The cold-backed mare

Shady has always been “cold backed.” That’s what horse people say when the horse has a sore back, flinches at pressure, grumbles at being saddled or girthed, or exhibits any sign of unhappiness at weight or pressure on the back.

Shady, spring 2009

Shady, spring 2009

This gets in the way of riding. Unfortunately, that’s how I saw it before I understood it. But I have finally seen that a prejudice about horses and what they could do for me got in the way of an appropriate response to my horse’s pain, or what I could do for her.

I was raised to presume any resistance on the horse’s part was unacceptable behavior. It never occurred to me that anything other than lameness or signs of colic was cause for a change in my behavior, not the horse’s behavior. I regret this but I have changed.

I learned a new word: diskospondylosis, also known as “kissing spines.”

Now, a properly fitted saddle, steroid injections, correct shoeing, massage, layoffs and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory tablets are part of Shady’s routine care, and part of my own behavior modification.

Of course, it’s harder in winter. But every now and then we have a near perfect ride, like yesterday. At 18 (her age) and 52 (mine), this involves much creaking and grimacing, but we still click. We have a long walking warm up and then I have to stay off her back as much as possible, giving her muscles freedom to support the spinal impingement. I post lightly in my seat for the trot, get up in my 2-point for the canter, and then she relaxes. My wonderful, beloved, dependable dead-broke mare replaces the resistance.

It’s hard on my knees and not exactly the kind of riding I wanted to be doing right now — I was doing training level dressage — but that’s life.

Once again my horse has taught me about my shortcomings, my capacity to change, and the need for sensitivity and compassion. Proving again that I need her more than she needs me.

Shady and me in 2003.

Shady and me in 2003.

3 thoughts on “The cold-backed mare

  1. swaytothis Post author

    UPDATE: I have not had to inject her Shady for back pain or hock pain since May 2009! In April she was sore along her spine (but excellent in her hocks) but I held off on injecting. Instead I started her on the “CJ” version of Platinum Performance equine supplement for joint health. My vet also prescribed a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory called Previcox. Shady gets a dose each time I ride and Platinum Performance CJ with every feeding.

    The other piece of the puzzle seems to be the way I am riding and working her. usually I ride 2 days on and one day off. I start every ride with ground work (see the post on “Germain and Jim”). I stopped treating her like brittle glass and began really sitting deep on her. Astride, we start on a long rein with a 5-minute walk, gradually shortening the rein, then good trot work, lengthening and shortening her frame, with lateral work, and a brief canter in both directions. 25-30 minutes and we’re done.

    I am so grateful that she’s out of pain. It’s like a miracle.


  2. swaytothis Post author

    Update 2/7/2010
    Shady is still going very well. Her back is a little reactive in the middle of this cold winter, but the prescription for training and treatment is the same. Our groundwork has improved a lot, increasing our bond and connection. I am becoming more aware of her entire body by being with her as she moves on the ground.
    Visit Dr. Germain Rivard’s website



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