Written on January 13, 2016

Kissing Spine case study. THE LIFE OF ROCKY.

18 months ago a very thin, very angry, young horse arrived on my yard.

I went to view a horse I had seen advertised fairly locally, as soon as I arrived I had a very bad feeling. Rocky had cuts all over him and looked utterly depressed. I climbed on-board and within minutes I was launched onto the floor, most people would have walked away, and my Dad absolutely thought I should too. However, it soon became clear that this horse needed some serious help – he was absolutely petrified at any movement. I couldn’t leave without him. So a few pennies later onto the trailer he went. The whole journey home my Dad kept telling me what a mistake I had made but I knew that whatever happened to this horse he couldn’t stay there to be neglected any more.

A lot of people thought he was a very nasty horse, and his behaviour was extremely dangerous so I could see why. However, I knew there was more to it. After 6 weeks of giving him the benefit of the doubt, and putting it down to past experiences, we took him to have some X-rays and what we saw was awful. Rocky’s spine was kissing so badly that each time he moved the bones were rubbing and chipping away at each other, the pain this horse would have been in was a horrible thought – and to think no one had picked up on this until now really angered me.


x-rays of rockys spine, 3 vertebrae on the right touching and chipping


and the worst vertebrae, you can see here the damage already done to Rocky’s back with section of bone worn away

We then had to make the decision everyone dreads making. Do we put him to sleep? Get him out of his misery, his behaviours were now so bad he was unbearable to have on the yard and there was no garentee this would change as much as we needed it to after an operation. And as with any kissing spine operation there is no guarantee it would work at all. Or do we proceed, and have not one, but two huge spinal operations to see if we could mend this poor horse? Rocky wasn’t a particularly nice horse to look at and didn’t show us any signs of ever becoming a competition horse. In fairness he was a complete car crash confirmation wise. However, I’m very much a believer that horses come into your life for a reason, and in all honesty I’m a complete sucker for trying to mend horses. I had a very long conversation with Rocky’s race trainers who made me realise that once upon a time he was a lovely character and he had just got into the wrong hands. This gave me faith that he had it in him to be a nice horse again.

So, we went through with the operations.

The first operation was nearly 5 hours long – I remember sitting in the waiting room absolutely petrified. Had I made the right decision? Was I doing what was best for this horse? Would I ever make him realise that he was no longer going to be in pain? And would I ever earn enough trust in a horse that had been so poorly treaten to be able to get on safely? There were so many questions and doubts.

I then remember walking down the barn to the last stable with my parents, the stable seemed to get further and further away, Rocky looked at me, and for the first time since he arrived he let me straight into the stable, no teeth coming at me, no flying legs, he just put his head up to me – as you can image this sent my parents and I into floods of tears. I instantly knew we had made the right decision. Rocky then stayed in hospital for a few days before coming home for a few weeks to recover and chill out before round two.


I was a lot more optimistic when the time came to take Rocky back up to the hospital for his second operation, this was only a few hours long and tackled the worst vertebrae, and yet again Rocky coped brilliantly and returned home after a few days.

This was the scary part. We now had some very tough times ahead and we knew it. Rocky was a young ex racehorse and still an angry boy, that combined with box rest is a hard combination to handle, but I thought this was the crucial time where I needed him to learn to trust me otherwise it would have been a pointless exercise. I spent hours and hours with him to try and cure his boredom, my parents would check him every few hours when I was at work, although they were too petrified to go in to a stable with him and I can’t blame them, but they kept him entertained for me whilst I was away from the yard.

After a few weeks the hand grazing started, this mainly consisted of no grazing and me being pulled around the yard like a rag doll! I was so petrified he was going to hurt himself so I tried every trick in the book…of course, nothing worked.

The staples came out to reveal some amazing scars and a very neat back, infact to this day I have still never seen or worked with a horse with a neater outcome from this operation. I couldn’t believe how amazing his back looked after seeing so many horror stories. The care and attention Rocky was given at B&W Equine was as always incredible. And I can’t thank the whole team enough for the effort put into this horse, especially Carys our team vet for trusting us to take on such a big task and going with my gut feeling, for all the girls who braved looking after him and of course his surgeon Ollie. they all seriously excelled themselves and if I didn’t have such faith in them I would never have gone through with this. I had a huge amount of support from these special people and I would never let any of my horses be under anyone else’s care.

After a few more weeks the Pessoa work started, at first we were very worried the opperations hadn’t worked as well as we hoped but the more muscle we built, plus the more weight we got on to him, the better he became. And he loved having something to do.


Rocky had regular check ups with team vet Carys Chadwick who was very pleased with his progress and the day came where I could sit back on, the day I longed for for such a long time but a day that was pretty terrifying as before the operations he had put me in some very dangerous positions.

Being back on board was fantastic and it was a huge relief to feel him comfortable, however he was still very unsure. The next few months were spent hacking and very light work under saddle to keep him happy and make him undersstand being worked didn’t actually hurt him, this was the most testing time. Rocky had been in pain for several years when anyone sat on him so we had to try and unwire his brain and get him to trust that it no longer hurt, this has been the hardest part of the whole rehabilitation.

Months went by, and we had some amazing achievements along with some pretty awful days – it’s very hard to push him out of his comfort zone, and Rocky has the most incredible buck when he wants to, however the more I worked with him the more he started to blossom.

The last few months have taken my breath away, Rocky has his own way of working, a way in which I know and understand and it may not be textbook but it works for him. My aim was to make him a happy, healthy horse, never in my wildest dreams did I realise this horse was to become something very special. He is an out and out trier and has the biggest heart.

He is a dream to have on the yard and his ears are pricked from sunrise to sunset – he’s now one of the happiest horses I’ve ever come across and everyday I still don’t believe how incredible his journey has been.

This has by far been a huge eye opener and learning curve for the whole team and I can’t thank everyone involved enough, it has taken a serious amount of blood, sweat and tears to get to the end result but my god it has been worth every second, I never lost faith and I always stuck to my gut feeling with Rocky.

Working with Rocky has made me realise that an area I love working on is the rehabilitation of these amazing animals. I thought it was important to share Rocky’s story so people release that it can be done. Horses can completley change their attitudes in the correct hands and care. And kissing Spine operations do have happy endings.

If I can help others in anyway regarding aftercare advice or services please do not hesitate to contact us.

Please see see a timeline of Rockys recovery below.