• Lessons learnt from a kissing spine horse

    Jonny was perfect. 3/4 Thoroughbred with good breeding, experienced and described by all who

    knew him as "a perfect gentleman". I was his 4th owner ever (stud, 2nd, 3rd, me!) Each time he

    moved, it was to people who knew the previous owners. I did everything right: trial period, 5 stage

    vetting etc. And then it all went wrong. His behaviour became dangerous and erratic. Three

    months after buying my dream horse he was diagnosed with Kissing Spines. (KS)

    At the time it did not seem fair, but the experience with this lovely horse would teach me so much

    and inspired me to become an equine bodyworker.

    Here are some things I learned during the 3 years Jonny was with me:

    1. Turn out is king: Jonny would improve in the summer. He lived out 24/7 with his field mate in

    the summer. Grazing allows the back to stretch and relax. Moving about

    in the paddock also helps maintain fitness and prevents stiffness. Tension, mental or physical,

    often makes pain worse. Unfortunately, it is not always practical or possible to turn out year

    round. Don't despair, there are things you can do to help your horse through the winter.

    Splitting hay into different nets and hanging in different places inside the stable encourages

    your horse to move around more. Feed on the floor where possible to get your horse to stretch.

    Splitting hay into different nets encourages horses move around the stable and mimics grazing behaviour. This may make mucking out a touch harder, but at least you won't be dealing with a horse that

    completely seized up over night! Treatballs are another great way to keep your horse moving

    and keeps boredom at bay in the stable. Fibre nuggets fits well into most treatballs and can

    replace some of your horse's hay ration. Another, not so obvious issue: smaller horses behind

    high stable doors. Your horse will have to lift his head higher than he would normally in the

    field and this puts extra strain on the back. If possible use a bar or webbing stall guard instead,

    even if it is just for part of the day. Your horse will almost certainly appreciate the extra fresh air


    2. Bad behaviour... an indication of pain or something else?. I hear this often: "he is just being

    naughty/learned that he can get people off." That may be true, but why did he want you off in the

    first place? Jonny didn't show the classic back pain symptoms at first, but he was becoming

    increasingly dangerous ON THE GROUND! Handling him became so erratic that I ended up

    calling the vet. There was no way I was even going to attempt to ride him. Once we managed the

    pain and rehabilitation started, my horse became a complete gentleman again. Careful, gentle

    handling meant that by the end of his life there was enough trust between us that a little buck was

    enough to tell me: "hey, can we please stop, I don't feel so good". If he wanted to he could have

    planted me. Bucking, bolting, charging, explosions are all unpleasant for us to deal with, but an

    absolute last resort for your horse. Please, before anything else, check for pain.

    3. Of Tack and tact: Have you ever had anybody dump a heavy backpack onto your back and

    then, without warning tighten the straps? It is unpleasant. Don't do it to your horse, especially if his

    back hurts! Owners/handlers are often not even aware of the fact they are actually doing this.

    Slow down. Take a moment. Do the girth up slowly, sympathetically.

    And obviously make sure your saddle fits! Get the fit checked regularly while your horse builds up

    muscle again during rehabilitation.

    Not so obvious: other pieces of tack/gadgets may not work with or for your horse any more. In our

    case it was the pessoa, which is ofter recommended for rehabilitation exercise. Jonny refused to

    move with it on and stood shaking, rooted to the spot. We ended up double lunging instead. The

    saddle was fitted WITH the sheepskin saddlepad as he preferred it that way. For your horse it may

    be rugs, numnahs or girths or even as subtle as needing a different bit, different type of shoes or

    going barefoot! Take the time, observe and try. The results may surprise you!

    4. Riding is not the only form of exercise! KS is a condition that needs management. Some days,

    for whatever reason, Jonny was just too sore to be ridden. Exercise, however, is key to keeping

    Kissing Spine horses going. We both found lunging a bit boring, but double lunging was far more

    fun. We did a lot of in-hand work and yes, it does actually exercise the horse... Ever noticed how

    much harder it is to lift a relatively light weight slowly instead of doing fast reps? Practising certain

    movements, in hand, with your horse will help him move and carry himself better. There are

    brilliant trainers and books out there that will help you get going.

    5. The right team: If in doubt: 1. Stop guessing and call THE VET and 2. get some x-rays done.

    The best way to confirm the presence of KS is with an x-ray. Once you have a proper diagnosis

    your vet will suggest treatment options of which there are a LOT (surgery, mesotherapy, antiinflammatory/

    steroid injections, shock wave therapy and many more) or refer you to a specialist.

    Do your research, but don't read the horror stories on the internet! You may (or not) need extra

    support after the vet's initial treatment: bodyworkers/physios/therapists, saddlers, trainers, farriers.

    There also exists a plethora of complementary therapies to help make your horse's life a little more

    comfortable, but always check with your vet first.

    6. Heave ho and up you go: Get a mounting block. Mounting from the ground is not

    recommended even if your horse has a healthy back, but if you can't mount up in a light, smooth

    motion then please don't... Learn how to mount lightly first. Riders who regularly back young

    horses will be able to show and teach you how. And lets be honest: if your fitness is preventing

    you from mounting lightly, you will not be fit enough to ride lightly.. In hand walking and urm,

    trotting may be a good idea in the mean time?

    7. Horsewatching: Do you ever just watch your horse in the field? Would you know what is normal

    and what is not? Linger a while after turning your horse out, lean on the gate and just stare at your

    horse! What does he do? Does he roll? What is his posture like when he is grazing or dozing in

    the sun? Lunging is also a good time to observe your horse's movement. observe the gaits. Does

    he drag he leg? What does his canter look like? What happens in the down/up transitions?

    Discover what is normal for your horse and what is not. There is never enough time in the day.

    But taking 5 minutes here and there will give you an "early warning system" for when things go


    The end: I lost Jonny about 2 years ago. A secondary injury put an end to his ridden work and all

    other forms of exercise. The vets, who were brilliant, had tried everything they could to help him,

    but in the end there was nothing anybody could do. Due to the KS it meant that he could not be

    just a pasture ornament either. After about 3 months of not working his back was just too sore...

    I learned a lot from this beautiful horse. We had good days and bad days and we beat the odds by

    going out competing. I wouldn't have it any other way.

    RIP dear Jonny



  • Are you the back lady?

    Are you the back lady?

    It was a lovely sunny day when I drove up to some imposing gates at the entrance of a private yard. I get out of the car, press the intercom button and identify myself by name and client’s name when asked why I am there. And then comes the question: “Oh, are you the back lady?”

    I cannot help but smile. It is true that I am often asked to look at a horse who seems to be uncomfortable or even sore through his back, but even then I do not just work on the back. I am not a chiropractor or an osteopath and cannot claim to come and “adjust” your horse’s back.

    See, I am an equine bodyworker. And even if I am called to look at your horse’s back I tend to cover his whole body as often problems start somewhere completely different and primary causes may go unnoticed. I use a combination of techiniques from sport massage, trigger point work, myofascial therapy, stretching and mobilisation, and even bits of acupressure and kinesiology. And I am still continuing my training all the time to make sure that I will always have something in my toolkit to help your horse (and you!) Currently I am studying Kinesiology (Touch for Health) herbal medication and acupressure. I have spent time with sport horse vets, watching them do lameness work ups and learning as much as I can from some of the best in the business. In my life before becoming an equine bodyworker I have was a riding instructor, studied stable management and some equine nutrition. So after your horse’s session with me I can advise you on a maintenance programme, stretching and management. However, if I honestly believe that I am not the best person to be able to help your horse, I will refer you to someone who can, without hesitation. As a horse owner, I appreciate just how valuable your horse, your time and your money is to you!

    So how did I end up answering that question coming from the intercom? “Yes, I am the back lady...”



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