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      Causes & Treating Cold Backed Horses

      Having a horse that is cold backed can be a lot of work. Not only are they difficult to saddle or care for but they can be quite stiff and unpleasant to ride until they are warmed up through their issue. But if you have a horse who is showing symptoms of being cold backed there are ways in which you can help. Take a read as we deep dive on this common issue and how to help your horse through it to feel its best.

      Activo-Med horse massage rug on a cold backed horse

      What does cold backed mean?

      The term cold backed is used to describe a horse displaying symptoms of a sensitive or painful back, especially before the horse has warmed up it’s muscles. Therefore this issue is often shown when saddling up, particularly when you need to tighten the girth.

      Symptoms of a cold backed horse

      • Stiffness through the back during the first few minutes of walk
      • Refusal or reluctance to let you mount from the ground
      • Discomfort when girth is tightened
      • Reactiveness to the saddle, such as dipping or bridging the back when the saddle or even saddle pad is placed
      • Soreness and/or sensitivity to grooming over the back
      • Bucking during exercise, especially during warmup

      Please note it’s important to have your vet, saddle fitter, and equine physiotherapist (or Chiropractor) assess your horse and work together to establish the cause and treatment.


      What causes a horse to be cold backed?

      There are many things which can cause a horse to become cold backed from the horse just being a bit sensitive, to sore muscles, to the memory of pain. In some cases, you may never discover the real cause of a horses cold back. But there are some common causes:

      Extra sensitive nerve ending – While horses look sturdy they are not designed to carry humans so therefore sometimes they develop sensitive nerve endings in their back to compensate for the extra weight and pressure of a rider.

      Girthing a horse with a cold back

      Poor posture – This issue can often be caused by a physical issue elsewhere in the body. Aggravation from a previous injury or referred pain from an injury elsewhere on the horses body may cause your horse tension and tightness across the back. This could even include problems with your horse’s teeth or feet, which cause them to readjust their posture in order to counteract this discomfort. That’s why it’s important to have your vet give your horse a thorough examination in order to rule out any issues.

      Poor rider posture – It’s important to look at your own riding posture and see if you are contributing to your horse’s pain. It could even be worth seeing a back specialist yourself while you are trying to solve your horses problem.

      Poor saddle fit – A badly fitting saddle fit is the most common cause of a cold backed horse. This can be an easy fix providing it’s caught early and there isn’t too much back pain already there. Either getting a new saddle or by having your saddle refitted saddle and having a back specialist work on the horses back to relieve any physical issues should solve this issue.

      Misalignment in the spine/pelvis – If your horses spine is misaligned this may cause them to dip or hollow and just generally show signs of discomfort when riding. Having an equine chiropractor or physio treat your horse should correct this and will make your horse feel much better.

      Kissing spines – Kissing spines in horses is a condition that develops when the spinous processes of the vertebrae touch one another, rather than being evenly and adequately spaced apart. It can be difficult to diagnose. Take a read of our blog: Owning A  Horse With Kissing Spine. where Animal Therapeutics owner Jo details her journey with her horse and his Kissing Spine.

      How to treat a horse with a cold back?

      Regular back and saddle checks – While there may not be an obvious cause to the horses behaviour, I would think about having their back and saddle checked more often if they tend to be cold backed. And if is a new behaviour in the horse, it’s important to get everything checked out right away.

      Use a solarium to warm your horses back up – A solarium can help your horse warmup up by submersing your horse in therapeutic infra-red light, thus helping to increase the levels of Vitamin D whilst also warming and softening your horses muscles. A 10-15 minute session both before and after exercise can help to cut down on muscle strain and also reduce the build up of lactic acid after exercise.

      Always mount from a mounting block – Mounting from the ground puts extra strain on the horse’s back than mounting from a block. Hop onto a mounting block to mount up and help your horse’s back muscles.

      Rugging for rain and cold weather – Keeping the rain off the horses back and keeping the back warm during colder weather can help keep the muscles stay relaxed and warm.

      Saddle up early – Don’t get on straight after putting the saddle on. Leave it on for a few minutes and give the horse a short walk in hand tacked up before getting on to help warm the muscles up. Also be careful when you tighten the girth. Do it slowly and over a number of minutes to help your horse accommodate the extra pressure.

      Use a therapy system – The Activo-Med Therapy system offers a number of fantastic options for horses who are cold backed. The Combi Pro Rug offers 18 pre-set programs featuring  Pulsed Electromagnetic Field (PEMF) and massage therapies which are delivered head-to-tail. The Activo-Med Power Pad is another great option that has been developed for targeted application meaning you can strap the power pad to the point which is causing your horse the most issues. Also see our article on the Active-Med versus Equissage.

      Activo-Med Equine Power Pads - Animal Therapeutics

      Keep in regular work – Keep your horse in consistent work without too many prolonged breaks. That way you can keep their muscles moving.

      Lunging before riding – One of the most common “fixes” to a horse with a cold backed is to lunge it before you get on. The Equiband system is a great tool to help your horse warm up properly by engaging the hindquarters and developing core stability. If you have a walker or treadmill, this can also be helpful.

      Explore our range of therapy options for your horse here and help combat issues of cold back horses and help them to perform at their best.

      You may also be interested in out article on diagnosing and treating gastric ulcers in horses.

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