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The dreaded "Lemon Butt"

Updated: Aug 17, 2020

When life hands you lemons, you put them in your iced tea, mixed drink, or bake something delicious. While, I love lemons in my kitchen, they are a shape I don't want to associate with my horse. The "Lemon Butt" is a very common sight- some may even say "normal"; however, just because something is common does not mean it is CORRECT. It is actually an injury to the lumbosacral junction causing long term discomfort, compensation, and physical abnormalities to the horse.

Horses have 18 thoracic vertebrae which lead into the 6 lumbar vertebrae, and finally lead into the sacrum. The sacrum is different, because it consists of 5 fused vertebrae and is immobile except where it connects to the last lumbar vertebrae and the coccygeal vertebrae (tail). The area between L6 and S1 is known as the lumbosacral junction.

The most common causes of injury to the lumbosacral area are poor trimming resulting in a broken-backwards hoof angle (long toe, low heel) causing the pelvis to tilt backwards. Additionally; improper, unbalanced riding or a poor fitting saddle can cause the pelvis to be forced out of its neutral position to accommodate the hollowness in the back.

The hollowness or dip is typically caused by atrophy of the gluteus muscle combined with over development of the semitendinosus and bicep muscles through repeated training in an incorrect posture. This results in lack of development from the lumbosacral junction to the dock- giving it a flat and sloped appearance (lemon butt). A correctly muscled hind end should be round, with no slop or hollowness (peach booty).

What affect does this incorrect balance of the hind end muscles have on the rest of your horse?

These hind end muscles are what support the precious stifle, hock, fetlock, and coffin joints along with the tendons that allow the hind legs to function properly. There are no muscles below the hock joint, meaning that hock and all joints below that point are controlled by tendons that travel up the leg attaching to those hind end muscles. When there is incorrect muscling in the hind end it causes a negative, unequal pull on the tendons running down the limb causing strain on the tendons and therefore the joints. The long term affects of this will be joint and soft tissue damage that may be irreversible.

What does all of this mean?

By working towards having a balanced, correctly muscled equine athlete we can help prevent injuries to the joints and tendons in their hind limbs with out the need of injections, supplements, or pain management.

• When looking at the shape of a horses hind end, you want to see round, developed gluteal/quadriceps and balanced hamstring muscles which leads to stronger, healthier joints and less strain on the tendons, this is the "peach booty"

• With the “lemon butt”- the gluteal muscles are sloping and hollow causing strain on the stifle/hock joints along with the tendon and ligaments leading to tension in the back.

How can I accomplished this with my horse? • Hill work • Ground poles • Cavalletti exercises • Lateral exercises

• Core strengthening exercises • Stretching, which helps keep the muscles flexible, healthy and supple

• Keeping your horse on a regular bodywork schedule to keep their muscles flexible, healthy, and to catch any small problems before they become bigger issues. • Most importantly truly engaging the hind end to properly work those key muscles through balanced, correct riding and exercise


Below is an example of an incorrect angle caused by a broken-backwards hoof angle (long toe, low heel) causing the pelvis to tilt backwards. As you can see the horse has an over developed semitendinosus but under developed bicep femoris and gluteal muscles. This was causing strain on his joints and tendons in the hind limbs and also caused him to put more strain on his front limbs causing inflammation in his front suspensory along with a tight neck and sore back. The horse was immediately happier after the trim and was even licking and chewing to show his relief!

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