by Dr. Karin Leibbrandt
On the below photo you see two circles. The green circle indicates the region where the vertebrae contact each other through the facet joints. The red circle indicates the deviation. There you can see bone new formation around the facet joint. This horse has a severe case of osteoarthritis in the neck.
The osteoarthritis can be seen in the lower neck. The next photo below shows a vertebra a little higher in the neck. Here you see normal vertebrae and normal facet joints.
The horse on the X-rays has osteoarthritis in the facet joint of the fifth and sixth cervical vertebrae. There are, of course, several possible causes. Trauma is an option, but the most common cause is training. Training in which the horse is ridden too short in the neck, curled up or with a lot of pressure in the mouth, results in an abnormal position of the vertebrae in the lower neck. This, in combination with a retroactive hand, or pressure, causes overload of the facet joints in the long term.
The consequences for your horse: He is in pain, especially when he has to train with his nose behind the vertical, causing a lot of tension in the injured area of the neck. As a result, he can develop all kinds of lameness, usually in the front legs. Nerves emerge between all vertebrae. Your horse can therefore also develop neurological disorders such as ataxia*.
The solution lies in prevention. This degree of osteoarthritis in the neck as shown in the X-ray can be rehabilitated to a point where it is manageable, but your horse will no longer feel 100% comfortable and healthy. He will never again achieve his optimal sports performance. Mild cases of osteoarthritis, in which only the facet joints are overfilled, can be rehabilitated well, but only in combination with correct training in which the length in the neck and entire topline is respected.
The medicine to prevent and cure neck osteoarthritis is: Train your horse in a correct head and neck position by letting him take your hand into that position. Instead of pulling him into the a desired position.
The correct position is shown in photo 3. Length in the neck. Length doesn’t necessarily have to mean low. Length means that the distance between the chin and the chest is long enough. The head and neck have freedom of movement. The nose is in front of the vertical. Even if more collection is requested. Then the position of the cervical vertebrae is correct and there is no increased pressure in the lower neck. This way you save yourself a lot of grief and your horse a lot of pain and discomfort!
*ataxia is presented as a lack of muscular coordination where the horse loses the ability to coordinate his movement.