A Closer Look at Equine Lordosis

Last Updated on March 26, 2022 by Allison Price

2011 was the year I bought my fourth horse. I wasn’t looking for another horse, but something about the horse made me want him.

This is how many of our horse stories begin, I’m sure. Sometimes we hear of a horse being sold, but we end up buying them anyway. This is not a rare story. However, this horse is.

Spike, a 13-year-old Warmblood gelding with a condition called Lordosis is described as a condition. He was delivered to me in shock. I had no idea what the condition was when I bought him. I was astonished to see his back and wondered what it meant for him.

I wanted to make the most of the new life I had been given and I did my research to find out more. Here’s what I found.

What’s lordosis? How do horses get it.

Equine lordosis is also known as swayback. It is characterized by horses experiencing swaying in their backs. It is more common in broodmares and older horses due to weakening of the support structures of the spine. However, it can also be seen in younger horses. This is because of an abnormality in the thoracic vertebrae in utero.

Equine Lordosis

American Saddlebred Horse Association funded research into horse lordosis. This was to find out more about the causes and how horses get it. The researchers discovered that lordosis was a genetic defect in which one or two of the thoracic vertebrae at each wither are wedge-shaped instead of the usual square block shape. These malformed vertebrae are what causes the horses to appear swayed back.

ASHA is also working towards identifying the gene that causes lordosis. A recent study compared the genomes of 20 horses affected and 20 non-affected. One genetic marker was identified as being significantly related to the presence of swayback. This indicated that an area on chromosome 20 could be responsible for inheritance.

This study suggests that there is a major gene involved. Although a specific genetic marker for swayback has not been identified, the results suggest that the condition is passed down via recessive inheritance. That is, two copies of the gene responsible are required for each offspring to be affected.

How does Lordosis affect horses with the condition?

Patrick Gallagher, a 2010 researcher on “Genetics of Swayback in American Saddlebred Horses” made important observations about the effects of lordosis upon horses with the condition.

Dr Gallagher noted that the path of a lordotic horse’s spine was curved. Gallagher noted that horses’ spinal cords are protected by the smooth flow of deformed vertebrae. This is in contrast to the rigid attachments to the vertebral vertebrae. Gallagher stated that horses might be protected from major disabilities and life-threatening situations by their rigid spines, which is a stark contrast to the more flexible spines of other species.

It was also found that horses with swayback have not been routinely diagnosed as suffering from pain. Some horses with this trait have done well in their chosen fields. Dr Gallagher said that performance horses weren’t affected by lordosis to any significant extent, but noted that they aren’t the fastest horses and that some horses may have altered gaits.

Dr Gallagher also noted that lordosis has no particular effect on soundness or health. “The unique characteristic of lordosis for horses is that the spinal deviation doesn’t have a disabling impact. Even those with severe disabilities can still be trained and ridden, and they can take part in horse shows.

What are the main issues for horses with lordosis and hordosis?

A horse suffering from lordosis should be concerned about their saddle fit. Saddles can cause bridging on horses that have sways. Bridging is when the saddle panels don’t touch the horse’s back. This causes pressure to be applied at the front and back (on the wither) and the loins. A saddle that is too tight can cause pain and injury to the horse.

Horses with lordosis should be assessed by a saddle fitter before riding. Horses with lordosis can have a variety of options, including custom-fitting a saddle to their sway, packing the saddle panels to make sure they touch the back and using special pads/shims that build up the area where the bridges occur.

Allison Price
Allison Price

I’m Allison, born and raised in San Diego California, the earliest memory I have with horses was at my grandfather’s farm. I used to sit at the stable as a kid and hang out with my Papa while he was training the horses. When I was invited to watch a horse riding competition, I got so fascinated with riding!