Signs That Indicate Your Horse May Need Its Back Checked

By Emma Boyd Qualified Veterinary Osteopath.  BSc (Hons) OSt PG Dip Vet Ost GOsC Registered

Many people are unsure of when and why they should need their horses backs assessed. Here is a basic check list of common signs that may indicate your horses back needs checking:

1) Resistance:
‘Resistance’ is commonly used as a term to describe a horse’s reluctance to relax through their neck and back in the way that is required to enable the horse to come correctly on to the bit.
However, the same term can also be used to describe when a horse appears to have an inability to bend through its neck and back when working on one rein.
Resistance may be demonstrated in a variety of different ways including:

• The horse opening its mouth to resist contact on the bit, or taking hold of the bit
• The horse refusing to relax through its neck and drop its nose
• Tail swishing
• The horse appearing to ‘fix’ through its neck so that it cannot bend when on one rein
• Through to, in extreme cases, rearing or bucking when asked to work

Joint/ joints in the neck being out of alignment, low back stiffness, and pelvis mis-alignment in horses can all cause the problems with resistance as described above. This is because these back problems will mean that your horse is unable to round and bend freely through the neck and back to allow it to work through correctly and without resistance.

2) Favouring one lead in canter or frequently becoming disunited in canter:
All horses, as with people, are stronger on one rein than another. However, many horses, due to discomfort in their backs, have an inability to canter on one rein. This may manifest as the horse continually offering one lead in canter or the horse taking the correct lead but then becoming disunited.
The commonest cause of the canter problems described above is that of pelvis mis-alignment.
For example; ‘Monty’ had a pelvis and hip restriction on the right side, this meant that when trying to take left canter, he found it too uncomfortable, he therefore often offered right canter when his rider was asking for left canter, and when his owner insisted on him taking left canter he became disunited in the corners.

3) Saddle slipping/ twisting to one side:
When riding, the saddle should move evenly with the stride of the horse, therefore remain central on the horse’s back. Two common reasons for the saddle to frequently twist/ slip to one side:

• Uneven muscle development in the horse’s back, or shoulders.
There are a variety of reasons why either the shoulders or  the rump of your horse may not have even muscle development that are not caused by joint or back problems, including if you tend to work your horse more on one rein than the other. This is commonly seen in racehorses, as racetracks tend to be set up to always run on the same rein.

If the shoulders or rump muscle development were not equal, however, it may be an indication that your horse has a slight joint restriction that effects its ability to use its muscles on one side and may be indicative of an associated tight or irritated muscle, which it is important to have treated by a qualified veterinary osteopath to prevent injury to your horse.

• Pelvic mis-alignment.
This is when the pelvis becomes lower on one side than the other due to the movement being limited on one side of the joint between the pelvis and the lumbar spine (low back). This joint is called the lumbo-sacral joint.

This mis-alignment of the pelvis can cause a variety of difficulties for the horse depending upon the severity of the problem, from inability to canter on one rein through to bucking or even making the horse appear lame.

Osteopathic treatment from a qualified veterinary osteopath can put the pelvis back into the normal alignment, thereby allowing the horse to complete its normal activities again.

If you are having any of the problems described above it would be a good idea to consider having your horses back checked by a qualified veterinary osteopath to ensure its back is working correctly.

Many of these day to day and long term problems can be prevented by ensuring that you have your horse regularly checked by a qualified veterinary osteopath for any possible back or joint problems. Therefore, any problems in your horse can be diagnosed and treated at an early stage before they start to affect the way that your horse is working.

I usually advise that all horses should be checked every three to six months, depending upon how much work the horse is doing.

For example: a horse that is regularly competing and commonly asked to work hard should be checked every three months, whereas a horse that is doing general riding and is, therefore, less strenuously worked, should be alright to be checked every six months to a year, unless it is known to have a regular back or joint problem, then it may need to be seen more often.

If you wish to know any more about veterinary osteopathy, or to discuss your horses possible need for veterinary osteopathic treatment, please do not hesitate to contact me on:  07703 323 532

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