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Kissing Spines Surgery & Then What ?

Can You Relate?

You have come to a decision. After months of searching, countless hours spent scrolling through horse direct, horse and hound, speaking to plenty of dealers and friends of friends, watching various different videos of horses being ridden, you have found the one. The horse of your dreams, you feel excitable and positive as you envision yourself hacking on open fields.

A beautiful dark bay, 16.1hh 10-year-old, Sports horse gelding called Stan. Stan has successfully competed in novice eventing affiliated When you first went to view Stan, the minute you laid your eyes on this beautiful gelding you fell in love. Tacking him up and getting on him from the mounting block, he never moves and despite your nerves about riding a new horse in front of people you don’t know, he obediently picks up walk, trot and canter on both reins. After plucking up the courage and jumping a 80cm fence, you feel your confidence growing and the seller notices changes in your body language as you start talking to Stan, rewarding him as your smile becomes visible.

The seller asks you if you would like to go for a hack on your own and leave the yard and even though you’re a little bit anxious, the feeling of trust and partnership that Stan is giving you, you take the big leap and leave the yard on your own. Stan does not put a foot wrong. As you dismount, your right hand struggles to leave his shoulder as you continue to reward and praise him for looking after you. You become more aware of this deep connection of love and friendship as you drift off into your mind, imaging you and Stan at your yard, training together and then at a competition galloping into a cross country jump. Suddenly you realise, as your mind returns to the present that you were completely ignoring the seller as you nod your head in agreement, despite not knowing what he just said.

“Would you like to buy him?” says the seller. You feel a surge of energy rushing through you as you start smiling, and reply with “yes, yes of course subject to vetting”.

Two weeks later, Stan is at your yard, he passed the five stage vetting (no x-rays) with flying colours and your journey begins.

Has this happened to you?

Around six months after Stan arrived, you start noticing that his behaviour is changing when you are tightening the girth. Stan starts to show you signs of tail swishing and putting his ears back with the odd occasion of trying to bite the girth as you are doing it up. You also start to notice that he is refusing to go into the canter on the right rein, and your trainer recommends a practitioner to ensure that there is nothing going on with Stan’s back. After a couple of visits from your practitioner, there has been a slight improvement, however not significant and your practitioner suggests going to the vet for further investigation.

You are reluctant at first, because in the back of your mind you know that Stan had only recently passed a 5 stage vetting only six months ago, however for peace of mind and trusting your practitioner and trainer you book Stan in for further assessment with your veterinarian.

Déjà vu happens as you are sat waiting for your phone to ring for the vet's diagnosis. When you finally get the call, instead of feeling relaxation and relief, you feel confused, sad, overwhelmed and shocked at what you are hearing. Your veterinarian has informed you that Stan has severe kissing spines from T13-16, Bilateral hock arthritis and sacroiliac strain. A rush of emotions fill your body and you completely forget exactly what the vet has told you except that Stan is in pain and is uncomfortable. Everything the vets have just told you becomes a blur, except for the information that they recommend surgery for the kissing spines. As your Veterinarian describes the procedure over the phone, you feel your eyes filling with tears and suddenly you have no control over them as the tears start streaming down your cheeks uncontrollably. There is now silence on the phone, as the vet can hear you crying and asks if you are okay. You find it difficult to talk and manage to blurt out “I’m sorry, I'm just so confused and sad, The whole reason I had a five stage vetting was to avoid this situation from happening .” The vet recommends calling the surgery tomorrow to book Stan in for surgery at the end of the month. As soon as you come off the phone, you sob, as the feelings of sadness, frustration and confusion are filling your body. After 20mins you start googling “kissing spines surgery for horses”.

Post Surgery

Now, let's fast forward 5 months post kissing spines surgery, since then Stan has had basic veterinary rehabilitation which you have followed to the T, this included 1x month of box rest, 1x in hand walking, 1x month of light walking ridden with bute. At the start of month 4 your vet suggested bringing Stan into the practice to have steroid injections in both hocks and he’s SI.

Back to your weekly lessons with your trainer, you are working on slowly developing Stan’s fitness and strength, however you still feel that Stan is not 100% despite the surgical intervention and additional steroid injections.

Does this sound familiar?

How many of you can relate? How do you feel? Or how did you feel? Feelings of sadness, feelings of anger? Reflecting and questioning that you have only owned this horse for only one year and can not believe how much you have both been through, never mind the cost, which is now adding up to more than £10 000 in vet bills. Luckily you did insure him, so all fees have been covered, except for the excess. The insurance company has informed you that Stan will only be covered for a year from the date the claim opened relating to kissing spines. With only six months remaining on the claim for kissing spines you start panicking and questioning why Stan still does not feel comfortable and the behavioural signs when ridden have not improved. Stan is now putting his ear back, swishing his tail and is reluctant to go forward in the canter in both directions. Every time you bring the saddle out and place it on the stable door, you can see his behaviour change, as he walks to the back of the stable and turns his hindquarters on you. You are left standing at the front of the stable confused and frustrated as thoughts enter your head;

“ Why is he showing me his hindquarters?”

“ Why does he not want to go forward in the canter? “ “Why are his ears back and tail swishing when I apply leg pressure?”

As you keep repeating these questions, you become frustrated and overwhelmed as you have followed the veterinary and trainer’s advice post surgery.


As a practitioner, rider and horse owner, I completely relate to the story and feel a sense of deep sadness and frustration. The questions which should have been asked are:

“How did Stan pass a five stage vetting one year ago and within six-months developed severe kissing spines?”

I am speaking from a personal perspective but also from listening to the stories of my clients and their friends who have had similar experiences, there seems to be a group consensus of feeling misguided and let down.

We can go into the he said she said and blaming mentality or acting like the victim, however I do not believe this is the answer. We cannot control how individuals decide to behave and the decisions they make, however we can influence our behaviour and how we choose to react going forward. Correct me if I’m wrong, however we all have horses in our lives because they bring us something magical. They add value to our lives that is hard to put into words, but you know deep down that you cannot live without them in your life.

Why should you care?

What does science say?

Study study by Clayton (2016), on 33 horses found that every horse in the study had some form of Dorsal Spinal Process (DSP) impingement. Each impingement was graded with 0 being minor impingement to grade 3 being severe impingement. 70% of horses had a grade 2 - 3 DSP impingement, with a degree increasing with size and age of the horse. What was fascinating about these findings was that the symptoms did not increase depending on the severity.

What does this mean for you as a rider or horse owner?

Despite this only being one study of small sample size, the most profound information was that the symptoms did not increase despite the increase in severity of DSP impingement.

How are we meant to know the degree of DSP impingement our horses are showing if they are not displaying it in their signs and symptoms?

I believe that the answer to helping our four-legged friends is:

  • Communication

  • Preparation

  • Education.

Communication between each of the professional’s who are helping your horse, the veterinarian, the practitioner, the farrier, the saddle fitter, the dentist, the trainer and you. The second part of the solution is preparation for the unpredictability of owning a horse through education. Being open minded, learning constantly and questioning. By the way this should be how you approach all aspects of your life but I’ll stick to horses for now.

My Mission:

My mission is to help you, the horse owner, rider, trainer, veterinarian and practitioner learn and understand the importance of the management and training of your horse on a weekly basis. You do not need to be an expert in anatomy, leave that to the Veterinarians and practitioners, however the more you understand your horse’s conformation and what their strengths and weaknesses are (no human or animal is perfectly balanced and symmetrical), the better your chances are of minimising their risk to injury and optimising their performance and overall welfare.

If we relate this back to Stan. My first question once Stan started showing changes in his behaviour when being tacked up and ridden, would have been, WHY?

“Why is Stan showing me these signs?”

“What is the trigger? The saddle? Does he show any changes in his behaviour when he is lunged with no tack?”

“When did he start showing these changes in behaviour?”

Recognising and monitoring these early changes in behaviour are the key to identifying the trigger or the stimulus. Another important question I ask is, looking at Stan’s conformation;

“What are his conformational strengths and weaknesses?”

Why is this important to know? Understanding your horse’s conformation is fundamental to planning your training, so that you can concentrate on improving the muscle weaknesses which will predispose your horse to injury. Remember that no horse is perfectly symmetrical, this goes for rider’s as well, and the goal in training should not be for perfect symmetry, instead it should be individual to the horse and rider combination, factoring in both their weaknesses for the short and long term goals.

If you are not aware of your horse’s conformational weaknesses and strengths’, seek educated advice from trained professionals and ask them the questions. I believe that one of the reasons there are so many lame, unhappy horses and frustrated riders/ owners out there is because there is NO EDUCATION AND COMMUNICATION to WHY. Once you know why your horse has developed kissing spines, you can adapt and manage your training and husbandry practices more effectively and tailor them to your horse.

For more information please do not hesitate to contact me.

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