Diagnosis: Kissing Spine

I am not really sure where to start with this post. It isn’t a secret that recently I have been having issues with Annie undersaddle. I have ridden with various trainers and I have consulted with multiple vets… We decided to move forward with thinking that it was a training and strength issue. I am not writing that off as at least a part of the issue but I couldn’t dismiss the nagging feeling that that wasn’t exclusively the problem. I kept it in the back of my head that maybe something was bothering her physically.

Watching her go though she really looked sound. She never showed any local signs of lasting back soreness. I had chiropractic work done on her – at the clinic with a lameness eval. We had her teeth checked. She has gotten regular massages. All of these things seemed to keep her happy as long as I never broached even the idea of collection. When she started getting a bit sour over fences though I got more concerned. If this horse truly loves anything it is jumping.

I reached my breaking point this past week. A horse that is as sweet as Annie can be just doesn’t keep waffling between great and horrible. Or that is what I kept internally debating. Last week when the vet was out to check Annie’s cough I mentioned my lingering concerns. We agreed that it would be good to do a full eval at the clinic and so yesterday I brought her in for back x-rays.

We started with watching her go on the lunge line, then did flexions/ palpations. Naturally you bring a horse in for one thing and they will now all the sudden look off from something else. A couple testers and needle pricks later and we determined that she needs some changes in her shoeing and moved on to x-rays of her feet, back, and neck. Literally x-raying alllll of the things.

Most of us aren’t a stranger to the phrase “kissing spine”. I think that even if you haven’t been personally affected we all might know someone that has had a horse with it – plenty of bloggers even. As we worked our way down Annie’s back through the images there were two specific spots of concern. You can see the reduced space between the vertebrae below where circled. The question is where do we go from here. The first step is a bone scan. I actually ended up leaving Annie at the clinic yesterday. Hopefully the scan will be performed today or tomorrow. From there we will have a better idea of if she is a candidate for surgery or what other treatments we can look into. First and foremost I want to make sure that Annie is not in pain anymore. We want to treat the cause of her pain not just the pain itself.I cried yesterday. Today I am determined to find out everything I can about kissing spine and the various surgical and medical options. I feel really horrible that we didn’t discover this sooner and I am determined to find a solution. How many of you have personal experience with kissing spine? Has anyone recently had surgery done with success? Apparently there is a new procedure that is minimally invasive that has a lot of success…


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  1. I am so incredibly sorry for you and Annie. I’m so glad you trusted your gut feeling, and did the work up. Although kissing spine can be a scary diagnosis, at least you have a diagnosis now, and you seem to be in the perfect frame of mine figuring out how to fight this. Unfortunately, I do not have any sage advice, as I have never had to deal with this personally myself. But, my thoughts and good Jingles are with you, keep us updated. Again, I am so sorry.

    1. Thank you Kelly. I appreciate the thoughts. Getting her comfortable is my top priority. If that means she can’t be ridden anymore then I will figure something out and that is what we will do. I am trying to take it a day at a time and not get too wound up. She “only” has 2 spots where some horses have 10+ so I guess that is something to be grateful for.

  2. I’m so sorry for the outcome, but glad you have a diagnosis and a plan for treatment. Kissing spine was actually something I contemplated being wrong with P, if he were clear of ulcers because the symptoms can be similar.

    I’ve never had to personally deal with kissing spine, but a pony at the barn I board at had the surgery and was soon back to packing around her little rider in the hunter derbies.

    GiftHorseEventing’s horse Dusty had the surgery last year- if you don’t already follow, you might want to check out her blog.

    Cyber hugs to you and Annie!

    1. Thanks KC. I actually just found her blog when I was searching KS. I think her horse had a much more significant degree of KS but it is nice to see that she has him back under saddle. Gives me some hope.

  3. So sorry to hear of the diagnoses. It is a relief to know it is not their will that makes them difficult at times, but then also heartbreaking to know they are in pain. I have heard of success with surgery, and then lots of long and low fitness build up to bring them back. I hope you have a good outcome, I will be sending lots of positive vibes to both you and Annie.

  4. If Eli ever sours to fences, I will be doing exactly what you did. I don’t have personal experience with KS but the horse I mentioned yesterday had the ISLD procedure & he is jumping with his kiddo again. Looking at his back there is no sign he ever had surgery.

    Annie is young and tough! I am sorry you have to go through this but hopefully the right solutions will present themselves once you have all the info you need.

    1. The xrays themselves weren’t bad $$ wise its the rest of it. I wish I had done the rads sooner honestly. Happy to hear that kiddo got its pony back. Hopefully Annie will be a candidate for that type of surgery vs the others.

  5. I’m so very sorry you two are having to go through this, but as mentioned above Annie is such an athlete! It sounds like you have a really great plan already set in motion.

    Wishing you all the best!!

  6. O man… that sounds like a pricey clinic visit. I’m glad you got an answer out of it, even though it’s not good news. I have a friend/client whose mare was recently diagnosed with KS. They had a lot of luck with injections and corrective shoeing. She has not had surgery, but is back to her old self under saddle. She is not back in *full* work yet, but she’s moving in the right direction.

    1. Definitely pricey. multiple 000’s just on xrays. Thankfully insurance should cover a lot of it. Happy to hear a horse that recovered. My vet isn’t a fan of injections as a long term solution for her but we still need to explore more diagnostically.

  7. Sorry to hear this. I know someone at my barn had the surgery, with great success, and some have opted just to work on strength/conditioning. I’m sure a lot of that factor is because of the severity. Wishing y’all the best of luck.

    1. The one thing that has stuck out to me most is that the diagnosis means a lot of different things depending on the horse. Annie’s case is not the most severe but it seems to have a significant impact on her ability to progress undersaddle where other horses can have way worse cases and you would never know they even had it.

  8. Well shit. I’m so sorry to hear this Hilary! I hope an answer and path forward that is clear presents itself after the bone scan.

  9. i’m sorry hillary – this wasn’t at all what i was hoping for in terms of news. you have a great team and i have zero doubts that annie will get everything she needs and the best care possible to help her get better!

    1. Thank you Emma. I will do everything I can that’s for sure. Just have to make sure that the action and associated risks make sense for her. Hopefully the bone scan will give us a bit more clarity.

  10. Ohhhhhh Girl, man I know the feeling. My heart sank for you when I saw this title, but I know there are a lot of options out there. Happy to talk about my experience if it would be helpful. When I saw Prairie’s X-rays I never thought her back would be comfortable again, but little did I know the back would end up being our big success! (ugh). Hugs.

  11. I’m sorry to hear this!

    My neighbor’s young TB gelding was diagnosed with KS about 18 months ago; she noticed some of the same things you did, primarily that he was very resistant to collected work (which is definitely a problem for a dressage horse).

    Our vet said he was a good candidate for surgery, but also advised that she could give him a year off and see if that helped. She’s just bringing him back to work and he’s doing well so far.

    Hopefully you’ll find a way to make Annie comfortable and happy again!

  12. Sending cyber hugs and copious amounts of wine. And fine chocolates. You’re an excellent advocate for Annie, not that it’s my place to judge. You really can’t fault yourself for taking her in when you did. We all would have recommended you have your head checked if you jumped right into pricey diagnostics at the first sign of sassy from your girl.

    Will continue to hope for best possible outcome for Ms Annie.

  13. I’ve found that getting an answer, while it provides some relief, doesn’t make you feel 100% better. I’m glad that you have an answer and that it sounds like your vets are looking into lots of options. Certainly not what you were hoping for I’m sure, but hopefully having this answer will help you move forward. <3

  14. The horse I’m riding right now, Duke, had kissing spine surgery over the winter! He’s doing GREAT now and has been back in full work since the spring, eventing and schooling up to Training level. He did have the less invasive procedure – he doesn’t have any scarring or anything. The only way you can tell is running your hand down his back, you can feel tiny hard bumps where he had the procedure done. He’s doing great now. We just do a few little extra things for his back after a show or lots of hard work – cold hose his back, and occasionally give him some banamine. Hopefully Annie will be a candidate for something similar and she bounces right back.

  15. I have to say she’s so lucky to have you because you will do whatever is needed to get her going well!! My heart sank when I read the title and post but it looks like you are on it and Carrie has spoken so she can give you her insight!

    Prayers for a clear path for you and the vets to help miss Annie!!

  16. First, BOTH my vets think something like 90% of Thoroughbreds have kissing spine. So it really is very common. Next, there are TONS of treatments for it, so try not to feel like your time riding Annie is doomed.
    I had a horse with it also when I was in college. They didn’t do any surgery on him. We injected it, and he got a little aspirin in his feed everyday. He went on to do great things. We showed in the low amateur jumpers even! Eventually the sections fused, which gave him a little less flexibility, but he no longer had any pain. He lived a long and happy life as a riding horse. This was like 18 years ago, and there are a lot more options out there including surgery. I’m sure you’ll get her feeling better soon!

  17. Oh man, I am so sorry. But good for you for trusting your gut- I feel like many behavioral issues stem from pain issues and it’s so good that you gave Annie the benefit of the doubt. I will be crossing all crossables that a simple surgery is the solution! Sending you positive juju as well.

  18. Not the news I wanted to read, but I know Annie will get only the best. Hopefully the bone scan gives you more clarity to make the best recovery plan possible. Sending healing vibes you way.

  19. Oh goodness poor Annie! I get the feeling that kissing spine is more common than many think. It’s just that the symptoms are often assumed to be training or behavior related. Would like to read more about the surgery? Keeping you guys in my thoughts and hoping for best possible outcome! Good for you for listening to your horse.