Cold Backed Horses

By Steve Stevens

This time of the year when the mornings are getting colder, horses are fresher and if they have a tendency for bucking, it will happen more often with the cooler weather.

We have a horse in training with us named Gus, a line-back dun gelding, who came to us originally for bucking off the owner about eight months ago.

Initially, just saddling him up and turning him loose in the round pen or lunging him on line, he would jump around a bit. I wouldn’t call him a bucker, just cold backed. After about five minutes of working him, he would quit. If you just got on him you could start bending him in circles or hustling his hindquarters around till he relaxed, which would take about five to ten minutes. He is the type of horse that with an inexperienced rider he could take advantage.

It is important to stay patient and redirect your horse's mind when they are fresh and worked up.
It is important to stay patient and redirect your horse’s mind when they are fresh and worked up.

This type of horse needs consistent work, meaning going through a process of exercises for however many days it takes. With Gus, it only takes a few days for him to become a pretty nice horse that you can do about anything on. By the end of the 30 days of training you could throw a saddle on him with no warm up and just lope off and he was great.

Just last month Gus came back to us. He was back to his old routine. The owner had knee surgery which gave Gus some time off. Now with the owner just coming back from the surgery, Gus had been able to get away with his old bad habits. He had started bucking again and had been difficult for the owner.  So, same as before, the first couple of days he had a little hump in his back and after that he went back to normal.

I think it is so important to have a process, to have exercises to get your horse’s mind off bucking before you get on: basic lunging, some desensitizing and most importantly, being able to see a horse move at all three gaits. Walk, trot, canter with the saddle on. You should be able to watch a horse move at all three gaits and say, “That looks like the kind of horse I would like to ride.” If a horse has a continuous bucking problem, it is important to have a vet look at him and make sure that he is not getting sore anywhere, and to make sure that you have correct saddle fit.

But sometimes, it is just the horse’s nature to be fresh and be a little cold backed. All the training in the world can’t fix that. But the preparation can make it so that it is not a big deal. It just takes a little more time and a little more consistency. That is always better than having hospital bills for you and your horse.

I believe the secret to this is not getting the horse tired, but GETTING HIS MIND. There is a big difference between the two.

Steve moving the hindquarters to get Smitty's focus
Steve moving the hindquarters to get Smitty’s focus

Getting them tired, we just chase them around until they are out of breath. Maybe they get it out of their system, maybe they don’t. But after a while they get in better shape and you have to start chasing them longer and longer. You also then have to start riding and training on a tired horse which makes it harder for them to learn. Before long, it takes you an hour to get the fresh off of them and they have no interest in being with you at all.

The second option is getting their mind. We do that by changing directions and other exercises to give them something to focus on. Responding to them when they relax and releasing the pressure will teach them to look to you for leadership. Before long, it will take less and less time to get their mind.

With a horse like Gus, it is so important to build a foundation with basic building blocks: exercises so that we can direct his feet on the ground and when we are on his back.

We have to set our horses up for success. If we get on a fresh horse that hasn’t been worked for months and the horse starts bucking with us, we have set him and ourselves up for failure.

I will also say this—and I get this a lot after someone gets bucked off of their horse. They say they get back on because someone told them to or they heard that you can’t let the horse get away with that. That is fine with a professional horseman or horsewoman or a sure enough hand that can ride a horse through some bad stuff.

But, here is the reality. If a horse throws you off and you get right back on, there is probably a good chance they are going to do it again. I hear story after story where people do this and they get severely hurt. To me this is an ego thing. If someone else is telling you to get back on, ask that person if they want to show you and watch how quickly their expression changes. If you still get on and you get bucked off, it is your ego that will get you hurt, not your horse.

I sometimes want owners to look at it from the horse’s perspective. If horses buck us off and we get hurt, our husbands or wives could want us to get rid of the horse and then the horse goes to the sale and lives a life of continuous foster homes.

If we take our ego out of it and learn good horsemanship to get the horse’s mind, we probably could avoid a lot of wrecks.

Remember, horses don’t wear watches. So be sure to take all of the time that it takes to be safe so that you can help set up your horse for success.