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Posted in Equestrian, HH LIFESTYLE

How Can I Tell If My Horse’s Back Is Out?

Let me just say that you have already taken a giant step towards excellence in horse stewardship if you have begun to entertain this possibility. Too many horses become broken down too soon because their owners pay no attention to proper maintenance of their horse’s back at all. As I have said before: Horses have spines and we sit on them. So their backs “go out”. Keep in mind that the neck is part of the spine, with many lower neck problems being mistakenly being attributed to shoulder issues.

Hopefully you have been conscientious about routine maintenance on your horse’s back, just as with his feet and teeth, so the problems listed below are less likely to make an unwanted appearance. If you do suspect back problems, here are some likely indicators:

  1. Your horse is not standing “square”, or tends to stand with weight shifted off one leg.
  2. You notice the muscles in his lower neck are more pronounced on one side.
  3. Refuses or resists changing leads.
  4. Tripping and/or stumbling.
  5. Resisting lifting legs, as when being shod.
  6. Difficulty with turning to one side.
  7. Bucking with weight (you) on his back.
  8. Reluctance in transitioning to trotting or cantering.
  9. Muscle problems that keep returning, such as knots or spasms.
  10. Leg and foot problems that keep returning.
  11. Decreased performance and agility.
  12. Many other problems affecting the horse’s ride and health.

Assuming your vet has already checked for and ruled out injuries to the legs or feet, muscle tears, abscesses, and other systemic derangements that can cause lameness, the next step is to check the spine. Most vets have shown me the procedure of running a bullet-tip pen cap down the horse’s back and watching for abnormal muscle response, or “flinching”. The vet is actually checking for exaggerated reflexes along the spine, an indication that back pain is present in the area where flinching is noted.

You can actually do this check yourself, using any smooth round metal instrument, the end of a spoon handle for instance. I make it a point (sorry) to show my clients this procedure and what to look for. A hoof pick is a bit too sharp and can catch hairs, and your fingers usually won’t go deep enough into the muscle tissue to stimulate the appropriate nerves. Having said that, if you do use your thumb or finger to go down your horse’s back or the side of his neck and you get a flinching response, your horse is probably suffering from a significant amount of back pain. Some people get their horse’s back to flinch or even buckle with grooming procedures!

Don’t make the common mistake of thinking your horse is “just sensitive” or “ticklish”. Ignoring these positive signs of this vital pain check can lead to further injury to your horse if the underlying problems are not fixed and you just keep on riding.

Joint and Muscle Release Technique is the most advanced and non-invasive method for putting your horse’s back “back in”.


Contact Dr. Michael Reuben at  Dr. Reuben has a mobile equine therapeutic treatment service in the Southern California area, including Canyon Country to Agoura Hills, Moorpark to Visalia and beyond.  Please call 661-313-3303 for more information.