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Do you ever look at your horse and think 'bloody hell, I do not want to get on that'. I'll admit I do. It's not to say I'm particularly nervous, I just know what battle awaits me and that it's going to take alot of mental and physical strength to win. For what reason, I hear you ask? He's cold backed.
Some of you who follow my blog may remember way back in July 2017 I wrote a little blog all about quirky horses (if you haven't read this you can find it HERE). This was all about Crunchie, our Warmblood, who one minute is a Dressage Superstar and the next he's ... well a lot of words I won't grace you with. Finally I actually believe it's all starting to click with Crunchie. Why? Because we've bonded. Or in other words, he's now pampered to within an inch of his life before I even attempt to tack up!
You see, Crunchie has always been quite cold backed. What do I mean by this? Some horses display signs of being uncomfortable over the back, until they have warmed up and the muscles have loosened. As Crunchie is short coupled (meaning he finds collected work very easy), I've always found him to be cold backed, he would often object to the saddle being put on, hated the girth being tightened, often would walk in a stiff manner and would object to me applying any pressure with my legs. Each horse is different and can display signs of this in lots of different ways. After having a full MOT by the physio, saddle fitter etc. No issues where found. So, I set to with dealing with the issue at hand. Here's some of my top tips to help you with your cold-backed horse. I hope you find it helps you as much as it has me (and Crunchie):
Tip no. 1. Grooming, not only does this help you and your horse bond it also helps to warm up his back muscles. A good brush before you tack up improves circulation and there begins the process of loosening those tight back muscles. You have to remember he's been stood in the stable all day, it's cold. I know I'm tense when I'm cold. So are they.
Tip no. 2. Invest in a massage pad. I know, they are expensive, but in all honesty I couldn't live without mine now. I 100% recommend them to everybody. The Equilibrium massage pad means I can tack Crunchie up without an issue and don't get that horrible 'humping' of his back when I apply leg pressure. I usually brush him first, then pop the massager on with a rug over the top to stop him getting chilled. He can happily much on his hay-net whilst receiving a pamper. The pad has three settings of 'intensity', I just use the first one prior to tacking up, it lasts approximately 20 mins. So by the time I've ridden Erik, the session has finished and Crunchie is ready to roll with a lovely warm back!
Tip no. 3. A hot water bottle is ideal. Why? It warms up his bum! Once the massager has finished I starting tacking up, I usually pop an exercise sheet on to begin with (a thick one!), then I place a warm (note warm- not hot!) water bottle on his rump. It's also handy to use it to warm up your numnah before you place that on his back. You've just spent ages warming it up, a cold numnah will cool it back down again. I always make sure my water bottle has a nice fleecy cover on it too. You don't want to give them third degree burns (trust me it hurts!).
Tip no. 4. A girth sleeve. I have a leather dressage girth which can be really cold, especially in Winter. I use a Mattes sheep skin girth cover now, I've noticed a big difference when tightening the girth, he lets me do it!
Tip no. 5. Exercise sheets, they're not just for hacking out! I use a nice thick one for the initial part of our warm up. Every little helps! I take it off before we do anything strenuous, you don't want him overheating.
Tip no. 6. Walking in-hand. I always find Crunchie prefers a small walk before I get on. It doesn't have to be long but it allows him to get used to the tack and stretch his legs before I clamber on board.
Tip no. 7. A good warm up. I covered this recently in a blog but it's so important to warm up correctly. (Read 'How to warm up your horse' blog HERE). I always find a good 10 minutes of walk helps before I ask for any trot.
Tip no.8. Cool down. I always take time to cool him down properly, a good 10 minute stretchy walk helps to rid the body of any lactic acid build up. I also put a magnetic rug on him after we have finished to help him cool down slowly.
I know what you're thinking! 'OMG... this takes forever!' Honestly, it doesn't, once you get into a routine it doesn't take long at all, besides I have found a much more pleasant Crunchie since I started doing all this so it's 100% worth it. I know alot of people may not be able to go to these extents for one reason or another, but if you can make any small improvements you might find you make a massive difference. Trust me, I can't believe how much easier it is for both me and Crunchie!
*Please make sure before trying any of these tips, that you have your horse checked by a vet or physio first to rule out any serious problems.