Kintbury Cross Case Study

This is Kintbury Cross, an ex-racehorse. After retiring from racing, Kintbury changed paths and was re-trained for dressage.

Kintbury’s new owner had noticed that he was sensitive across his back when being groomed and tacked up. He also struggled to round through his back under saddle. On examination, we found that Kintbury had pain across his dorsal spinous processes and severe spasm in the muscles on either side of his spine. Sometimes, horses develop secondary back pain due to an ill-fitting saddle or hindlimb lameness. We ruled this out quickly by watching Kintbury moving at walk, trot and canter and then by examining the fit of his saddle.

The next step in the investigation was to take a series of x-rays of Kintbury’s back, using our wireless portable x-ray machine. These confirmed the diagnosis of “impinging dorsal spinous processes” (also known as “kissing spines”).


What are “kissing spines”?

Dorsal spinous processes are finger –like projections made of bone that sit on top of each vertebra in the horse’s spine. They create the normal curve of the horse’s back and provide the framework for all the muscles and ligaments from the withers to the pelvis. Normally, there are small gaps between the spinous processes which allow the horse to flex their back as they wish. “Kissing spines” occur when these gaps are narrowed and the spinous processes touch.

he syndrome of “kissing spines” is thought to have genetic and environmental components i.e some horses are predisposed from birth, but it can also be brought on by bad posture or a weak core.

How can “kissing spines” be treated?
Up until recently, the mainstay of treatment was surgery to remove alternate dorsal spinous processes using an oscillating saw. This was an invasive and painful procedure, with a long lay-off following surgery. Fortunately, a new technique has been developed called an “Interspinous Ligament Desmotomy”. This is a minimally invasive procedure, performed through key-hole incisions. The technique involves cutting the small ligaments between the spinous processes, allowing them to spring apart. It also acts to cut some of the nerve supply to the area, directly numbing the pain created by the impinging processes.

This new surgical technique is growing in popularity and is now performed routinely instead of the original ostectomy technique. Its success rate has superceded that of the old surgery and it is much less invasive with fewer complications. In addition, it is less expensive to the client, avoids the need for a general anaesthetic and the rehabilitation period is shorter

kint2webWessex Equine, we have been using the technique for the past three years and are very pleased with our results.
Here is Kintbury undergoing the surgery, under standing sedation, at his livery yard. Below is an x-ray showing a pair of surgical scissors being guided between two dorsal spinous processes.


Kintbury’s rehabilitation programme focussed on strengthening his core-stabilising muscles and improving the flexibility through his back, before introducing a rider. This was achieved initially on the lunge with a “Pessoa” training aid. The next stage was to introduce short bursts of ridden work in a long and low outline and this was gradually increased as the horse became stronger and more flexible. The picture below shows Kintbury Cross after his treatment happily being schooled again.

At Wessex Equine, our vets have seen promising results from the addition of physiotherapy in the rehabilitation phase and have a good working relationship with several physiotherapists in the area.

If you think your horse may be suffering from a sore back, feel free to call the practice (01793 739220) for some advice from one of our vets.

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