Updated: Mar 2, 2020
Here in North Western Vet Physio blog posts we will regularly post updates, anatomy queries, injury myths and success stories! This being the first post we thought it best to start with the latter, and today’s topic of kissing spines is one very close to my heart. Anyone who knows me will know of my little ex-racehorse, known to his mates as Q. He is my pride and joy and most are surprised to learn he has chronic kissing spines.
Q: So what are kissing spines?
A: Horses with kissing spines have what is known technically as Overriding Dorsal Spinous Processes. You may have heard the condition mentioned by other people on the yard but always wondered what it meant? Unfortunately it’s not so romantic as the name suggests! Like us, a horse’s back has a spine made up of bones known as vertebrae. These vertebrae, unlike those in yourself, have three additional parts; two transverse processes, where muscles attach to the spine; and dorsal spinous processes (DSP) - these are the troublemakers! In a healthy horse these DSP’s have gaps between each of them, but kissing spines develops when these spaces begin to reduce and eventually result in two DSP’s touching. The touching of the DSP’s causes inflammation of the bones and the horse pain.
Q: What causes kissing spines?
A: Conformation and muscle structure has a large effect on your horse’s risk of developing KS. What exactly? We often see ex-racehorses tarnished with the kissing spines brush, whether it is due to their conformation or the age in which they begin training, we do find they are over-represented in this condition. Any other breeds/types etc?
Q: How can I help prevent kissing spines?
A: Ensuring your horse has a strong core to support his back is the best thing you as his owner can do. Regularly having your horse assessed and treated by a qualified veterinary physiotherapist, who will be able to advise exercises tailored specifically to your horse. Have your saddle checked twice a year by a qualified saddle fitter, regardless of if it feels okay to you!
Q: How do I know if my horse may be suffering from kissing spines?
A: All horses show signs of pain in different ways, some will be perceived as naughty, bucking or refusing jumps, some may just show signs of grumpiness when grooming or tacking up, and in the more stoic horses it may be difficult to spot. It is essential to have any ridden horse seen by a qualified veterinary physiotherapist regularly to limit the risk of these things going unnoticed. If you suspect your horse has kissing spines please contact your vets for an assessment.
As I said earlier I have personal experience of kissing spines with my little ex-racehorse, Q, whom I bought in 2013. We enjoyed a successful dressage career campaigning competitively at affiliated novice & elementary level. However in 2017 he started exhibiting some strange behaviours. He had started to weave in the stable and was bucking, without any provocation, while out hacking. Nothing dramatic, just out of the ordinary for Q. We took him to the vets, who couldn't find much on physical assessment and so decided to x-ray. No one was expecting what we found! He has 9 DSP's touching, from his withers to the back of his saddle. To be honest I thought the worst and believed he would not be coming home with us. However the vets were positive and suggested medicating with steroid injections into his spine as his case was too severe for surgery. It was a sorry journey home. Following two weeks off we gradually brought him back into work, lunging for ?? weeks on a big circle and then into ridden work. The bucking and weaving stopped and has not returned since.
A few months later he went out on loan to a friend of a friend who whipped in at a hunt yard. He was there for two seasons regularly covering over 20 miles a day; all looking a million dollars with a huge smile on his face! He came home in my final year of university for my own sanity and I am now hoping to get back on the BD circuit this summer with the intention to event, (80-90cm), the following season. I am so grateful to the vet who gave me hope that the diagnosis of kissing spines was not necessarily curtains for Q, he has proved him right!