Horse owner, Katie Nicholson tells her story of her horse, Ginger who has just been diagnosed with Kissing Spine.
Kissing Spine is a disease of the spine whereby the spaces between the upper dorsal processes of the vertebrate become reduced and the vertebrate actually touch, or ‘kiss’, causing bone to bone contact and in some cases damage to the ligaments within the spine which causes the horse great discomfort.
Over the years, this disease has appeared to become a lot more common and widespread. Surgical treatments and alternative therapies have played an important role in successfully treating Kissing Spine.
“I bought my 16.2hh, Trotter X TB gelding in June 2014. He is called Ginger and at the time he was 5 years old and completely untouched and unhandled from a field. I broke him in very slowly as I wanted to produce him to event and I didn’t want to rush anything with him. In February 2015 I finally backed him and since then he has gone from strength to strength, we competed in our first Winter Dressage League at Alnwickford Equestrian and came 6th in the overall out of 27 horse and riders and then spent the summer of 2016 working on his and mine confidence jumping, doing cross country and pleasure rides. He proved to be very confident and bold; jumping anything that was presented to him and came 2nd place in a 80cm class at a local show which I was over the moon with as it was only his second time out show jumping. I had planned on entering him into his first hunter trial in October, and then practicing our dressage again over the winter months with the aim of completing mine and his first BE event 2017, but then disaster struck in September.
Something’s not quite right.
I had arranged for my vet to come out and give Ginger his yearly vaccinations and also a dental examination. That morning, while I was tacking Ginger up he wasn’t happy in himself at all and very flinchy every time I touched or brushed over his back and so I decided to ask my vet when he was out to check him over. My vet advised that Ginger was reacting positively to Kissing Spine but he would need x-rays and a Scintigraphy in order to confirm his suspicions.
Ginger has now had all this done and he has been diagnosed with severe Kissing Spine with 7 processes either touching or overlapping and has been referred to Edinburgh Veterinary School for surgery. They have decided with how severe Ginger’s back is that the new ligament snip surgery will not work and so they are reverting to the old surgery and are going to reshape and remove some of the vertebrae’s from his spine. They are estimating approximately a years recovery for him.
I was absolutely devastated at this outcome as I have put everything into Ginger and pushed myself further than I ever thought possible.I used to be a confident rider but after a bad fall I did lose my confidence and over time Ginger has help me build my confidence back up again. My vets believe with how severe the Kissing Spine is, that he has inherited this since he has only been in ridden work for 20 months, but they also believe he is a very honest and genuine horse who is obviously in a lot of pain but he has never put a foot wrong or been aggressive whilst being in ridden work and he always tries so hard to please.
Last week we nerve blocked his back and the difference in him under saddle was amazing and I honestly believe once we get through the surgery, rehab and physiotherapy he is going to be an amazing horse, as he has managed to achieve so much in such a short space of time when he has been in so much pain, so in a way I’m looking forward to seeing what he is capable of when he is not in pain.
During the past few weeks I’ve been trying to do as much research as possible on Kissing Spine on various websites, public forums and Facebook. I was trying to find out other people’s stories, what their outcomes were, is there anything else I can do to help or was Kissing Spine the end of the road? Although they is a lot of negative stories out there, there is also just as many if not more, positive stories where the horse involved has come back into full work and progressed onto a higher level than what they were pre op.
A lot of people recommended magnetic therapy especially during the box rest period as it helps reduce any stiffness and aids healing by increasing the blood flow to the area. Many others advised that they had used a massage pad during their rehab and afterwards mainly prior to exercising their horses to help warm up the back muscles, and then again afterwards to help the muscles relax after being worked and advised they had seen a huge difference in their horses.
Horse of a lifetime.
I know most people want to do what is best for their horses and give them the best chance possible but Ginger really is my horse of a life time – I know he is. I bought Ginger after my old boy was involved in a car accident, and he has brought me on so far in the past 2 years I have owned him and I have managed to achieve so many personal goals I did not think was possible – such as something as simple as being brave enough to hack out on my own again, to start jumping again and then to start competing and even considering given eventing a go!
He is the first horse I have broken in myself and he has given me so much and I just want to give him something back. Even if he doesn’t make full recovery from the surgery, as long as I know I gave him every possible chance I could and he is happy and he is pain free that is all I care about, and if it means he will spend the rest of his days living out in a field retired at the aged of 7, I will make sure he spends that time with me and that he is happy because he deserves that after everything he has given me.”
We await to hear from Katie as Ginger goes to Scotland for his surgery later this month. Keep checking here to keep updated with Gingers story as he comes out of surgery and gets back on the road to recovery.
Update – December 2016
Ginger’s been back home now for a fortnight now and is currently still on box rest much to his disgust, but he is allowed out for in hand grazing which seems to be the highlight of his day.
The operation was successful and I was thrilled to hear from the vets that they are hopeful he is going to make a full recovery and return to full work. During the operation they reshaped 4 of the processes in his spine and carried out a ligament snip on a further 2 of the touching vertebrae, and I really cannot fault the way the staff at Edinburgh Equine Hospital looked after him – they were so good that after a 6 days there even Ginger did not want to come home!
He is lapping up the attention off everyone on the yard and to prove how well he is feeling in himself he decided to have a roll in the mud when we were out for grass yesterday and busted a few moves while he was at it! His stitches were removed a week ago and the wound is healing nicely.
His physiotherapy starts on Friday and hopefully next week he can be turned out in a small paddock, so no doubt I will be a bundle of nerves but I’m please the operation is now over and done with and we are on the other side.
Update – January 2017
Over the last month Ginger has continued to go from strength to strength. He is now turned out during the day in a small paddock which he is a lot happier with and we started Physiotherapy 3 weeks ago.
Naturally Ginger was still sore around the surgical site, and he also had some tightness in his left hamstring and down the right side of his neck which his physio believes is a result of the Kissing Spine and Ginger adjusting the way he carried himself in order to try and avoid the pain. She gave us carrot stretches to do for his neck and back (which he is really enthusiastic about!) and also some leg stretches to try and help loosen his hamstring.
During this time we have also incorporated the Equilibrium Massage Pad as part of his daily routine, which he seems to really enjoy and will quite happily stand while the programme runs, and whilst he is in the stable at night he has the Equilibrium Magnetic Back and Quarters Pad on underneath his rug. He has since had a further appointment with his Physiotherapist and she has advised he is making great progress and is definitely much better than what he was the first time she seen him! The tightness in his neck is improving, and there is a significant improvement in his hind leg now too. The surgical site is not as tight now and has also healed nicely and there is some hair growth coming through now too.
We have now starting some lunging and long reining in walk, and hopefully over the next month providing Ginger continues to improve we can start to introduce some trot work, and work over poles to try and encourage Ginger to lift and use his back correctly again.
Next month Ginger will be having his review with the vets and so I’m keeping everything crossed he continues to improve!
Update – March 2017
Ginger is doing brilliantly, and he is coming on leaps and bounds. We are now back into ridden work and he is loving going out on little adventures again!
He feels so much more calm and relaxed now in work and is coming on so much better than I dared to let myself hope so quickly. At the moment we are restricted to walk and trot only but will hopefully be looking to start canter work again over the next few weeks. We have had one little set back a few weeks ago where he got an abscess so we are slightly behind in our rehab plan but other than that I am really pleased with how he is getting on.
We have now been signed off by our vet and we are still getting regular support and visits from out Physiotherapist who is also pleased with Gingers progress and she has been absolutely fantastic throughout the whole process. We are now using the Equilibrium Massage Pad before ridden work to help warm up his back muscles, and then again after we get back from our ride, and he still uses the Magnetic Back pad at night whilst he is in his stable.
Its hard to believe his operation was 4 months ago now – the time really seems to have flown over and I feel like I am starting to get my boy back again and looking forward to the summer months with him ????
If you have a story to tell or advice to give Katie we would love to hear from you. Get in touch.