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What Does ‘Cold Backed’ Really Mean?


Too many times I see the term ‘cold backed’ applied as a training issue. I see too many trainers trying to ‘train’ a ‘cold backed horse’. They claim he is not properly desensitized, or he is trying to avoid under saddle work. When really ‘cold backed’ is simply a term we came up with to say that the horse is in pain, we think it is his back.


It is important to first understand the horse. A horse lives in a world of action-reaction. A horse lives in the present, with the exception of fear. The horse is in pain, he reacts. The horse is afraid of feeling the pain that he often feels in a given situation, he reacts.


Fear is there for survival. Once a horse is afraid of something he will remain that way until otherwise proven wrong, he is trying to survive. He will go back to that fear time and time again, to protect himself.


It is important to know that most behavioral problems are actually caused by physical problems and/or fear. When applied to ‘cold backed’ horses, we can easily understand that it is not a training issue.


This is how the horse understands ‘cold backed’:


My back is brushed= I feel pain

Saddle comes near me= I anticipate pain

Saddle in on my back= I feel pain

Girth is tightened= I feel pain

Rider has foot in the stirrup to mount up= I feel pain

Rider is on my back= I feel pain


He may spook away from the saddle or harness. He may rear up or bite at the equipment or handler. He may pace and become unsettled. He may buck under saddle etc.


How do we address a ‘cold backed’ horse? Do we ‘train’ him to no longer communicate his discomfort or his fears? Do we try to ‘teach’ him that his behaviors are not acceptable to us? Do we force the issue until he enters a mental state where he is no longer ‘present’? No!


The first step to a solution is to determine the cause of the behavior. Is it pain and/or fear of pain? Then, we find the cause of that pain. Once the cause of the pain is resolved, and the horse no longer feels pain, most often the issue is resolved. Some horses that have been in pain for too long will require their confidence to be regained, at this point a trainer could help you with confidence building exercises


What to look for:


Saddles or harnesses that don’t fit

Muscular pain

Skeletal pain


If you suspect that your horse is ‘cold backed’  and would like an evaluation and/or treatment I can be contacted via my website, facebook page, or telephone 450-898-3346.



Melissa Filler


Certified Advanced Laser Therapist (Equine, canine, feline, human)


Certified Laser Technician (Equine,canine,feline,human)


Equine Nutrition Specialist, University of Edinburgh


Specialist in advanced equine nutrition, University of Edinburgh


Equine behaviour specialist, certified by Sebastian McBride


Animal Behavior and Welfare specialist, University of Edinburgh


Equine healthcare specialist, certified by Nicola Kerbyson


Cerified in equine first aid, certified by Sylvie Moser


Certified in equine care and management, University of Florida





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