If there is one thing that can set the tone for your ride & be uncomfortable for both you & your horse, its “girthiness”. A lot of riders just accept as something they can’t do anything about. You most certainly can & your horse is asking you to!
Sometimes it is very obvious to a rider that the horse is not happy about the girth. The horse kicks out, tries to bite, tosses her head, pins her ears or paws emphatically. Other times the horse “speaks out” in less obvious ways, he may just be anxious the whole time he is tied because he is anticipating the upcoming saddling & related discomfort. Maybe he seems grouchy, wrinkles his nose up or looks like he is yawning, which can actually be a sign to us that the horse is stressed or conflicted. Whatever it might be it is time to stop the “just live with it” or “that’s just her” mentality that riders, amateur & pro, often fall into. Our horses are saying they are experiencing pain & as a responsible rider you need to listen!
So why do some horses have this problem & others don’t? I can’t list every possible cause for a horse to become resentful about girthing but here is the most common I find.
“OUCH YOUR HURTING ME”!
Riders over-tightening girths is so common I have found it is more the norm than not. If you went through 4-H or Pony Club you might have learned lessons about how many fingers you should be able to squeeze in between the horse’s side & the girth. That is a good start. You should with a little muscle be able to pull the girth out to the side enough to fit a couple fingers easily in that gap. Do not stop there though. You must then check underneath the horse where the sternum is. The horse’s total circumference at the girth is not an even circle nor is it equally padded (:-) in case your thinking your horse is “rolly-polly round”).
Therefore when you tighten the girth it can often feel loose on the sides but when you feel underneath it is excruciatingly tight.
There are A LOT of people that do not follow that rule & go for as tight as they can get it. Not only does that make a horse “girthy” but it actually breaks ribs. YES, that’s right. I have known horses to be examined by a vet & diagnosed with a broken rib from too tight a girth. It doesn’t happen when you tighten the girth but when you go out & start working, the horse starts to expand his lungs & ribcage pushing harder & harder against that single tightened band and “POP”, breaks a rib!
What can be causing girthiness:
Incorrect saddle fit.
The saddle, the latigo straps or the girth itself is pinching or causing a pressure point somewhere.
Too tight of a girth.
Tightening girth very quickly. (Do not confuse this with too tight of a girth rather a horse that is not completely accustomed to a girth & they feel panicked due to the new sensation coming so quickly.).
How to tighten the girth correctly:
Upon proper saddle fit, with the horse relaxed, slowly tighten your girth. Doing this in a few increments is also helpful to a horse that has been hurt in the past. Walking a few steps in between the increments can be helpful & last remember the girth does need to be tight enough, that when you walk off if something were to spook the horse & he bolted or bucked the saddle would not slide underneath him. At last do not automatically tighten your girth before getting on. Automatically check it. Then determine whether it needs adjusted.
The question left is can you reshape the behavior of a horse that has become oversensitive due to injured or discomfort before you began to work appropriately with the horse. Absolutely. However it takes patience, time, positive reinforcement & knowing how to cue your horse for relaxing. These skills should be in your “tool bag” anyhow so use them all the time. They will be YOUR NEW BEST FRIENDS! 🙂
Look for the next blog or vlog on how to help retrain you horse if she still needs more help.
Lauren Michele McGarry