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Kissing spines in horses: the cause and symptoms

What are Kissing Spines?

Kissing spines is the term used for fusion of the spine-forming protrusions of the vertebrae in the back. This deformation is caused by the protrusions touching each other (hence the term ‘kissing’), which causes damage and irritation of the periosteum. This is very painful for a horse. When this occurs regularly, bone growth may develop where the protrusions meet. As a result, they can grow together. With a deformity, the back becomes very stiff, often less painful.

Causes of the kissing spines:

A predisposition (disposition), often in combination with environmental factors such as trauma, saddle, training can lead to kissing spines. When a horse has congenital closely spaced vertebrae, this does not necessarily lead to problems. Kissing spines can also be seen on X-ray images as a chance finding without any complaints.

Symptoms of Kissing Spines include:

  • Tense back muscles
  • Pain response to pressure on area of Kissing Spines
  • Pushing the back away while driving
  • Rearing / bucking when the horse is in a painful posture while riding (collection, high head / neck posture,)
  • Refuse to jump
  • Difficulty keeping tact in the canter
  • Problem behavior with saddling
    • bite at girth,
    • push back when saddle is put on
    • in extreme cases, even lie down when saddling

Factors that worsen kissing spine symptoms:

  • (Too) intensive training
  • Not fitting saddle
  • Inappropriate training
  • Swayback:
    • Dressage; high head / neck position reduces the space between the vertebrae at the withers in dressage horses and also in harness horses
    • Jumping horses; hollowing the back after landing by jump
    • Western; harmonica effect on the spine when making a stop
    • Feed from a high hay rack, avoid hay net


It is important for a horse with back problems as a result of kissing spines to have all factors optimal, such as position of the saddle, training method, shoe / trimming.

When a horse moves with a lower head / neck position and places the hindquarters well under its body, the back will become convex and the spines will rise and become free. The intensity of the training must be properly adjusted to the horse. It is often advisable to also train the horse from the ground, such as with double lines to get the back strong.

Acupuncture can give good results, in combination with possibly osteopathy / chiropractic keep the rest of the body as supple as possible. Of course no manipulations are done around the kissing spines. This is not desirable in regions where pain and inflammation are present. Implanting gold beads is also an option for horses with kissing spines.

If you would like more information on this topic and the treatment options, please feel free to Contact us.

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