Hard Keeper and Special Needs Mare - Everyone says she has a topline but I don't see it!!!

She has a similar back to a WB gelding I once had. His was from an old injury, and he did end up having kissing spine. He was never horribly sore, but just not quite right.

Even if it is a past injury, I like to investigate the skeletal structure and tissue around the area if possible to see what I’m working with. Sometimes it’s just conformation.

1 Like

My TB mare does very well with alfalfa. It’s not the easiest to get in hay form around here, so she eats a big pile of alfalfa mash breakfast and dinner.

I also supplement my barn’s hay (which is very generous), with my own in slow feed nets. I also drive a tiny VW, and I can absolutely get a couple bales in it! That being said, I do not care one tiny bit about the inside state of my car - I will strap a bale to the front seat, lay one across the backseat, and shove one in the trunk. Hay everywhere - but most importantly, in my mare’s belly :slight_smile:

1 Like

That back looks like the result of a prior injury. I used to board a horse with a very similar one. His was the result of an casting injury at a previous barn. It did cause neuro problems but not for quite a few years.

It will still be there whatever you have going on around it muscle- and fat-wise. In fact, being too fat will likely be hard on her back as carrying extra weight is not good for a horse with back issues. Just get the rest of her body where it should be and accept that she has this skeletal issue. You wouldn’t try to fatten up a horse to reduce the appearance a splint, would you? This is much the same.

with any horse with back problems, you want to ride them correctly and with lots of stretch breaks. There is good information out there for how to reduce the impact of kissing spine through work – you might want to familiarize yourself with those programs. Even if she doesn’t have kissing spine specifically, the programs are designed to strengthen the musculature of the back. I know some COTH posters have more experience with using those exercises than I do, there are good threads about it if you search.


How much do the flakes hay weigh? 2 flakes is meaningless, are they 5 lbs or 12lbs. 20 lbs of forage, if that is what it actually weighs, seems a little light for a 16.1h TB that comes in at 11-1200 pounds in moderate work. Would up that about 5lbs or so, But I don’t see any real condition problems here. She’s in decent weight right now, could use a little more for my tastes but wouldn’t fret over where she is now.

Personally would prefer the 2 flakes of alfalfa am and pm with the Timothy at noon, assuming the weight is verified at around 25lbs a day and the barn will feed it. You can buy an inexpensive fisherman’s scale at WM, put the flake in a net or even trash bag to weigh it,

Always boarded out over almost 50 years, my go to has always been Alfalfa cubes if forage supplementation is needed above what the barn will do. You can keep it in your car (even a Bug) put it in the bucket when you get there to soak for a bit then put it in the feeder. That way you know what they are getting and can vary it with their workload and condition as needed. Not that expensive either, not an unpleasant odor for the car either.

Im old school and don’t like going for the grain/concentrates or supplements when there is the option of more nutrition from better quality hay in tne form of cubes. It’s not trendy but it usually works best.

1 Like

Your mare is pretty - and she looks great to my eye! I wouldn’t want her to gain any weight.

This is what would concern me more than anything:

MORE EDIT: When she is due for a trim she tends to tense her back.Every time we do her feet magically she’s “gained” back the 50 lbs i swore she lost. She’s due for her next trim next weekend, she is on a 7 week cycle but I usually call in my farrier at 6 weeks. This will have been 5 weeks - she grows very fast.”

If she is truly losing a bit of weight and getting tight in the back near the end of a trim cycle, I would shorten the cycle and take a very good, long, critical look at her feet, esp the back ones.

I also think you should run the numbers for her feed/hay through FeedXL or another feed analyzer. I’m not sure what the fortified rice bran is fortified with (protein, vitamins/mins?) but I would not be surprised at 4 lbs of Nutrena and her hay ration, she is probably coming up short on some vitamins and minerals.

Might be coming up a little short on calories, period. Have you weighed the Nutrena ration to be sure it weighs 4 lbs? My barn currently feeds two different Nutrena formulas a Sr and a basic. They use a 2lb container as a scoop but know that Nutrena doesn’t weigh 2lbs, 1 scoop equals 1.25 lbs. in this case. It takes almost 3 scoops to get to 4 lbs.

Weigh the Nutrena in the container they use as a scoop.

Funny, my old 15.3 h TB that probably topped out at 1050-1100 or so is on the Nutrena Sr right now at verified 4 lbs a day, almost 3 scoops, and about 20-lbs of Alfalfa mix hay… Horse hasn’t been ridden in 7 years and is pushing 30. Goes out 7-10 hrs a day but doesn’t get too active any more. It’s in very good weight, always a very easy keeper air fern.

That’s about what you think your 16.1h in moderate work is supposedly getting. I’d get the scale and do a little research on what is actually going into her feed tub and what that hay weighs. She’s not bad at all but might need just a little more bloom.

There are a lot of good responses here, but having recently been through some back stuff with my mare I figure I’d add my 2 cents.

Some horses are naturally more ^ than n in their back shape. Mine is one of them. You could make my mare’s back more of an upside-down U by fattening her up, but she’d be fat fat fat by that point and probably a laminitis risk. If your horse is an angular roof-like shape and your saddle fits that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it.

But if your horse previously had more muscle in the lumbar back and is now showing the lumbar dorsal spinous processes more prominently you might want to probe a little further as to what remodeling might have happened to those vertebrae prior to your ownership, and what might be going on in there now. Your horse’s lumbar region kind-of looks to me like that of the SI-pain horse whose topline is pictured this AAEP document about back problems. (ETA: I don’t mean that your horse’s topline is as atrophied as that horse’s, only that the prominence of the lumbar spine is reminiscent.)

With my mare (who had no prior back issues), a loss of epaxial muscle in the lumbar region and visibility of a few lumbar spinous processes ended up being symptoms of SI arthritis. The prominent processes were in the same region as your mare’s, but more subtle. She was in good weight, good correct work, and had plenty of protein in her diet (as an aside, I think tri-amino is great), but started losing muscling in that region and becoming less ‘swingy’ through her back and more reluctant to ‘sit’ and do things that require collection. Mine was also not lifting her toes as high – she’d occasionally bang a toe on the beam at the bottom of her paddock door, for example. And winter seemed to accelerate the muscle loss and exacerbate the stiffness, in spite of blanketing. Five different professionals palpated her back during that time and told me there was zero pain and nothing wrong there before I finally gave up and went to the nearest big hospital for thoracic and lumbar x-rays and SI ultrasound. The back expert there was able to elicit SI-related pain response on palpation and sure enough, that SI joint showed bony changes. We did US-guided SI injections, followed by methocarbamol and gabapentin to relieve any lingering muscle/nerve pain, and a vet-prescribed stretching routine, and it resolved the problem 100%. The muscling came back as she started working with relaxation again and she’s now back to the balance and relaxation she was working in over a year ago. I’m not sure that SI injections carry any more risk than any other injections, especially since they do not always enter the joint capsule (periarticular injection vs. intra-articular). But whatever risk there is, it was worth it to me to have my horse back to her happy, handy little self.

It sounds like you have a pretty conservative vet – I love those vets, especially compared to the sort that want to go straight to the big guns and treat every possible source of a problem all at once. But if she’s showing tension in her back that gets worse when her toes are longer, and if she’s not maintaining her topline muscle as well as you know she is usually able, it sounds like you may have reached the point where she’s not happy and sound and it is time to dig deeper.

I can identify with being an apartment-dweller trying to do well by a special needs heart horse whose cost of living is a major factor in my budget. And with not being able to consistently source certain feeds (Triple Crown!!), and with not being able to store hay, and with working around boarding barn regimens without wanting to ask for too many accommodations. I totally understand being conservative with invasive procedures like joint injections. But having wasted months of time where my horse could have been more comfortable, and having spent at least as much on extra feed/supplements, farm call vet exams, bodywork, etc. as I did on the imaging that eventually illuminated the problem, I regret that I didn’t dig deeper sooner.

Anyway, just food for thought. Your mare looks like a lovely horse and based on the before/after photos it looks like she’s really lucky to have ended up in your care. Good luck getting her back to a point where you feel she is truly thriving!


Thank you, everyone, so, so much for your insights and comments. The roach back is 100% injury related. The next steps are getting x-rays of her spine and an ultrasound of that area to see exactly what is going on. As mentioned before, my lovely vet works out of his truck and is closer to a Dr. Pol than a, well, UC Davis vet (though he is a Davis alumni). Her back has always, always been a problem and I admit we have spent thousands of dollars on saddles, pads, massage therapy, chiropractor, special shoes, you name it we’ve done it. I asked two vets – mine and another vet who has a bigger operation – if x rays were a good idea and both of them said no. First, the only clinic near us is extremely manipulative with clients trying to milk as much money as they can (this is NO exaduration – ask about my 2500 she’s-going-to-die-unless-you-take-her-to-the-clinic colic story that was merely a gassy tummy…), but the other clinic is about an hour drive and 1/3 the price, so we may try that. I’ll ask my vet again… I think the next big budgeting will be x rays instead of a custom dressage saddle. I want to know once and for all what this is.

Apart from a lack of imaging or actual knowledge of that lump, we have made assumptions that it is an SI injury/Kissing spines/Calcification and treated it as such. No harm can come from being overcautious. I think in the picture where everyone says she is “fat” was the best topline she ever had, but then again that might have been the fat talking, not the muscle…

Right now, we have no resistance in her movement or work. She’s ridden long and low for 15 minutes, collected work for 10, more stretching. We aren’t even working on movements. My horse is still learning the ABC’s of gymnastic work and how to use her body. Dressage has made her SO much stronger, healthier, and suppler. She does jump from time to time but I’ve given up on that dream with her, because dressage benefits her more than a few x-rails.

I believe that the KS has fused based on the fact that she is showing NO symptoms typical of a KS horse. But, she WAS and I think I can pinpoint the time when there was fusion, as I hear it hurts them greatly during the process. However, knowing this, I also know it could break again if we are not extremely careful.

I think my options are x-rays/ultrasounds if I want to KNOW what is going on, or take a chance and assume the worst and inject. Both of these will happen but I have to prioritize as I am a single person funding this horse 100%…

She is not 100%, nor has ever been. She moves maybe 95% which now I associate with 100%… She had a chronic bucking problem last year which put her out of work for a very long time (bad saddle fit/KS fusing (?)/a host of other issues) and simply did ground work and strengthening exercises. She came back 110% better with no bucking.

Thanks so much everyone. I’m happy that everyone sees a horse in a healthy weight. I look at her and continue to see the ribby, starving 6-year-old I met last year. I wish I could see her for who she is now and not what she was then.

The observation about her feet is incredibly interesting and I will bring it up to my farrier! Perhaps he will have ideas on what to do? I always thought it was normal for horses, but she cannot go very long with overgrown hooves without becoming sore. Her toes are very backed up due to her SI injury and he does pay special attention to her feet. She has a very, very hard time standing for him and does not kick but pulls her foot back just as he is nailing on the shoe, which gets him very upset. She’s on robaxin and bute now for her appointments. I hate to do it but mr. farrier says he can’t help her if he’s worried about getting stabbed by a nail…

I’ve skimmed a bit, but I wanted to chime in that I definitely notice a difference between when I’m feeding Tri Amino and when I’m not. So, don’t give up on keeping her on that. My horse doesn’t have the same issues, but we have been struggling to improve the quality of his back muscles, and I’m finally, finally! getting somewhere without also making him fat.

I’d also switch to a proper amount of Safechoice Senior vs Perform or XTN. Way less sugar/starch (although still not as low as I personally like). Upping her current feed to the recommended amount is going to be a lot of hot energy she may not need. I also like the suggestions to up her alfalfa to 2x a day.

@IPEsq thank you for your response. I will definitely put her back on Tri-amino. I take her on and off to see if it makes a difference and it definitely does.

I have fed her Nutrena SC Senior! I only recently switched to perform to meet her caloric needs now that she is in regular work. Would putting her back on Sr be better? She weighs 1080 right now according to my measurements.Old Owner said she should weigh 1200, but when we got there we got fat… So perhaps 1100 is a good medium. How many #'s do you recommend for 6 hrs of work a week? It would be split into 2-3 meals,

I think the recommended amount is something like a minimum of 7 lbs. What I’d try to do is to feed closer to that (versus 11 or 12lbs), add the extra alfalfa, Tri Amino, and keep feeding the extra fats. You can get a good calorie bang for volume out of fats. The more performance feeds provide some extra calories but in the form of more readily useable carbs. So, if her energy levels for the work she does can be met with a cooler feed, you still can get good calories in as far as weight is concerned from less sugar heavy sources.

She did extremely well on the Sr and I am happy to have her back on it. 7 bs is perfect. 1 Lb RB still OK? She’s a very cool horse. Not sure if she’s lacking energy as she is naturally very calm and level headed and takes quite a bit of leg to go. We’re still learning how to ride into the contact ^_^. I’d love her a little hotter but at the same time it’s nice how she is now.

I’m relieved to know there is a fix for her back. I accept this horse will never be a Valegro or a Gem Twist, but doing lower level rated and schooling is all we wanted from her to begin with. As long as she is happy, healthy, and comfortable I can put my UL dreams on another horse.

I must have missed where you said what RB you have access to. If you are top dressing or feeding an extra meal of an RB at 1lb/day, you may not need the Tri Amino.

1 Like

You can see a good amount of what’s going on in the lumbar spine with ultrasound. If your field vet is good at reading those, then that’s way easier than hauling somewhere for high powered Xray. If you are just looking at the dorsal spinous processes, you can get a pretty decent image with field Xray machines. You may not see the facet joints as well, though, depending on location. Once you get into the pelvis, that gets harder to image no matter what you use. The vet school here tends to go with ultrasound there as well, but you may need to look rectally for some of it. Have you ever injected or done shockwave of any of this area?

@IPEsq - Sorry! I meant Rice Bran. That’s so good to know! He can carry a portable ultrasound machine to the barn, most definitely! I will ask him - it should cost me about $200, which is something I can afford. Then we will know finally what is going on.

Oh sorry I thought you meant ration balancer. Yes, keep the rice bran.

I’ll stand by my earlier suggestions but I’m reading on a new threads by OP that she just moved the Mare from a more basic barn to a full care situation TWO weeks ago and has observed some very positive changes in mares demeanor and behavior.

I’d leave things as they are and give her more time to adjust, there may be nothing at all that needs changing…except the tension in her back end when she’s due for a trim…that needs to be looked at, that’s not normal. Her feet shouldn’t hurt at all even if they are a week overdue,

I’d think it would be ok but not sure you really need the 1lb of RB when she’s on 7 lbs of senior. She looks good in the pictures weight wise, don’t think you’d want her any fatter. She’s a beautiful mare by the way.:wink:

@findeight is right. She’s in a much better and happier situation. I suppose her topline may have looked bad when I posted this because it was after her clip and she may have been tense from the cold, standing there while my BM trimmed her.
@tazycat - thank you! It’s been a very hard road.

I want to know more about the feet. Does anyone have any diagnostic ideas that I can bring up to my farrier/vet on what is going on? we always just assumed she was extremely sensitive to angle changes, but it’s true: a week BEFORE she’s due and she gets very, very tight in her back, balky, holds herself camped-in, seems depressed and unhappy. Once my farrier comes out and trims BOOM, moving out, standing correctly, back relaxes. It’s a strange phenomenon.

Of course…if moving up the farrier appointment a week to 10 days makes it go away? Why not just start there? Sometimes we don’t need to spend on expensive diagnostics searching for causes and answers if a simple change eliminates the problem even if there’s no detailed explanation .

Try shortening the interval between farrier visits.