If your horse suddenly begins to exhibit behaviour that is out of character, such as rearing, bolting, bucking or refusing to be tacked up, it's highly likely that he is suffering from back pain.
There are many causes of equine back pain and it's advisable to ask your vet to examine your horse to try to determine the cause, as some conditions can become chronic if left untreated. One such problem is a condition called kissing spines. But what is kissing spines and how can it be treated?
Kissing spines is a low-grade, chronic condition in horses that causes discomfort, especially when the horse is ridden. This can lead to perceived 'misbehaviour' and mulishness. The condition occurs when the bony, spinous processes in the horse's back become too close to one another, rubbing together each time the horse moves and causing pain.
Symptoms of Kissing Spines
Some horses exhibit very few symptoms, making it difficult to pinpoint a problem. Others may show clearer signs that there may be an issue, including:
- snapping when girthed-up
- showing irritability when groomed
- bolting, especially when being mounted
- refusing to work through the back into the bridle
- stiffening and refusing to bend through the body around circles
Any or all of these signs could indicate that your horse is suffering from kissing spines and you should seek veterinary advice. Until your vet has examined your horse, you should refrain from riding.
Diagnosis and Treatment
The vet will examine your horse for signs of back pain. A nerve block may then be administered between the spinal processes and the vet will observe the horse again, possibly under saddle if this is when the problems manifest themselves. The next stage in diagnosis usually involves taking the horse to an equine veterinary clinic where ultra-sonograms and X-rays are taken.
Treatment of kissing spines is usually surgical. The veterinary surgeon makes two small incisions in the horse's back, and then cuts through the supraspinous ligament and any other tissue attachments to the horse's spine. Half the spinal processes are then removed and the ligaments and skin sutured. The void left behind by the procedure is initially filled by a blood clot and latterly by fibrous tissue.
The recovery time following kissing spines surgery is lengthy at around three to six months, although most patients are ultimately able to return to full work.
Make sure to seek out vet services promptly whenever you're worried about the health of an animal.