Back Problems and Kissing Spines - Where they come from and what to do about it !


Most kissing spines start like this: The horse is lame, but the vet can't find anything. The walk is pace-like, the horse is sluggish at the trot, the canter is no longer a correct three-beat. The transitions are not smooth. The horse unwillingly carries out lessons. Many horses pinch after mounting, they show tenseness when saddling, and their backs are sensitive when brushing.

Creation of kissing spines

Then comes the time when the horse first has to "break-in" at the beginning of riding, the hind legs no longer actively step off, the rhythm is no longer reliably controlled, the first rhythm errors become gait errors. Constant contact is no longer given. Everything is done with more and more power and pressure from the rider. Many horses become obnoxious at this stage. They brush their tails, back up, buck, or climb because they are in pain.


You call the vet again and then the diagnosis comes: First crowding between the spinous processes or even kissing spines! It hits you like a broadside... But you wanted to do everything right, what was wrong? This is what many horse owners will have thought when they were told by the vet that their horse had irreparable spinal damage.

And now?

We could take it easy and claim that this is because the breeding lines are so sensitive. The riding horses bred today take too much from us riders with their sensitivity, their almost perfect build, their good necks, their high rideability, and their excellent riding horse characteristics (unfortunately). Many believe that they no longer have to ride carefully to maintain or promote the quality of the horse or to achieve relaxation at all while riding.

In addition, more and more riders are doing without the actual basic work, the dressage. In the vast majority of cases, kissing spines and other back problems in the horse develop as a result of incorrect riding and training: with too much hand influence, incorrect uprighting, too narrow in the neck, the nose permanently behind the vertical, too fast pace or permanently under pace, too little activity of the hindquarters, misunderstood or no contact, too little gymnastics.


The result is either horses that have “fallen apart”, are ridden on the forehand without correct basic training or horses that are permanently “kicking for their lives” in an upright position.. Another problem today is the rush in training, making it difficult for horses to stay healthy. Horses are often massively overwhelmed at a young age and have to submit to excessive pressure to succeed. The Remonte used to be four to five years old when she came under the saddle. The bones and joints were then already much more stable and strengthened than they can be at all at three years old (the usual age for breaking in today). You took your time working on the lunge line and this helped the horse build up the necessary basic musculature so that it would later be able to carry the rider's weight without damage. After the first break-in, we went into the terrain.

Roller in the horse

The horses were not drilled for complex movements or pulled together in the Rollkur manner, as is almost usual today, but were allowed to walk in all gaits in an informal self- carriage. The aim was to stabilize muscles, tendons, ligaments, bones, and joints, promote swing development and maintain or improve the natural quality of movement. You started with letting the reins chew out of your hand in the three basic gaits, first big curved lines, figure eights, and just basic exercises and lessons. The ability to find one's balance resulted almost incidentally from this training.


Only after about two years, when the horse was stable, did the real work in dressage begin. Every horse went through dressage work, only to be fed into its corresponding specialization afterward. This path is rarely chosen today – because it takes too much time and too much money. A five-year-old who can't do more than run uphill and downhill in the country, who hasn't mastered at least L-dressage lessons or has done at least one L-jumping, is worth nothing.


The result of this excessive pressure to succeed is stiff, cramped, and badly muscled horses. Tendon damage, hamstring inflammation, kissing spines, neck damage, neck ligament irritation, inflammation, psychological problems, and many other findings occur, which often lead to irreparable damage in the first years of training


Episodes of Kissing Spines

Once back problems or kissing spines are present, the time has come to change something, and that means:

     §  to go new ways

     §  to do things differently than before,

     §  to do things differently than others

     §  to say “NO” once in a while,

     §  to question previously practiced, possibly wrong methods.

Because crowding between the spinous processes or kissing spines is irreparable and irreparable damage for the horse, which can be associated with great pain! However, such a finding does not have to be the end of the world! You just have to approach things differently now. And that means creating the basis so that it will work again in the future and the horse can live and be ridden without pain.

This includes:

    §  a pain-free horse, which can sometimes only be achieved as a first step with the help of anti-inflammatory drugs. Because only without inflammation and pain can you think about building muscle, which is so important.


    §  the support of a good osteopath who restores basic mobility and teaches appropriate exercises so that you, as a rider or owner, can keep your horse elastic for the future.

    §  correctly positioned hooves and/or shoes,

    §  the right saddle for rider and horse,

    §  a rider who sits as correctly as possible, who comes to sit and drive.

    §  the momentum development from the hindquarters, correct contact, and a nose that belongs on the vertical !

muscles in the horse

If horses have back problems or kissing spines, their muscles will change over time. It is dismantled in the necessary places and built up in the wrong places to compensate. This means that the horse's appearance changes. The following photo comparison clearly shows how different backs can look:

After the saddle has been adjusted, the hooves are positioned correctly and the back is free of pain, an osteopath should remove blockages and restore basic mobility. It's the same with osteopathic therapists as it is with trainers, finding a really good one isn't easy. A capable therapist can be recognized by the following things:

1.     The first treatment should last at least 1 ½ hours.

2.     The osteopath should have the horse shown to him in the hand, take a close look at the footsteps at walk and trot, have the horse shown to the left and right on the lunge with the halter, allow tight turns to go,

3.     be able to precisely explain the individual steps of the treatment and the observations made.

4.     During the treatment, he should not only limit himself to the back but also check all joints and structures in the horse's body.

5.     A good osteopath also looks after the teeth. If something is wrong there, the horse is tense in the jaw and poll, among other things.

6.     He should handle the horse carefully, convey calm so that the horse can relax.

In addition, the first treatments can be very painful for horses with back problems or kissing spines. In the media today you see so-called therapists doing stretching exercises with strength, massive pressure, and tearing. This is then marketed as a necessary procedure. However, in many cases, these treatments lead to injuries to the smallest structures, such as fiber tears, massive overstretching, and the like, which usually only become apparent after weeks as a result of a deterioration in the overall condition, and are then hardly associated with the rough handling by the treating person. These treatments are marketed in the media today, but that doesn't make them right! On the contrary! They are highly harmful to the horse's health!

1.     After the treatment, the therapist should release the horse to the pasture and not require him to be locked in the box for days or even tied up.

2.     Since an osteopathic treatment is not enough, the therapist should show you various exercises and give them as daily homework until the next treatment. This includes arching the back, loosening the neck fascia if necessary, stretching the tail, having carrots picked up from the hindquarters, moving the withers, tilting the pelvis, and the like.


3.     Depending on the situation, the first follow-up treatment should take place 2-3 weeks after the first appointment.

back problems in horses

Freewheeling is very important for a horse with back problems or kissing spines. Because the more movement the horse has, the faster tensions can be released. A dark stable and little movement do not make the situation easier for the horse. You can also intervene to help with feeding. The market today offers a variety of ways to support muscular relaxation by adding vitamins and minerals. Depending on the situation, however, this should be discussed with the veterinarian. When a basic level of relaxation has been reached, the muscles can be built up. It is often necessary to start with lunging. As far as lunging is concerned, there are very different approaches.


Some only lunge with a caves son. The horses are not united, they mostly trot and gallop in circles on their forehands, which doesn't do anything for muscle building, because the hind legs are generally not very active. In addition, this does not provide the necessary support. Still, others use rigid reins or even the reins and forget how great the strain on the mouth and poll is. Reins don't give way, side reins hardly at all. The horse is hit in the mouth and on the neck with every kick. This does not ensure relaxation, nor does the horse dare to accept the bit or even relax.


I prefer to lunge with a triangular rein. This is buckled so long that the horse can stretch down on the lunge. The nose can be stretched in front of the vertical height of the bow joint. If like me, you lunge with triangular reins, you have to make sure that they are buckled in such a way that the horse – should it be overconfident – ​​cannot jump into the triangular reins. This can lead to injuries. Gloves and sturdy shoes are also mandatory. The lunge whip is not used to punish the horse, but to keep the hind leg active and prevent the horse from turning over on the lunge. There are horses who, in pain/stress situations, buck or climb on the lunge line and then turn on their heels. This can be prevented with the help of the whip.


Lunging the horse

In addition to lunging correctly, working in hand also helps. Here you can do the first lessons such as leg yield, hold - backward, lead from it, and practice backward again. On the one hand, these exercises help to loosen muscles and on the other hand, the horse can internalize them with the support of the voice.

Later, under the rider, the horse quickly learns to combine command with help. If you cannot master the work on your own, you should seek professional support. You should then explain to the trainer that it is not about piaffe and passage, but about the basics of solving when working in hand. Working in hand is a good complement to working under saddle, but mistakes do more harm than good. When it comes to riding, the first step is to get back to basics. This includes one of the most important exercises of all, which you should always include in every training session and at every level of training: letting the reins chew out of your hand.


work in the field

To practice this to perfection, work in the field is also a good idea. Whether on large curved lines, whether on long forest or meadow paths, letting the reins chew out of your hand is an indispensable tool that every rider should master and every horse must learn. The horse learns to give up its back, to step actively with the hind leg, to approach the hand, and to use all muscles correctly.

In addition, it can relax. When the reins are ridden correctly and the horse is allowed to chew from the hand, the horse comes into a stretched posture in which the nose is at the level of the bow joint on the vertical line or ideally a little in front of it. When chewing the reins out of your hand up to the buckle even up to 10 cm above the ground. The horse actively steps under the center of gravity with its hind leg and the horse's back swings (it is also said that the back is given).

If you chew the reins correctly, all the muscles, tendons, ligaments, and joints in the horse's body are loaded correctlytension is released, and inner and outer relaxation is achieved. Since letting the reins chew out of your hand is a criterion for the correct training of a horse, it should be one of the first exercises that you always include on the track and in the field, not only at the beginning and end of the training but also in between.



Even 50 – 60 years ago, it was a matter of course that young and old horses were ridden while letting the reins chew out of their hands several times during training. The horse can and could stretch and relax. There were far fewer tensions, back problems, and secondary diseases than today, even though the horses at that time were far from being as rideable as we have come to take for granted today. The back is the horse's center of the movement. If this is tense, we can neither sit nor move; nor can lessons be carried out correctly. That seems to be more and more forgotten today.

Whether working in the field, on the square, or in the hall, the following always applies:


     §  If I've been busy with the collection, then I have to put on the reins and let them chew the reins out of my hand!


     §  If I have ridden lessons, letting it chew should serve as a relaxation afterward!


     §  Step breaks during the training and at the end serve to let the reins chew out of your hand up to the buckle.


    §  The solution phase as well as the final phase of each training session begin and end with chewing the reins in all three basic gaits. In perfection, the reins are then allowed to chew out almost to the buckle!


 In the past, it was even said that the young Remonte was ridden almost exclusively on the long reins and that over the first and sometimes the second year of training. That avoided tension. Only older horses with the appropriate level of training were ridden with shorter reins and in an upright position, and even then only in phases. Collected walk, trot, and canter with lowered hindquarters and correct relative elevation. The horses eventually mastered all the lessons we see today in the higher training classes. Only presumably the execution of the lessons was more relaxed compared to today...

support and seat

If you can chew a rein out of your hand, transitions and differences in speed (gaining and catching) are also part of sensible and usable training sequences. The back is relaxed, the hind leg is active and the horse concentrates on the rider. If you pay attention to the constant contact, if the seat and influence are correct, transitions and speed differences are ideal for eliminating back problems.


Large curved lines, circles, and riding eights in the solution phase not only improve rib suppleness but aid in straightening. They also help the horse to approach the outside rein. The outside hand must be sufficient to allow the neck position, but the connection must be maintained. The inside hand should not work backward so that it does not block the inside hind leg or inside shoulder, but contact must be maintained here as well. Because the correct contact ensures that the horse can swing from the back to the front with the hind leg actively stepping off.


Riding aids against kissing spines

Half halts: As in the past, correct half halts are still necessary today, increasingly on the outside rein so that the horse can accept the bit. They also help to ask horses to give in and drop the neck at the poll, to slow down gait and speed, to regulate and accept the bit, to initiate new lessons and transitions, to improve the collection, to maintain it, and to achieve relative uprightness. They are given every two to three steps, kicks, or jumps on the outside rein and end with a sensitive yielding of the inside hand.


The Lessons: Actually, it's easy. You don't have to master an infinite number of lessons or ride to avoid back problems in the horse. Only transitions and differences in speed, lateral movements (such as shoulder-in, travers, renvers, long traversals), curved lines, and letting the reins chew out of the hand ensure that the horse swings through the body and can let go.


The saddle: “The deep-seat saddles that are so popular today are another problem. They give the rider the feeling of sitting low and firmly in the saddle. The only thing that is achieved with these saddle systems, however, is a fixation of the pelvis, a pinching of the rider in a virtually immobile position. A further foundation stone for faulty action is then laid on top of this. And what is even worse: Because the rider in such a saddle can no longer swing easily with the movement of the horse, the horse's movement is also restricted. Tensions and initial back problems are the frequent results.


Seat and action: Steinbrecht wrote extensively in his book “Gymnasium des Pferdes” in 1884 about seat and action. All the other great riding masters of the past also attached central importance to the seat. At the Spanish Riding School, the apprentices still have to take sitting lessons on the lunge for months at the beginning of their training, until they can sit independently of the hand. Only then are they allowed to enter the “normal” riding arena. Even after this time, the permanent seat correction is part of the training for years.


This proves that the correct seat is still the basic prerequisite for being able to affect your horse sensitively and to be able to give correct aids. A correct seat is characterized by the fact that the rider can sit in the center of gravity, relaxed and independent of the hand. The shoulder joint, elbow joint, wrist, hip joint, knee joint, and ankle joint of the rider must be loose. You should be able to draw an imaginary straight line from the shoulders to the heel as the lowest point and from the elbow to the horse's mouth.


The provision of assistance: Sensitive assistance is only possible with the correct seat. The positioning of the thighs appropriate to the respective exercise and lesson as well as the equally sensitive hand action are prerequisites for a horse to be able to let go. Correct and almost invisible half halts increasingly on the outside rein in connection with the driving inside leg and the soft inside hand enable the horse


     1.     to accept the bit and push off it

     2.     show correct alignment

     3.     to swing elastically from back to front through the body

     4.     Allow half stops through the body to the hind leg

     5.     let go as a result.


If you take these basic things into account, and base your future training on allowing the horse to let go and relax, then back problems will go away as quickly as they came and kissing spines will no longer be a concern in the future. They are there and will remain so, but they no longer hurt the horse and you can, if you want, train it up to S level and ride it into old age.


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