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Doris Eraldi The Cold-backed Horse

By horse trainer Doris Eraldi

Cinchy, cold-backed horses pull back, buck or hump their backs when first saddled. Some will react when they even think the girth is tightening. These horses are often fine to ride once the initial reaction to the cinch is past, but it is still a dangerous situation. Some precautions and changes in saddling technique can lessen cinchy-ness or prevent it from becoming a habit.

The first thing to check is saddle fit and physical condition of the back and rib cage. 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. 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.

Cinchy horses often benefit from a slow, patient girthing. If the horse acts like he wants to pull back, untie him to avoid a worse wreck. Tighten the girth in short pulls and pause while the horse relaxes in between. It's a good habit to tighten the cinch just enough that the saddle stays in place, then wait or lead the horse a few steps. I use this time to get my bridle from the tack room or put on my spurs. Horses often hold their breath when they feel the girth tighten and this gives them a moment to relax. Then tighten the girth a bit more - it's probably still too loose to safely mount - and lead the horse a-ways before the final cinching.

Standing for 15 minutes with the saddle on or being longed or turned loose to get the bucks out before the rider mounts is recommended for horses who are still tense and holding their breath. Ride with the girth snug, but not tight. On most horses with properly fitted tack and a balanced rider, the girth can be quite loose. Horses with very round backs, small shoulders or who are very fat will be more of a problem. Try changing saddle pads or adding a breast collar rather than cutting the horse in two with the girth.

The goal here is to show the horse that being girthed up is not that unpleasant - the old advice of kicking the horse in the belly or cinching up even tighter is not going to solve a cold-backed problem and is likely to make it worse. As the horse learns to relax when being saddled, the length of time one has to wait decreases. Taking your time, allowing the horse to gradually accept the cinch and moving the horse around can help young horses avoid becoming cinchy, and can aid older, already cold-backed horses to relax and go to work without bucking. In the long run, time taken now will get you on the trail sooner and safer.

Doris Eraldi of Eraldi Training in Potter Valley can be contacted at 707 743 1337, or e-mail

Read Doris' previous article

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