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How to recognise and treat kissing spine

Kissing spine is a serious problem for horses that can cause them plenty of discomforts when out riding or even just in the stables. There are a number of symptoms of kissing spine, which are crucial to identify early on, to prevent the condition worsening. We reckon you should be able to recognise them yourself, but if you're unsure about the condition of your horse we recommend that you speak to a vet to get a professional opinion.


The main things to look out for initially are any back irritations that it appears your horse is suffering from. Developing form this, they'll be quite discomforted when you attempt to saddle or mount them, and they may also have difficulty with their athleticism or won't want to make any jumps. You'll usually be able to get an x-ray to confidently diagnose the problem, and then treatment can take place. First steps will just be rest and a few physiotherapy sessions to strengthen the back. You'll be able to arrange surgery if the problem persists longer, but this is rarely necessary. 



For more information about back pain in horses, click here.



One of the main symptoms of kissing spine is an increasing sign of back pain in your horse. They may become visibly irritated and abnormally sensitive during saddling and girthing up, or when mounting. It is, however, worth remembering that some horses simply dislike being saddled, which means that you will need to be aware of the difference between the two. If the horse does have kissing spine, and the condition has become quite severe, then the horse may rear, buck or bolt.


Another obvious symptom of the condition is the refusal to attempt jumps that were previously not an issue. This is in addition to a general decrease in athleticism and mobility. Some horses, who suffer from kissing spine, will start to show a rather clumsy or uncoordinated way of moving when viewing them from behind. Stiffness is also an issue associated with kissing spine. This may gradually show and then become continually worse.

Any experience of these reactions should be reported to a veterinary specialist as soon as possible.

What are the Causes?

Kissing spine is usually caused from repeated trauma, which can stem simply from a badly fitted saddle or a heavy rider that is sitting incorrectly. Also, if your horse suffers a severe fall causing it to go over backwards, then the animal could injure itself quite badly; this would lead to a more obvious case of the condition in the future.


Horse Laying on Back


What Can the Vet Do for You?

The vet will usually take a look at the horse being ridden both under the saddle and on the lunge if they suspect they could be suffering from kissing spine. Then, if the vet is still unsure, they'll tend to arrange an x-ray, which will be very insightful as the spine is such a prominent structure in the body.

The interpretation of the x-rays must be done with caution since many horses have some degree of changes to the spinal/vertebrae area without actually having kissing spine. The vet will usually complete a nerve block test, which will also help to confirm a diagnosis.


Treating kissing spine

Once the horse is diagnosed and it's confirmed that they're suffering from kissing spine the treatment can begin. In the early stages, a period of rest will give relief, but the problem often returns when the horse is being ridden again. A course of physiotherapy is then often tried to help solve the issue.

If all else fails then surgery is an option where the bone spurs are removed. This procedure is usually very successful, providing that you follow a quality rehabilitation programme.

Kissing spine often affects top performance horses who, after treatment, generally make good horses for the less competitive riders who just want a good all-rounder or a happy hacker.


Preventing your horse from getting injured revolves around how well you care for them in all walks of life. For tips on injury prevention and general well being, check out our Ultimate Horse Health Guide.