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Horse Backs Are Not Fit For Riding
 By Winniefield Park   •   21st Nov 2015   •   2,144 views   •   0 comments
Horse Backs Are Not Fit For Riding

In our quest to be Ďnaturalí horse owners, we sometimes forget one thing. The very thing we get a horse for isnít natural. In fact, sitting on your horseís back isnít even very good for it. A horseís back isnít made to carry a load. If you were to choose an animal more suitable for carrying something on its back, a buffalo, camel or even a bear might be the better choice. All have stronger backs than horses because rather than a downward curve in the spine, these animalís spines curve upward like an arch. And their backs are much shorter, which adds to the strength. Somehow though, the cachet of a leisurely hack down a country lane on a camel just isnít the same as the thought of riding a horse. And, getting a buffalo off the forehand in the dressage ring might be almost impossible, although no one will notice once the bears stroll in.

A horseís spine extends from just in front of the withers, to the end of the tail. The part we sit on and that we call the back is comprised of the thoracic vertebrae and where the back of the saddle rests and underneath what we call the horseís loins, are the lumbar vertebrae. There are 17 to 19 thoracic vertebrae, with five hidden under the area we call the withers. The first three are hidden under the large shoulder bone or scapula. Each vertebra has a corresponding rib, and each has fin-like projections to the top and sides. These are called spinous processes. The tall top fins are dorsal processes and the much shorter ones that jut sideways are called transverse processes. If you feel into the muscle behind the withers, you can feel the protrusion of these spinal processes. In the area where you sit, these fins are several inches high, and we sit much higher off of the horseís actual spine than we first realize.

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The spinal cord runs through the bottom of the spine, and this is like a tunnel for all of the nerve pathways that control things like heart rate, blood pressure, digestion and the messages from the brain when the horse wishes to move a body part. Also inside the bony tunnel of the spine are arteries and veins transporting blood to and from the extremities. Padding all of these delicate and important structures are layers of fluid and membrane.

Overlying all of the bones of the spine are several long muscles. All of the muscles that hold up the horseís back attach to the large shoulder bone, or scapula. The longest and strongest muscle in the horseís back, and the one the rider sits directly on is the Longissimus dorsi. This muscle extends the full length of the horseís back. This is the muscle the horse uses for controlling up and down and sideways movement. There are actually layers of muscle along the horseís back, although when you feel the structure beneath the skin, it feels like one continuous layer.

Ligaments help hold the spine together along with the muscles. The Supraspinous ligament runs the entire length of the spine, from ears to tail. This strong sinewy structure helps to hold up the thoracic and lumbar areas.

The actual conformation of horsesí backs varies greatly. The outline, as we see it from the outside is called the topline, and some toplines are more desirable than others. Ideally, a topline is shorter than the underside of the horse. Short backs are stronger than longer backs, although they may be less flexible. Some horses can be born with sway backs or lordosis, although itís far more common for backs to drop as a horse ages. Saddle fit, fitness and riding skill can also affect the topline of a horse. Good riding and saddle fit can improve a horseís topline.

Roach backs arenít common and they are a conformation flaw. A horse with a roach back lacks the downward curve and is more like the buffalo back, and it will be stiff with stilted gaits. Roach backs are very hard to fit a saddle to.

With all of this going on, itís easy to see how horses develop back pain when ridden. Riding skill and saddle fit can affect the back, and pressure, whether uneven, or concentrated is the enemy of a healthy back. So, itís important to understand that we ask horseís backs to do a job they are not made to, and do all we can to prevent back problems.
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