In part two of this segment on pinning down back pin in the horse, we'll discuss some different scenarious that may contribute to your horse being painful in the middle of the back. We won't cover every single problem that might be associated with this, but just some of the most common causes and those that you as a caretaker can most likely influence and make positive changes to improve in your day-to-day horse care efforts.
To check your horse's back, run your hands down either side of your horse's spine with a moderate amount of pressure. Starting at the withers and then moving back towards the rump. You'll notice them dip under your hand when you hit a sore spot. Some horses are mores sensitive to pain than others and you'll want to make sure you keep yourself in a safe place while doing this. Make sure that you are out of the kick zone, as they may strike out with a hind leg. Also make sure you are not in range of teeth should they turn and try to take a bite out of you. You may wish to have a friend come hold the head while you do this. And most of all, please don't blame the horse if they do react negatively. You are causing them pain and this is the only way that they have to tell you that it hurts! so remember to go into the process with empathy and tolerance. Give them the benefit of the doubt.
Rider Imbalance And Poor Saddle Fit Relate Strongly To Mid-Back Pain In The Horse
The chance that rider imbalance and/or improper saddle fit are causing your horse's mid-back pain are fairly high. That's the first thing I recommend people check when a horse palpates sore in this location. Saddles with too much "rock" in them (the curve in the bar from front to back) can cause significant problems for the horse. The horse is unable to lift and round its back if the saddle is digging too deeply into the middle of the back. They are forced to move hollow-backed and inevitably muscle wasting occurs as the horse is no longer able to use its core muscles effectively. A saddle that has too narrow a channel for the spine or with too narrow a tree can also contribute to pain in this location. Likewise a rider that is not moving in harmony with the horse can cause pain and discomfort as the horse must compensate for the rider in order to balance. You may notice ruffled hairs after unsaddling that are indicative of friction from horse/rider disharmony.
Weak Abdominal Muscles May Lead To Back Pain
It is the abdominal muscles of the horse that actually lift and round the back. Horses that have a sagging back do not need to strengthen their back muscles, but instead need to strengthen their core abdominal muscles. Weakness at the core puts tremendous strain on the muscles of the back, just like a suspension bridge that does not have a stable foundation. Add into the mix the weight of a rider without the proper muscle development and you've got a recipe for trouble.
Problems you might see related to mid-back pain:
- Unable to collect (lift and round the back)
- Weight on the front end
- Overdevelopment of muscles on the underside of the neck (U-necked)
- Wasting of muscling of the topline
- Resentment during saddling
- Difficulty picking up the canter
- Problems with the backup or backing with head high
- Unwilling to move forward under saddle, particularly at the trot
- "Parking out"
Therapies, Exercises And Stretches For Mid-Back Pain In The Horse
No matter the underlying cause, a horse with a weak core and/or significant pain in the middle of the back will eventually end up with problems elsewhere as they are unable to gather their hindquarters underneath them and be truly athletic. They may begin standing more "post-legged" and putting more strain on the stifle and hock joints. They lose their hindquarter suspension. Their gaits can become very choppy as they drag themselves along with the front end, stringing out behind instead of driving from the hindquarters. If the problem has been going on for an extended period of time you may even see changes in the hoof angles as they are more on their toes instead of landing on the heels in the back legs.
- Enlist the help of a knowledgeable equine bodyworker, chiropractor and/or acupuncturist to help get some initial muscle relaxation and balance back to the area. Chiropractic can help resolve issues related to spinal misalignment. Massage and acupuncture will help release the muscles, restore energy flow and help facilitate bringing the body back into balance, as well as bringing much-needed pain relief to your horse.
- Stretching and exercises that help the horse strengthen their abdominal muscles and lift and round the back. A little trick that I like to use is finding that really itchy spot on the sternum that the flies like to congregate around. Horses usually love to be scratched there and will really arch their back up for that, getting a great stretch. See also this article for additional information on the subject and individual stretches and exercises.
- Carrot stretches which encourage the horse to reach down and really stretch through the back vertically and also laterally low toward the hind legs can be very beneficial as well.
- Hindleg stretches encouraging flexion of the hip, stifle and hock will help to re-establish muscle memory and encourage the horse to bring their hind legs underneath themselves.
- See also natural rememdies listed in Part 1 of this series.
While there can be many different reasons for your horse's back pain, the good thing is that it's actually fairly easily detected when you know what to look for. There are also many excellent alternative therapies available for horse caretakers to take advantage of, and most are quite complementary to each other. It is very important to consult with your entire horse care team – your veterinarian, equine bodyworker, hoof care professional and chiropractor before you begin any therapy for your horse to make sure that you develop a strategy most beneficial for your horse's situation.
In the next segment, we'll discuss pain in the lumbar area of the back. Come on over to the Facebook page and tell us about things that have helped your horse with back pain. http://www.facebook.com/HeavenlyGaitsEquineMassage.
Lisa Carter is a Certified Equine Massage Therapist (CEMT), with multiple certifications from several different equine bodywork schools. She incorporates her knowledge and experience with Parelli Natural Horsemanship, equine bodywork and as a veterinary technician to provide her clients with the resources they need to make informed decisions for their horses. She encourages and facilitates network building between equine health care professionals, working together to find the best combination of therapies to meet the needs of the "whole horse".
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