Any form of jumping is going to put the horse at a greater risk of injury than doing flatwork. Considering the delicate limbs of the horse it is surprising they do not sustain worse injuries when asked to propel themselves over fences, of sometimes excessive heights, with the additional weight of saddle and rider to land on just one forelimb on the opposite side. (Surprisingly, research using forceplates has shown that a jumping horse actually exerts more force on one foreleg on takeoff)
The most important quality of a good show jumper is a horse that lifts its front legs from the shoulders, so enabling it to clear the fences well. Any restriction in forelimb movement can be related to tightness in the trapezius muscle supporting the shoulder blades, so preventing full contraction to lift the forelegs clear. The muscles of the shoulder extend as the lattissimus dorsi muscle along the whole length of the spine and, consequently restriction in the shoulder will have a direct effect on the vertebrae underneath the saddle region, and the ability of the horse to bascule or round himself over his fences.
The horse is also greatly affected by the compensatory actions developed due to sharp teeth or bitting problems, which can cause the horse to raise its head in the air to evade the pain. Similarly, discomfort in the back region will be emphasised with the weight of saddle and rider, causing the horse to work with a hollow back in an attempt to get away from the pain. A hollow back will automatically lead to a raised head and a lack of engagement of the hindlegs underneath the body to jump fences. Consequently, both these ways of going will affect the horse making distances between combination fences, and judging distances very difficult.
Chiropractically, these horses would benefit from treatment to release muscle tension related to the shoulder through the spine to the pelvis.
As with other disciplines, problems with badly fitting tack and an unbalanced rider will add to musculoskeletal problems in the horse. The jumping saddle is designed with forward knee rolls, which aid the rider to maintain a good jumping position. The saddle however, is often placed too far forward on the horse, so it is sitting on top of the wither and due to its own design will cause restriction in the shoulder movement. The conformation of the horse will obviously determine the saddle fit. Show jumpers will often be seen in martingales to prevent the head from being held too high and so restricting the use of vision to judge distances between fences.
The rider will adopt a more forward riding position with shorter stirrups than for flatwork, which has the effect of directing their whole weight towards the withers and, over the forelegs of the horse. Bearing in mind 60% of the horse's own weight is on the forehand, it requires extra balancing on the part of the horse and again, causes stress around the shoulder and wither muscles. If a rider is suffering back pain he will undoubtedly be compensating for this in his riding position and transferring his problem down through the horse's movement.
Falls over fences, half falls or slipping on mud while cornering will usually cause misalignment of the pelvis in the hindquarters of the horse, resulting in tightness behind the saddle. The neck and wither region may also be affected by these traumas to varying degrees, and McTimoney chiropractic should be used with veterinary permission, soon after the accident has occurred to get the best results in realigning the skeletal frame and releasing muscle spasm.
David Broome was one of John McTimoney's clients, the founder of McTimoney Chiropractic. David quotes "He worked wonders on Beethoven the horse I won the World Championships on; he was going badly one day and I took him to McTimoney. He gave him one treatment, he just knew what was going wrong." He said "Don't jump him for four days" and I jumped him on the fifth day at the Dublin Show and he won the first two classes he entered. The man was a gem, and a gentleman with it!".