Star Witness and Kissing Spines

      Tina Cook and Star Witness, who gave 'one million precent' on course at Burghley


Tina Cook was, not surprisingly, full of praise for her 12-year-old Irish-bred gelding Star Witness who finished seventh at this year’s Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials, rising from 40th after the dressage thanks to  what Captain Mark Phillips called the ‘cross country round of the day’ and a faultless show jumping round on the Sunday

The impressive 4* record and this recent performance at Burghley from a horse that was bought from the Doncaster sales as an unbroken four year old belies the ailment of “Kissing Spines” that he suffers

Tina told us more about the management of Star Witness, who is owned by Jim Chromiak, Bridget Biddlecombe, Shaun Lawson and Nicholas Embiricos, and why she believes that people should ‘make more of what they’ve got’ in their horses

“I’ve made what I can with what I’ve got” says Tina “And I’m incredibly proud of him and our management of him. I don’t mind discussing it because I think that sometimes people need to look at what they’ve got – it’s not easy just to swap and go buy another one.

I love the challenge of it and the challenge for me is to find what makes each horse tick and get the best performance out of each horse. The one thing about eventing is that they have to love what they do or they’re not going to give you 100% out on the cross country and, with all his difficulties and stiffnesses, Star Witness gave me one million percent”


Tina Cook


So what exactly is Kissing Spines?  Christopher Elliott of Lambourn Equine Vets, explains the medical terms

"Kissing Spines" is the commonly used term for the veterinary condition known as Over-riding Dorsal Spinous Processes or Impinging Dorsal Spinous Processes. The dorsal spinous process is the upward projection of the equine spine. Each individual vertebrae of the spine has a dorsal spinous process that is spaced with a gap between each. At their tallest they create the withers and represent the midline running along the length of the equine back.

"Kissing Spines" is a radiographic diagnosis whereby there is a reduction in size of the normal gap between each process. The condition can progress to such a degree that the affected processes can end up touching each other (hence the name "Kissing Spines") or even pushing past each other (hence "over-riding").

Clinical signs of "Kissing Spines" can vary greatly from being slightly "cold backed" to subtle performance issues and difficulty under saddle, all the way overt back pain and potentially behavioural problems such as rearing and bucking. 

There is a poor correlation between the severity of radiographic change and the severity of clinical signs i.e. a horse may experiencing severe pain with only mild changes seen on X-rays, whilst another horse may only show subtle signs despite having a large degree of X-ray changes. 

There are a variety of treatment options for "Kissing Spines" including systemic medications, regional corticosteroid injections and shockwave therapy. There are also several different surgical techniques used in the treatment of "Kissing Spines". Physiotherapy plays an important role in the ongoing management of this potentially debilitating condition.

Successful outcomes for horses with "Kissing Spines" at times can be challenging, but with persistence, time, appropriate veterinary treatment and sensible management the majority of horses will return to their previous level of exercise. 


       These radiographs show severe changes but the horse was still able to compete at 4* level