Swayback in a Young Horse

A young horse’s swayback is getting worse as he ages. A veterinarian shares insight on why this might be.
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Q: I have a 3-year-old gelding. I bought him when he was almost 2, at which time he appeared somewhat swaybacked. He had, and still does have, very high withers. He was still growing, so I thought that as he aged and grew he would appear less swaybacked. On the contrary, the swayback has worsened as he’s gotten older. I requested pictures of him as a weanling and yearling, and at that time his back was perfectly straight.

I asked my vet if I should be concerned. He told me he simply had bad conformation, there was nothing he could do about it, and I might not be able to ride him after he reached middle age due to the severity of the swayback.

There is very little information out there on juvenile lordosis, which I’m assuming is his correct diagnosis. Do you know anything about this or have any suggestions for me? I’m very concerned. I want to make sure my horse isn’t in any discomfort and that I’m not making things worse by riding him.–Gena S., via email

A: You are correct; the proper term for “swayback” is lordosis. Congenital lordosis has been reported to be associated with incomplete development of the upper thoracic vertebrae in the area of T5-T10. This causes overextension of the vertebral joints in the area and leads to this conformational problem

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Written by:

Ed Boldt, DVM, is the owner of Performance Horse Complementary Medicine Services in Fort Collins, Colo.

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