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Olivia is first horse in US to undergo Kissing Spine surgery

On February 18, Olivia, a thoroughbred horse, underwent Interspinus Ligament Desmotomy to cure Kissing Spine.

Sue Swart stands with Olivia, the first horse in the US to undergo surgery to alleviate Kissing Spine
Sue Swart stands with Olivia, the first horse in the US to undergo surgery to alleviate Kissing Spine

A few days later she arrived at ReRun Horse Recuse’s New York location under the care of Sue Swart.

Kissing Spine basically means, “The vertebrae are pinching, the gap between them closes and they start to pinch or rub,” said Swart.

This creates a lot of pain and makes the horse unable to be ridden.

The area on the horse’s back where the spine is located is where the saddle is placed and the rider puts his or her weight.

The spinal pain caused by Kissing Spine makes it impossible for this weight to be placed on the horse.

Swart shows off the band she'll wrap around Olivia's midsection to straighten her spine.
Swart shows off the band she’ll wrap around Olivia’s midsection to straighten her spine.

When a horse is diagnosed with Kissing Spine, “It’s usually the end of their career,” explained Swart. “You just don’t find a home for a horse with Kissing Spine. Basically you don’t find a home for a horse that’s not rideable.”

This was the first time ISLD surgery has been performed on a horse in the United States, and was completed by Dr. Christie Cable in Lansing, NY.

According the Swart, the procedure involves “cutting ligaments between the vertebrae to create space.”

Swart shows the area of Olivia's back that was operated on.
Swart shows the area of Olivia’s back that was operated on.

The procedure is meant for horses that are still in the early stages of or have less advanced cases of Kissing Spine.

It is still unknown whether Kissing Spine is developed or genetic.

Cable called Swart and asked if she’d be willing to take in Olivia and do her rehab once surgery was complete. Swart said she “jumped at the chance.”

“Two days after (surgery) Olivia was delivered here,” Swart said. “And she’s been here ever since.”

Olivia had two weeks of stall rest and is now in the midst of physical therapy.

Swart leads Olivia in her physical therapy. Olivia will trot around at varying speeds while Swart watches her form.
Swart leads Olivia in her physical therapy. Olivia will trot around at varying speeds while Swart watches her form.

During therapy Olivia wears a resistance band around her midsection, as well as another band around her hindquarters to help her keep her back straight and work the muscles around her core.

Swart equated Olivia’s physical therapy with a human doing a core strengthening workout.

However, Swart can’t tell Olivia to pull her stomach in or keep her back straight, so it comes down to the bands directing Olivia’s range of motion and Swart knowing her patient extremely well.

But this is what Swart loves about caring for horses.

“It’s not a verbal communication. You have to really get to know them and be able to listen to them by watching them and learning their mannerisms,”  she said.

Olivia’s six-week follow up on her surgery showed she had healed significantly, had lower inflammation, and her vertebrae are still separated.

Olivia stands ready to put on her PT gear
Olivia stands ready to put on her PT gear

In another few weeks Swart hopes to saddle up Olivia and see if she’s up to riding.

However, the physical therapy is completely dependent upon the horse.

Olivia might not be ready to ride so soon, and another horse undergoing the same surgery might not even be at the level of recovery Olivia is at now.

Since Olivia’s surgery in February there have been at least two other ISLD surgeries in the United States.

Needless to say the recovery of these horses is being carefully monitored.

If this procedure continues to prove successful it means a lot of horses could be treated and find forever homes.

“I’m really happy to be part of it,” said Swart. “This is what I like to do.”

1 Comment

  1. I too have a horse with K’S and am very interested in helping him. Please keep me informed of progress. Also, if you hear of other vets performing this procedure. I live in South Carolina. Good luck!

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