You and Your Horse

Finding your own way with horses

The horse suffering from load bearing burnout

Posted by in All, Health, Lungeing

The horse suffering from load bearing burnout

Do you know the term “load bearing burnout?” I have to admit that I didn’t before reading Tanja Richter’s book “The Illusions of Horse Osteopathy”  (available only in German), even though unfortunately I see an awful lot of horses that are in this state.  So that you know what to expect from load bearing burnout and can recognise it in the future when you encounter a horse in this state, I would like to introduce you to it today.

Causes and Symptoms

If a horse is badly ridden ( for e.g. by someone with heavy hands, with side reins, by a rider that sits badly) or in a saddle that does not fit, if the horse has to carry a rider that is too heavy for it or if there is some other reason why the horse cannot move correctly in a biomechanical sense, then it can cause the following symptoms:

  • The bottom of the horse’s ribcage sags forward
  • The vertebral joints of the spine are pressed together
  • The longitudinal ligament along the parts of the spine are overstretched and damaged
  • Nerve ending hollows are restricted
  • The croup and hindquarter muscles pull from behind to lift the back.
  • The back is hollow
  • The shoulder muscles are tense
  • The breast and stomach muscles are tense.

The horse is trying to lift its back to carry the rider using the wrong set of muscles.

A horse which remains in this state long term, will show the following visible changes to its body:

  • A sunken back
  • Prominent withers
  • Hollows beside the withers
  • The loin muscles are tense and eventually it will show swelling on the lumbar vertebrae (a roach back).

A horse with load bearing burnout is suffering from a lot of over-tense muscles and cannot bend correctly.  This often results in so called “blockages” along all the spinal vertebrae.  It cannot move freely and will probably develop a  typical wear and tear illness early on such as bone spavin, kissing spines, ligament problems, arthritis and other such complaints.

Recognisable changes to muscle structure

In the following pictures you can clearly see the hollows beside the withers.  Further down the back you can see the spiny processes of the vertebrae showing which indicates an atrophy (degeneration, loss of tissue) of the long back  muscles.  On a well developed muscle structure the hollows to the right and left of the withers (red circle and arrow)  should be well filled and the spiny processes of the vertebrae well set in (yellow circle.)



The next picture shows the area where the hindquarter muscles are lacking.  The gluteus is under developed or, to put it more accurately, wasting away. This means that the semitendinosus muscle is clearly visible (circled in blue)

lbb3The top line of the horse shows a dip behind the withers, a swelling in the lumber vertebral region and a sunken lumber sacral area (the place where the lumbar vertebrae meet the sacrum):


When you diagnose such developments in a horse then there is an urgent need for you to discover and remove the cause of them.

You should check:

  • You tack (particularly the saddle!),
  • The way you are riding
  • The horse’s care routine
  • Its feed
  • The state of its teeth, hooves etc. and
  • Your training method

Take the advice of a good vet and /or physiotherapist and and take time and trouble to enable the horse to move freely and correctly again. Eventually it can be necessary to stop riding for a while until the horse’s muscular structure has developed enough in a positive direction for  the horse to be ridden without causing itself further damage. I can particularly recommend working according to our Lungeing Course if you have a horse that is suffering from load bearing exhaustion.

(Translated by Katy Schütte)

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