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Asymmetric shoulders need asymmetric saddles

Are your saddles slipping or twisting to one side or the other? You might not necessarily feel it, but ask a friend to check the position of your horse's saddle as you ride or play. Or check the saddle's position yourself after a short ride. Is the saddle straight and balanced on your horse's back?

Similar to humans, most horses have a dominant side. About 70% of horses have been found to have a dominant left side, 20% have dominant right side, and only about 10% are ambidextrous. In most horses exhibiting left or right "handedness", the extent is fairly limited and might only present itself by a preference for a left or right lead. In some horses, however, a pronounced asymmetry will be apparent: a difference in the position of the shoulder blades and the size and shape of the muscling surrounding the shoulder blade. More often than not, the left scapula is higher and further back than the right scapula and the left side wider and bulkier than the right.

Injuries may also cause asymmetries, like this example illustrated by Christian Becker, vet for Facu Sola:

this polo pony - now retired - has a pronounced stronger muscling of the right shoulder; Christian has traced the root cause for this asymmetry to a chronic injury of the right fetlock joint.

See Christian's post here (in Spanish):

The subluxation of the spine indicated by the red line may also be traced to the same injury, or possibly, to a saddle that has been forced left by the right shoulder and consequently been resting on the right side of the spine at the back of the saddle (like us, the horse, will seek to avoid pain and discomfort by compensating away from the pressure).

Recently, a client contacted us in search for a polo saddle for her horse, Audi, whose left shoulder is significantly larger than the the right. Based on the known issues, we provided an Ainsley MVP with wool flocked panels. Strai9ht out of the box, and after riding a few turns both left and right, the saddle is clearly being pushed over towards the right by the larger left shoulder, so far in fact that the left side of the saddle sits at or on the spine. It goes without saying that this is no-no.

Our client worked with a local saddle fitter to ensure that the saddle would sit straight and level on Audi's back and not exert any pressure on sensitive areas like the sides and top of the withers and the spine.

Firstly, we needed to widen the saddle to give the left shoulder enough room to work without pushing the saddle to the right. To place the player forward, all polo saddles are designed to be placed further forward than other types of saddles and the shoulder blades have to pass behind the panels (which problematic in many polo saddles).

In this case, the saddle fitter installed the wide gullet plate (green), to give the left shoulder ample room. Of course, this creates too much space on the right side, the side of the weaker shoulder.

Then, the saddle fitter had a choice between adjusting the wool flocking - removing wool from the left panel and adding some in the right panel - or adding shims on the right side.

The saddle fitter chose to add shims to make the saddle sit straight and to stop it from sliding to the right, based on two factors:

1) Efforts to develop Audi's right shoulder will hopefully reduce the asymmetry over time, and it is easier to change the shims on a regular basis than it is to adjust the wool flocking frequently.

2) Brand new saddles, and the wool flocked panels, will settle down during the first couple of weeks, itself slightly changing the saddle's shape, which again is more easily remedied by changing the shims.

Once the required thickness of the shim(s) has been determined, it is fairly straightforward to prepare the corrective saddle pad.

Audi's saddle is now straight and level. It will cause Audi no pain and will allow our client to sit straight and balanced and be a more effective rider. As work to even out Audi's shoulders progresses, the thickness of the shims will be adjusted. Finally, any residual amount of asymmetry can then be accommodated by adjusting the wool flocking.

Depending on the root causes, it is often possible to reduce shoulder asymmetry. If your saddles slip to one side or the other, we recommend that your first port of call should be your vet or your equine physiotherapist. They may be able to establish a root cause and to suggest interventions designed to address it, thus reducing the asymmetry over time. Secondly, as long as the asymmetry persists, make sure that your saddle is continuously adjusted and fitted to produce a saddle that is straight and level. Both you and your horse will be more comfortable and a much more effective team on the pitch.

Learn more about the Ainsley MVP here:

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