As horse owners and riders, one of the best things we can do for our horses wellbeing is to understand and recognize when they are in pain. The back is a large, multilevel structure composed of muscles, tendon, ligaments, cartilage, bone/vertebrae, nerves and most importantly, the spinal cord – the key to the horses nervous system. Therefore back and spinal health is crucial for performance and rideability
Back pain is one of the most common ailments that horses, especially performance horses, suffer from. Your horse can be affected by it in many different ways, and let you know they hurt in just as many. Some of the most common primary causes of this are:
Poor saddle fit
General joint pain, especially hock and/or stifle
Osteoarthritis of facet joints between vertebrae
Injury causing fractured withers or other vertebrae
kissing spine - which results in chronic rubbing of vertebral bone on bone;
inflammation of an intervertebral disc;
inflammation of the ligament(s) on top of the spine;
In the riding world, one of the simplest, yet most common, causes of back pain that we see is poor core strength. Your horses core is key to functional movement. A weak core causes the belly to drop and the back to dip down with minimal support, which when carrying a rider is crucial. Lack of core strength makes every movement undersaddle much more strenuous, regardless of discipline. But we’ll save that for a different day!
Back pain can also be related to issues like a reaction to an injury in the hind limb that causes lameness. This then leads to back and general hind end pain (such as gluteal and tension in hip flexors and quads). Hooves also play a huge role in how the back feels. Compensation from forelimb lameness, whether it be joint or soft tissue related or due to sore feet or an abscess, radiates through compensation to the horses back -particularly their low back/lumbar region.
Generally horses are pretty good at telling us when they are in pain or discomfort. As a rider and owner, it is our job to be able to see and understand when they are telling us that something isn’t right. Usually you will start to notice that something just seems different or off about your horses. This is them telling us something important. We just need to listen. Some of the most common things that owners and riders will notice are:
Objecting to being saddled
Being slower than normal to warm up
Developing a bad attitude – pinning ears, threatening to bite or kick
Displaying abnormal tail swishing
Initiating uncharacteristic behavior - such as bolting or running away
Bucking or rearing
Not using himself or lack of hind end engagement
Being cold-backed when normally not
Refusing to collect and/or engage core
Becoming difficult to shoe – especially hind feet
Being reactive when brushing or blanketing
New white hairs developing along back
Difficulty with flying lead changes
Twisting over fences
Refusing or rushing fences
Stumbling or tripping
If any of these signs are things that you have noticed when riding or handling your horse, it is a good idea to keep track of it. There are many different things that can be done for back pain to help your horse get back to maximum comfort and performance. Regular maintenance with proper farrier work, as physio for rebalancing, strengthening and alleviating pain as well as massage/body work for both relief of current pain and general maintenance is a great way to prevent further issues.
Horses work their hearts out for us, it’s our job as riders to hear them when they are talking to us!
Suspect back pain? While we highly recommend diagnosis and treatment, we have products that can help treat and prevent pain and inflammation.
Equi-Ice back packs are perfect for reducing inflammation. Just like humans, horses benefit immensely from ice therapy as it reduces swelling and pain. Equus Physio is the only company in Canada that carries Equi-Ice.
Tight muscles? Using a Hansbo Sweat and Travel Rug will help loosen
muscles that have tightened due to resistance and bracing.
About the Author:
About the Author: Teresa Humpage EST, EEBW
Teresa Humpage is a certified Equinology Equine Body Worker (EEBW) and Equine Sports Therapist (EST). In 2006, she completed the Equinology EQ100 certification, and later went on to complete the Advance Equine Body Work Massage course in 2011. These courses and her considerable hands on experience set her up to be very successful at the BC College of Equine Sports Therapists; she graduated from this college in 2013 where she was within the top five graduates in her program. Her passion for education continues on as she furthers her knowledge on equine anatomy and biomechanics.
Teresa grew up in the Cochrane area and has always had horses in her life. From an early age, she started riding in Pony Club and achieved B Level. Teresa also enjoyed doing hunter/jumpers, but she quickly learned that her true passion is eventing. Even as an adult, she remains involved in Pony Club where she helps with stable management and as a regional examiner.
This love and passion for all things equine coupled with her extensive education and experience equips Teresa to effectively treat equine athletes in order to help improve their wellness and performance. Teresa is a strong advocate of collaborating with all members of a horse’s wellness team such as trainers, farriers, vets, physios, and chiropractors in order to develop the best wellness program for each horse she treats.