Late last Summer I went through quite a time with my mare having a sore back. When I would mount her, as soon as I would settle my weight into the saddle she would sink down for a moment, telling me “ouch!” What had she done, what had I done, to cause this? It’s times like this that I wish my horse could only verbalize what's wrong.
I gave her a few days off and tried riding her again only to come up with the same problem. That’s when I called my veterinarian and talked to him, and he recommended that he come out and go over Joon to see if he could figure out the problem. Sometimes a sore back is indicative of another problem entirely.
We set up an appointment and he came out and did a thorough exam. He flexed joints and had Joon trot out to see how she moved. If she was compensating for a sore joint that could make her ouchy in her back. He checked for a fever, thinking she could have an infection somewhere. He poked and prodded and turned her in different directions, making her flex all her muscles.
Then he had me pull out my saddles, both the English and Western, and had me saddle her up to see how they fit her. He also checked my saddle pads to see if she was getting enough cushion underneath her saddles. I didn’t think that was the problem as I’d been using those same saddles and pads on her for a few years and never had a problem before. But the vet explained to me that if a horse changes weight significantly that will cause the saddles to fit differently on the horse's back. Fitting a saddle to your horse properly is a good place to look first if your horse has a sore back.
We then discussed if there had been any changes lately in Joon’s lifestyle, had she slipped in the pasture, etc. Yes, I could remember putting Joon into the home pasture with a new horse, Bailey the pony. Joon - a dominant mare - spent a couple of days chasing Bailey, turning and twisting and kicking.
In the end, the vet figured that Joon had pulled muscles in her neck and back through her antics chasing the pony. Greg told me to put her in with the established herd so that she wouldn’t be doing any more twisting, not to work her for a week and to put her on a regime of Bute (Phenylbutazone) twice a day for that week. I was told to ride her gently for another week and see how it went, giving her more Bute if she seemed sore after being ridden.
It took a little over a month of this "therapy," but Joon was then back to normal. It was a trying time for me and not much fun for Joon, but thank goodness it was “only” a case of sore muscles. So, if your horse is displaying these symptoms, be sure to check with your vet!