Q: My horse makes a funny noise when I ride him. It sounds like it comes from the saddle, but my instructor says that it is my horse sucking air in and out of his sheath because he was recently gelded. Is this true? How long will it go on for?
A: Your instructor is absolutely correct that the noise is not being made by the saddle itself, but it has nothing to do with your horse’s recent gelding, and will not simply go away with time. The noise arises because of the flow of air through the sheath, but it can occur in mares also as the air moves through the udder. The airflow in both cases is created because of tension in the back or abdominal musculature of the horse, and will only go away once the horse relaxes over the back.
Anything that causes tension of the muscles can cause the noise to occur. If it occurs sporadically and for a short time, it is normally not something to worry about and is thought to be caused by an external factor such as cold weather or excitability or tension in new surroundings. In these instances, doing lots of transitions to relax and loosen the back can help. Trot-canter-trot transitions, along with trot-walk-trot transitions, 20 metre circles and serpentines are all excellent ways to get your horse to relax over the back.
If the noise, however, is continuous, or occurs on a daily basis, it needs examination. The most common cause of more regular noise is tension due to improper riding and aids. Rough hands and legs are key factors in this situation. If, however, you are confident that your horse is being ridden correctly, and sympathetically, yet is still making this noise, you need to rule out other causes of back tension including poor saddle fit, lack of strength, hock pain, foot pain and dental issues.