You are accessing this post because you are a member of the Equitopia membership program!
In this final part of a four-part series, Dr Gerd Heuschmann continues his exploration of how the horse works with a focus on kissing spines and the impact of intensive feeding on horses’ backs.
After being a veterinarian for twenty years, I get the feeling that we are seeing more and more back problems, kissing spines, muscle problems and so on. Especially kissing spines. For a long time when I was training as a rider, I thought that it was the bad riders that caused the problem, especially the ones with the draw reins. Then I went to veterinary school and started doing my first vet checks, and I found three year old horses who had never had a rider, who came straight off the grass, and they had very severe kissing spines from the withers back to the sacrum. How can this be? It’s impossible.
Maybe it is the licensing commission, perhaps they are licensing the wrong stallions – perhaps it is a conformation problem. Then I thought, maybe it’s the breeders who are the bad boys – I really didn’t know.
Seven or eight years ago, I started giving functional anatomy classes in Warendorf for our young professional riders. I explained to them, forwards, downwards with the young horse, I explained what happened with the nuchal ligament to bring up the back and suddenly I started thinking, what happens to our young horses in the first three years?
GRAZING VERSUS INTENSIVE FEEDING
We try to grow them up very intensively. I always compare it to the young zebra. The young zebra, if it wants to eat, there is one bit of grass here, one bit of grass there, this means for hours and hours and hours, the young zebra has its mouth on the ground and the back up.
We fill our young horses with oats and we give them grass so high and so rich that when they put their head down for half an hour they have filled their stomach.
The time the young horse is grazing with its head on the ground in Europe is not enough to bring its back up to create a strong and functional back. Once again, this intensive horse rearing system for the first two years, brings us a lot of problems.
I think less is more. Here in Australia you have lots of desert, if you sent your young horses out there, then when they came back, if they came back, you can be sure the back is up.
The intensive feeding we practice to make them look good, as yearlings, two year olds, and especially as three year olds when we want to sell them, is not good. These heavy, over-developed two and a half year old stallions at the licensing, they eat 20 pounds of oats a day – they look nice, but they have back problems because they never had the chance to spend the day with their nose on the ground.
These are some ideas I have brought together to change your thinking.
When you buy a young dressage horse, a four year old, it is important to prioritize good hoof management, good parasite management, regular exercise on the hard ground, and try to ensure that the horse has a healthy back. Then you give him the best start you can.
IN CASE YOU’RE INTERESTED:
Gerd Heuschmann’s course: ‘Equine Biomechanics: Head and Neck Position’ is available for purchase in the store. Find out more at this link.
You may also be interested in a course: Anatomy of the Equine Hoof. Find out more at this link.
You may also be interested in our 10-part training course Compassionate Training For Today’s Sport Horse presented by Dr. Karin Leibbrandt of 4dimension dressage at Equicare Plus in Holland. This course consists of 37 video lessons. Find more information at this link.
All our courses carry a 10% discount for everyone signed up to the Equitopia membership program.