How do I know if my horse has back pain?


Your horse may have back pain without you knowing it. Indeed, a doctoral thesis in biology conducted at the University of Rennes has shown that the state of well-being / ill-being of horses is largely underestimated by the people who take care of them. Spinal problems can be significant, without being identified. This situation is not explained by neglect but by ignorance of the signs of deterioration of the animal’s well-being. This article therefore aims to give you elements to help you know if your horse has back pain and perhaps improve your practice to relieve your animal.

What are the signs that may suggest that your horse has back pain?

It must be emphasized that it is difficult to diagnose a back problem in a horse for the simple reason that the signs are not specific. Indeed, the manifestations of a horse suffering from the back can also suggest behavioral problems. Here are the ones that are most commonly seen:

  • You feel an area of ​​heat or a strain when you run your hand over your spine,
  • The horse has an unusual sensitivity to grooming,
  • The horse may show signs of aggression when strapping or saddling it, such as folded ears, sudden head movements, etc.,
  • You feel that your horse is regularly stiff when exerted,
  • The horse apprehends the obstacle by rushing or refusing,
  • Its back is hollow and it lacks commitment (a horse that engages being a horse whose rear goes up, whose back is supported without being tense),
  • Your horse’s performance is declining,
  • The horse shows signs of defense when it is ridden: kicks, sheep jumping …

These signs vary greatly from horse to horse and also depend on the extent of pain experienced by the animal. Either way, each of these signs should alert you. Some people are certainly more likely to have back pain than others. But the final diagnosis can only be made by a veterinarian. Depending on your observations, the latter performs an in-depth examination, based if necessary on x-rays or an ultrasound.

Why do horses suffer from back pain?

Back pain is more common in sport horses. These animal health problems are a direct consequence of the way we make animals work. Did you know that the horse’s vertebral axis develops until around the age of 8? However, it is rare to take special precautions during this period of ossification.

It is not necessary that the horse presents a defect or a pathology at the start. Even if he has a healthy back and is well formed, he can end up developing back pain depending on the work required of him, the behavior of the rider and the equipment used.

The vertebral axis is not rigid and is constantly mobilized. To ensure a good work, it is important to ensure a consequent warm-up beforehand, and to take care of the good execution of a movement. Even if the skeletal, articular, ligament and muscular diagram of a horse is very different from that of the human body, the logic is the same and too violent an effort, without preparation, can lead to injuries at different levels, or even fractures. And problems localized to the back can also end up impacting the limbs, pelvis, etc.

The weight and lack of balance of the rider can negatively impact the functioning of the horse’s body. As for the material, it must be chosen with care because a saddle can cause pressure points or friction which will be at the origin of muscle contractures, contractures which eventually develop into bone lesions. A horse in pain tenses up, adopts bad postures, which ultimately accentuates the problems instead of relieving them because the balance of the functioning of the body as a whole is impacted.

How do you relieve a horse with back pain?

Given the difficulty in diagnosing back pain in a horse, when identified, the problems are often acute. Medical treatment is therefore often essential, consisting essentially of ease the pain. For this, the veterinarian has at his disposal a wide range of anti-inflammatory drugs, infiltrations, mesotherapy injections, Tildren infusion, shock waves, or even surgical acts, only in the most serious cases and as a last resort. Equine osteopathy is also a possible treatment.

If the horse is no longer in pain, he can gradually regain a balanced posture, in particular by correctly remuscling his back.

But treatment alone is not enough. For the well-being of the horse, it is essential to adapt the equipment used and to make changes to the way you make the animal work. It all depends on your animal, its troubles, its age, your goals… It is important to get support on these aspects.

Muscle warm-up before riding will probably become a must. You may learn to walk your horse to work. Massages before exercise are often recommended, followed by setting in motion at walking pace for at least 20 minutes. Likewise, after the effort, you may also massage the horse and cover it with a recovery cape. The saddle may need to be changed, as may the way you train your horse to take all biomechanical constraints into account.