Roach back in horses is a problematic condition that can have a big impact on a horse’s ability to move and run.
It will often not show up until the horse is around six months old, which can be a big issue if you are considering buying a young horse, as you will not know whether the foal is going to suffer from this condition or not until it grows.
The severity of roach back can vary enormously, and some horses will suffer significantly more from this condition than others do.
There are many other conditions that can affect a horse’s back, and roach back is often confused with things like cold back and swayback, but it is not the same as either of these conditions.
In general, it will develop when the horse is quite young, but will progress as it ages, and can become more severe in older adults. It is a rarer condition than swayback, and many trainers go for years without seeing a horse that has it, but it is still important to be aware of its existence and understand how it should be dealt with to protect the horse from discomfort as much as possible.
Correctly diagnosing roach back can be challenging, so you may want to consult a professional if you believe that your horse has it. Because this condition can be quite mild, it is hard to know for sure when some horses have it, but in others, it will be very clear.
What Is Roach Back In Horses?
Roach back is a deformity in the spine, and unlike swayback, it causes the back to arch up, away from the standard position.
It occurs when the lumbar vertebrae are abnormally tall, and results in a sort of “hump back” appearance for the horse, where the back of the spine near the neck looks unusually raised.
Roach back is rarer than some other back conditions, but it does seem to occur particularly often among certain breeds, such as Clydesdales.
Roach back is also called kyphosis in some circumstances, and it is rarely visible in a young foal, but will start to appear after the horse has weaned.
Often, you will need to wait until a horse has finished growing completely before you will be able to tell how severe the roach back is likely to be, so if you are thinking of buying a foal, bear this in mind.
You may wish to have an expert examine the horse’s back and assess how likely the deformity is to progress.
Roach back can cause a number of problems, although in some cases, it is minor and seems to have minimal impact up on the horse.
In others, it can affect the horse’s ability to move freely, and may reduce its capacity to jump and race, because the vertebrae will have a reduced range of motion. The horse may also not be able to bend from side to side as easily.
What Causes Roach Back In Horses?
There are thought to be a few different causes of roach back, and it can either be genetic or functional (caused by musculoskeletal dysfunction).
Sometimes, a foal that grows very rapidly will start to suffer from this condition, and some researchers think that it occurs as a result of the fetus being mispositioned during its time in the womb.
It may not always be possible to determine what has caused roach back, which means that this can be a challenging condition to prevent.
Some people say that other factors, such as adverse living conditions, can contribute to roach back and worsen the condition, possibly causing pain for the horse.
Things like improper riding, a poorly fitted saddle, and inappropriate training might reduce the flexibility of the lumbar spine, straining the muscles in the back and leading to roach back development.
Overall, it may be difficult to determine what has caused roach back in your horse, and its appearance certainly isn’t a guarantee that the horse has been badly kept or mistreated.
It may be a result of the horse’s breed, its early life conditions, or even its positioning in the mother’s womb.
However, if you are thinking of taking on a foal, you should look for the appearance of roach back, and take it into account when buying a horse.
Can You Treat Or Correct Roach Back In Horses?
This depends heavily on how severe the roach back is, and possibly on what caused the condition in the first place. Some instances of mild roach back may prove treatable, but others may not.
The best thing to do if you have a horse that suffers from roach back is to set up a video call with a veterinarian, as this will give you access to cheap, professional advice that will let you know where to go next.
Alternatively, you can call a vet out to look at the horse, but in some cases, a video call will be sufficient, and it will usually cost you considerably less money.
A trained veterinarian should be able to advise you about whether treatment is possible, and what treatment you should pursue if it is.
Severe roach back is unlikely to be very treatable because if the spine is seriously distorted, there is little that can be done to get it back into place. However, it is worth finding out, as roach back may worsen if not dealt with correctly.
Roach back in horses may not be the commonest condition, but it is still a recognized and sometimes problematic issue that often requires medical attention. If you are dealing with a horse that has roach back, it is a good idea to get a prompt assessment from a vet, who should be able to guide your behavior, and let you know how to deal with it. In some cases, it will be about directly treating the condition, while in others it will simply be a case of not worsening it through improper exercise or badly fitted equipment.