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Horse Backs Up When Mounting – The Solution is Easier Than You Think

Horses are amazing animals. So, it’s no wonder you took up horse riding. But recently, you’re finding that your horse backs up when mounting. Often.

You’re not sure why or what to do. In this post, I’ll explain one of the main reasons your horse backs up when mounting – and the super simple solution.

What’s a Cold-Backed Horse?

While some horses back up when you try to mount them, others sink down when being mounted or tighten and

hump their backs during the first few minutes of riding.

Still, others will buck early in the ride then settle down after warming up. This is called being cold-backed.

Cause of Cold Backed Horses

General, the cold backed horse is extremely sensitive in its back. The soreness is usually under the saddle area.  The horse is usually sore in his back muscles and will flinch when you try to groom him too.

Whether your horse sinks down when you try to mount him or bucks, in either scenario, the main cause of your horse backing away when you try to mount it is because his back is in pain due to a poor-fitting saddle.

Effects of Poor Fitting Saddle

A poor-fitting saddle is painful to your horse and can cause horse behavior and performance problems – from a mild protest when being mounted, to an episode of wild, unmanageable bucking.

A poor-fitting saddle causes horse behavior problems such as:

  • Objection to being saddled
  • Inability to stand still or relax (fidgets when being mounted)
  • Difficulty shoeing
  • Excessive bucking or rolling

And a poor-fitting saddle causes horse performance problems like:

  • Cold-backed while mounting
  • Bucking
  • Reluctance to stride out
  • Lameness
  • Faltering when making a transition

How to Solve The Problem

The first thing you need to do is check to make sure you have the correct saddle for your horse. What does that mean?

There are different types of saddles. Each saddle is made for a specific riding discipline. So make sure you’re not using a roping saddle when you should be using a trail/pleasure saddle.

Check for Broken Tree

Next, make sure your saddle tree isn’t broken.  A broken saddle tree could mean nails or staplesare digging into your horse’s back.  Likewise, if your saddle tree is wooden, make sure the wood isn’t splinted.

Don’t know how to check to see if your saddle is broken and causing pain to your horse? Keep reading.

How to Check If Tree is Broken

It’s important to check your saddle on and off your horse.  Here’s how to check your saddle off the horse.

First, put the front part of the saddle against your thigh for support. Then press one hand on the seat.  Next, with your other hand, grasp the cantle, and pull it towards you.

A tree that’s intact won’t give in to pressure.

If it does, it means it’s broken. Also, listen for clicking sounds. Clicking sounds are indicative of a broken tree.

The next step is to do the reverse.  Turn the saddle around so that the cantle is resting on your thigh. Then grasp the front edges just under the pommel or horn, and pull outward and upward.

If there’s movement or noise, it means your tree is compromised.

Evaluate Saddle Fit

Now that you’ve determined your tree isn’t broken, it’s time to determine if your saddle is the right fit. While you may have the right type of saddle, the fit could be wrong.
Below is a short 2-minute video to show you step by step on how to make sure your saddle fits your horse.  I thought I’d write them out as well for you.

Here are the 3 things you should check for:

  • Correct bar length
  • Enough wither clearance
  • Correct skirt length
  • Enough flare

To give you a good visual, here’s that two-minute video showing you exactly how to determine saddle fit. (It’s easier than trying to explain.)

To give you a good visual, here’s that two-minute video showing you exactly how to determine saddle fit. (It’s easier than trying to explain.)

To give you a good visual, here’s that two-minute video showing you exactly how to determine saddle fit. (It’s easier than trying to explain.)

In case you’re wondering who made this awesome video, it’s made by The Horse Saddle Shop.  They have the biggest brand selection of new and used horse saddles.  They’re also an excellent resource on saddle fitting.

I highly recommend you check them out.

I hope I’ve been able to shed some light on why your horse backs up when you try to mount it.   And now that you know why your horse backs up when mounting, go take that saddle off his back and examine it.

If this post was helpful, please leave your comments or questions below.

30 Comments

  • Kenny says:

    Hi and thanks for this. I have a friend who loves horse riding, I will share this with him. Very informative post. Kenny

    • Shalisha Alston says:

      Thank you Kenny.

  • Kenny says:

    Hello, I have had a look around your site. You clearly love horse riding and your knowledge shows through here, I will share with other horse lovers out I know, thanks.

    • Shalisha Alston says:

      Thank you Kenny!

  • piseth says:

    Hello

    It’s so nice to see your article about horse. Your site is simple and easy to read .

    Cheer

  • andrew says:

    This is an awesome article! Most people would probably write off a horse bucking due to it wanting to be free- this is great information for those experiencing that issue. None of us (humans) would want to wear clothing that grinds on your armpit or neck- the same applies to a horse. The video you linked is extremely valuable as it is short, sweet, and to the point. Great post again!

    • Shalisha Alston says:

      Hi Andrew. Thanks for your comment. Yes. I don’t understand why people don’t see horses as sensitive animals. It’s amazing. You’re right. No one would walk around with shoes that were too tight.

  • Amy says:

    This is so helpful and such an important post. I have seen horses back up when the rider tries to mount and had no idea that it could indicate a problem with the saddle. Is it always due to back pain or is there any other reason that a horse may do this?

    • Shalisha Alston says:

      Hi Amy. Yes. There could be other reasons. But just think – if you were backing away from someone – it would be because you have an aversion to them, right? Horses are no different. The horse doesn’t want to be mounted. So it makes sense that it doesn’t want someone sitting on its back because it has back pain. And back pain is usually caused by poor-fitting saddle.

  • Matts Mom says:

    Wow, great information! I love horses, they are beautiful, amazing animals. How painful for them to have a saddle on them that does not fit right, and then the weight of a person on top of that. Seems there are so many considerations, and this information is wonderful. I have been bucked before, but it was because one horse was getting jealous of another horse. I just rode it out and everything was fine, but it was briefly scary LOL.

    • Shalisha Alston says:

      Hi Matts Mom. Thanks for your comment. Yes, you’d be amazed at how much pain the horse is in and the rider is clueless. Glad you didn’t get hurt by your bucking horse.

  • Brianne says:

    I would have never thought about this before!

    I’m so glad you posted this, another very informative article, the video was very helpful as well.

    • Shalisha Alston says:

      Hi Brianne. Thanks for your comment. I’m glad you enjoyed it.

  • Ravi Ramcharan says:

    Hey Salisha!

    Very informative article. This reminds me of a tight fitting shoe for us people.

    A saddle that is broken or doesn’t fit properly can really cause the horse pain.

    Great tips on how to find out what exactly is causing the horse it’s pain.
    This can also be dangerous..if the horse bolts because of discomfort then it can damage the rider.

    A year ago I was in India. I rode a camel in Agra (Taj Mahal) and it bolted!. This was in the middle of a busy street with buses and trucks speeding around me!

    So I appreciate a horse not bolting on its rider!

    Great article as usual and easy to follow!

    Ravi

    • Shalisha Alston says:

      Hi Ravi. I’m so glad your camel didn’t hurt you or pedestrians. Yes, please don’t understand that a poor-fitting saddle can cause a horse to buck and kill the rider (or anyone standing in range of its hind legs). Thanks for commenting.

  • Eric Cantu says:

    I really enjoyed this article. You can really feel the love and care in each sentence. It’s awesome to see that people are willing to share this info and take care of these awesome animals. Well written!

    • Shalisha Alston says:

      Hi Eric. Thank you for commenting. Yes, I care about horses (and animals in general). And it’s important to me that people understand the importance of saddle fitting.

  • Wow this is a science! I like the way this is done to make the horse as comfortable as possible. That’s good. A lot of the behavior of the horse is related to something overlooked. There is a tendency to think that the horse is big and strong and can take anything. But clearly this is not true. I love riding horses and its much better when they are happy and their comfort level has been considered. Is it more uncomfortable for a horse to have a saddled rider or bareback rider?

    • Shalisha Alston says:

      Hi Dwyan. Thanks for visiting my site and commenting. Yes, I agree. People think because the horse is big, it’s immuned to pain. I’m not sure if it’s more comfortable for rider or horse to ride saddleless. But I do know that when horseback riding started 1,000s of years ago, there were no horse saddles.

  • Hello Salisha – I enjoyed your article. A little over 3 weeks ago I went horseback riding for my birthday. I’m happy to say the horse I rode did not “back-up” while mounting or riding. However, I did find your tips very helpful. In the future, I will remember your tips to ensure the saddle is not causing any back pain to the horse I ride – thank you.

    • Shalisha Alston says:

      Hi Teasha! Thanks so much for commenting. I am so glad my site is helping you to be mindful that horses can’t speak and that they depend on us to be their voice and caretaker.

  • Shalisha,
    While the most likely cause for a horse backing up is probably the pain in the back or poor saddle fit. I wonder if it is also something in the horses personality. Maybe they had a bad experience when young and now does it out of reflex. Do you know if this has been documented as a cause? They are certainly very smart animals and capable of such behavior.

    • Shalisha Alston says:

      Hi Maryann. I don’t know about that. It could be. But according to one of my sources, who is a Horse Veterinarian, the problem is most often because of a poor-fitting saddle.

  • Hi Shalisha,

    Such a wonderful post. I love horses and you can tell this post is written by someone who absolutely adores them!

    I don’t ride often but yes I often wondered why they back up when mounting and your post answers that question for me. Thank you. Keep up the great work. love your site.

    Kev

    • Shalisha Alston says:

      Hi Kevin. Thanks for your comment. Yes. A horse backing up means it doesn’t want you sitting on its back. LOL. I think it’s so obvious. But so many people don’t get it.

  • Andrew says:

    It’s really important not to take good the equipment for granted. It could end up hurting the horse badly, and they’re such beautiful creatures. Also, there is the possibility that both you and the horse end up being hurt. I think what you’ve written about here is very important, even if you’ve never had the opportunity to mount.

    • Shalisha Alston says:

      Hi Andrew. Thanks for your comment. I agree. It’s important not to neglect your saddle. You need to check it from time to time to make sure it’s in good condition.

  • Benji says:

    Thanks for this great article! I have seen this action before but had no idea of the cause, so thanks for explaining in a clear and concise way for everyone! Your site looks like it is coming along nicely, wishing you success for the future!
    Benji

    • Shalisha Alston says:

      Hi Benji. Thanks for your comment. Yes. Poor-fitting saddles are the cause for at least 90% horse behavior problems.

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