Cold Backed Horse
- Why a horse gets a cold back and how to treat

The term "Cold Back" has been around for many years, and originates years back before horse owners were aware of the many problems that a horse can suffer with its back

When a horse hollows his back to avoid the saddle as it is being put on, the usual reason given by many in the horse world is that he has a 'cold back'.

Of course the horse does not literally have a cold back, the term is meant to indicate that the horse objects to the cold feel of the saddle leather when it is put on his back.

Even when a numnah or saddle cloth is used and the horse still fliches away from it, the horse owner or rider may continue to say that the horse is anticipating the cold feel of the saddle and that this is why he tries to avoid it.

Like so many old theories in the equestrian world, this is now doubted to be the cause of a horse hollowing or flinching when being tacked up or bucking when being mounted.


Many horse owners believe that the symptoms of a cold back are a horse's normal reaction to being tacked up or mounted - this is definitely not the case.

There are several theories behind the causes of "cold back syndrome" in horses.

The most popular theory is that the acute reaction in a cold-backed horse is caused by stimulation of the sensitive nerve endings.

This could be caused by pressure from a badly fitted saddle, stretching of injured tissue or back pain.

It is possible that the horse suffers a sudden drop in blood pressure due to a problem with the heart and circulation caused by pressure on the chest.


Or the collapse may be due to an initial panic reaction. It is common to see horses which learn to blow out their chests as the girth is being tightened - other horses may react to this sensation of restriction by panicking.

The problem of a cold backed horse can be self perpetuating. Once a horse has suffered one attack he will be conditioned to fear the tightening of the girth and will panic again on subsequent occasions.


If your horse has a cold back, the first thing to do is to identify the cause.

Your vet, saddler and equine physiotherapist may need to work together to establish the cause.

Once you have discovered a likely reason for your horse or pony's cold back you can decide on an appropriate treatment.

Steps to help reduce or prevent symptoms of cold-backed horses include:

  • Have regular physiotherapy and saddle fitting checks on your horse or pony to spot problems before they become established.
  • Don't tighten the girth up straight away
  • When you have tacked your horse up walk him round the yard for a few minutes before getting on to allow his back muscles to stretch and warm up.
  • When mounting always use a mounting block.
Cold Back Syndrome - Why a horse gets a cold back, how to cope with symptoms where a horse or pony falls over when the girth is tightened or bucks when mounted as a reaction to saddle pressure.