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Horses can’t tell us when they’re in pain—at least not with words. It’s up to us to stay attuned to them and recognize when their behavior changes or they show signs of pain.

The good news is you don’t have to be a bona fide “horse whisperer” to know whether your horse is suffering from back pain. Look for these signs:

  • Your horse flinches, kicks, or rears when you brush his back or when you tighten the girth
  • You feel your horse’s back sink as soon as you swing into the saddle
  • Your horse’s performance has diminished, with no explanation
  • Your horse’s gait has changed (shorter stride)
  • Your horse suddenly responds poorly to grooming

If your horse shows any of these signs, he may be suffering with back pain. Now what?

Determine the Cause

Back pain is common in athletic horses, and there are many possible reasons for it. Determining the root cause may require some detective work, and you may need to get your vet involved. Here are some of the most common causes:

Poor saddle fit

Each animal is different, and saddles aren’t one-size-fits all. Here are a few ways to check whether your horse’s saddle fits properly.

First, put your horse’s saddle on with no saddle pad and insert your fingers between the pommel and the withers (the ridge between the shoulder blades). The saddle should not rest on the withers, but if you can fit more than three fingers under the pommel, the saddle may be too narrow and sitting to high.

Next, look for bridging. If you notice areas where the saddle isn’t making contact with the horse’s back, this means other areas are getting too much pressure.

Finally, ride with a clean saddle pad and check the sweat pattern. Dry spots on the pad indicate uneven pressure, in which case you should consult an expert saddle fitter (as a rule, check your horse’s saddle fit a few times a year or after any significant change to his routine).

Rider posture

Check your posture and position while riding, and notice whether you might be putting uneven pressure on your horse’s back. As we covered in another post, female riders often roll forward. This can put too much pressure on the front of the pelvis.

If you’re experiencing back pain while riding, it may be related to your position or posture—and it could also be the cause of your horse’s back pain.

Training methods, conditioning, and conformation

It’s vital to condition your horse sufficiently for his discipline and work the appropriate muscle groups to prevent injuries and trauma. Not all horses are suitable for all activities. Consult with your vet to determine whether your horse’s activity is appropriate for his build and condition.

Advanced age

Older horses can develop arthritis, a painful degenerative disease that can affect the joints along the spine. Another common problem in aging horses is “kissing spines,” which is when vertebra in the spine are positioned so that they touch or rub against each other.

Kissing spines is common in middle-aged equines, especially performance horses involved in racing and jumping. X-rays and other imaging studies can reveal the condition of your horse’s spine.

vet owner checks a horse

Thanks to advancements in technology, veterinarians today have sophisticated tools for diagnosing spinal problems, including bone scans and sensors that can identify gait problems that lead to back pain. Treatments for equine back pain may include anti-inflammatory medications, rehab exercises, massage, chiropractic care, shockwave therapy (which stimulates the body’s own healing mechanism), solarium therapy, acupuncture, and in some cases, surgery.

If your horse is showing signs of back pain, don’t wait, consult your vet right away.

Prevent Equine Back Problems with the Right Equipment

Investing in a quality saddle pad will keep you more comfortable and can help improve your posture and riding position—and, as we’ve seen, poor posture and position are leading causes of equine back pain.

Vitafloor USA is a leading provider of quality equine products. We offer a complete line of custom horse saddle pads for every rider and every riding style. Vitafloor’s sedelogic saddle pad more evenly distributes weight, decreasing pressure and increasing comfort for both riders and horses.  Browse our online shop to see our complete line of quality products.