Effective Horse Management - First in the Horse Health Series
Jenifer Nadeau, M.S., Ph.D
Associate Professor Equine Extension Specialist
Department of Animal Science
Back pain is a source of poor performance and many
different types of horses suffer from back problems.� Early recognition of back pain is important, since damage may be
cumulative.� This information is
provided to help horse owners and riders prevent, recognize, and pursue
treatment for back pain in their horses.
Causes of Back
������� Some common behaviors that indicate
back pain are listed below:
bucking during upward transitions, especially to the canter/lope from
the trot - The push and lift required for a smooth transition may be too hard
for a strained back, especially if the rider is sitting a bit heavier.
�refusing to stand during mounting
- When a once mannerly horse abruptly begins walking off or sidestepping when
mounted, this may be a sign of back pain.�
The horse will most likely resent tightening of the girth as well.� A mounting block may help, but won�t cure
the back pain.
�sinking when a rider mounts, a
saddle is placed on the back, or the girth is tightened
�jumping mistakes or refusals -
Jumping, particularly over fences 3 feet or higher, necessitates rounding of
the back and thrusting from the hindquarters which can increase back pain.
� �difficulty in negotiating hills - A horse must engage its hind end and use its back muscles to climb or descend hills, so a horse with a sore back might not want to climb or descend hills, will slow down considerably or take the hill sideways to decrease stress.�
� �reluctant sliding stops - The extreme rounding of the back required for sliding stops might be intolerable for a horse with back pain.�
� lack of impulsion and suppleness in the dressage ring - In the dressage ring, a horse with back pain will most likely show decreased performance due to lack of impulsion and suppleness because this requires hind end engagement and rounding.�
a poor general gait, stiffness and abnormal movement of the pelvis and
back.� The horse may have a shorter
stride and lower foot flight arc in the hindlegs, decreased flexion at the hock
and stifle, a �bunny hopping� gait or a very stiff, flat-backed gait where the
whole back and pelvis are very flat and rigid due to overflexion or extension
of the sacroiliac (back/pelvis) or lumbosacral (back) area.
reluctance to trot or canter
�reluctance to pick up and
maintain one lead of the canter
�changing jumping style
�vigorous tail movements
�dragging one or more hind feet
�reluctance to back
� If your horse
consistently shows one or more of these pain indicators, you should schedule a
visit with your veterinarian.
First, it must be determined if lameness or another physical
problem is the cause of the back pain.�
If that is the case, the underlying condition must be treated in order
to alleviate the back pain.� The
veterinarian will also attempt to determine if the pain is caused by a soft
tissue or bony lesion.� Surgical
treatment may be attempted in the case of kissing spines and some fractures.
The veterinarian may recommend simple stall rest and physiotherapy for the
horse. Chronic soft tissue injuries have a guarded prognosis in general, but
rest, controlled exercise and appropriate physiotherapy may be successful.� Seventy-five percent (75%) of horses treated
with acupuncture were able to perform at an acceptable level after five to
eight treatments (Xie et al. 1996).� This
study's investigators recommended that horses needing acupuncture receive
treatment for 8 weeks, stay in their normal training regime, and be exercised
on the day of treatment.� The
veterinarian may also suggest other alternative therapies such as chiropractic
adjustment.� The appropriate treatment
for back pain will depend on the cause of the back pain, severity of the injury
and the veterinarian�s recommendations for treatment.
There are several things that you can do to prevent your
horse from developing a sore back:
♠ Keep your horse in proper condition � an unfit,
poorly muscled horse is more likely to injure his soft tissue and less able to
work under saddle
♠ Be sure that your saddle fits properly and is not too
wide or too narrow
♠ Sit balanced in the saddle to prevent back problems
from developing by taking riding lessons from a qualified instructor
����������� Back pain
does not have to be a career-ending injury.�
Early detection can lead to complete recovery.� Preventing back pain should be the goal of all riders and horse
owners.� If you would like further
information on this topic, please consult the sources listed below.
1.� Karen Kopp Du Teil. July 1992. Back Pain. Equus 177:54-57.
2.� When a back sways. Dec. 1991. Equus 170 :43-44.
3.� Cauvin E. Sept. 1998. Assessment of back
pain in horses. In Practice 19(10):
522-526, 529-530, 533.
4.� Xie H, Asquith RL, and Kivipelto J.� 1996. A review of the use of acupuncture for treatment of back
pain. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science
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