Dealing With Your Horse's "Back Problem" By J. Foley
The term “bad back” is used to describe a range of health problems, such as muscle tension,
soreness and bruising, which may be injuries in their own right or indicators of more serious
A horse should be checked regularly from head to tail for signs of tension, soreness or pain.
Signs to look out for that may indicate a back problem are as follows.
• General stiffness when moving or dragging the hind toes
• Resistance or aggravation when being saddled or the girth is tightened
• Dipping when being mounted
• Hollowing the back or resisting when ridden
• Bucking or bolting
• Stiffness to one side
• Refusal to perform usual tasks, such as cantering or jumping
• Uneven muscle development or tension
• Adverse or exaggerated reaction to touch or pressure
It is advisable to get your horse’s back checked if the animal is exhibiting any of the above
signs and also to identify or rule out any of the more probable causes.
A poorly fitting saddle and incorrect riding techniques can lead to a range of back problems in
your horse that, if untreated (and the cause not rectified), can create significant discomfort,
lasting damage and may result in subsequent poor performance. The most common ridingrelated
problems are seen in the following areas – at the top of the neck, behind the withers,
over the back, behind the saddle area and across the pelvis.
Most back problems are the results of a primary issue, for example, a badly fitting saddle.
However, the muscles and structures of the neck, back and pelvis can also be injured as a
result of an accident (such as a fall while jumping, slipping or stopping suddenly or becoming
cast in the stable). It is important for a veterinary surgeon to diagnose the problem and
recommend a course of therapy or treatment. The vet should also identify the probable cause,
in order to ensure that the condition is not aggravated and to avoid its re-occurrence.
Several therapeutic treatment options may be recommended for a horse that has been
diagnosed as having a bad back. In addition to rest, controlled exercise and removing the
original cause, the horse may benefit from a course of physical therapy from an
approved therapist. Therapies for horses are similar to those for humans, and include
physiotherapy, massage therapy, chiropractics and osteopathy.
Horses known to have suffered a back problem may also benefit from an annual check by an
approved therapist. Also, every riding horse should have the fit and balance of their saddle
checked regularly by a master saddler at least once per year.
Article Written By J. Foley