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Horse Back Pain - Recognising a Sore Back - Part 1: Facial Expressions and Posture

Do you know if your horse or pony has a sore back?

With a little practice anyone can recognise signs of back pain.

Horses “speak” to us with their facial expressions, body language and behaviour.

Pain changes behaviour. If you have experienced back pain yourself (or observed it in a family member) you will know only too well you change the way you move to avoid aggravating the pain, such as avoiding picking things up off the floor, not wanting to go for a run, or just deviating to walk through the gate rather than climbing over the fence. If the back pain doesn’t resolve quickly you might find you feel a bit down, you might even lose your temper and snap at someone. If a horse has back pain we can pick up these kind of changes too; not wanting to work over the back, being ‘lazy’ off the leg aids, running out at a jump, being grumpy and even biting.


Signs Your Horse May Have a Sore Back.

Back pain is all too often missed; in an experiment caregivers estimated about 12% of horses had back pain, whilst clinicians found more like 50% of the horses had back pain. Breaking equine body language down into categories can help us to pick up early signs that may indicate back pain.

In this 3 part series: Part 1 will look at facial expressions and posture, Part 2 movement and behaviour, and Part 3 response to touch and treatment.


Facial Expressions

Recent research into equine facial expressions, has found tension in the ears, eyes, cheek muscles and nose can be used to reliably indicate the presence of pain. Pain face indicates pain in general, but if it is timed with certain back related tasks it may suggest back pain specifically; for instance pulling faces when you are touching the back such as grooming, rugging, saddling or during riding.


c) Equine pain face - a frowning, worried look.

Resentment of saddling.

Click to download an infographic which further explains the Equine Pain Face – I suggest you print it out and keep a copy in your stables or horse first aid kit for reference.



Posture

Postures that may indicate your horse has a sore back include:

· Hollow, sway back, legs may be spread wide apart:

- Lack of muscle, no topline, wasting of muscles through saddle area.


Hollow back posture.

Normal back posture.

· Locked on abdominals, standing hunched up/ roached back, with the abdominals draw in bracing and hind legs camped under.

· Head and neck held stiff and hollow. Concave neck postures have been linked to a higher incidence of back pain.

· Bent to one side, if there is pain and muscle spasm on one side the horse will tend to curl that way and resist bending and flexing the other way. One shoulder blade may look higher than the other, the muscles along the spine and hindquarters may look asymmetrical and the tail may be held to one side.


Horse Back Pain - Part 2 looks at movement and behaviour.

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