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"Cold Backed" Horse Humps Back in Canter

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    "Cold Backed" Horse Humps Back in Canter

    8 year old TB Mare, ex racer (7 races), evented through training level last summer, ready to move up. Exhibits cold backed behavior every winter but, for the most part, only in the canter. Fine in the fall, spring and summer. Saddle, teeth, back check (minus x-rays), good riders (professional and pretty good amateurs)...

    Mare does get cold so I use a quarter sheet for warmup and in all weather under 40 degrees and heating pad during warmup on days cooler than 30. Extensive warm up includes lots of walking, trotting and bending before canter. When asked to canter she pins ears, rolls her head down into her chest and humps her back. If you can get her to canter off like a true hunter she is MUCH better but it's impossible most of the time to keep her head out from her chest.

    On bad days she humps her back on canter depart and won't level out until you go back to trot. Tends to be more humpy to the right.

    Never gets humpy in the trot or walk as long as you warm up her back. Most of the time works out of it if you stay off her back and is happy and forward. Sometimes it feels like she hops/switches a little behind, a little crow hoppy but not mean, sometimes she kicks out. Sometimes she just humps her back up behind the saddle so it feels like you are riding down a hill.

    I have independent hands and ride evenly. She has a sensitive mouth but her rolling her head to her chest has nothing to do with me grabbing her mouth or being "handsy" - she does it even if you ride with no contact. She is the type of horse you use very little contact with anyway, she goes almost completely off your leg.

    Trots like a rock star - foward, floaty, loose, bends, no slipping stifles, no short stridedness. Once she lets go through her back her canter is fabulous. No additional symptoms of hock/stifle/SI/back issues (such as toe dragging, swelling or stiffness) just the humped back and hopping behind. Vet has known her for a long time. Says she looks great, back is great, etc. Doesn't want to x-ray - thinks it's just the way she is - that she gets cold and tense.

    Currently treating for possible ulcers - day 17. Not scoped but cribs, picky eater and a worrier so figured maybe that was part of the problem. No change so far on ulcer meds.

    Any ideas?

    My first step would be to shoot some x-rays of the back and neck. If those are clean, I'd probably inject and rehab the SI and see where that got me.


      How about longeing before riding? I have a slightly cold back horse I always have to longe before. And 2 others that I have to longe before in the winter. Not because they would dump me, but because they are really better off if they can warm themselves up without me on them.
      "Friend" me !


        Original Poster

        She is a horrible lunger - she falls in on the right and it ends up being rather unproductive with her trotting around doing her best not to use herself. Also, because she exhibits the same humping behavior on the lunge line I'd really like to get to the bottom of the issue

        Do your horses exhibit the same humped back canter stuff?


          I've had 4 personal horses over the years that were "cold backed". One had a legitimate back issue--probably kissing spine looking back on it with what I know now. Of the other 3, 1 was almost exactly like you describe your mare. Believe it or not, when we got to the root of the problem, she was actually GIRTHY! I put a belly band blanket on her and it improved immensely. I then started keeping her girth area clipped with a surgical blade (she was usually trace clipped in the winter anyway) on a regular basis, and switched to a synthetic girth, and it all went away. The other 2, looking back on them, again with the knowledge I have now, I wonder if they weren't girthy more than cold backed. Might not be it for your mare, but then again it might be worth trying.



            Mare=extra hormonal stuff to consider
            chaque pas est fait ensemble


              Original Poster


              I like your idea. So interesting. There is a train of thought going about my girl that it is all stressy TB mare tension that gets worse in the cold. Hope it's as easy a girth issue

              Were they cranky about being tacked up? She is not cranky at all about being girthed up but is grouchy about having the saddle pad rearranged before I girth up. Is your thought that it is the nerves under her girth area being triggered by the movement of the hair pulling and that is why you shave?

              Vet said to try a Tad Coffin girth but it's almost $400 which is way out of the budget. I school in a fleece one. Would you suspect girthy even though it seems seasonal?

              Thanks for your info.


                Does she do it if you're in half seat? I had one gelding that didn't like you to start off sitting in the canter. If you could do half seat to begin with and then progress to sitting he was much happier.


                  Original Poster

                  Was just reading through a website on girthy horses - and found a good description of her:

                  "Commonly “humping up”, pigrooting or bucking at the start of a ride and especially during the transition from trot to canter on the most affected side, then settling as though nothing had ever been wrong."

                  She settles into the canter after a bit but the transitions up are always met with same behavior - even multiple transitions during a ride.


                    Original Poster

                    Duramax - Thanks! Yes, good idea. She will still do it in half seat but will settle faster and sometimes she will do it less if I half seat - I often half seat through the canter transition and it does seem to help. Did your horse have an underlying issue or just a preference thing? Her issue seems deeper than just the half seat but the position definitely helps!


                      My gelding likes to canter before trot, so there's one idea. And I will canter and canter and canter (in a light seat) until he tells me he's ready to proceed with life. He isn't as back humpy, but you can tell being silly is in the back of his brain. Just cantering makes a big difference. I also keep him VERY bundled up, and will often use two quarter sheets. And, once we start working, I don't stop until we're done. I rather work for 30 intense minutes with him and put him away, then work for 20, stop, have think he's cold, spend 10 minutes dealing with drama, then another 15 of work that may or may not be productive.

                      I had a crazy gelding a few years ago who would straight up launch me early in his canter work. I lunged him for about 5-10 minutes, usually until he let one or two big earth shattering bucks loose, then climb on. USUALLY, life could proceed as normal with that strategy. There was nothing productive about the lungeing. I did not use draw reins. I just hooked him to a lunge line, let him pick up a trot, however he cared, pick up a canter, buck, buck, fart, canter. Reverse. Repeat. He would have been classified as "cold backed" (he was a very strange, crazy horse). He could be hock sore, and the behavior got better with injections (didn't go away).

                      I have always been taught that horses that are naughty or have issues with the canter are often sore in the SI region. That may be a good place to start.


                        Wow, you have just described the last 8 weeks on my young mare!! Or close to it. She is always been tense in the back when it's cold. She's good in the warm months and never a problem in the trot. I also use quarter sheets, and a back on track saddle pad in the winter. In the winter, I almost always lunge her before getting on (with side reins--and she is good on the lunge). The one difference is that my mare is FINE on the lunge--W/T/C with no humpiness. And she is good under saddle at the walk and trot. But when I ask for the canter, sometimes (not every ride) she gets humpy, kicks out, hollows her back and acts like it is agonizing to canter. Sometimes I can get her to work through it--other rides, not so much.

                        In mid-December a sporthorse vet evaluated her and thought it was ulcers (also did a chiro adjustment). So she has been on treatment for ulcers for a month now. No real change. My massage person (works on her monthly) says her back looks terrific, her topline is looking great and she hasn't found any significant back soreness.

                        So, my vet suggested a repro exam. She DID find that her right ovary was enlarged and it was "cycling like it was April" (um, but it was early January!) The left ovary was normal. So, the vet also established that she cycles year round. So right now we are trying her on Regu-mate to see if that will help. I am crossing my fingers that this helps her out. Our last idea is a right dorsal colon ulcer. I guess those are not helped by omeprazole, so all the expensive ulcer meds I'm using might not be doing squat if that's what is going on with her.

                        Good luck--I am interested to hear if other posters have some ideas for us!


                          My mare does something similar but only when I ask for a medium canter. It's usually a sign I need to have the chiropractor come and adjust her.


                            Is her behavior on the longe line the same with or without a saddle?


                              I have a mare that can be similar. She would move like a camel if she was asked to do more than a medium trot. I found that supplementing E, Se and magnesium more than I was already doing I winter helped her muscle tightness. I thought she was getting enough of everything, but then I added e supplement and she was much better.


                                IterandEra, that article just described my horse to a "T"!!! I'm wondering if a chiro is in order, and a cushier girth. He does give a slight grumpy face when I'm girthing, and likes to stand crooked with one side bulged out. Wow that really opened my eyes. Then the bucking into the canter--wow. So I'm going to get in with the chiro!!


                                  For those of you suggesting chiro--it didn't help at all with my mare (see my post above). She also has a girth with fleece lining with elastic on both sides. I also have changed her feed to a low carb/high fat type. We ran a blood panel on her and didn't find anything remarkable. Also have her on magnesium and natural E and Se. I also have a massage person work on her 1X per month. Saddle fitter has worked on her saddles every 6 months. Arghhh--I have bought every frikkin' tack, supplement and paid vets and other professionals and I am still getting cranky-pants canter sessions.

                                  REALLY hoping that the ovary issue was the problem and the regumate helps!


                                    Original Poster

                                    Originally posted by alicen View Post
                                    Is her behavior on the longe line the same with or without a saddle?
                                    It was without the saddle and I have to say I only longed her once so her behavior could have been anticipatory. We don't really have the space for consistent longing in the winter so I have to make special time to do it more. Our indoor is being redone right now and the ground outside is frozen. Will do more longe work when the arena is done. I was concerned about longing incase the issue was a joint thing - didn't want to exacerbate it with the small circles but I understand its importance - especially now that I'm leaning away from it being a joint problem [she hops and bucks and crow hops when she spooks and uses her joints perfectly ]
                                    Happy to hear everyone's advice and experience!


                                      Original Poster

                                      sip2 - How do I go about having her ovaries checked? Is it expensive/invasive? Will obviously do what is right for her but just want to be prepared! I do have another vet who is also a chiro coming out next week to evaluate her and will continue onto mare specific issues if he says she is well aligned and looking good. WBLover- my vet who has dealt with lots of "girthy" horses recommends the Tad Coffin girth - if you can afford it (it's $350) he says it is really good - pressure distribution and all that. I haven't bought it because I'm saving the money to test other things first It's out of my price range unless it's a must have/save all for her. Am looking into cheaper options to try and haven't really come across anything substantial yet...


                                        IterandEra: My vet did a basic repro exam which wasn't very complicated or invasive. She did it in her stall and gave her a sedative. Then she did a manual exam of her ovaries followed by using an ultrasound (again, just hand held) so we could get a visual on what was going on. It seemed like the biggest risk factor was for the vet (she said some mares can still kick when sedated heavily). We also drew blood to test for the possibility of a tumor. I believe the regumate was more expensive than the entire exam (plus farm call).