Photo: Cassidi Robertson
Horses can face many different back problems, causing pain, agitation, and reluctance to work. Some causes of back pain can be solved with a simple fix, while others require more extensive care. Looking at your horse’s conformation and saddle fit can give insight into what could be causing their pain.
An examination of the back can be done to try to locate the source of pain. First, view the back from both sides and look for any lumps, chaffs, saddle sores, muscle swelling, or curving of the spine. Next, run your hands from withers to tail, gradually increasing pressure. Watch for areas of heat or sensitivity at a single spot. If you suspect there is a problem, call your vet to do a more extensive examination. Check your saddle to ensure it fits properly and isn’t causing saddle sores or bruises.
A sway back is a common conformation fault that occurs when there is a slope between the withers and loins. This causes saddles to fit improperly, because the pressure from a rider’s weight is distributed on the ends of the saddle tree instead of down the length of the tree. The uneven distribution of weight will strain ligaments causing pain.
Back pain can also be caused from the withers being too high or low. Withers being too high or low interfere with proper saddle fit by making the saddle slide back or forward. Improper saddle fit results in the rider’s weight being distributed unevenly, placing strain on the ligaments, and can cause to bruising.
The specific treatment needed will depend on what is causing your horse’s pain. Common treatments include pain killers, controlled exercise, heat therapy, acupuncture, and in serious cases surgery. Consult your veterinarian before beginning treatment.
To prevent back pain caused by improper fitting saddles, make sure that your saddle fits correctly. The saddle should distribute the weight of the rider uniformly across the horse’s back. Take care of any saddle rubs early to prevent them from becoming more serious. Back pain caused by sway back and high or low withers can be prevented using a saddle pad designed to help with conformation faults.