What signs should
you look for?
Back problems typically begin showing
up in both the horse’s performance
and behavior. For example, you may
see an obvious lameness. Sometimes
the gait abnormality is less
noticeable – perhaps your
horse struggles with only
one lead or direction.
Some horses exhibit
pain through behavioral
changes. A horse will become“arena sour”, for example. A
horse that is typically pleasant an
willing may become irritated when
asked to complete a familiar task.
Perhaps he simply refuses to stand
still for mounting, or begins to bite
or buck or kick. Ear pinning, head
tossing and tail swishing are clear
signs of a problem.
Be sure to monitor the overall
appearance of your horse’s back
and how he moves, so that you
will be sure to notice when
something is amiss.
One of your responsibilities is to
monitor the feel of your horse’s back.
Be sure to check all along his spine
when you’re grooming him, both before
and after a ride. Notice any tender
spots and feel for heat or swelling.
Becoming familiar with your horse’s
back (and overall health) when he is
well will give you a good baseline with which to compare when you start to
How can you
keep his back
in good health?
Nutrition is always the building block
to optimal health and wellness. Keep
your horse on a natural, healthy diet
and monitor his health and body condition
throughout the year. Consult your
equine health professional for help in
designing a program to best suit your
horse’s needs and activity level.
Stretching is critical to muscle health.
There are many great resources on the
market and internet for stretching exercises.
One of the simplest techniques is
what most people call “carrot stretches.”
They are designed to stretch the muscles
and skeletal system from the poll to the
lower back. There are also many great
stretches for the hindquarters that
benefit the back’s structure.
Building strength and flexibility is
the next step. This is best accomplished
simple cavaletti exercises.
work to be for English
riders only. Nothing
could be further from
the truth. Achieving
optimal strength and
balance through cavaletti work is valable
to any equine sport.
Always begin by
ground driving the
horse. This is critical
because the horse will
be able to move more
naturally if he is not
carrying a rider. He will begin to find his
balance and develop
natural collection as
he builds strength.
The primary goal of stretching
is to flex muscles and joints –
this increases circulation and
frees up the muscles.
Finally, there are simple exercises you
can do for your horse when grooming
him, before or after you ride, that
will begin to develop muscles in the
topline. Each is designed to activate
reflex points that cause the muscles to
fire, beginning with the large muscles
in the hindquarters, progressing to the
long muscles in the horse’s back, and
finally to the withers and neck. These
exercises are easy
to learn and incorporate
daily grooming program.
We have used
them to bring older
horses with sagging
backs back to optimal health and performance,
with toplines that would make
many younger horses envious. We
have also used them to maintain
muscle strength and balance in
horses rehabilitating from an injury.
For a video of these exercises, visit
It’s possible to keep your horse’s
back strong and healthy well into
his retirement – and it’s all up to
you! It doesn’t matter if your horse
is young or old – or if you are, for
that matter. Starting a program that
targets back health is appropriate at
any age. Don’t try everything all at
once -- introduce each new activity
slowly, and perfect the techniques
before moving on to the next one.
Remember to relax and have fun!
That’s the best gift you can give your
equine companion when aiming for
optimal health and performance.
Sandy Siegrist is a lifelong
horsewoman who practices natural
horsemanship, healing and horse
care techniques. She works with
clients throughout the U.S. to
evaluate their feeding and horsekeeping
programs based on their
horses’ specific needs. She also does
energy work and overall health
analyses, often taking in horses
for more extensive rehabilitation.
Sandy’s approach is based on natural
and alternative therapy techniques
and incorporates bio-energy testing,
cranio-sacral therapy, acupresure,
kinetics, herbs and flower esences,
among others. Her lectures, articles
and DVD s addres nutrition,
hoof care, bodywork, worming,
vaccinations, and emotional
wellbeing, grounded in maintaining
a more natural environment
and healthcare practices.
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Published in the July/August 2008 issue of Equine Wellness Magazine