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

Some horses are affected by Cold Back Syndrome

A horse or pony with a cold back may react in one or more ways.

Some horses that suffer from a cold back fall over when their girth is tightened, others simply collapse or crumble and cave in until they are crouching with their belly near to the ground.

A few horses with cold backs will then panic and leap explosively into the air and buck and throw themselves about.

Other symptoms of a cold back are dipping the back or raising the back as a reaction to saddle pressure.

A horse with a mild case of cold back may just be a bit difficult when first mounted, short in their strides and/or reluctant to go forwards for the first 5 minutes or so when they are worked. Once warmed up these horses are happy to work properly.


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 and how to treat