Kissing Spines

Kissing Spines

It might have a cute name, but this condition can have serious consequences.

Two women look at an x-ray of a horse spine

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By Andrea Caudill

“Wrangler” is a sweet, big-hearted gelding, so when he bolted out of the blue in a hunter under saddle class–endangering himself, his rider and the other horses in the arena–owner Anjanette Nicolazzo knew it for what it was: a horse’s cry for help. The only question was: What was wrong? 

The dangerous behavior was the culmination of small clues that something was wrong – small flinches while girthing, taking a few steps forward during mounting, hesitating when asked to back up, pawing in his stall. 

A trip to Cornell University Hospital for Animals and a complete workup revealed the horse had kissing spines. 

Wrangler’s veterinarian at Cornell, Dr. Elaine Claffey, explains. “In the case of ‘kissing spines’ or overriding dorsal spinous processes, we are looking for decreased space between the dorsal spines and changes to the bone density or margins along those processes.”

Spinal processes are the bony projection off the back of each vertebrae, and there is normally a space between each one. If they come together, this bone-on-bone touch causes excruciating pain. 

Once Dr. Claffey took X-rays of Wrangler, she didn’t find good news.

“She was very frank with me,” Anjanette says. “She pulled the X-rays up, and you could see right away that Wrangler had kissing spines. Dr. Claffey said it was one of the worst cases she’d ever seen. I froze.”

Dr. Claffey outlined three options: Do corticosteroid injections, which would provide immediate but temporary relief; perform surgery, which had risks but the potential for a more permanent fix; or permanent pasture retirement for the young horse.

“It was a lot,” Anjanette says. “The initial feelings of shock and disbelief were overwhelming. I felt like it was a death sentence for this horse.”

Pick up the August 2021 issue of The American Quarter Horse Journal to read more about Anjanette and Wrangler’s journey in dealing with Kissing Spines.