The Healthy-Backed Horse

Learn how the all-important equine back functions and how to prevent problems from developing.
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The Healthy-Backed Horse
What horse people often refer to as the back is simply the dipped area of the spine between the withers and the croup. But a true consideration of the equine back requires looking at its entire length, from the withers to the top of the tail. | Photo: Kevin Thompson/The Horse

It’s the equine body part that might seem most essential to the rider. It’s where we put all our weight, where we place our favorite (and most expensive) riding gear, where we connect—directly, physically—with our mount, and where we communicate with subtle cues.  

But for all its importance, equine researchers say the equine back remains largely misunderstood by many riders. How is it built? How does it work? How much weight can it hold? How do we know its health is compromised, and what are the consequences? And, perhaps most importantly, what can we do to prevent back problems, and what treatments do we pursue if they do get injured?   

Back to Basics

What horse people often refer to as the “back” is simply the dipped area of the spine between the withers and the croup. But a true consideration of the equine back requires looking at its entire length, from the withers to the top of the tail, says Hilary Clayton, BVMS, PhD, MRCVS, Dipl. ACVSMR, McPhail Dressage Chair Emerita at Michigan State University and president of Sport Horse Science, in Mason, Michigan. That’s because the full spine is involved in the horse’s back movement, all the way down to the sacrum (the “downhill” croup section from the high point behind the saddle area down to the tail)

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Written by:

Passionate about horses and science from the time she was riding her first Shetland Pony in Texas, Christa Lesté-Lasserre writes about scientific research that contributes to a better understanding of all equids. After undergrad studies in science, journalism, and literature, she received a master’s degree in creative writing. Now based in France, she aims to present the most fascinating aspect of equine science: the story it creates. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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