As many of you know, I take saddle fit very seriously. It kind of comes with the territory when you're a professional, independent saddle fitter!
When I first attempted to fit Hazel, her back muscles were so contracted that I couldn't even begin to figure out what she should be fitted in. She was severely sway-backed, and doing belly lifts only brought her back up about a half inch, amidst her tail flicking and hoof stamping as she communicated her discomfort.
After an initial visit from our chiropractor as well as a week of carrot stretches, she was then able to lift her back almost two inches, and I was able to see that despite her sunken topline she is actually a very flat-backed horse, requiring a very different styled saddle than I originally had assumed.
Now, nearly three weeks later, she is able to lift her back to what appears to be its full height with little discomfort and it sits more than three inches above where she generally chooses to hold herself when unengaged. This dropped appearance should begin to resolve as the muscles of her back and neckbegin to stretch out from their contracted state. She is also beginning to stretch her neck down during belly lifts and make "oh la la" eyes instead of showing signs of discomfort. You can even feel the lift in her back happening when she begins to extend her neck in riding, though not nearly to its full extent. In time she should return to having a nice loose topline and a well-muscled abdomen, so that she can comfortably carry a rider again!
It is so crucial that we remain watchful for signs of discomfort in our horses. The damage to this mare's back appears to have been from long-term contraction - likely even from before the previous owner had her, as she only had her a short while. I cannot stress enough the importance of slow, correct training (including strength and elasticity training) as well as a correctly fitted saddle!