[Q] My horse has recently been diagnosed with kissing spine, but the vets say she can still jump and do dressage if maintained well. Do you have any tips for recommended care or exercises?

Asked anonymously

[A] I completely agree with your veterinarian! In general, most horses can perform well with kissing spine, even at elite levels. Most important is to focus on good core stability for your horse, since the core muscles stabilise dynamic movement of the thorax (the area of the kissing spine). Unstable movement can lead to pain!

Here are some tips for you:

  • You can train the core muscles from the ground. Activate Your Horse’s Core by Narelle Stubbs and Hilary Clayton is a book with many well-explained and effective unmounted core exercises. Make sure to repeat the exercises five times each, five times a week for a duration of at least five weeks.
  • Alternate between ridden and unridden training. Keep the focus on the core stability. In ridden work this is done by making small transitions. A lower head-neck position can help to lengthen the topline. However, the horse is not allowed to lean on the forehand, so keep an active hind leg. Remember that the walk and canter are the most mobilising gaits for the spine. In the beginning, it might be more comfortable to have a forward seat in canter. When unridden, you can effectively train your horse’s core muscles with lunging, long-reining and treadmill exercises (water treadmill or dry treadmill with incline). The Equiband™ is a system that can be used for core muscle activation in both ridden and unridden work.
  • Pole work is very useful for stretching the topline and training the core muscles. However, some horses tend to hollow their backs while trotting over poles. When this is the case, start with only one pole in walk and slowly build up to more poles in more gaits. When unridden, you can use side reins, but it is extremely important to keep the side reins long enough for the horse to see the poles.
  • A well-fitted saddle is of very high importance. When in doubt, only train your horse unridden until the saddle fitter corrects the saddle. Make sure the saddle fitter comes regularly, since horses can change in size due to muscle development and weight gain. During rehabilitation, it is wise to have the saddle checked at least every six to eight weeks.
  • Equine physiotherapists and chiropractors have a big impact on mobilising the spine, reducing pain and solving compensations.
  • Regular massage can help with tense muscles in the area of the kissing spine.

Good luck to you and your horse in becoming happy and healthy athletes!

Answered by Morgan Lashley, veterinarian and chiropractor specialised in revalidation