Similar to humans with red hair, red-headed horses have very sensitive skin. The largest organ of the body, skin is designed for defense. It's also the first to show signs of pressure and can be used to assess pain in horses — specifically, pain from poor saddle fit.
The area on a horse's back where the saddle sits is loaded with nerves and is very sensitive to pain and pressure. Healthy skin should be pliable, not dry and soft. Horses that have a poorly fitted saddle can have skin changes from the chronic pressure, including dryness and atrophy of nerve tissue that can make detection of pain more difficult.
Horses experiencing poor saddle fit can show skin ripples or wrinkles that are raised from the skin's surface. This reaction can happen when the saddle slips forward or backward and pulls the skin with it. If the horse is particularly sensitive, like most chestnuts, the pain can trigger a panniculus response, which is normally seen when a fly lands on a horse and he twitches his muscle to remove it. Any time this reaction is seen without insects, further investigation into the reaction is warranted.
If a horse shows these ridges after removing the saddle, it's wise to call a saddle fitter to check the saddle's fit. In the meantime, place a wither relief pad under the saddle at the withers, cross the billets of the saddle (that attach to the girth) to stop slipping or add a fleece pad directly onto the horse's back.
Read more at HorseTalk.
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