As mentioned in the previous post, when I unsaddled Smokey at the end of the first day of the work party, I was greeted by a bright pink spot where the hair and flesh had been rubbed away. Because his health and well being is first and foremost when on these trips, there was no question that he was unrideable. I rendered first aid, and he spent the rest of the trip at camp on the all you can eat alfalfa program.
24 hours later, the area was quite swollen and tender to the touch. By Sunday morning, the swelling was subsiding, but was still noticeable. He rode back to the trail head where our rig was parked in someone else's trailer. Our local chapter vet was there guarding all the pickup's and trailers. His initial assessment was grim: severe hematoma, which would require months of recovery, and possibly surgical removal. To say that I was depressed about hurting my friend would be a vast understatement.
We arrived home on July 25th. Within two days of arriving home, the swelling had subsided, and the skin began to heal. I'm happy to report that by Aug. 12th, he was healthy enough to be ridden by one of the girls in our 4H club at the County Fair, where he took several Grand Champions, I might add. And, we did an overnighter in the backcountry on Aug. 21st and 22nd.
So how did this happen? After some soul searching, and a few in depth discussions with some experienced folk, I've narrowed it down to three factors:
1. Smokey's spine protrudes upward above his hips. This is known as a roach back. Notice the hump in the picture below. This is fairly uncommon. Whether this is a natural conformation defect, or the result of some past injury is unknown.
Compare to the same spot on Bailey's back. No spine to be seen.
2. I was using a crupper for the first time on this trip. A crupper is designed to prevent the saddle from slipping too far foward while traveling downhill. When walking downhill, horse and mules will naturally clench their tail, holding the crupper in place. I feel that the crupper placed extra pressure on the back of the saddle above his protruding spine. Needless to say, I won't be using the crupper again. I'm going to spring for saddle britchen.
3. I failed to tighten the cinch adequately. My saddle fits Smokey as if it were made for him. As a result, I tend to get somewhat complacent with regards to how tight the cinch is. He's a bit cinchy, and puffs up during the process. Because we were traveling on hills, I should have paid extra attention, and perhaps tightened it up a bit more than usual.
Bottom line: My fault, and it will not happen again.