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Some breeds of horses, especially the Lithuanian Heavy Draft Horse, are prone to posture problems that result in a dipped back. Typically dipped back, which gives a characteristic sway or noticeable depression in the back where a saddle would normally sit, becomes more pronounced and obvious as the horses ages. This is due to a combination of factors including natural degeneration of the muscles supporting the spine, decrease in muscle tone over the entire body as well as increase in the weight of the horse that is supported by the spine. In breeds of horses with very long backs or in large draft horses that simply weigh more the likelihood of dipped back is greater than in shorter backed, lighter breeds.
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Horse owners should be aware that there are also medical conditions that can cause a dipped back. Older horses with a dipped back and long, wavy or curly hair that does not shed are likely to be diagnosed with Cushing's Disease, a condition that occurs from a benign tumor in the pituitary gland. This type of dipped back can occur in any breed, but is most common in Morgans that are older than 20 years of age. Besides the dipped back, the long shaggy dull coat, lack of appetite and increased drinking and urination makes this diagnosis relatively simple. Treatment, once the back has started to dip will result in management of the condition but will not straighten out the spine.
Dipped back may also occur in horses that have been forced to carry or pull heavy loads as either draft or cart horses or as pack animals. Often horses that are broken to ride too young, before the age of 2-3 years will develop a sway back or dipped back as they mature. This is directly caused by irresponsibility on the part of the owner and trainer by not allowing the yearling to fully develop before starting to apply additional weight of pulling or carrying heavy loads. Many responsible breeders, especially of horses that are known to be slow to mature, don't fully train the horse to be ridden or worked until they are three or more years old to give the back and skeleton enough time to develop and strengthen.
To prevent dipped back in horses as they mature proper nutritional care is a must. As horses get older they will need a specialized diet, especially if teeth problems or digestive problems are present. Supplements with minerals, vitamins and nutrients are available to help maintain the skeleton and prevent muscle atrophy or degeneration in senior horses. Regular, moderate exercise will also help keep the back strong but heavy work or excessive exercise on rough or difficult terrain is not recommended for older horses. Jumping or using these horses for heavy draft work or working livestock is also not recommended due to the additional stress on the spine these types of activities cause.
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