A bad back can be a death sentence to a horse. All horses get sore backs every now and then, but a spinal disease can not only make them unable to be ridden, but can also make their lives miserable. Spinal diseases can occur in horses of all ages, depending on how heavily they are used.
This is the most common joint disease in older horses, which often affects the spine. The horse becomes stiff and has difficulty moving. It may also react suddenly and violently to being saddled or harnessed because of the pain. Arthritis can be managed through a combination of medications, diet changes and gentle exercise. This is one of the few conditions that acupuncture has proven to help in horses. Horses generally fall asleep during acupuncture treatments.
Sometimes known as "kissing spines," this is a painful disease that leaves the horse gradually unable to coordinate his hindquarters. This disease is usually caused through repeated back injuries. To help heal the back injuries, the horse's body overcompensates and fuses the thoracic and lumbar vertebrae. This may require surgery to help the horse. Symptoms of spondylitis include refusal to be mounted and gradually refusing to move altogether.
This is more popularly known as "swayback," which can happen to horses of all ages, including foals. It's caused by a form of scoliosis, thought to be transmitted through genes. However, horses with swaybacks can lead long and productive lives and seem to be free of pain. Lordosis affects about 1 percent of the world's population of horses and ponies.
Bone cancer develops more often in older horses (more than 16 years old) than in younger ones. The tumors tend to be felt though the skin as a strange lump. The tumors can often be tender, so the horse will flinch when you touch it. Gradually, the horse will lose the ability to move one or two limbs. Many horses that had spinal tumors have been saved through veterinary help when the symptoms were spotted early.
This is a potentially lethal infection of the fluid around the brain or the spine. The horse will not be able to swallow, will stagger, will be unable to move the tail, have a slower pulse than usual and the muscles will twitch. They seem to become blind, bumping into clearly visible objects. The horse then cannot stand and will thrash. Death soon follows.