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Dressage with kissing spines

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  • Dressage with kissing spines

    Hi there!
    Maybe you can help me: I've taken over a 16 year old Warmblood gelding, whom I've been riding for over 10 years now. Unfortunately, thanks to misfitted saddles, he's developed slight kissing spines. He now has a new saddle that actually fits and I'm trying to exercise him so that he can develop his back muscles.
    Problem is: he carries himself extremely well when lunging (I always use side reins and a cavesson) but he's unwilling to drop his head when being ridden. He tends to become hard at the bit, starts pulling and grinds his teeth. I'm currently using a kimblewick and an unbroken snaffle as he prefers unbroken bits. Any ideas on how get him soft and supple again so that he'll drop his head and carry himself?

  • #2
    What does your vet say about the prospect of being able to ride him without causing pain? For some horses with kissing spines, this is not possible.
    Patience pays.


    • #3
      ^^ I agree. If he longes in a good, reaching position but doesn't adopt it under saddle with the weight of a rider, I'd suggest two things: 1) involve your veterinarian - have him/her watch you longe and ride and 2) hire a GOOD trainer/rider to come out even once and longe your horse then ride him. A quality/good rider can often distinguish between a horse who doesn't want to do something just 'cuz, and a horse who wants to do something (general good attitude) but just can't due to discomfort. Good luck!
      Proud member of the Colbert Dressage Nation


      • #4
        Has he always been difficult to put on the aids? What was the dressage level of the horse prior the kissing spine? What was his condition? (muscle mass)

        When did you 'discovered' he had a slight kissing spine, how did you realise that and how long was he ridden 'in pain' until you realise there was something wrong? What did you do since then? (re-training) How do you know he is no longer in pain and what are your trainer's and the vet's suggestions?

        It could be pain related (back, teeth, hocks, anything else) or it could be your riding.

        How do you ask him to 'drop' his head? What is the purpose of the kimberwick? What is the other snaffle?
        ~ Enjoying some guac and boxed wine at the Blue Saddle inn. ~

        Originally posted by LauraKY
        I'm sorry, but this has "eau de hoarder" smell all over it.
        HORSING mobile training app


        • Original Poster

          thanks for all your answers!

          He's always been slightly difficult on the bit, especially after around 30 mins of riding (he tends to become unwilling and starts pulling). Even though he used to be at an advanced dressage level (starting half pass, flying changes) he's never built up proper muscles. It was difficult for me to say something about his condition to the owner as it wasn't my horse up until now.

          The vet says he can be ridden without problems and that he should be ridden to build up mass so that he can carry a rider. He's had his teeth checked recently (no problems there), the only thing I can't explain is his constant teeth grinding.

          He's much easier to ride with a kimblewick or pelham as he doesn't pull as much. I try to be as light as possible in the hand to avoid disturbing him. I exercise him slowly, starting off with a walk (circles, serpentines, side steps) for about 15 minutes before I continue in a light trot, changing gaits often to activate his hind legs. I've also been avoiding the sitting trot for the last couple of weeks. I ask him to drop his head by going slightly forward with my hands when I notice he wants to stretch himself, however he seems unable to stretch himself continuously under the rider. I've been thinking it's because he's never been allowed to during his training.

          My vet says I pretty much have to start as if I were dealing with a 3 year old but it's easier said than done. I try to avoid pressure to try to get him to understand that it's supposed to be comfortable for him.

          The other snaffle's a German made, unbroken snaffle made from a soft, elastic material. My trainer says he's very tense in his neck and jaw and that he needs to be loosened up to become more elastic. That's why I've also been thinking about changing his bit to something with a roller hoping it'll relax him.


          • Original Poster

            I forgot to add: he's been ridden with misfitted saddles for about 7 or 8 years now, the one I bought was (as far as I know) the first one to be properly looked at and adjusted by a saddler..


            • #7
              My trainers GP horse was retired due to kissing spines. She was a Pro with money to get all the testing done (in Wellington - so he had the best). So now he is a trail horse - he can not collect at all as it causes him pain, but rider is light and he can be ridden in a WP frame.

              So I'm afraid there is probably nothing you can do to make the horse comfortable enough to be ridden dressage. You could see about a spine injection, and chiropractic, but depending on how bad his issue is it may not hep.

              Now in Kentucky


              • #8
                Good for you for consulting with your vet about your horse's condition. IMO (and I'm NOT a vet) I think with careful riding his muscles can be strengthened so that the kissing spines are less of a problem. My own horse has a calcification on his spine, likely from an injury in transit from Germany, or due to a jumping accident. No one knows.

                When I first bought this horse, my vet told me NOT to canter for the first two or three months. Walk and trot only, including a lot of hill work on a long or loose rein. Horse was terribly atrophied over the back and hindquarters. Ride or lunge him long, deep and low during those first few months to help "open" the spaces between the spinal processes. (I know -- it's a relative thing...)

                Cavalletti work in a low frame will also help him. I like the side-stepping work -- perhaps initially in-hand -- to encourage muscle development behind the saddle and stretch him.

                Good luck in your rehab work with him -- you will learn a lot about putting a horse back together.


                • #9
                  Valentina, you're right that some kissing spines are unsalvageable -- but OP tells us these are "slight", so may be all is not lost. At least she's willing to give the horse a chance.

                  My horse is now going Third, schooling Fourth, but he was only 7 when I got him and that makes a difference, too. Still, I think it's worth exploring if various therapies and exercises would help the horse be more comfortable.


                  • #10

                    I had a horse with KSS, and we managed it with injections. It was long enough ago that I don’t remember exactly what the injections were, but they would keep him going for about 2 months at a time. After being treated, he had to be rested for a week. Then we would go back to work with no problems. I always knew when he needed an injection because his flying changes would go from big and expressive to flat and late behind. His gaits, in general, became flatter.

                    Anyway, to address a few of your comments: “Even though he used to be at an advanced dressage level (starting half pass, flying changes) he's never built up proper muscles. It was difficult for me to say something about his condition to the owner as it wasn't my horse up until now.”

                    This comment is a red flag to me. The lack of proper muscling is an indication of incorrect training not KSS. My horse’s muscling looked terrific, and I’ve noticed the same in other KSS horses that were worked correctly. It sounds as though someone taught him the tricks but did not lay down a proper foundation.

                    Your comment about his pulling is more of a rider issue, too. As I said above, my horse got flatter, but he still maintained a nice contact. It sounds much more like a case of the horse not going forward to the bit properly. The fact that he’s nicely over his back when longeing also supports the idea that this is a rider rather than horse issue. I think the kindest thing you could do for yourself and your horse is to find a good instructor to work with who can teach you how to get a horse working over his back properly so that he goes forward into the bridle. I’m suspicious of trainers who immediately go for a bit change as the solution. I’m not saying that it isn’t sometimes the solution, but far more often than not it’s the rider who needs to make changes. I don’t mean to hurt your feelings because it sounds like you are a very caring owner/rider who is trying to do what’s best for your horse; just asking that you also put yourself into the equation rather than thinking all the problems are with him and his KSS.


                    • #11

                      I just reread your first post and don't see anything there regarding how he was diagnosed with KSS. A lot of horses are misdiagnosed as having it. The only way to know for sure is with xrays, and you need a very powerful x-ray machine to do it. If this has been done, how many vertebrae are involved and in what area of his back?

                      Also, I've never heard of poor saddle fit causing KSS (although someone may prove at some point that it can). However, I can see how it could exacerbate the problem. Anyway, if you don't have x-rays that conclusively show that the spinous processes are touching, you may be dealing with something else entirely.

                      This article is well worth reading:

                      Last edited by suzy; Apr. 9, 2013, 02:25 PM.


                      • Original Poster

                        Suzy, thanks for your answers!

                        He was x-rayed by the vet who diagnosed slight kissing spines after seeing his x-rays. The problem with his lack of muscles in my eyes is a result of him being trained much too fast at a young age (he's 175cm at the withers and very long). He already showed in L Classes for Dressage (is that the correct english term?) and M Classes for Showjumping when he was 5, so I guess he's never really had the chance to stretch properly under the rider.
                        Plus he's always had saddles that didn't fit so he couldn't really build up anything. For example, he has no trapezoid muscles in his neck and his last saddle was to tight at the shoulders, which means that he has no muscles there either. It's already gotten a little bit better ever since he was treated 7 weeks ago, thanks to lunging and gentle exercise. I'm also doing chiropractic exercises before and after I ride, just to keep him flexible and supple.

                        And no, don't worry, you're not hurting my feelings I totally understand, and I must admit my seat isn't the best either. I'm already searching around for a good instructor who'll actually take into account my horse's condition and my lack of training because I don't want to make any mistakes that'll worsen his condition.


                        • Original Poster

                          @ ThreeFigs: unfortunately I don't have any hills around, but I really like the cavalletti idea! I'll definitely give that a try


                          • #14
                            I horse at the barn i board at had KS. They treated her successfully with Mesotherapy.


                            • #15
                              I had a horse with KS, mesotherapy did nothing, but RVI treatment really helped. I got him with a lighter rider as financially I couldn't keep up the RVI and I thought he would improve with proper work and a much lighter rider...


                              • #16
                                RobinL--Could you explain what RVI treatment is? Thanks!


                                • #17
                                  KS is something they're born with (vertebrae too close together) not something that they develop.


                                  • #18
                                    Not so, Highflyer. "Kissing spines" is a big bucket that vets use and often refers to arthritic changes on the vertebrae, which is pretty clear on a good radiograph. A large majority of ridden horses have these changes, but many are asymptomatic because they are (a) not in pain, (b) not challenged/lightly ridden, or (c) very stoic.

                                    Each case is different -- a correctly fitting saddle, a good strong topline, and adaptive management are key. Injections can be very helpful (they sure helped my back, LOL!), supported by accupuncture, shockwave therapy, or other methods which relax, massage, and warm the surrounding muscle mass.
                                    Life doesn't have perfect footing.

                                    Bloggily entertain yourself with our adventures (and disasters):
                                    We Are Flying Solo


                                    • #19
                                      Rubeola Virus Immunomodulator. It's an injection we gave on a schedule that I can't remember now because it's been several years ago, but nothing else helped this horse relax in the back like this treatment did. It was recommended by his chiro after Robaxin, Mesotherapy, massage, etc did nothing for him.


                                      • #20
                                        Originally posted by wildlifer View Post
                                        Not so, Highflyer. "Kissing spines" is a big bucket that vets use and often refers to arthritic changes on the vertebrae, which is pretty clear on a good radiograph. A large majority of ridden horses have these changes, but many are asymptomatic because they are (a) not in pain, (b) not challenged/lightly ridden, or (c) very stoic.

                                        Each case is different -- a correctly fitting saddle, a good strong topline, and adaptive management are key. Injections can be very helpful (they sure helped my back, LOL!), supported by accupuncture, shockwave therapy, or other methods which relax, massage, and warm the surrounding muscle mass.
                                        Well said, Wildlifer. It is a very individual thing not only in the causes and the symptoms but also in what therapies work. One poster had great success with RVI; I had no luck with it.

                                        Suki, It sounds like you are doing all the right things. Good luck. I'd really like to hear what ultimately works for this horse.