Often overlooked, under-treated and misunderstood.

Sometimes just a tack change can successfully head off major veterinary bills. Kissing Spine in horses is frequently associated with bad behaviour due to the pain response.  As you know, here at ThinLine, we are committed to making life better and happier for horses. After several years of working with veterinarians, trainers, and owners we have consolidated information on Kissing Spine in horses and put together a plan of action to combat this disease.

My horse is behaving badly under saddle, and I think it may be coming from pain. What can I do to help make them more comfortable?

Pain is always the first place to check when dealing with horse’s behaving badly. Since horses are prey animals they don’t have the ability to make pain sounds. Instead, they will react in other ways such as but never limited to; biting, bucking, bolting, rearing, spinning, spooking and general tension. If you think your horse may be silently suffering, we always recommend your first call to reach out to a veterinarian professional first.

Once you understand what you are dealing with, we also have other recommendations to help manage discomfort for your horse.

The bones of the withers help anchor major ligaments that support the neck and back. | © Illustrated Atlas of Clinical Equine Anatomy Read more about sore withers in horses 

Saddle Fit

Calling a certified Saddle fitter in your area should be one of the first things you do with any horse who is showing discomfort with tack.  Saddle fitters are money well spent with all horses. Horses are always changing their muscle shape and a saddle that may have fit a year ago, may not still fit today. If you have a horse who is developing or a saddle that isn’t a perfect fit, an excellent solution is using the ThinLine Shims. You can work with your saddle fitter and your ThinLine pad to optimize your saddle fit.

We recommend to know your horse’s normals and feel their body often. Always check your horse after a good ride and make sure they are not exhibiting pain.  Gently press fingers on either side of the spine from wither to croup. Your horse should not react by lowering his back and/or lifting their head or swishing their tails. Some horses are ticklish, so do try a baseline with this after a few days off.

Alternative Therapy

Acupuncture, chiropractic adjustments, mesotherapy and/or massage can have a role here. They can be a great supporting role for the overall well being of your horse. “In my opinion, if we have a case of significant bone reaction along with kissing spines then the benefits of chiropractic may be minimal and possibly counterproductive; however, acupuncture or mesotherapy can reduce the pain and dysfunction. There are a number of individuals in our area that practice equine massage and are frequently recommended”. Frank Frantz, Burlington Equine.

Training and Physical Therapy

Physical therapy should be considered the essential component for management of this condition. Using exercises that help to build core strength and ones that allow the back to lift are the main concepts. Proper groundwork, cavaletti work, and stretches and exercises such as belly lifts are all designed to help strengthen the back and pelvic muscles.

When we refer to building core strength it’s not the back muscles that are over the spine but rather the ones adjacent to the spine (multifidus muscles), the ones that go from under the spine to the hips (psoas muscles) and the ones that run along the abdominal wall (abdominal oblique muscles) that we try to strengthen. These are the muscles that work to lift or flex the back versus the ones on top that extend the back. Of course, the physical therapy piece of the puzzle is easier than it sounds and may take months to fully appreciate the benefits. “I find that combining it along with some type of therapy that makes the horse more comfortable is the best way to go.” Frank Frantz, Burlington Equine.

However, it important to note that a horse will not be able to use their body properly if they have a physical limit of pain, always keep in mind your horse’s fitness when building a training program. Talk to your veterinarian and trainer to stay on the right path for your horse.

Equine Rehabilitation and Schooling

From Horse and Hound UK:

Equine surgeon Bruce Bladon points out that a colleague in Sweden who has operated on a lot of kissing spines cases has more recently had excellent results — without surgery — with horses sent to a rider experienced in equine rehabilitation and re-schooling.

This makes sense,” says Bruce. “We’re talking about the normal flexibility of the spine, occasionally resulting in the edges of the bones ‘kissing’. It’s easy to imagine how a different rider or saddle, or increased muscle tone as a result of physiotherapy and a change in work, might prevent this. It’s also easy to see how the results of schooling a horse could be so different, depending on the psychology of the rider,” adds Bruce, who believes that kissing spines surgery can, in some cases, have the effect of a placebo.

“The difference in attitude between a rider concerned that their horse is behaving like it is because it has an underlying disease, and a rider who knows that their horse has had surgery for this disease and is now ‘cured’, will be considerable — and quite rightly so. But it is major surgery and this has kept a ‘lid’ on the use of the procedure — no-one wants to do it unless they really think it will be beneficial.”

Sometimes just a tack change can successfully head off major veterinary bills.

Whether the culprit is saddle fit, less than perfect training, or less than perfect riding we know for certain; the comfort of the horses back needs to be addressed as quickly and as simply as possible. Both pre and post-surgical horses find relief in ThinLine’s therapeutic saddle pads.