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Kissing Spine Chronicles

By definition, overriding dorsal spinous processes (commonly known as “kissing spine”) occur when vertebrae in the spine are too close together, resulting in touching or overlapping of two or more of the bony projections at the top of each vertebrae. You can learn more about it here. Well-known veterinarian and kissing spine expert, Dr. Cliff Honnas of Texas Equine Hospital, believes about 20 to 30 percent of horses have some degree of kissing spines. (Read more) However, not all horses show symptoms and the symptoms can vary from horse to horse.

Up until about a year ago, I did not know much about this condition beyond seeing it mentioned in the occasional post on social media. At the time, I had decided I would slowly bring my horse, JR, back into ridden work after a few years of being a ‘pasture puff’ with inconsistent riding. My primary goal was to be able to go out on some short trail rides with friends. But as soon as I got on him and asked for a walk, I started noticing signs of pain and discomfort...a hollow posture, crow-hopping, refusal to move forward, tail swishing, ear pinning...this was all very unlike him, and my gut instinct told me something was wrong. I booked a vet appointment to do x-rays on his back and a few weeks later, the vet came out and confirmed what I had feared. JR had multiple dorsal spinous processes touching.

Now that we had a diagnosis, I wanted to explore all available treatment options before going ahead with a plan. I spent hours upon hours searching the internet for recommendations, success stories, failures, treatment protocols, rehabilitation techniques, you name it - I had read it. And everyone seemed to have a slightly different approach to treating their horses. The best and most common piece of advice I took away from other equestrians who had dealt with this condition was to address the issue by taking a holistic (or ‘whole horse’) approach. Suddenly, what had originally appeared to be just a back problem became so much more. I realized how many different things I needed to incorporate into my treatment plan to have the best chance at eliminating pain in his back.

Now, with the help of an amazing team of equine experts, we are one year out from JR’s kissing spine diagnosis and he is feeling so much better, both physically and mentally. We have been able to make great progress with a combination of bodywork, corrective barefoot trimming, routine dental care, a balanced forage-based diet, and targeted exercises/stretches to strengthen his core and back muscles. I have yet to ride him, and if/when he is ready, that will be a very slow process using positive reinforcement of course!

Finally, if there is one piece of advice I wish I could have given myself a year ago, it is to stay patient and take things one step at a time. The rehabilitation process can be frustrating and sometimes feel like an emotional rollercoaster. Just stay positive and try your best!

-Sarah T.

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