Cold-backed horse is a quaint term for a horse with a sensitive back, or who’s sensitive to the girth. A horse with this condition may also be called “cinchy” or “girthy”. Cute terms, but what does it all mean?
A cold-backed horse is one that has a negative reaction to being saddled or mounted. Usually, the reaction is immediate and after a short time, the animal gets used to the sensation and is fine to ride.
As always, different horses react differently. The horse’s response can vary from mild to dramatic. A mild reaction might be collapsing his back and shrinking away from the saddle after being cinched up. More dramatic reactions could be trotting or cantering off immediately upon being mounted, perhaps with a well-timed buck or two thrown in for good measure.
The descriptions of extreme reactions range from hilarious to horrifying. One person described a horse that “humps all up, pig-roots and kicks like a trooper.” Another said her horse collapsed onto the ground and dented a car! The horse was fine, but we can’t say as much for the car.
Much of the available research and opinion indicate that this cold-backed horse condition is a behavior and not an injury. We’re not so sure. Horse trainer Doris Eraldi says, “It’s very likely the horse is reacting to pain or the memory of pain. This is usually the case if the horse tries to lie down when girthed up or mounted, or those who pull back wildly.” Check out our library for more detailed information on cold-backed horses.
On the behavioral side of the argument, she also suggests that “Horses can develop cinchy habits in response to poor rider techniques – over-tightening the cinch so that it cuts off the horse’s breath, ‘plopping’ down into the saddle when mounting, or immediately digging your heels into his sides are can all be very unpleasant for the horse. There are some horses who are simply very sensitive to the pressure from the girth – it is almost an instinctual reaction to attempt escape when they feel the cinch tightening.”
Our fifteen-year-old thoroughbred hunter exhibited intermittent cold-backed horse tendencies; a few months ago he started shrinking away as soon as we tightened the girth, and we’re very gentle. I was always taught to ease myself into the saddle and always have, but after not being ridden much for a few months, Montego started to practically collapse as soon as I’d get into the saddle. On a few occasions, he nearly went down to his hocks, but then he’d recover and seem fine.
We took him to the vet, who couldn’t find anything wrong with him. Then we took him to a Veterinary chiropractor, who gave him a thorough exam, including x-rays, and told us that he had an old injury, and it looked like he’d flipped over backward and damaged his spine. But it was long healed and his only issue was some slight arthritis. We were given a prescription for Bute and some other anti-inflammatories and told to keep him stall-rested for a month, which we did. But even after all that, he still went in and out of soundness and cold-backed horse behavior.
Acupuncture or acupressure will undoubtedly be helpful in treating a cold backed horse, and equine massage therapy will naturally be beneficial if the problem is physical. But Pulsed LED Therapy, also known as Low Energy Photo Therapy (LEPT) is what cured Montego, and that’s how we became involved with Dan Sumerel and the STS-2 Scanner and Equine Treatment Unit.
A number of scientific studies by Medical Schools, Government Institutions, and independent research organizations have shown that this therapy is fast, effective, painless and risk free.
Dan scanned Montego and found about 140 points that indicated the presence of some physical trauma, many of which were on his back and neck. He then treated him with the ETU and after 24 hours, re-scanned him and found only about fifty points. We treated him a couple of more times and within a week, were riding him with no evidence of any cold backed horse behavior.
I’m not telling you that the STS-2 is guaranteed to cure your horse’s cold-backed behavior. Get a good vet’s exam first. Then review your own behavior: Do you cinch the horse too tightly too quickly? Does his saddle fit properly? Do you drop heavily into the saddle when you mount?
If the vet can rule out critical trauma, and your saddling techniques are civilized and polite, it could be that the horse has some muscle soreness or other physical issue that will benefit from LEPT. Learn how to make an appointment to have your cold backed horse scanned. If you’re within an hour of Gladstone Equine’s base in Midlothian, Virginia, there’s no charge for travel time. If you’re further away, we can probably recommend a practitioner in your area.