Kissing spines is a problem which affects many horses and seems to be a common problem in ex racehorses. It often goes undiagnosed for a long time due to many of the symptoms appearing to be behavioural issues rather than a physical problem. Although there is treatment available, it seems to be the most common answer is to retire or put the horse to sleep. I think this is mainly due to the cost and the amount of time it can take to recover.
I recently came across a blog: Diary of a Kissing Spine which recorded the progress of a horse who was diagnosed with kissing spine and their recovery. Ruth, the writer of diary of a kissing spine, kindly wrote this blog post for us about her experiences.
Firstly I’d like to introduce my gorgeous boy, Adam. I have owned him since he was just coming on 6 and he is now 14. He will be 15 in april. Adam is an anglo arab, with strong showing lines in his breeding. I had him on loan for 9 months before purchasing him and we have learnt alot together through the years. He was a little monkey for many years, not coping too well with hacking and big vechiles. Never particularly took to schooling and would throw his dollies out the pram at any given oppourinity. All these problems seemed very much behavioural and nothing ever occurred to me that there was an underlying problem going on.
I competed him at local shows, gradually building both of our confidence and getting as much experience under our belts as possible. Napping across the ring, and refusing to move from the line up was always an issue, but we over came the problem quite quickly during our first season showing. I used to show him as a riding horse/hack and he really started to blossom. We attended SWEP’s show at the David Broome centre one season, which was a big show for both of us, and he coped brilliantly considering he had a nervous, green, sicky rider sat on top of him.
Our second season was brilliant. He went beautifully and regularly bought champion and reserve champion rosettes home with plenty of trophies to put on the mantle piece. My long term plan was to sell him at 10, but after working so hard, and building such a strong partnership, I decided to keep him and keep enjoying him.
I attended a local show with him in 2012, a very familiar show ground to him and somewhere he should have felt relaxed and happy. I didn’t show him that day! He wouldn’t place a single hoof in the ring, he warmed up tense and erratic and it all resulted in dangerous rearing. He was taken home quickly, and my future with him started to look very bleak and unpredictable.
I continued to struggle with the rearing problem, he wouldn’t leave the drive and schooling became a real battle. He started to disunite during canter (especially on the lunge) and then he went lame behind.
My confidence was being shattered at a rather speedy pace, and when I called the vet, I was praying for some answers.
My vet at the time said he had tweaked a muscle or two in his back, gave me some pain killers and told me to rest it before starting some ground work. So I continued to work him, seemed happier for a few months, then he went lame behind again and the behavioural problems became worse. Bending right became a serious rearing trigger and I honestly don’t know how I ever stayed on him.
My fantastic physio suggested I get a second opinion from her recommended vet. He was poked and prodded within every inch of his life, lunged on hard ground, watched walking down hills and ridden. I was then told that he either had ligament damage or kissing spines. He was then booked in for an xray a few days later. The xrays confirmed that there was certainly some kissing spines there somewhere. My local practice didn’t have an xray machine strong enough to determine where, so another xray was booked with kissing spine specialist Svend Kold. My practice vet thought the lumber region was the problem as that is where all his pain seemed to be located. This wasn’t the case, and actually he had impinging dorsal spinous of T13, T15 and T17. This news, as you can imagine was totally destroying and all I can really remember is bringing him home and sobbing into his neck. I felt guilty for working him through the problems, I felt scared for what on earth was to come and I was almost relieved to know that something was wrong.
I was given only one option, and that was the traditional operation. I was told that the steroid injections would be pointless as it was too far gone and he was showing too many problems.
He was driven to B&W equine clinic on the Wales/Gloucester border the week after and stayed there for a night before his surgery. I sadly had to go home to return to work so couldn’t be there as much as I’d like to of been but I was called by the surgeon (Svend Kold) as soon as he was out of surgery. The plan was to operate on just two processes but it resulted in three. He stayed over night for 2-3 nights, and I was then given the go ahead to pick him up and bring him home.
I was shown how to change his dressing at the surgery, which broke my heart to see him so sore and uncomfortable but very glad they showed me! I was sent home with a goody bag of antibiotics, pain relief and dressing changes.
I remember feeling very much alone when we returned home. I didn’t have much written guidance and turned to the internet for help. This is where I came across the Facebook page ‘Horses with kissing spines’ and met Annunziata Shepard (now Desmand!) who has now become a very good friend. The support and non biased help on that page got me through so many difficulties and everyday there are new members asking all the questions I asked when I first joined, which is when I set up my blog. I kept a written diary of Adams mood and general well being from day one of his rehab anyway, so it was a case of typing it in and allowing others to read it and learn from my experience.
His rehab consisted of box rest and inhand grazing to begin with. He was obviously barefoot after surgery, so it was a case of practically lifting him to the grass to allow him to graze comfortably. He had his stitches out 2 weeks after surgery and we then started inhand walking, starting at 5 minutes and gradually building it up to an hour in around 6 weeks. He was an absolute angel to handle! I never had any problems exercising him inhand and I continually felt grateful after seeing other people struggle with box rest and exercise.
He was turned out after about 8 weeks of box rest as the ground was solid due to the frost and snow, and as usual, he really wasn’t bothered. I was relieved to have him turned out after having a mild colic scare due to pain. I then had to start a lunging/long reining programme with him, which lasted around 7 weeks to build his muscle.
He had his operation in January 2013 and was back into ridden work in June 2013. I took everything very slowly, with regular visits from my physio and vet to ensure he was strong enough to do what I was asking him to do.
He had a brilliant summer in 2013, starting to school very lightly and finally enjoying his hacking. The napping issues practically disappeared and I was on cloud 9. I finally had the horse I had dreamt of and it felt amazing.
In September 2013 I married and moved to Cornwall as did he. Suddenly I had a very different horse again. Hacking suddenly became a huge issue and the rearing started to begin again. My bubble was suddenly burst and I struggled with even just riding him in the school. His saddle fitted, his back was brilliant and teeth where checked. I tried to eliminate everything before I turned for help. I contacted a local lady who was well know for rectifying behavioural problems. She came to see us both, and I learnt that Adam was actually a rather dominant character. She taught me a few tricks on the ground to begin with before she started tackling the hacking problem with me. I hacked with her for about 3 months during the winter with the aim to be hacking happily by Easter. Hacking ‘infront’ has always been a problem with Adam, and when fast flowing fords come into the equation, the problem was heightened. He would pull me down, rear and then buck on landing when asked to go infront of the leading horse, or just plant his feet and refuse to move.
With her help, every hack became easier and her encouragement and support was very uplifting. I achieved my aim of hacking happily (infront!) by Easter and we had a brilliant summer. We also gained a new family member, Mero, who was a very patient hacking buddy for him! We also returned to the show ring, and qualified for SWEP, Cricklands and Equifest.
In September 2014, I noticed he wasn’t feeling sound infront. Vet was called yet again and he was xrayed. He was then diagnosed with degenerative joint disease in his near fore coffin joint and started a remedial farriery plan. This was yet again, a total blow and after all my hard work, and his problems, I had a behaving horse, but he was lame.
Since then he has had his coffin joint medicated, and has also been having problems with his Sacroiliac joint. He became very uncomfortable walking down hills and was gradually loosing more and more muscle. He is currently rehabbing again to strengthen him to continue his work. I am not doing this to compete him or doing anything too strenuous, just hack around the lanes like he deserves and prefers. He is worked 5-6 days a week, with a light amount of schooling and pottering around the Cornish country lanes and beautiful woods. 1-2 days of his exercise is being led off Mero, who is very tolerant of his continuous nibbles on the neck.
The problems with his feet, are perhaps what caused the kissing spine. And the SI problems are probably caused by the kissing spine. I am continuously mopping up the mess that this has caused and can sometimes be very difficult.
I am very grateful to be able to ride him, he has become a gentleman after all these years of struggle and is a truly brilliant friend to me and companion to Mero. He will continue to be happy hacker until he tells me he is no longer happy to do it anymore. He will then be a field ornament until he is no longer comfortable. If kissing spine taught me anything, it taught me to listen to my horse and go with your gut, not your heart. I have made some fantastic friends and practically kept my vets practice in business but he is 100% worth it.