Back pain is an ailment common to performance horses. It can be one of the most insidious ailments varying from simple soreness (indicated by sensitivity to pressure), spinal and pelvic misalignments or a full-blown injury. It can be very difficult to diagnose, because as with people, back pain may not be the main source of the problem. Other symptom patterns can closely resemble the effects of back discomfort. Identifying and treating this problem may need a group effort from the trainer, veterinarian, the saddler and the farrier.
If you suspect that your horse has back problems it is important to check everything from how the saddle fits to sore feet as potential causes beyond your horse's spinal discomfort.
- SEARCH FOR SORENESS: Examine your horse's back by running your fingers along the muscles that parallel the spine. Be aware of the tone of the back muscles. Hard muscles are tense and probably sore, whereas the feel of healthy muscles is softer and less firm. Once you have completed the first part of the examination, increase your finger pressure, avoiding any sharp, sudden jabs which will cause the horse to flinch. Work along the muscles with finger pad pressure that gradually increases to a consistent moderate level. If your horse sidesteps or drops away, you may have hit a sore spot. Check the back's ability to flex and extend. Place your fingertips under his belly and push up firmly. If he does not raise his back, he may be sore.
- OBSERVE YOUR HORSE IN MOTION: With the help of a capable handler, get the horse to jog out as freely as possible on a longe line. A healthy back swings in rhythm with movement, where a sore back is stiff to guard against further pain. As the horse is trotting, look for gait irregularities that might originate in his limbs. Head bobbing at the jog can be characteristic of a horse who is trying to adjust to pain.
- SADDLE UP: Tack up your horse and either ride yourself or have a skilled person ride so you can see any differences in the way he travels under saddle compared to when he is on a longe line. Weight bearing may trigger or amplify painful vertebral, muscular or ligament conditions. If tack is poking, pinching or rubs, the horse will exhibit more pain while working under saddle. The observer can also note if the rider is stiff or imbalanced and if that might be causing signs of back pain in the horse.
Horses use their back for almost every motion they make. If there is even a small problem in a horse's back, the horse can suffer greatly. A vet can use several different approaches to find out what the source of the back pain may be. Once you find out the cause and treat it, not only will your horse be happy, but so will the rider. As with all equine health related issues, please consult your veterinarian professional for all concerns and questions relating to the health and well being of your horse.
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The C. Jarvis Insurance Newsletter is for informational use only and does not express the views or opinions of C. Jarvis Insurance Agency, Inc. Newsletter is prepared by Margie Turner. Information sources include the following: www.back-in-balance.com, www.trumbullmtn.com, http://irish-horses.com/equine-disease-back-neck-problems.html, Your Horse's Back Pain, www.equisearch.com/horses_care/health/illness_injuries/backpain.