Signs of a back problem in your horse

kissing spine Apr 26, 2021

As horses are not evolved or designed very well for us to ride them, unfortunately they do suffer with back problems - we sit on the lowest part of the back and they are not always strong enough to carry the weight of the saddle and rider. Back problems can range from sore muscles or tightness, restricted joints, to bones touching in the spine which is extremely painful for them (this is 'Kissing Spine'). 

Some horses show signs of back pain very clearly, while others just carry on with their job and don't show obvious signs. And it's these less obvious signs that I wanted to talk about in this post. 

As a Spinal Manipulation Therapist and Physiotherapy/Rehabilitation Specialist I spend the majority of my time working on back pain with horses, and the following signs are ones that I have observed that the owner may not have noticed...

* Horse moving away from mounting block: horse being 'naughty' OR doesn't want a rider on his back because he has back pain? 

* Twitching when brushing: 'ticklish' OR uncomfortable signs?

* Going to back of stable when you bring the tack to his door: going for a drink/hay/any other excuse OR doesn't want to be tacked up? 

* Struggling with contact when riding: if your horse is struggling with this, he may be unable to lift his core and back, due to back pain, and therefore struggles to work 'through' to the contact. 

* Bolting/bucking/rearing: in my experience horses are quite willing to work with us, so bolting, bucking or rearing is always a big red flag for me and a potential sign of back pain. Not a subtle sign, but it is easy to write off bucking as excitement etc, when it can be pain related.  

* Dips back when you put the saddle on his back, or even as you go to put it on: I have seen this many times, as you lift the saddle to put it on your horses back, they just slightly dip their back - you can only see this if you're standing at the front of the horse looking along his back so you can see what happens underneath the saddle (2 person job). 

* Holding their breath when you saddle up: you have to really be listening to and observing your horse for this one. 

Some of these are only observable when you tack up, obviously back pain and saddles are linked, and your horses back pain may only be a problem when he is carrying the weight of the saddle and rider. 


* Regular musculoskeletal checks for your horse to maintain your horses alignment and skeletal/muscular health. Regular checks will mean that any little issue will be picked up quickly. 

* Regular saddle checks with a fully qualified saddle fitter - horses change shape really quickly! 

* If you notice any of these more subtle signs in your horse, book your musculoskeletal therapist to check your horse.

* The longer back pain lingers on, the more difficult it is to solve. 

* Listen to your horses! If you are struggling with something, have a qualified professional out to help you!

* RAMP register for fully qualified physiotherapists, chiropractors and osteopaths: RAMP register

* SMS Society of Master Saddlers: list of qualified saddle fitters in your area: SMS website


* Kissing Spine Rehabilitation EBOOK: Click here: Ebooks

* Core Strengthening course: online training with members group, to show you how to do the core strengthening exercises that I recommend and use on a daily basis. Click here for details: Training course

* Membership group: I have set up a new ongoing  monthly training membership where you will learn about different topics each month to help you and your horse with exercise, improving posture, improving your communication with your horse, and improving your partnership! Monthly training membership

If you need help with any of this please do get in touch, I will always try and help.

Jenny x


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