Saturday, August 21, 2010

What is a Cold Backed Horse really?

Right now there is a mare that I am considering for purchase. She is a nice big bodied quarter horse with good bone and a running style get-up (not a reiner or pleasure type). There is a video which shows her to be pretty broke and sensible. She side passes both ways, is light in your hands and turns on the haunches and backs nicely. I think she has a pretty decent handle on her and they say she is great to be tied, hauled and handled. Her price is pretty dang reasonable.... primarily because she is a "Cold Back Horse".

She will hump up and occasionally buck when you first get on her but is better if lunged first. After she warms up she settles down and will work well for you. I asked the usual questions like does her saddle fit and has she seen a chiropractor. The owner said that they did have a chiropractor see her once and it seemed to help a little but wasnt a permanent fix... but I also know chiropractic work is rarely ever a one shot deal and they often need regular maintenance. She said she felt the saddle fit well enough.

If I did buy this horse I would do so under the premise that I could not fix her. I would try to fix her but I wouldnt bet on it. I am actually not the most worried about her obvious issue (cold back) but am instead more worried about what it could indicate about her soundness and whether a cold back horse that will buck will be more likely to buck when pushed once warmed up.

Anyone have any experience with cold back horses? Do you think a horse can simply be "cold backed" when they are clearly broke? Or is it an issue of pain? Can they be trusted once warmed up to not always resort to bucking when in a pinch (the physical or proverbial kind)?


  1. In my experience, what people call a "cold backed horse" is a horse with some sort of pain problem - either due to poor saddle fit or chiropractic issues. The pain is worse when the horse is first mounted or saddled and eases up somewhat once the horse's muscles warm up, but there's probably some continuing pain there that the horse has learned to live with.

    I'd recommend having the horse looked at by a good chiropractor, who should also be able to evaluate saddle fit.

  2. IMNSHO. Coldbacked is an excuse to explain a horse that has developed a fixed habit of humping and bucking when first saddled.
    I think it plays out in their thinking like a defective loop of video in the horses brain, a bad saddling process in their training probably right at the beginning scared them so they humped, bucked and were perhaps handled roughly being punished for their fear fixing the pattern. Repeat daily for a month or 2 and the pattern is set.

    Wearing the saddle should be a pleasant experience for the horse if he's worried something is wrong. Maybe its the thinking of the horse in older horses it has to be and NOT the equipment.

    Chiro is possible, maybe the horse is physically limited? chiro wont fix structure.

    Some times who knows?

    Can they be trusted once warmed up to not always resort to bucking when in a pinch (the physical or proverbial kind)?

    Maybe, maybe not. The horse I rode in the Brannaman clinic was like that, tense, rigid and prone to escaping, would buck and pitch a fit when pressured..... the pressure occurred in her brain no telling sometimes when she would reach her limit, I found her untrustworthy. I like no buck ever in my horses.

  3. To me, this behavior sounds like the horse is in PAIN (or expectation that there will be pain ). I would bet that the saddle, the rider, and/or the combination of them does or has caused pain. Chiro can relieve pain caused by mis-alignment that may be caused by a horse "compensating" for an uneven rider.

    If you buy this horse, I recommend that you make the chiro your first stop (like, on the way home from the purchase). Ask the vet to recommend stretching exercises that will help the horse stay in alignment.

    Get a saddle that REALLY fits.

    Take some lessons--even a splendid rider can benefit from "eyes on the ground", especially with a new horse.

    IME, the horse may retain some "cold backed" behaviors because she expects pain, and it may take some time for her to learn that a saddle and rider doesn't equal pain. If you are fixing the pain issues, however, she can eventually learn that she can be comfortable as she works.

    Voice of experience? Yep.

  4. I've rode a number of nice well trained horses that would buck when fresh. For the most part I viewed it as they needed to get the kinks out, have a bit of a play, before they were ready to work. And when they were ready to work I never had any issues under saddle. They never tried to buck me off when I pushed for a new skill and worked on refining an old one.

    Ultimately, I think it depends on the horse. Their personality and how they view the world. Are they a willing partner? Or do they work because they have no choice? Do they like to learn? Want to please? Have a bond with their human? All things that should be considered. In my experience it has not been a soundness issue.

    On the other side of the coin - some horses just like to buck.

  5. Country Girl brings up a good point: Is the horse bucking because bucking is fun? Watch the ears and the facial expression!

    If the ears are pinned when the saddle is lifted onto the back, I'd put money on "pain." If the horse hops around with ears not pinned, the horse may be bucking for enjoyment.

    Once you've figured out the "why", you can proceed accordingly!

  6. the bucking horse is a tough issue that's for sure! I bought my mare in May and was told what a sweet angel she was. She did fantastic for almost a month (fyi, green broke horse) and then I loped her once, she bucked me off. Since that time she's bucked 3 more times... she's a mean bucker though, not just the little hump and kicking her heels up. My mare doesn't seem to be in pain, I think she's a bit green still and maybe just a bucking horse. My intentions are to send her somewhere for some good basic training. Wish I had time to do it but my kids are taking priority this go around! lol Good luck with your decision!

  7. Um, there are a whole lot of horses out there without this issue going for pretty cheap... I'm just saying.

  8. Thanks for all the imput guys! It is days like this that I just feel soooo lucky to have this blog:) I think Breathe hit the nail on the head with the way I am feeling, "Um, there are a whole lot of horses out there without this issue going for pretty cheap... I'm just saying." but I hate to say no out of ignorance (for lack of better word.) Most horses has an issue or two and oddly enough I feel better when I know what the biggest issue is right up front no matter how it is. I am also looking at a gelding that is tough to load. Now THAT is an easier sell for me! Either way, I would look at a cold back horse if their ++'s outweighed the negatives.

    Thanks again :D

  9. KRISTEN, if your horse didn't buck at first and now she does, I'd take a look at what has changed. Feed? Tack? Rider?

    One of those (or a combination of them) is probably the cause of the change!

  10. Chelsi-

    Think back to the horses of your youth. Did they have to be warmed up first, or did you just hop on and ride? (Of course, we didn't necessarily mind a naughty buck or two back them, right?? LOL)

    There are a lot of good horses out there that wouldn't even THINK about bucking when someone is on them. Then there are the ones that do, whether they are warmed up first or not.

    You could spend a lot of time and money looking for possible causes. I say that you skip her, because you already know she has this issue. It would be different if you had already paid for her and it suddenly turned up. Then, yes, definitely try to find out what MAY be wrong. : )

  11. PS-Sorry that I have to capitalize certain words. I do that for emphasis, and would normally italicize them, but I can't get that function to work on comments. :0

  12. Would you buy a car that shakes and shudders or one that rode smoothly for the same price...?

    Why would you want to start with something that you need to put even more money into fix or maintain? We have a "cold backed" horse in our barn, too many things about it to get into over a comment... and if you're serious about this horse give me a call and I'll let you know about this horses reactions ;)

    I guess my theory, and coming from someone that bought a "quirky" horse - yes there are days that he's amazing, and there are days I want to run through a brick wall... and if you asked me would I have bought him if I knew the worst of his quirks in the beginnings, I would have to say no I wouldn't have. Life's to short to always be fixing other trainers/owners mistakes, and it's too expensive to boot!

  13. There are tons of reasons why horses are 'cold backed'. The worst one I ever had, actually he was my ex-husband's head horse, was cold-backed and cinchy. Bad! As in-flip over backwards when saddled kind of a deal. His problem was nothing other than he was ticklish.

    Another reason, not touched by anyone is...bloodlines! Some bloodlines are very prone to sporatic bucking immediately after being saddled. Most get better when being ridden regularly.

    Now, I don't know exactly what it is like in your area, but there really AREN'T that many problem free horses available these days. That is part of the problem with the horse market.

    I have bought cold backed horses that I have been able to fix by nothing more than a couple of darn good spankings when they started their crap. They were nothing more than spoiled brats.

    If you could see what the horse does when he has his fits, you could probably figure out whether it was worth it to bother with him or not pretty easily.

    I would much rather buy a horse that I knew might be a little humpy at the beginning of the ride vs. one of those treacherous buggers who acts just fine and then drills you several miles from home. ;)

  14. I think I'd at least go see this mare. I'd ask to see her cold, not warmed up at all and observe. After all, what can it hurt? You might learn something, you might find the perfect horse, or you might find the horse and/or owner is plain crazy. But, you won't know unless you go look.

  15. Wow. You guys are tough. My one and only horse is cold backed. His saddle fits, he's had chiro. He's been cold backed his entire life. If he's lunged before you get on everything is great. If you don't lunge him, and you tweak his back getting on you are going to get launched to the moon. I know it's a pain thing. Once I am on and have walked a few steps all is good the rest of the ride. I would not trade him for the world. You just learn to deal with it- he gets humpy and that is my cue to bail and lunge a little longer. I guess I'm just thinking how sad I would be if I'd passed on him (and I did consider it.) It's a little bit of a pain to find somewhere to lunge him in the winter or when at a show and space is tight. But would I trade him? Not for the world!

  16. I'd rather deal with a horse that's hard to load than a cold-backed horse. I think it's a lot easier to train out. We have an 8 yr old gelding who was gelded late and he has a habit of screaming sometimes when you go to mount him. Not my favorite thing, but so far you can yell at him and he quits it. He also is amazing on the trail (Egyptian arab). But, I did see him crow hop for a good 8 seconds (more like 30) and the trainer stayed on. I'm surprised I still bought him, but he's so awesome otherwise. But, with him, I think he likes to test and doesn't have any other issues.

  17. I have yet to meet a perfect horse.

  18. CuttingQHEnthusiastOctober 20, 2010 at 7:18 PM

    I have a 15 y/0 Quarter Cutting horse who is cold backed, it is a muscular problem in there backs from when they were broke so young and hard, i use a this foam pad and felt under his saddle and he gets free-schooled, )or lunged with a whip not rope) for about 10 min until his back loosens up, you can see it happening as he canters around the ring, hen i will tighten his girth and he is all set to go... Works for me and what i have always been told.!

  19. Those who say they "trained" their horse out of being cold backed didn't really have a cold backed horse to begin with. until you have one, you don't really understand...

  20. I've had 2 cold backed horses. (i've had/trained hundreds since 1973). Saddle up, walk around, mount,hump bucks 2-3 times. Makes her happy. Rest of day they worked great. Some bloodlines are more prone to be cold backed, but after their buck - are great cow/working partners. Good saddle fit, no back pain, no ulcers,....they just have to do their thing. If one bucks hard, doesn't like saddled. Then check for pain issues! (both horses I had were "Pacific Bailey" & "Poco Bueno" bred.