Proper Positioning of the Saddle on a Horse’s Back


As horse enthusiasts and riders, we do all we can for our horses. We research feeds and supplements, analyze hay samples, agonize over training methods and try to choose the best living situation for our trusty steeds. Stall or pasture board? Shoes or barefoot? Is it too hot or cold to ride? Is the footing OK? Will this saddle fit my horse? Some of us have even purchased custom-made saddles, or had a saddle fitter adjust a saddle for a specific horse.

All of our meticulous research and well-meaning tack purchases may still cause problems, however. An improperly placed saddle can be very uncomfortable for the horse. The saddle tree is designed to distribute the rider’s weight over a large area of the horse’s back. The tree of the saddle – the hard framework that gives the saddle structure – should always rest behind the shoulder blade. Because of the weight applied to the saddle’s tree, the tree must not impede the movement of the horse’s shoulder.

In recent years, there has been an increase in the number of “treeless” saddles available to riders. While these may seem like the perfect solution for that hard-to-fit horse, the lack of a tree reduces the saddle’s weight distribution area and can also decrease stability. Many treeless saddles are made with a rigid pommel and cantle, a padded seat in between and a normal English or western rigging. For the purpose of this article, we are going to focus on the placement and potential problems of regular “treed” saddles.

Since appearances can be deceiving, your hands are your best tools for checking the placement of your saddle. Many western saddles have leather “skirts” or “jockeys” that extend past the front of the saddle’s tree, and some jumping saddles have flaps and knee rolls that extend onto the shoulder. These parts of the saddle are not weight bearing and will not put pressure on the shoulder. The easiest way to check tree position is to slide the fingers of one hand, palm side to the horse, under the saddle pad and over the edge of the shoulder blade after placing the saddle on the horse. If using an English saddle, the tree points at the very front of the saddle should be behind your fingertips. On a western saddle, the front edge of the tree is usually marked with a concho, rosette or screw at the base of the fork. This “marker” should be placed behind the end of your fingertips.

Even the best-fitting saddle can cause pain and damage to the horse’s withers, back and shoulder if it is placed too far forward. Often, this positioning will cause the saddle to “bridge” on the horse’s back. Bridging occurs when all of the pressure from the saddle is placed at the very front and rear of the saddle, instead of distributing the rider’s weight along the entire length of the saddle bars or panels.

A saddle that is placed too far forward not only impedes the movement of the shoulder, but can also lead to muscle atrophy and pain. As the muscle atrophies, the saddle can fit even more poorly, which can lead to additional muscle problems, pain, lameness and training issues. If your horse begins exhibiting behaviors such as refusing jumps, bucking, trouble picking up a canter lead or “girthiness”, it could be a saddle fit or placement problem.

Occasionally, the saddle is placed on the horse correctly, yet seems to creep to an incorrect position on the back – a symptom that the saddle may not be the best fit for this particular horse.  The tree could be either too wide or too narrow or the billets/rigging are not aligned with the horse’s natural girth line. Any saddle, no matter how well it fits the horse’s back, is going to move on the back until the girth or cinch is perpendicular to the ground. Most of the time, the billets or rigging are forward of the horse’s natural girth line, which will cause the saddle to be pulled forward onto the horse’s shoulder. There are English girths available that have offset buckles to allow the girth to rest in the horse’s natural girth line and still line up with the saddle’s billet position. Some Western saddles have multiple rigging options which allow the rider to customize the cinch’s location to the natural girth line of their horse. There are also many saddle pads available that help with saddle slippage. Be cautious, though, that your slipping saddle is not trying to tell you something about the saddle fit or placement on your horse.

There are many factors that affect saddle fit. Your best option, should you have questions or concerns about your horse’s saddle, is to seek input from a saddle fitter. Most major saddle makers have a fitter or representative in your area specially trained to evaluate fit and function of their saddles. Often, these reps are available to help evaluate other saddle makes. You can always ask your veterinarian, trainer, instructor, equine massage therapist or acupuncturist for the name of someone that they trust. English or western, competitive rider or pleasure and trail rider, your saddle fit and placement are important to your horse’s comfort and soundness.

Cindy Dulaney

Red Horse Saddlery, LLC

Cindy is a lifelong horse lover. She graduated from Kansas State University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Animal Science, and is the owner of Red Horse Saddlery and an authorized representative and fitter for Custom Saddlery. She resides in Elizabeth, CO, with her husband, three horses and one dog.

Keeping Your Pets Safe This Summer!

Summer is here and every year, dogs suffer and die when their guardians make the mistake of leaving them in a parked car—even for “just a minute”—while they run an errand. Parked cars are deathtraps for dogs: On a 78-degree day, the temperature inside a parked car can soar to between 100 and 120 degrees in just minutes, and on a 90-degree day, the interior temperature can reach as high as 160 degrees in an hour. According to research on the American Veterinary Medical Association’s website (, cracking the windows does little to nothing to keep pets cool. During these warm month, ask yourself,”Does my pet really need to come?” It can be a matter of life and death for your pet.

funny_dog_pictures-2Something else to consider is what time of day you are interacting with your pet outdoors. Exercising with pets should be done during the cool hours of the day– early morning or later in the evening. They, just like humans, are susceptible to heat exhaustion and heat stroke.  Another thing to consider is how hot the surface is that you are walking on! Dogs have thick and calloused pads on their paws, but these can still easily burn. Sidewalks and asphalted roads can quickly reach extreme temperatures in the morning, and hold onto heat from the day. If you aren’t sure if the pavement is too hot, feel it! If there’s even a doubt in your mind that it’s too warm, don’t subject your pet’s paws to it.

Remember that panting is your dog’s primary method of staying cool. They also dissipate heat through the pads on their paws. Another way they stay cool is by their fur–this may seem counter-intuitive, but fur acts as insulation against the heat as well as the cold. Making sure your pets have access to shade, fans/air flow, and clean water are imperative, especially if they are outside.

When travelling with your pet, have a full water container (bottles, gallon jug, etc.) and dish/bucket for them to drink out of.

Some other things to keep in mind are:

-having unscented baby sunscreen for dogs with pale or pink skin and thin hair around their face

-having a child’s play pool (small plastic shallow type) filled with clean water for dogs to play in while supervised

-having a wet towel or cloth available for the pet to lie on outside

-using a spray bottle to mist water over your pet when out and about on warm days (if they tolerate it)


Written by Callie Rulli- Skylark Animal Bodywork, LLC

Diffusing Essential Oils: Diffuser 101

spa-mistEspecially at this time of year, when it’s still dreary cold and rain and I’m longing for warm sunny days, I find using an essential oil diffuser very beneficial. Emotional roller coasters for us humans also impact our furry friends, who quickly pick up on our energy and emotions. Using essential oils can be a great way to calm everyone down in the household, and using a diffuser is a way to simplify the process.

31XDymhrOiLThere are many different diffusers, and many different opinions, so here I hope to convey general information to help people make up their own minds. When looking at different brands of diffusers, do your homework! Some people are brand-devotees, sticking to Young Living, doTerra, etc. Some people are perusers of Regardless, reading reviews of the product is essential. Will the company replace the diffuser if there is an issue? Do they have a good trouble-shooting schematic for problems? Are they very clear on the drops of oil to water ratio?


Things to consider when looking for a diffuser:

-Diffusers that heat the oil can also degrade the oil, so opt for one that stays cool

-With water vapor diffusers, you want to make sure that the unit will create a super-fine mist. The finer the mist, the more broken down the oil molecules will be the distribute more throughout the air.

-Different units will run for longer periods of time

-Some units light up, some are more designed to fit in with room decor

-How easy are they to keep clean? Keeping your diffuser clean is imperative for it to function properly. Some designs have many pieces to take apart in order to keep them clean and running well.

*ALWAYS make sure that the oils you choose to diffuse are safe to use around pets–dogs, birds, and ESPECIALLY cats.* Books like The Animal Desk Reference by Melissa Shelton, DVM are an excellent resource for using essential oils safely around your animals.

Written by Callie Rulli, Skylark Animal Bodywork, LLC

Acupressure Points: Thinking outside the species box!

This little lamb was seen by a local veterinarian for a dislocated hock. The veterinarian then re-located and set a cast for the hock.

The April 2015 Large and Small Animal Acupressure class was able to learn firsthand that LI 4 is not only for pain in horses and dogs, but other animals too! When the veterinarian cleared the lamb for other treatment modalities, the class was able to see a demonstration of acupressure points on the little guy.

For more information on acupressure classes, visit or email for more details.

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Spring is Here, Stop Hibernating, and let’s not get Angry!


Spring is a happy time. The spring grass is emerging, and the animals love the return of longer days of sunshine, and warmth of the Spring air.

In TCM, spring is represented by the element Wood.  Wood represents birth and newness. Wood governs the spine, joints, muscles, ligaments and tendons, and the eyes.  A Wood energy imbalance can lead to spinal problems, poor flexibility, arthritis and eye problems.

The Wood element governs the liver.  The Liver meridian is responsible for the smooth flow of Qi , and smooth flowing Qi means balanced health, vitality, and balanced emotions.  The emotion associated with the liver, and the wind of spring, is Anger.  If your animal’s liver energy is imbalanced their Qi will be disrupted and they can become irritable, and even angry.

Spring into action and perform acupressure to balance the Wood element, and balance the liver. Spring into action, and give your animals and your clients animals a Spring Acupressure Session.

Massage the following points clockwise with your thumb, for thirty seconds on the right of  side of the animal, and then do the same on the left.

  • Liv3 , the Source Point of the Liver Meridian, to promote the smooth flow of Qi, and balance the emotions.
  • LI11, to help support the immune system. Extremely, helpful for animals with allergies.
  • Sp6, Three Yin meeting to promote Yin energy, and balance Kidney, Liver, and Spleen

Caution Spring is also when many of our animals are pregnant, remember DO NOT  perform acupressure on pregnant animals!!!!

In addition, this is the time to increase your animal’s activity. You animals need to come out of hibernation. Walk you dogs more often. If your horses have been off work all winter, start doing your ground work, and light riding. The increase in activity will be helpful for them, and you!

To learn more go to for free newsletter, and six free online animal and human acupressure lessons, or contact Beth Pelosa, RMSAAM’s Animal Acupressure Instructor, and Professional Animal Acupressure and Massage Practitioner for more information 303-746-7786.  Check our website for RMSAAM acupressure courses taught by Beth Pelosa

Company Spotlight: Centaur Trainology


A few years ago while in the Netherlands I met Dr. Menke Steenbergen, a young Dutch veterinarian who was developing a company called Centaur Trainology. As a high level dressage rider and coach, she had been exposed to the research of rein tension, especially with dressage horses. Wanting to focus on preventative health care and equine welfare, she and her team had gone through many prototypes and researched what other companies had investigated, as they developed their own version of a rein tension device (RTD). Through the past several years they have worked out kinks, developed software, and improved the technology. Now they are confident to offer highly reliable, light-weight rein tension devices that wirelessly transmit data to a program on the computer. This has proven to be incredibly useful for riders and trainers, coaches and consultants, veterinarians, and researchers.


Olympic dressage riders like Imke Schellekens Bartels have tested out the system, and happily use it with their own training and coaching. She and others want to know what is actually happening in the horse’s mouth as they train and ride. Veterinarians who work on specific regions of the equine body also find this device useful; from back problems to dental care to lameness to bit fitting. More and more practitioners are looking at the horse as a whole, where the mouth connects to the poll, to the back, to the legs, etc. By understanding what is happening at the mouth, it may be possible to reveal the source of other lamenesses and problems.

Dr. Steenbergen and her team of representatives around the world are eager to promote more conscientious training, riding, and competition practices. She has also written a book entitled Horse Signals: Look, Think, Act available in English that investigates equine behavior by looking at hundreds of tiny signals that give you a more solid idea of how your horse is doing and how you can improve working with them.

For more information on Centaur Trainology, rein tension devices, Dr. Steenbergen, or her book, the website is: or

Written by Callie Rulli, Skylark Animal Bodywork, LLC

Neuroscience: the Basics

Neuroscience…such an intimidating name for the study of the nervous system. There’s the joke that a brain surgeon goes to a party, and after asking each person what their job is says, “Well, it’s not exactly brain surgery!” After thoroughly angering everyone at the party, he is introduced to another guest who works for the space administration. “Ah, I’m a brain surgeon!” he pompously states. The other man cocks his head and replies, “Well, it’s not exactly rocket science is it?”

The nervous system, in simple terms, is how the body communicates with its many parts. The brain, brain stem, spinal cord, and nerves are the general make-up of this complex system. They all work together to keep the body safe and in working order.

There are many types of sensory nerves and neurons that communicate different types of information with the brain: pain, temperature, light levels, smells, flavors, pressure, proprioception, sounds, and more. All of these help keep the body safe and well-informed in space.

Why are these diverse and well-developed sensory pathways important? Some animals have developed very protective exteriors, like shells and calloused skin. Human, dogs, horses, etc. have not, so we all have developed a very sensitive “warning” system. Pretty nifty, right?

The central nervous system (CNS) is comprised of the brain and spinal cord. The peripheral nervous system (PNS) is comprised of all of the nerves and ganglia (cluster of nerve bodies) that lie out in the periphery. The autonomic nervous system (ANS) controls the viscera and involuntary function. The ANS can be divided into two categories: sympathetic and parasympathic. These are how the body responds to external stress—either things are “rest and digest” (parasympathetic), or “fight or flight” (sympathetic).

Those are the basics of neuroscience….stay tuned for more on this incredibly interesting body system!!

By Callie Rulli, Skylark Animal Bodywork, LLC