Horse Spine Bump – Are Kissing Spines The Problem?

Last Updated on February 28, 2023

Back problems in horses are notoriously tricky to deal with, and a horse spine bump could be an indicator of a problem called kissing spines. But what exactly are kissing spines, and is there anything we can do to fix them? We’ve got everything you need to know about what to do if you find a horse spine bump right here!

What Are Kissing Spines in Horses?

Like humans, the spine of horses consists of many small bones joined together – these are called vertebrae. Each vertebrae has a different shape, but one part that most have in common is a piece of bone that protrudes upwards – this is called the dorsal spinous process. If you run your hand along the back of a horse, this is the part of the spine you can feel.

When a horse has kissing spines, these dorsal spinous processes are too close together and can rub against each other. As you can imagine, this can be very uncomfortable for the horse! When comparing a kissing spine vs normal spine, radiographs will show that the vertebrae are much closer together, and may be overlapping in some cases.

The correct name for kissing spines in horses is ‘overriding dorsal spinous processes‘ (ORDSP), although you may also hear the term impinging dorsal spinous processes’ used in milder cases.

In most horses, kissing spines occurs in the thoracic vertebrae. These are the vertebrae that sit directly above the rib cage of the horse and are positioned directly under where the saddle and rider sit. This makes the problem of kissing spines even worse when the horse is ridden due to the added pressure and weight of the saddle and rider.

Are kissing spines the same as a hunter bump?

Many people get kissing spines and hunters’ bumps confused, but they are two completely different musculoskeletal problems of horses. Kissing spines affect the thoracic vertebrae of the spinal column, while a hunter bump relates to the pelvis.

A hunter bump occurs when the pelvis shifts out of place at the point where it attaches to the spine. This is due to degenerative wear of the tissues that hold the pelvis in place, causing permanent displacement of the pelvis. The result is a prominent bony horse spine bump, located around the rump of the horse.

A horse can develop kissing spines in the area near the pelvis, in the lumbar vertebrae. However, this is very rare and you are far more likely to encounter kissing spines in the thoracic vertebrae.

What Causes Kissing Spines in Horses?

Horses with kissing spines often receive a positive diagnosis of the condition between the ages of five to ten, but it can occur 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 spines usually develops in the last few thoracic vertebrae, which are underneath where a saddle and or rider sits when mounted. Kissing spines have also been seen in the lumbar vertebrae but they are very uncommon. 

There is not thought to be any genetic link to kissing spines, and it is considered to be an acquired condition. This means the horse develops it due to the way it moves or is ridden, rather than an abnormality of the horse’s anatomy. Factors that increase the risk of kissing spines are a badly fitted saddle or poor muscle development along the spine.

Certain breeds of horses, such as Thoroughbreds, warmbloods, and performance horses tend to be diagnosed with kissing spines more than others. Improper training that allows the horse to carry itself with their head up, back hollow and little to the engagement of its core or hind end muscles can lead to problems such as kissing spines.

Signs of Kissing Spine in Horses

Horses with a mild case of kissing spines sometimes do not show any signs of this condition at all. A horse spine bump is not always visible, and signs of kissing the spine are highly inconsistent and vary largely from horse to horse.

One of the most common signs of kissing spines in horses is vague or inconsistent lameness, poor performance, or unexplained behavioral problems. If your horse seems ‘not quite right’ and other common causes of lameness or poor performance have been ruled out, then kissing spines may be the problem.

Many horses with kissing spines 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 all signs of back pain in horses. Many horses will also have tenderness in their backs and are often sore to the touch, but a noticeable horse spine bump may or may not be present. 

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How are kissing spines in horses diagnosed?

Diagnosing kissing spines in horses can be a challenge. Sometimes it can be difficult to determine if the kissing spine symptoms are due to a behavioral or training issue, an unrelated medical condition, or a direct result of back pain. It is not uncommon for kissing spines to be identified that do not cause any issues at all.

The most common methods of diagnosing kissing spines are various diagnostic imaging techniques. Radiographs can be used to image the position of the vertebrae, but will not determine if they are the root cause of the symptoms the horse is displaying. Thermography, which uses an infrared camera to detect heat patterns, can be very helpful in some cases. In some cases, specialist techniques such as bone scans may be necessary which require the horse to attend a clinic that offers these services.

Treatment of Kissing Spines in Horses

Any treatment plan for kissing spines in horses should only ever be carried out under the advice of your veterinarian, otherwise, there is a real risk you can make the condition worse.

To start with, the focus of treating kissing spines is to ease the pain and encourage the horse to relax through its back muscles. Pain relief can be provided through systemic analgesic medication, such as bute. Gentle exercises can help 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 can all be used to ease pain and reduce inflammation. 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. The best feed supplements for kissing spine in horses are those designed for horses suffering from musculoskeletal conditions.

Treatment For Kissing Spine


Back problems in horses are notoriously difficult to diagnose and treat, as there are often several issues at play and the symptoms can be very variable. In a diagnosis of kissing spines, a thorough examination of the horse combined with various diagnostic tests and imaging techniques may be necessary. Your veterinarian will then work with you to create a treatment plan that will help to make your horse more comfortable.

We would love to hear your thoughts on kissing spines and horse spine bumps! Have you ever had a horse diagnosed with kissing spines? Or perhaps you’ve found an unusual horse spine bump and have some questions about the best thing to do? Leave a comment below and we will get back to you!


Can a horse with kissing spine have a foal?

A horse with kissing spines can carry and rear a foal, but it is not an advisable course of action. Although kissing spines is not a genetic condition, it is thought to be linked to the conformation of the horse. So, a horse with poor conformation is likely to have a foal with similar problems.

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, and the type of surgery taking place. Generally, the cost of this surgery is around $2,500-$3,000.
In the past, horses were put under general anesthetic for this procedure, which made it more expensive. However, it can now be performed under standing sedation, which cuts down the costs considerably.

What age do horses get kissing spine?

As kissing spines in horses are a degenerative condition, they can occur at any age. Some horses as young as five years old will develop symptoms, while others will not show signs of kissing spines until they are between 10-15 years old.
Generally, the older a horse is when it first develops kissing spines, the better the prognosis. A five year old horse with kissing spines will likely need a lifetime of careful management and surgical treatment.

Can a horse be ridden with kissing spine?

If a horse with kissing spine is pain-free, it can carry out ridden exercise. However, this must only ever be carried out under the supervision and recommendation of your veterinarian. If the horse shows any sign of pain, such as lameness, behavioral problems, or hypersensitivity when touched, it should not be ridden.