Monday, March 05, 2012

Back Pain: Yours, Mine, Ours

The Horse | Kissing Spines: Common, But Not Career-Ending (AAEP 2011)

reathes there a rider with nerves so dead that never to herself has said, “Oy!  This is killing my back!”?  The article linked above is a report from the AAEP 2011 Convention.  The subject is “kissing” spines—that only-too-common ailment that sends horses bucking and fussing and owners screaming for a time-out to reassess the whole riding thing.  

The article includes excellent illustrations to help one (me) understand once and for all what is meant by the term, which has a certain sweetness that makes it seem less annoying than it actually is, and how it affects your horse.  I won’t try to summarize it all here.  It would be better for readers to actually follow the link.  I can’t make you, but you really should, even if you think you’ve never had a horse with this issue.  Based on the statistics, if you haven’t, you will.

In fact, if my understanding is correct, I do.  When the chiro diagnosed Zips Memory (aka: Moneypit) with a “locked rib”, I did some searching and couldn’t find anything on that condition…until now.  I didn’t make the connection between kissing spines and the rib thing and the poor horse’s body curving slightly to his right until I saw the pictures and read the description.  I’m a visual learner.

When the chiro said that this was not a new problem resulting from the slight trailering incident that precipitated the odd behavior, she was right on.  Kissing spines is genetic.  She surmised that Zip had been suffering from this orthopedic condition most of his life, and that it might have been ameliorated when he was younger if he’d had chiropractic then instead of in full, cranky adulthood (his and mine).  Regardless, I can honestly say that the loud crack!  that made his eyes pop and my head snap around truly did the trick as a starter option.  Two additional corrections, several new saddles and pads, and refraining from severely collected postures for both of us have allowed him to return to his normally fun-loving personality without all the kicking out during a ride and the stopping dead hoping I’ll get off.  

I should also add that none of the additional types of treatment mentioned in the article have been applied to the Zipster, but they should be noted and approached with an open mind and wallet.  There's no price you can put on the sense of betrayal your horse feels when you ride him while he's in pain, and it's a hard thing to overcome.  Betray him badly enough, and he'll betray you in ways more painful than you can imagine.  Penny wise and 1200 pounds foolish just won't cut it.  

That said, there’s more to this article that needs to be addressed, particularly in view of the Monoculture theory I discussed last post.  I’m farther along in that book and have come across a very big Story that is controlling our culture right now.  That story is the crossroads between economics and ethics that says that everything in our lives has stakeholders involved whose needs have to be met in order for us to get them off our backs (no pun intended) and allow us to move forward in meeting our shareholders’ demands.  We are the stakeholders.  It’s us, our horses, our families who deal with us and our horses, our horse professionals, and anyone and everyone else who feels they are impacted by our “business plan”, which is our riding life.
Me and my prime stakeholder
I want to focus on just a couple of points from the article.  

Point One:   Of the 212 horses included in the kissing spines study, the largest number were Thoroughbreds (and crosses), “Quarter Horse types”, and Warmbloods.  That’s important to note because I have a theory about that.  My theory is that these are the athletic breeds most often put to work in demanding jobs because of their willingness and the ease with which we can fantasize Olympic Gold hanging from their bridles.   Natural limberness and a pre-collected build can be seductive, especially to tyros like me who have been known to hoot  loudly at the least sign of talent in our mounts or ourselves.  It’s a lot easier to reach Full Hoot on a horse that’s athletic, willing, and easy to train. 
Zip has it all.  His mom is a TB x Paint off the Paint Horse track.  His daddy is a performance Quarter Horse.  Zip is an athletic "brick shit-house" (the chiro's description) who looks as if the barn could fall on him and he’d brush it off and go back to his lateral work without batting an eye.

A full 40% of the horses in the lame-due-to-back-pain category were in the dressage biz.  

The authors puzzle the question as to whether dressage and other collection work (can we hear from the reiners  out there?) contributes to the problem, or whether picky DQ’s are more likely to notice the effects and report them (to anyone and everyone who will stand still long enough, as my friends who were forced to watch Zip go will attest).  Good question!   More studies will probably turn up an answer, which is good because I don’t have one.  I’m guessing it’s both.  The conclusion of the report states, “After looking at all the data, kissing spines must go with speed or some other trait that we’ve bred the Thoroughbred for.”  Ditto the Quarter Horse.  Double Ditto the Appendix and the Warmblood.  

Point  Two:  Saddle fitting is key.  Not the only key, but an important one. I think we pretty  much guessed that.  In nearly half of the problematic horses, refitting their saddles helped.  Of those, 85% were dressage horses. 

Sure, this is going to be my new excuse for the ridiculous collection of saddles and pads in my tack room.  That’s a given.  But it’s also very important information.  If we are going to insist on using our horses in sports that seemed destined to cause their orthopedic issues to surface, perhaps we need to start thinking about including thermography in the pre-purchase exam.  Only 7% of the horses first chosen due to lameness had the kissing spine situation as an underlying problem, but 68% of horses with back pain did.  I'd say those are stats worthy of pursuing. 

I don’t think any rider will deny that a horse in pain is hard to ride.  If your back hurts from riding him, maybe his back hurts from it as well.  I know  Zip knocked my lower back out of whack with his “get this saddle off me!” gyrations, so maybe that’s an easy clue even if the source of the pain is less than obvious.  Bucking, fussing, running sideways, "girthiness", kicking out…all those things that send a jolt through a rider might be hints that the horse is merely sharing the pain. I'm sure your most vital stakeholder would agree that a checkup for both of you might be in order,  and make sure you include his saddle in the process.  A new or refitted saddle is far cheaper than a new horse or traction for you when he finally decides you are not good for his back.

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