How to help your horse kiss ‘Kissing Spine’ goodbye

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Magic happens when horse and rider are in harmony.
Magic happens when horse and rider are in harmony. Pictured is the hanoverian mare Deera, by De Niro, who came to Visconte Simon Cocozza with four touching spinal processes. She is now at Small Tour level in France and working grand prix.

Visconte Simon Cocozza suggests a ridden method to strengthen your horse’s core muscles to improve gaits, engagement and alleviate Spinal Crowding Syndrome – otherwise known as Kissing Spine or Dorsal Spinous Process.

The pursuit of mental and physical harmony with our horses has to be the ultimate riding goal. That is where the magic happens. Our traditional training methods aim to build a horse’s muscles, reactions and fitness to power him when jumping over things, galloping fast or performing impressive dressage movements. There are, though, key muscles deep within our horses that can remain weak in even very fit horses making it impossible for them to work with core fluidity, leading to self-restraint and in some cases, pain.

A clue to the origin of a disconnected ride are the symptoms we encounter when we are aboard. Over the years it has become obvious that whatever the build, breed, discipline or even history, the same groups of resistances are experienced by most horses and their riders, only intensity varies. Bad backs are often disguised as schooling issues until they become severe enough to easily identify.

Core weakness shows itself initially with a heavy, one-sided contact amongst other all too familiar resistances, and can indicate the onset of ‘Spinal Crowding Syndrome’ (SCS), which is extremely common and overlooked. Unfortunately if not addressed it can ultimately lead to a ‘Kissing Spine’. ‘Core Correction’ is a ridden system of Yoga for horses. By precisely targeting, reversing then
strengthening this inherent weakness under the guidance of the rider, the pair can together develop a permanent understanding of what improved self carriage feels like and what to do about it.

The horse's spine without the rider's weight. The proximity of the processes is naturally very close.
The horse’s spine without the rider’s weight. The proximity of the processes is naturally very close.

What is Spinal crowding syndrome?

Spinal Crowding Syndrome is a precise term for the complications of a hollow back, and can be slight to severe. Evolution has perfected the horse’s skeleton over millions of years to make him/her a great mover, but it did not make the horse’s back naturally strong enough to carry a human, however big and strong they appear.

The horse's natural reaction to the rider's weight.
The horse’s natural reaction to the rider’s weight.

When a young horse first carries a rider, the new weight placed over the middle of his spinal column causes it to slump, or dip slightly. This is of course invisible to the eye due to the presence of a saddle.

This closes the already narrow gaps between the vertical spinous processes of the thoracic vertebrae. As his work progresses into trot and canter he can begin to feel discomfort as the nerves running between the processes risk becoming rubbed and if not corrected, pinched.

To limit discomfort as training becomes more demanding, the horse will instinctively tense his back muscles and ‘lock’ the area, to limit the rubbing action. As horses are creatures of habit, once this defence begins it is likely to continue and he loses the natural flexible qualities of his spine that are key to the elastic connection of his large body sections.

Natural gap between processes
Natural gap between processes.
Narrowed gap of a slightly dipped back. Narrowed gap of a slightly dipped back.

As he is asked to perform more trot and canter work he responds as best he can by using his limbs instead of his whole body, deliberately avoiding bending through the spine by triangulating the gait and swinging the quarters to the inside. It is for this reason so many well-bred horses are uncomfortable, never seem to fulfill their actual potential irrespective to their level of fitness, and why most horses move well in the field yet lose their natural cadence under saddle.

The weak link

There is a complex system of muscles that run under the spine called the Multifidus System. These are the body’s ‘core’ muscles and need to be strong and short to counteract spinal dipping and keep the gaps between the processes open when carrying the rider.

Simply asking the horse for more forward effort in an effort to engage the quarters will not build the Multifidus system, particularly if the spine has learned already to dip as the horse is working against himself.

In fact, more impulsion worsens the problem.

Left, a weak Multifidus the allows spine to dip; while at right, a strong Multifidus keeps the spine flat.
Left, a weak Multifidus the allows spine to dip; while at right, a strong Multifidus keeps the spine flat.

When our horses become more mature and we ask for work in a more advanced outline, the muscles over the spine can become very tense as they further attempt to defend the spine from the potentially uncomfortable twisting of an active gait, while the increased impulsion and muscular tension creates a critical counter force leading to further compressions of the processes. Some horses stabilise and learn to work like this, by becoming sufficiently supple in the limb joints, although their gaits will be incurably crooked, one-sided and limited. In some cases horses experiencing this syndrome develop very tense back muscles leading to severe behavioral and riding resistances. At that stage it has possibly become a ‘kissing spine’ where the vertebrae have become kinked by the strong Longissimus Dorsi muscles in spasm, where the processes are touching and crushing the nerve.

An example of 4 separate kissing processes.
An example of 4 separate kissing processes.

A secondary effect of the spine losing elasticity is that kinetic force is thrown forwards towards the shoulders as it can no longer be absorbed through the horse’s centre. This pushes the lowest part of the cervical section of his spine, the base of the neck, downwards between his shoulder blades and robbing him of forehand ‘suspension’, plunging him downhill, onto the forehand and heavily into the rider’s hand making straightness and balance physically impossible.

It is likely that advanced cases may have spinal interference in the C6, C7, T1 which contribute to the bracing resistance found in the rein contact of affected horses.

The spine carried low between the shoulder blades.
The spine carried low between the shoulder blades.

How to tell if a horse has spinal crowding

In motion our bodies are just a biological mechanism, a machine for moving around. As with any machine, the angles that forces travel must be carefully aligned. A car with a flat tyre will pull heavily to one side, for example. Any mechanical misalignment will wear parts quickly due to the excess strain put upon them. When the horses spine, or ‘chassis’ is misaligned, all the subtle dynamics of limb flight and joint trajectories are thrown out of line causing all sorts of imbalances, restrictions and
excesses. As difficult as it is for the horse to do as asked under these circumstances, things are almost as awkward the rider who is severely jiggled about or even downright ejected, unable to ride in a soft, light way and therefore reinforcing the horse’s tension.

Our aids then become impossible for the horse to understand creating a vicious circle of defensive tension that is tricky to break.

As horses are generous and silent triers they don’t yelp in pain like people or other pets, making the initial signs of spinal crowding hard to notice. The signs are often seen as individual problems with no common cause, but they do have telltale predictability.

As spinal crowding symptoms come in groups, we can start by giving each horse a ‘Core score’. If we were to ride a horse and score his way of going on a scale of 0 to 5, where a 0 is a faultless, free and strong spine and a 5 score is a painful kissing spine, here is a table of symptoms as a guide.

spinal-crowding

Secondary effects

As with a tyre when cornering, lateral force distorts growth of the pliable hoof.
As with a tyre when cornering, lateral force distorts growth of the pliable hoof.

When any machine has dynamic misalignments, individual parts will be asked to support a different kind of strain than that for which they were designed. Unfortunately the secondary effects of spinal crowding will show excessive strain in the area most used by the horse to compensate for avoiding his back correctly, and this often appears in the limbs as a seemingly unrelated problem.

Hoof flares are a good example. The ‘sway’ of hoof growth on one side of the foot shows a repetitive lateral slide of that limb, like a car tyre under cornering.

The presence of forces from a direction which the limb was not designed can form all manner of reaction over time. Bony growths, joint swellings, self interference and excessive wear show that a
body part has endured excessive repetitive strain. By correcting the horse’s core strength, these ailments and injuries tend to diminish, heal or disappear altogether.

deera-simon1Core Correction – What can you do

If we want our horses to dance, we must train them as we do a human athlete. Continuous analysis of human training methods has us concentrate upon core suppleness and strength before adding power and speed. With human athletes we discovered long ago that the core must be in excellent condition or peak, painless performance will never be achieved. Due to the presence of spinal processes in the horse added to the fact that he has to carry a rider, the condition of a horse’s spinal supporting mechanism even even more critical.

If a Grand Prix Dressage performance is comparable to a Ballet then it is obvious that the traditional practice of a walk, trot and canter on a loose rein both ways is simply not enough to properly condition a horse for movements that require a high level of balance, suppleness and flexibility, as it will just loosen the legs.

The whole body must be trained, weak areas made strong and then what was difficult becomes easy, beautiful and sustainable.

Core Correction takes human body conditioning disciplines such as Yoga, Pilates and recent developments in kinetic chain sports training, and applies these principles to the horse’s weak areas with the same philosophy of controlled, progressive strength building movements under saddle. As the exercises are performed in partnership with the rider, this not only produces the physical conditioning and confidence that the horse needs but also dramatically develops the psychological and physical bond between the partners to make advanced work possible and more harmonious.

There are four distinct elements to keep in mind with this method. Understanding them guides our decisions of when to continue, when to stop and when to move on.

  • Stretch – to elongate the muscles and spine, relieving pressures and increasing motion range
  • Trust – build confidence in his own body to bend freely under our seat without self restraint
  • Strength – to build the core muscles and peripheral joints to move fully and freely
  • Education – to teach the horse to permit us to control this new freedom with our aids

Exercises – The Stretching

Below are four introductory exercises that look quite simple, and in a sense they are, yet they will produce a noticeable improvement in the horse’s willingness to flex through the spine. They combine stretch and twist motions at low speed that break down the defensive ‘locking’ habit of the back, to encourage the horse to learn to let go and allow progress to the strength building phase of exercises that will develop true engagement under impulsion. The movements should be repeated slowly and deliberately until fluid and easy, in a similar way as a pianist would repeat the scales to perfection. As SCS is in part a psychological defence the effect is not only a strengthening of the horse’s core but also to practising the basic ‘language’ of movement between horse and rider that will increase ease in a performance by developing trust at the same time as strength.

To be performed initially from walk and repeated until the horse feels more fluid before moving onto the daily programme. The human Yoga version is pictured which has the same effect on our bodies as it does on the horse.

1. Inside ‘Half Moon’ bend and stretch 

Quite simply a small circle around a cone or block in walk, with long reins and lots of inside bend.

This stretches the outside of the body and helps the horse to let go of his lateral back tension. Don’t insist, encourage. Relax, wait and repeat until his head drops and he bends more freely and regularly.

Bend and stretch
Bend and stretch
Yoga's half moon side stretch
Yoga’s half moon side stretch

 2. Leg yield ‘Triangle’ stretch in walk

As with the revolved triangle for people, a stretched leg yield encourages the hips to rotate in the opposite direction from the shoulders, encouraging the spine to twist freely and gradually release its kinks. The horse may initially block himself. Persist sympathetically and he will let go, drop his head willingly to the inside rein and step sideways with more and more elasticity.

Low, deep bend ...
Low, deep bend …
... and crossing.
… and crossing.
Yoga - Revolved triangle
Yoga – Revolved triangle.

3. ¼ to full turn about the forehand – The ‘Half Split’

Great for opening gates and even better for building the Multifidus system. This exercise works on many levels and when perfected later on, the horse will work in a very fluid outline. It teaches the horse to move away from a light inside leg which is the basis of straightness control, lateral work and precise cornering later on. It also builds the lateral and rotative pelvic control muscles, as well as simultaneously lifting the spine and separating the processes to relieve impinged nerves.

Get one or two correct steps before asking for more. The horse must step under his body with the inside hind and rotate his quarters around the inside fore. Back up the inside leg with a gentle whip aid to get the first steps and watch out for evasions such as stepping backwards and walking out of the outside shoulder.

When the horse easily drops the inside rein to you and willingly gives the outside rein a contact, the correction has been made.

High turn
High turn
Low turn
Low turn
Yoga half split
Yoga half split

4. ¼ to ½ Pirouette – Turn about the haunches to ‘Thread the Needle’

This is essential for suppleness in the shoulders and rider/horse communication. From standstill with an open reined inside bend, increase the outside rein pressure until the horse steps away from the aid.

This develops thoracic sling motion range, encouraging the horse to carry his spine higher between his shoulder blades. This raises his centre of gravity and gives him the ability to push his front end upwards in each stride making his movement ‘uphill’ and supple, and allowing a space for his rear end to engage into. The result is light outside rein influence of the shoulder, allowing precision turns and the key to easily controlled shoulder in, half-pass and pirouette.

Rotating the shoulders around the inside hind
Rotating the shoulders around the inside hind.
Yoga - Thread the needle pose
Yoga – Thread the needle pose.

When beginning this work the rider must think of a gentle, suppling guidance as the resistances are a combination of psychological as well as physical. Great care needs to be taken to ask for more effort and strength only after the horse has let go of his defences.

Top tips:

  1. Long and low will stretch the horse but when you have an improvement, do the exercise at least once ‘on the bit’.
  2. Try to keep your weight in the saddle and stirrups always even sided whatever is going on.
  3. If you can’t sit to the trot or canter, don’t. Use the exercises to get more spinal freedom and then try later when the gait feels smoother.
  4. When bending the horse never pull the rein, only ever hold steady at the angle you want and wait till the horse gives to the rein in response to the leg. When he wants to drop his head and stretch out, let him.
  5. You and your horse need understand each other very well in order to bond and become one. If you feel that you can do a bit more, try it and let your horse be your guide.
  6. A core score 0 horse will walk, trot and canter in balance with his nose very near the sand the moment you fully give the reins. This is your goal.
  7. These exercises encourage legs to cross. Boot up!
  8. Every training session is a fresh beginning and it is never too late for a horse and rider to put the past in the past.

When you have felt the improvements brought about by mastering these simple exercises, move onto the more demanding ‘Core Correction – Advanced’ movements that encourage the individual’ full range of motion combined with impulsion.

Conclusion

deera-simon2When a horse has achieved a core score 0, then we can choose a preferred method of equitation whether it be Podhajsky, De La Gueriniere, Savoie, The Scales, etc. The horse will now be in the physical condition of those that these principles were developed to apply. One must remember the circumstances under which they were written are not those of today’s equine marketplace.

With horses that core scores a 4 or 5, the first advice to seek is from your Vet. A lateral thoracic x-ray will show immediately if there is any crowding or kissing. Depending on the severity there are a few options, which are traditionally surgical and/or anti-inflammatory medication. My preference as a trainer is to retrain the Multifidus system to eliminate the original cause of the misalignment rather than alleviate the symptoms. When done carefully, even very severe cases have been reversed with this method.

Well, my friends, I hope these words are interesting and of use. Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have problems, breakthroughs or wish to go further with this method and please, never forget that the gentle willingness of horses is their most precious quality and the one most loved by us humans. If we truly want to bond in motion with these creatures, we must reciprocate by recognising the silent signals of difficulty that are hidden by their innocent generosity.

May the horse be with you.

 

Written with the assistance of:
1. Dr.Richard Coomer, (Kissing Spines FAQ), Cotts Equine Hospital
2. J.M. Denioux et J.P. Pailloux – Kinésithérapie du Cheval – Deuxième édition 2005
3.Walmsley JP, Pettersson H, Winberg F, et al: Impingement of the dorsal spinous processes in two hundred and
fifteen horses: case selection, surgical technique and results. Equine Vet J 34:23 – 28, 2002.
4. Basisafrichting – Relatieve oprichting verus absolute oprichting 2003

 

Visconte-Simon-CocozzaVisconte Simon Cocozza is a European qualified Dressage trainer and rider currently based in Normandy, France, and a registered Instructor and Examiner for La Fédération Française d’Equitation (FFE).

After passing the BHSAI in London, England, he then studied for the Advanced National Certificate in Equine Business Management and Equitation (ANCEBM) at Warwickshire College of Equine Studies. After graduating, he was understudy to Grand Prix dressage rider Bertil Voss (NL) with whom he learned to ride and train high-level performance horses.

After relocating his stable to Normandy, France in 2000 and continuing training under the French system, he obtained La Fédération Française d’Equitation’s Brevet Professionnel in Saumur 2009. Since then he has had the pleasure of helping clients and horses to many French and European Championship successes.

His current work in dressage focuses on competition performance and unlocking the mysteries of optimal technique. “I have borrowed influences from Masters past and present alongside the FEI’s continual guidance to improve the lightness, harmony and expression that modern Dressage is evolving towards by paying particular attention to core strength, flexibility and sound bio-dynamics.”

He can be contacted at quadriapony@aol.com.

 

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43 thoughts on “How to help your horse kiss ‘Kissing Spine’ goodbye

  • February 7, 2015 at 4:19 am
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    hi I found your article very interesting and would like some advice. My horse was diagnosed with fairly mild kissing spine a few years ago. He had shockwave treatment but this was unsuccessful and I couldn’t afford the operation. Since then he has just been a field ornament! His symptoms were holding his tail extremely high when ridden, he would rush, he overbends his neck and tucks his chin in even on no contact. This is all while ridden. He had a slight lameness in one hind as a result of compensating. Is there anything you can suggest to me? I also had him on a Pessoa program for a few weeks but didn’t seem to help. Many thanks

    Reply
    • February 21, 2015 at 9:14 am
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      Hi Charlotte, did you get a reply to your question? If so o would you be happy to share this with me please? As my horse has similar problems.

      Reply
    • October 11, 2015 at 12:03 am
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      Hi Charlotte…..I’m not sure where you live, but you may want to check into acuscope/myopulse therapy. I have an animal therapy business in NJ and have been very successful with kissing spine. Let me know where you are located and I can see if there is someone certified to help you! Feel free to call with any questions.

      Reply
      • September 18, 2016 at 1:50 pm
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        Hi Sheri, I just came across this feed. Where in NJ are you located?

        Reply
  • February 16, 2015 at 4:56 pm
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    A very informative article. Please note, however, that m. multifidus, a spinal extensor muscle, courses above (dorsal to) the vertebral column. In addition, key muscles that are related to core/vertebral stability are spinal flexors m. longus colli (ventral to the vertebral bodies in the cervical and cranial thoracic spine) and m. psoas major/minor (ventral to the vertebral bodies in the lumbar spine, with a connection to the pelvis).

    Reply
  • June 4, 2015 at 12:46 am
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    Very interesting article thank you

    Reply
  • June 4, 2015 at 2:40 am
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    Brilliant article. I rehab hundreds of sore horses with a series of in-hand work that is the ‘ground’ version of the saddle exercises. I have taught every one of your 4 exercises for years. I learned them through various coaches. For my own In-hand work, I begin with simple lunging, then move up behind the hindquarter of the horse with whip behind the quarters. I use a rope halter under the bridle, as it gives a closer and more direct/distinct connection (some of the western training methods are useful; it’s why I learned reining – to improve my dressage). The horse naturally bends in the direction as he will want to keep an eye on you. We walk around together to get a feel for where the tightness is. The horse will move on a circumference that fits his comfort level. When he starts to give, I decrease the circle by gentle give-and-take when the front inside leg is about to come up. It encourages the horse to bring his shoulder up and under as opposed to throw it out, and asks the outside leg to swing. I switch direction often, as both horse and handler can become quite dizzy. I also do this at the trot, but you need to be fit to make it work. After a few days or weeks (depending on the horse) I begin to move up to the middle of his body. The whip now asks the horse to step his inside hind leg under his navel. Eventually, after a month, a young/green horse will carry himself vertically, with balance and swing. My first rides on these babies is like magic. After 45 years of starting dressage and jumping horses, I have never experienced a sore back. Thank you for writing such a complete article. This information has no value stuck in our heads. It is always about the horse…

    Reply
    • June 9, 2015 at 6:47 am
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      Hi April, thanks for sharing your experiences. as I tell my clients..no magic, just logic! Pleased that you share my view.

      Reply
  • June 6, 2015 at 2:21 pm
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    The article was well written. Having both the explanations and the photos made the exercises easy to understand, including the tips. The comments were also educational, especially re. the rehab ground work. I’ve been doing all of the exercises when I ride my 2nd level young warm blood, but never thought to try some of them on a long rein! Thank you!

    Reply
  • June 13, 2015 at 3:52 am
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    Thank you. I found some very useful information in your article. I have a young horse that I believe maybe experiencing some issues you are referring to and I will begin using these exercises to strengthen him. I have one question. Would enlargement of the lower lumbar/thoracic muscles on one side also be a sign or symptom of the conditions you are speaking of?

    Reply
    • June 14, 2015 at 9:33 pm
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      Hello Leslie, the horse will defend him/herself in movement by pitching the body to strongly favour one side, along with adopting a gait that avoids the painful area by placing more stress elsewhere on the spinal column’s muscular system. This commonly is visible as uneven muscle development. Use the exercises to increase mobility and internal strength and let me know how you get on.

      Reply
  • June 20, 2015 at 7:30 am
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    I found this article very interesting and have started using some of the suggested stretching exercises in the warm up phase of my pupils’ lessons. They have already started feeling an improvement in their horses’ movement and acceptance to the aids. I would be very interested to know about the exercises to build up the back muscles. Could you give me some advice?

    Reply
  • June 20, 2015 at 5:29 pm
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    My young, yet unbroke horse had kissing spines in two areas. She was a wreck! Pretty sure she was born with them because she came out big, late and very crooked. At 4 years old she was finally diagnosed by a great vet who then did a series of therapies including mesotherapy and shock wave therapy while our trainer did ground work/rehab with her for months and months to get her in the right frame and build muscle and strength, such as this article describes, so she could carry herself correctly. It was a lot of work but she’s now totally sound and has a successful career as an all around pleasure horse.

    Reply
  • July 21, 2015 at 8:14 am
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    Very interesting and helpful article.

    Reply
  • August 10, 2015 at 6:33 am
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    My horse was diagnosed with kissing spines this past week and this article was very helpful. I’m planning to do steroids, shock wave, and the training exercises listed above in this article, along with lunging over poles and cavelitti (recommended by my vet). I’ve also been told to do hill work in two-point with nose to the ground and belly stretches. I was wondering where I might find the next phase of training mentioned in the article, “Core Correction – Advanced”. I realize it will be a while before I get to this phase, but wanted to have it at the ready if possible.

    Reply
    • August 21, 2015 at 8:20 am
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      Hello Beverly, sorry to hear of your challenges, although you have the right attitude to push through this problem. I have reluctantly decided to work the advanced exercises only in my clinics as it became clear that riders, in all innocence, were asking the horses for the more advanced stretches under impulsion before the horse was ready. I could not in good conscience be responsible for this as hurting horses in any way is the opposite of my philosophy. Please contact me directly (email at the bottom of my article) and I will be happy to chat with you about what steps/exercises to heal your horse as quickly as ethically possible. Best regards.

      Reply
  • August 28, 2015 at 7:42 am
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    Hi I have a horse that has a rotated C7 ( xray discovered) he has some ataxia due to this is there any therapy or suggestion you may have to overcome or help with this issue. Thanks for your input.

    Reply
    • September 6, 2015 at 10:06 pm
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      Hello Tracy, that is an unusual problem, and well done for finding the problem as it must have been quite an investigation! C7 is not the first place to look for the cause such symptoms.
      If the ataxia stems from trapped nerves at the base of the neck vertebrae then I feel that it is most important to begin stretching exercises, gently at first and possibly in hand with a carrot letting the horse take the treat at further and further angles. S/he will show you when you are in the pain zone by not bending any further. Also, find a good osteopath to guide you in gradually building mobility before starting the 4 exercises in this article. Remember, when bones come out of line we scream, horses don’t so you will have to go slowly, yet if you can mobilise the area it is possible that the vertebrae will realign themselves. Please let me know how you get on, and good luck.

      Reply
  • August 30, 2015 at 9:46 am
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    Hi there, I’ve read your article and found it very interesting indeed but I would like some guidance really, I have just got a horse on LWVTB him and the owner at the moment has told me he’s had kissing spines, this may be due to an accident he had in the field where he managed to fall over and basically do a flip, he is a 16’1 TB lovely horse, he’s been out of work for over a year now and he’s slowly being bought back into work now just lunging at the moment, he’s had surgery on his back she has said he’s just had ligament snipped but no process removed, he’s only 6 aswell, I do see so much potential in him but most people I have spoken to have told me do not touch this horse but I feel deep down I could give him a really good chance, but I want some advice of how to do this and the way to get his condition and muscle back nicely then to start riding him and giving him the consistency he needs. I’ve never dealt with a horse who has had back problems so I don’t really have much of a clue where to start. Hope you can help me, thanks for your time 🙂

    Reply
  • September 27, 2015 at 7:31 am
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    I’m writing back in response to a posting from Aug 10th (see above, Beverly– horse with Kissing Spines). Briefly, my horse has now had steroid injections, pain medication, and muscle relaxers over the course of the past 6 weeks. His back is no longer painful upon exam from the ground. I’ve been lunging on a regular basis and though my horse is getting better at stretching downward, he only fully releases his back and stretches properly (while tracking up) for about 30%-50% of the lunging session. Is there anything I can do to encourage him keep working properly more consistently, or does this just take time? Also, I use poles and cavelitti, but would like to be able to maintain the stretch without these.
    Many thanks! Bev

    Reply
  • October 3, 2015 at 4:38 am
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    Hi your article was very interesting! I have a 10 yr old barrel horse that was just diagnosed with kissing spine! As far as I know only t9 and t 10 are involved! I took him to vet bc he gradually over the last 8 mths starting slowing down in his runs and started baulking at the gate! He finally got to the point where he absolutely refused to go near the gate! He would just stop and go in reverse! However I’ve had this horse since he was 4 and the whole time I’ve had him he has never been very bendy or flexible! He will flex laterally to each side well at a stand still but once u ask him to in a trot he stiffens up and basically triangles the turn! He has done fairly well in barrel racing and makes tight

    turns but I’ve always noticed him keeping his head a little high and only slightly cocked instead of his head being lowered and his whole body bending! When loping or trotting circles I always make him point his nose toward the inside and I always feel resistance in the reins more to the left than right directed toward I don’t think he is relaxing his head and lowering it and bending it as he should! My question is does any of these things sound like it’s coming from the kissing spine or is it lack of training?

    Reply
    • October 6, 2015 at 10:08 am
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      Hello Amanda, I have replied by pm.

      Reply
  • October 8, 2015 at 10:14 am
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    Thank you Vincent for your great articles you help many riders who love their horses and many times unhappily they dont get good osteopathes.Thanks to you they can help their horses to get better without taking risks of ceating more damage.D.(rome it)

    Reply
    • October 9, 2015 at 12:00 pm
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      Grazie per il vostro tipo e le parole incoraggianti Dominique. Posso vedere a capire come questo sia importante. Buona fortuna in tutto ciò che fai.

      Reply
  • October 29, 2015 at 3:08 pm
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    Thank you for this article! Just got my horse xrayed and found 4 consecutive vertebrae involved. I haven’t done any treatment yet, as I have never dealt with kissing spines before, and would like to read about it before proceeding.
    This information was very helpful! Although; several people have told me to do lots of straight lines vs small circles, so I thought that was interesting you are suggesting the opposite, why do you think people are telling me straight lines?

    Thanks again!

    Reply
    • October 29, 2015 at 11:37 pm
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      Hello Shayleigh,
      Well done for researching your options. I think that this type of approach is rather new, hence you are bound to find rather conflicting viewpoints. Having dealt with hundreds of these cases over 25 years, experience has shown me that straight lines (or 20m circles) do nothing to correct the problem. If one takes on board the mechanisms in play it is quite obvious that a horse with a back problem can manage straight lines and shallow curves just by using the limbs, thus avoiding any movement in the spine. No therapy system avoids moving the affected area, as that has caused the problem in the first place. With humans, core exercises are body bends not straight lines, the horse’s treatment is the same.
      Good luck with your rehab, any questions please ask. Best regards, VSC.

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  • April 5, 2016 at 5:02 am
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    My 17 year old Arab gelding had ulcers in the hind gut and after 3 months of treatment to clear this up, we treated his kissing spine. My vet injected the spine areas and I was told to done lots of ground exercise for him. It has been 3 weeks and it looks like his spine has lifted. I plan on starting some low and slow under saddle work…do you think this is too soon?

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    • May 3, 2016 at 12:19 am
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      Hi Rose, well 3 weeks is indeed not long. Remember that you are building muscle and this takes time, correct exercise and good food. Perhaps continue building the groundwork into slightly more difficult, bigger stretches and consider getting on in a couple of weeks when this new way of holding himself is a little more established. Good luck! VSC

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  • May 9, 2016 at 2:35 pm
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    Great article, very informative! My 11yo thoroughbred mare is experiencing a lot of symptoms described above. I have been trying to get to the bottom of her issues for some time now. Initially I noticed her disuniting in canter when jumping, the issue has since progressed to her back legs occasionally giving way when trotting/cantering, ears pinned back when asked for upwards transitions and the odd buck here or there. She has always had difficulty with straightness but is now also resisting any contact and trying to travel sideways along the arena. She has been seen to by a chiropractor twice, muscle therapist and has had two visits from my vet (the first of which he tried her on bute with no success). She is often sore to touch at the base of the wither and her feet grow with a noticeable splay to one side. Nobody seems to be able to pin point what her issue is but I am concerned that it may be kissing spine after researching the signs and symptoms and finding they seem to correlate with her issue quite well. Just wondering if you think this is a path I need to head down? my vet so far has been reluctant to perform xrays on her due to the expense.

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    • May 10, 2016 at 10:52 am
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      Hi Ashlie, it is easy to see why people think they have a stroppy, or difficult temperament. Not so, the horse is just telling us something. Well done for putting the pieces together. I do feel your mare’s symptoms are very typical of KS, added to which i have found TB particularly prone, perhaps as they have less rider carrying strength to begin with. X-rays are a good idea to know exactly the condition of the spine yet of this is too much of an expense, stop ‘training’ her for two months and do only the 4 walk stretching exercises. If it is KS the symptoms will go away the more supple and proficient she gets. Please let me know how you get on.

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  • May 10, 2016 at 4:39 am
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    Hi, I have a 16yr.old who just this last weekend developed a sore back, we went on a 2 hr. trail ride(relaxed walk with some trot),1st long ride this yr. When I took saddle off noticed a patch of hair loss at T11 T12.First time that has happened, I felt horrible. I noticed there was a slight bump and some swelling. Heat. I’ve been reading up on this issue and appreciate your article! I use this horse to barrelrace . I’m hoping we can fix this problem. He’s a great horse. Any advice would be appreciated.

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    • May 10, 2016 at 10:42 am
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      Hello Cheryl, while core strengthening will surely help your horse be more athletic, KS may not be the cause of the lumps. Kissing spine hardly ever shows visible swellings, as the bones are beneath several layers of tough tissue. It also develops over years rather than suddenly which makes me think it may be something else. Please check your saddle and pad first, as often this sort of acute injury is from a broken tree/structure. If not, treat the area and arrange a spinal x-ray, then you will know for sure what is going on inside. Please let me know how you get on and wow, barrelracing looks like a lot of fun!

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  • May 18, 2016 at 5:09 am
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    Excellent article. Thank you. With a young horse very lightly ridden, in order to build up core and back strength so she is capable of safely carrying a rider, would you recommend doing these exercises in hand, or are there other more appropriate exercises to build up strength?

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    • May 19, 2016 at 2:49 am
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      Hi Kathy, good question. I have gradually been introducing core work to young horses earlier and earlier. In fact, it now seems that the postural consequences of us backing a hollow youngster using trot and canter may well be the foundation of their back problems therefore I do feel that educating the novice to go sideways in a long and low outline is the very best preparation we can make to being ridden straight and round later on, ironically. As for ground work, there are exceptions obviously yet in my experience the likelihood of being run over, trodden on or kicked are quite high so all things considered, walk exercises from the saddle seem to have the best results and the least risk. Added to which any gains made with longe gadgets and ground stretches seem to dissipate the moment the rider’s weight is introduced. This is a mechanical issue that seems to need the catalyst (us) to be in situ for the horse to understand how to manage it.

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  • June 7, 2016 at 10:46 am
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    This is a great article, I can hardly wait to put it into practice with my Zweibrucken mare! Thank you (and I am sure she will thank you too!)

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    • June 9, 2016 at 4:08 am
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      Hi Kathryn, have fun and let us know how you get on. Simon

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  • November 9, 2016 at 8:54 am
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    It lifted my heart to read this article in appreciation of your mindfulness, kindness, ethics, and intelligence in dealing with our wonderfully generous equine partners. This form of “training” evidences the best of our humanity combined with our quest for excellence. I wish you great rewards in your work and life, and thank you for such an enlightening article.

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  • January 25, 2017 at 12:55 pm
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    i have a horse my grand daughter paid a lot of money for and she got epm 2 mos. later. Do you think these exercises would help her with her balance and stiff back. She also trips now and then which can be scary if someone is riding her. Thank you

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    • January 26, 2017 at 10:12 am
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      Hello Wanda, these exercises will certainly help a horse with a stiff back. They will be particularly useful if you can do them under the guidance of a sympathetic trainer. Good luck!

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  • October 24, 2017 at 3:41 am
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    Great article. Thank you for writing and posting it. Just curious because I don’t see much reference to my particular issue. My 8yr old unraced TB has always been reluctant to bend through his body, particularly in one direction (to the right). I’ve had him since he was 2 and have always suspected a weakness (or pain) to that side but where it originates, no one has been able to determine after multiple diagnostic attempts. In addition, three different AVCA practitioners have said he has a great back and can find no pain though minor adjustments have been done. He stretches laterally all the way around to his butt for the carrot stretch. He loves it when I stretch his legs. He’ll do a stretchy trot on the lunge with his nose reaching forward but tries to halt and turn in when cantering either direction. He’s never been good at taking the bit but will politely jump a course of 3’3″ with little contact. He’s a pretty stoic guy and wants to do his job but he’s just so resistant to the bit through his body, particularly cantering to the right and has started sucking back when approaching a gymnastic line at either the trot or canter (but only to the right). I’m a very competent rider and several fine trainers have said it’s not me (though they could be wrong–haha). The horse actually becomes more supple when I’m mounted using these and other exercises. Question: does kissing spine ever present with a non-response upon palpation of the back? Should I be looking for the source of the issue elsewhere?

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  • October 24, 2017 at 1:11 pm
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    If this is truly kissing spine, then the answers are entirely up to the veterinary experts in this field. Aside from that, strengthening core exercises for both horse and rider are always a good idea. Everything else is an opinion, and here is mine: if I were at this stage with your horse I would consider a bitless bridle, since real control doesn’t come from the bit, anyway. I can tell you that I am a competent right-handed rider, so I have always had to work to keep my left hand sensitive enough to make up for the fact that my right hand is more sensitive and responsive than my left – and it is why lots of horses work better to the left than to the right. If you are left-handed, though, then this is not being caused by your handedness. Good luck with this puzzle!

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