Equine back problems are common, particularly in performance horses. The conditions involved can be primary or can result from lameness, ill-fitting tack, or even inadequate schooling. It is noteworthy that the most common reason for presentation of a back problem is poor performance rather than pain. Despite the availability of sophisticated clinical aids, definitive diagnosis of a back injury often can be made only by elimination of all other conditions.

Assessment of Back Pain

Quantifying the degree and precise site of pain in animals always has been difficult. This is complicated further because the major clinical sign in many horses with a back problem is impaired performance rather than pain. On the other hand, many horses appear to perform satisfactorily despite some low-grade back pain. To add to this confusion, some horses are naturally sensitive and resent being palpated along the back, which might be wrongly interpreted as a sign of pain.

Cold Back

This term describes hypersensitivity over the back with a transient stiffness and dipping of the spine as the rider mounts. There usually are no other clinical signs, although in severe cases, the horse might buck or rear at first. This initial stiffness wears off within a few minutes and causes no effect on performance. Whether this condition actually is associated with back pain or merely a matter of temperament is not clear.

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