A diagnosis of kissing spines usually fills owners with dread, as we’ve all heard of horses who have the condition who’ve become too dangerous to ride – sometimes permanently. Called impinging spinous processes by vets, it’s a relatively common condition that can affect the vertebrae in your horse’s back.
Spinous processes are pieces of bone that extend from the top of each vertebrae and in a normal horse there’s a space between each. However, in horses with kissing spines, these spinous processes touch or overlap.
It’s true that kissing spines can cause a lot of pain, but did you know that many horses with kissing spines suffer no discomfort at all? Often it’s an incidental finding while investigating another problem. So if your horse has kissing spines, it’s not all doom and gloom.
Causes of close spinous processes
Horses with short or dipped back conformation will inevitably have spinous processes that are crowded or close together. Crowding doesn’t necessarily lead to kissing spines or pain, however the flexibility of your horse’s back may be reduced. It’s unlikely that this will affect his ability to work unless he’s competing at a high level, although this stiffness may predispose him to back muscle or ligament pain, or damage to the joints of his spine or pelvic region.
The back is a dynamic structure and the closeness of the spinous processes will also be determined by back posture. For example, when your horse is ridden in a correct or long and low outline, the spinous processes probably have a larger gap between them than when he’s ridden incorrectly, with his head above the bit and back hollow or dipped.
Protecting against kissing spines
Whatever your horse’s back conformation, it’s wise to take preventative measures to keep it in good working order. Take steps to improve and maintain good back posture and stability, and ensure he’s always ridden in a correct outline or long and low. This will help to keep the spinous processes apart, and go a long way to reducing the chance of him suffering from kissing spines and back pain.
For more information about Kissing Spine, including treatment options, the prevention process and other reasons your horse could be experiencing back pain, get your copy of January Horse&Rider, out now.