Kissing Spine In Horses -What Is This Bump?

Around the barn or out and about in the horse community there is a good chance that the term Kissing Spine or Hunter Bump has been mentioned. But what exactly is this Kissing Spine in horses or Hunter Bump? The two terms refer to the same spinal formation, but Kissing Spine is the more popular title. Kissing the spine is a condition that involves two or more spinous processes (vertebrae). Flanges of bone that stick up from the spine end up being positioned so they touch or rub together causing back pain in some horses and not in others.

How Does the Kissing Spine in Horses Develop?

Horses that develop kissing spine receive a positive diagnosis of the condition between the ages of five to ten, but can develop at any age, younger or older. Thoroughbreds and Warmbloods tend to develop kissing spines more often than other breeds but it can happen to any breed.

Kissing spine usually develops in the last few thoracic vertebrae and in most horses this is the same spot where a saddle and or rider sits when mounted. Kissing the spine has also been seen in the lumbar vertebrae but is very uncommon. 

What Causes Kissing Spine?

Thoroughbreds, warmbloods, and performance horses tend to be diagnosed with kissing spines more than others. A poorly fitting saddle, improper training that allows the horse to carry itself improperly with their head up, back hollow, and little to the engagement of their core or hind end muscles. Genetics may also be a factor but has yet to be confirmed. 

Signs of Kissing Spine In Horses

Horses with mild development of the kissing spine usually do not show any signs of it being present. Signs of kissing spine are highly inconsistent and vary largely from horse to horse. Horses with vague or overt lameness and are performing poorly overall could be from the presence of this condition.

Many horses will become hypersensitive when being brushed or saddled. Sudden changes in behavior when ridden such as bucking, rearing, head tossing, kicking out, hollowing their back, resisting the bite, inconsistent with upward and downward transitions, cross-cantering, refusing, or rushing fences, are signs of back pain. Many horses will also have tenderness in their backs and are often sore to the touch. 

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Diagnosing kissing spines can be a challenge. Some of the kissing spine signs are difficult to determine if they are from a behavioral or training issue, an unrelated medical condition, or a secondary problem, resulting directly from back pain. Thermograph, which uses an infrared camera can very accurately detect heat patterns and be very helpful in some cases. Ultrasounds and seeking the medical attention from a specialist is best to get the most accurate diagnosis. 

Treatment For Kissing Spine

The most important part of treating kissing spine is to make the horse feel as comfortable as possible. The purpose of the treatment is to create a significant amount of pain reduction, muscle relaxation, and exercises. The exercises are intended to stretch and strengthen the back and abdominal muscles, stabilize posture and improve mobility.

Shock wave therapy applied to affected vertebrae and surrounding muscles, anti-inflammatory injections to the area affected with kissing spine and corticosteroid injections to the spaces between the vertebrae. Physical therapy with daily exercises that allow the horse to move freely in a relaxed frame allowing them to stretch and the use of an aqua treadmill is highly recommended. 

Treatment For Kissing Spine


All forms of back pain are generally difficult to diagnose and find issues that are causing the pain. The assessment is drawn from any type of imaging along with visual signs, and examination of the horse. Your veterinarian can create a treatment plan that will be most suitable for making your horse the most comfortable.

As you follow the treatment plan, remain patient with your horse. Remember that the muscles that supported the kissing spine will be shifting to allow the vertebrae to separate. The muscles will then need to become strong in the proper form to maintain the new structure. Make sure to complete the full treatment plan, unless otherwise advised by your veterinarian. 

Can a horse with kissing spine have a foal?

In brief, yes, it is possible for a mare with kissing spine to have a foal but should definitely be avoided. It would be very difficult and painful for a mare with kissing spine to carry her foal for nearly a year and the foal might be as well affected by the condition.
What should I do if I suspect my mare has kissing spine? You should check her for lameness, and if you find any signs of a problem, you should contact your vet. She may need an X-ray or a blood test to determine what is wrong. If you’re concerned that your mare has the condition, you should ask your vet about possible treatment options. 

How much does kissing spine surgery cost for a horse?

The cost of kissing spine surgery for a horse will depend on the horse’s age, weight, breed and overall health. Generally, the cost of this surgery is around $2,500-$3,000.
A kiss spine surgery is one of the most complex surgeries that a veterinarian can perform. The goal of this surgery is to stabilize the horse’s back and correct problems that are causing pain and weakness. The first step in the surgery is to anesthetize the horse. The horse will be given an IV injection of a sedative to help relax the horse before performing the surgery. The price of anesthesia contributes a lot to the final cost of the procedure.

What age do horses get kissing spine?

Kissing spine is a condition in which the bones of the vertebrae of the horse’s spine become fused together. This is a degenerative illness that results in inflammation, swelling, bruising and pain. It can be caused by injury, infection or a range of other health problems. Kissing spine is a progressive condition that can lead to severe back pain, paralysis, difficulty walking and other problems. It usually affects horses between 7 and 14 years old. It is more common in larger breeds, such as Thoroughbreds.
A horse with kissing spine will often have a stiff gait, will not be able to rise from the ground and will be reluctant to move around. The horse may also have a painful back, hind-leg weakness or trouble turning over.

Can a horse be ridden with kissing spine?

For many years the answer has been no but it depends on the severity of the condition.
There are two types of kissing spines. The first is a mild kissing spine. This is often a small bump or bulge along the spinal column that does not affect performance. The second is a severe kissing spine that causes pain or lameness in the horse. This is often a large swelling of the spinal column that can cause a great deal of pain when the horse moves.
The most common signs of kissing spine include a sway back, neck pain, and difficulty turning or moving. The horse may show a lack of coordination, or a reluctance to move.