Most people are familiar with 'swayback' in horses, where the line of the back dips downwards in the middle like a hammock. The reverse condition, where the spine is very straight or bows upwards into a hump, is commonly referred to as "roach back". The underlying cause of roach back is a deformity of the spine.
Also known as: kyphosis/acquired kyphosis, ridge back, saddle back.
Roach back is normally not apparent in the foal, but can often be detected by six months of age. As they age, a horse with this condition may show a limited range of movement due to their spine being less flexible. Some consider they also tend to be weaker in the hind legs than properly conformed horses.
Simple Congenital Kyphosis
In cases where roach back develops early and is the primary problem the prognosis is pretty good. In a great many cases the horses with mild to moderate congenital roach back will be able to be ridden and will exhibit no major health problems.
Photo credit: Ivan McClellan / Foter.com / CC BY
However roach back is a very general conformation trait and is not always congenital. It may be ascondary symptom of a more seriou condition. It can be caused by trauma to the spine. It it may be secondary to other conditionssuch as scoliosis or calcinosis. These more complex causes of kyphosis can have health consequences such as pain in the hind limbs and/or hind limb weakness.
In some cases where acquired kyphosis appears at the same tI ever as lameness, it may be resolved when the lameness if successfully treated. Therefore it is important to consult with a veterinarian to determine the full nature of a roach backed horse's condition and manage the animal appropriately.
Some champion horses have been described as roach backed. Including:
- Roughside (Winner, Chester Cup 1900)
Uncomplicated roach back is not debilitating but may require management and careful saddle design. Severe or complex cases may make an animal unsuitable for riding.
Laura Peck on April 20, 2015:
As a former track rider turned endurance rider - I too had never run across a roachback in 20+ years. Now I own a mild roachback TWH whom I rescued as an unbroke 8 year old. She is now competing in 25 mile endurance rides and used as a lesson horse.
A couple reasons that I've had success: 1. I'm disabled in my feet so ride bareback since I can't use stirrups. Bareback works for the roachbacks since you do not put pressure on the malformed spinal area. 2. We had Aussie stock saddles and English Jump saddles - both types are 2-3" up off the spine in the back. So while she'll buck in a western or close contact saddle - she'll gladly ride all day in the Aussie/jump style saddles.
She's the smoothest single footing TWH I've had the fortune of training out. And has no problem jumping the deadfall, eroded trails at fast speeds in the endurance events. While she might not do well in dressage or reining or show jumping - she can more than handle the most extreme and physically demanding of horse sports.
Ghost32 on April 30, 2013:
Interesting. Despite having been ranch raised and rodeo bred, I don't believe I've ever once run across a roach backed horse. Maybe a mild case that passed inspection, but that sketch is pretty distinctive. Seen 'em swaybacked so bad it made you want to cry on sight, with hooves curled back like ram's horns from being left in barnyard muck unattended for years on end, saddle sored, porcupine quills in their noses, you name it...but never roach backed.
Then again, I've been known to miss some pretty obvious stuff over the years. Ask any one of my ex-wives.
Valuable article. Thanks for putting it out there.
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