Recuperating Back Muscles

My 17-year-old Half-Arabian gelding underwent colic surgery, recovered well, but his back has dropped.
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I have a 17-year-old Half-Arabian gelding that underwent colic surgery in August 2005. He had a totally uneventful recovery, and within six months he was back to his usual job of pleasure and trail riding. My only remaining concern is that he lost tone in his belly muscle and his back dropped somewhat, and I haven’t been able to get it to return to normal. Although I was aware of the change, I didn’t realize the degree of it until I tried an English saddle on him that we hadn’t used since before the surgery.

The saddle was reflocked and fitted to him two years ago, and it was a good fit. Now the fit is so poor it’s unusable (it’s bridging, meaning the panels are not contoured to fit the shape of his back). I thought his everyday saddle was okay, but I have had some issues with his back getting sore, and on closer inspection, it’s not a great fit, either. I am now using a small pad under his regular pad.

The bigger problem is why haven’t I been able to get the belly and back muscles in shape? I’ve read several articles about bringing a horse back from injury/illness and went through the proper reconditioning initially, and he’s really quite fit as far as stamina, recovery time for pulse/respiration, etc. That part is well behind us. I’ve been told lots of long trotting sessions and transitions will help to strengthen the back. I also do "carrot stretches" and belly lifts, but I’m not really seeing progress. Do you think he is too old to fully recuperate these large muscles or do you have other suggestions?

AFor any musculoskeletal injury, specific issues need to be addressed for full rehabilitation and optimal performance. Most rehabilitation programs begin with pain control and progress to coordination, flexibility, strength, and endurance exercises. From your description, it seems like your horse is still experiencing some recurrence of back pain due to improper saddle fit. The added pad in the area of bridging is a good temporary fix to help provide support along the entire length of the bridging saddle. However, chronic back pain can prevent proper use and development of both the abdominal and back muscles

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Kevin K. Haussler, DVM, DC, PhD, Dipl. ACVSMR, graduated from The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine in 1988 before completing a small animal internship. To further his training in conservatively managing spinal-related disorders, he pursued human training at Palmer College of Chiropractic-West and completed a veterinary chiropractic certification program in 1993. He completed his PhD, focusing on spinal pathology and pelvic biomechanics in Thoroughbred racehorses, from the University of California, Davis, and then studied equine spinal kinematics at Cornell University. While at Cornell, he directed the newly formed large and small animal Integrative Medicine Service. Currently, Haussler is an associate professor at the Colorado State University (CSU) Orthopaedic Research Center, where he’s involved in teaching, clinical duties, and researching. He is a charter diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation and a course instructor for the Equine Rehabilitation Certification course, co-branded by the University of Tennessee and CSU.

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