or inwards.
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So – with the correct saddle I’ll be in line for the next Olympics?
Sadly no – saddle fit is just one of the building blocks to help you on your way.

Why does my horse seem to get narrower and narrower?
This is one of the classic signs of muscle atrophy. Other than obvious overweight issues a horse should not get narrower and narrower when in work. Toned muscle is defined muscle, toned muscle doesn’t get smaller and smaller with work. One of the crazy things about horses is that when they are wearing a too-tight saddle they go into ‘self repair’ mode of not using the muscle that is getting sore. This is a vicious cycle of horse losing muscle so rider gets a narrower saddle, so horse loses more muscle. A horse won’t develop muscle where there is no room to grow. It will try but if it doesn’t succeed will go into atrophy.

How does this relate to the way you fit?
I try to fit to where the horse should be given the workload and expectations.
A potential FEI dressage horse would have a different expectation to a pony club hack doing beginner dressage tests.
This means finding the optimal point.


More to come