Conformation is of the utmost importance at all levels of showing, from children's lead rein ponies to show hunters and hacks, which may also be ridden side-saddle. If the pony or horse is put together correctly he will be more efficient in the way he goes, and so put less stress and strain on his joints. Showing is one of the disciplines where knocks and blemishes are important in the overall placing of the horse in the show ring.
The feeding of a show horse or pony is also an important aspect, to create a balance between 'presence' and alertness in the show ring and not being overheated, particularly with children's ponies. These smaller ponies will also tend to be overworked on the lunge, particularly when her young riders are at school. However, too much work on circles is not good from a chiropractic point of view, and it is essential that both reins are worked equally to ensure balanced muscle development along the back and to prevent the pony becoming one-sided.
In addition, there are many "gadgets" used to bring the head of the show pony/show hack into the correct position - such things as draw reins, side reins, chambons and double bridles, all of which have their uses, but can create more problems in wrong or inexperienced hands. Tension can be set up in the poll and upper neck muscles, which will lead to stiffness at the withers and shoulders, preventing the forelimbs from extending properly and affecting the overall performance of the horse. Such cases would benefit from chiropractic treatment to release the tension which has developed and then, similar to dressage horses, it is important to allow these horses to stretch through the topline muscles, by performing more work in extension, before bringing them into their collected outline.
Show ponies generally tend to be very sensitive due to their breeding and temperament as much as with all the bathing and grooming the discipline entails and, they may show a tendency to sensitivity along their back compared with other breeds. For this reason is extremely important that the tack is fitted correctly, as a tight browband or a saddle pinching behind the withers, will cause the pony to move incorrectly to compensate for the discomfort.
The showhack when ridden side-saddle, will present a different set of problems to saddle fitting as side-saddles are often bought second-hand and restuffed to suit a particular horse. These older style saddles often have a wooden tree reinforced with metal, which makes them very heavy (22 - 26 lbs) compared with modern side-saddles or showing saddles (12 - 16 lbs).
Due to their shape and structure they will have a direct effect on the spine of the horse if not fitted correctly, which is also accentuated by the additional weight of the rider. They are made with a wide gullet to fit absolutely level from front to back and side to side. It must be stuffed by the saddler slightly in excess in the front of the offside panel and, in the back of the nearside panel, to prevent it moving over the nearside when being ridden. The rear stuffing is far thicker than in a showing saddle when viewed from behind, otherwise it will not be level when on the horse's back. The underside is lined with linen rather than leather to allow for the need to constantly alter the stuffing, and leather would also make the saddle slide more easily to the nearside, which will alter he weight distribution over the horse's back. An experienced saddler is essential to undertake these regular assessments and changes to the saddle to allow the horse to move comfortably.
The rider is, in addition to an unlevel saddle, the main factor that causes unequal weight distribution on the horse's back and a reason for musculo-skeletal problems to begin to develop. The riding position adopted should be to sit straight with the right shoulder slightly back and when viewed from behind, the riders spine must form a vertical line that goes straight through the horse's spine. If the rider leans to either side it will make the horse go crooked, as well as running the risk of bringing him down at faster paces. It is common for the rider to lean to the right to compensate for the lack of leg support, or for the left leg to come back which will tip the rider forwards making them lose their grip and position in the side-saddle. A tense, insecure rider with rounded shoulders not only looks unsightly, but their bouncing action will inevitably give the horse a sore back. Consequently, the ability and technique of the rider will undoubtedly contribute to back problems in the horse, and possibly create back problem for themselves.
McTimoney chiropractic treatment would be recommended at the beginning and end of the showing season, and following any traumas in between, to keep these horses working to their peak performance throughout the season. Treatment for the rider is also recommended, particularly if they also suffer from back pain, to prevent their problems affecting the performance of the horse.