The Equine Back: Conformation and Injuries

Even a horse with excellent conformation can wind up with back problems if ridden by a rider out of balance or if outfitted with inappropriate tack.
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Horses have been carrying burdens on their backs since man discovered that he could cover more ground faster while riding a horse as opposed to striding along on his own two legs. Man also discovered that it was far less strenuous to pack a load on a horse’s back rather than on his own.

As use of the horse increased, so did problems with the equine back. Some of them are the result of conformation. It takes a strong, well-conformed back to handle the rigors of trail riding, performing, and packing. Other problems have been man-made. Even a horse with excellent conformation can wind up with back problems if ridden by a rider out of balance or if outfitted with inappropriate tack.

In this article, we’ll take a look at the equine back—how it is structured, proper conformation, and some of the problems than can afflict it.

As usual, there are many sources, but we will draw heavily on two individuals who have authored papers and presided over discussions on the equine back. One is Kevin Haussler, DVM, DC, PhD, a licensed veterinary chiropractor who teaches at Cornell University’s School of Veterinary Medicine. Information from Haussler stems from interviews and presentations at AAEP conventions. The other source is Doyle Meadows, PhD, a professor in the Animal Science Department at the University of Tennessee. One of Doyle’s papers on equine conformation was included in the Horse Industry Handbook published by the American Youth Horse Council. In addition, we will draw on information included in anatomy textbooks

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Les Sellnow was a prolific freelance writer based near Riverton, Wyoming. He specialized in articles on equine research, and operated a ranch where he raised horses and livestock. He authored several fiction and nonfiction books, including Understanding Equine Lameness and Understanding The Young Horse. He died in 2023.

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