Girth galls on horses – ouch!


Galls are open sores caused by friction around your horse’s elbows.  And they can be wildly painful! 


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  • Typically, you find girth galls where the girth meets the soft and wrinkled skin behind the elbow, although I have seen some between the legs or near the saddle pad.


  • You may also find sores caused by the saddle, referred to as saddle galls, or saddle sores. Either way, it’s critical to catch these guys early so that you can control the treatment.


  • For one of my horses, I know that in summer the combo of sweat and skin can create sores for him. So, I spend lots of time in the prevention phase, which translates into the laundry phase…. (bear with me for a minute…)



The beginnings of a girth gall. The hair is rubbed shorter, and the skin is irritated. No more tack for this dude until the skin clears and the hair grows back.


The beginnings of galls


  • Sores and girth galls usually start as tiny hairless spots. This is the time to act.


  • You must use your eyes and fingers to inspect the girth area and more when grooming, before and after a ride. I have seen galls that are inches away from the girth, they result from wrinkles and sweat and sometimes even dirt, foxtails, or burrs rubbing in the elbow area.


  • As more friction happens, the hairless patches grow and the skin layers slough away. I have seen open and deep sores that actively bleed.



How to stave off a gall formation


  • So what do you do if you find the start of a gall but the skin is closed and hasn’t started sloughing?


  • Evaluate your tack.


  • Make the area friction-free with a friction-blocking stick or goopy ointment, and maybe try a girth cover.


  • If the hairless patch is in the saddle area, grab your local saddle fitter and have a consultation. Pronto! Remember that an ill-fitting saddle won’t be “fixed” by adding pads, this is like adding socks to shoes that don’t fit.



Girths come in many varieties with lots of options for fit!


Evaluate the girth and girth area


  • If the gall is in the girth area, see if you can find another girth option, perhaps a cut-away style is better. You can also use girth covers if you like to prevent sores.



  • A word or two about girth covers. I use a sleek nylon girth cover every day along with a thick coating of ointment on the spot where my horse had a gall years ago. Hence the laundry. I also use wonderful sheepskin girth covers. These are trickier to clean but well worth it.


  • The slick fabric significantly cuts down on friction. I often see fleece or sheepskin covers, which work only to prevent sores. Which is great! I prefer the nylon type because they take less time to dry. More laundry tidbits for you. Once the sore is there, using a texture like sheepskin or fleece with an uneven surface may very well irritate the sore even more.


  • On the other hand, many horses do best with sheepskin or fleece.  Time to experiment.


  • I also use a body glide to slick the girth area before a ride. These are designed to create a smooth surface, runners and hikes use them to prevent blisters and chafing.




Girth covers work wonders – this slick nylon type is more forgiving than fleecy or wooly types, which may irritate an existing sore. And, your girth remains cleaner, but you are doing more laundry!



The big problem with girth galls 


  1. Once the skin starts to slough away and the sore opens, there is a risk for infection, and the pain level can be pretty high.


  • Think about it like this – you have a blister, yet you must put a belt over it, tighten it, and then exercise and sweat.


  • If you have an open sore, consider spending quality time with your horse without tack. Ride bareback, work on ground manners or lungeing, get your butt in shape by hand walking, or even clicker train some fun tricks. Trust me, a small sore will heal quicker than a big one.


Gall goop – in this case, diaper rash cream.


Join forces with your veterinarian to game plan how to heal the sore. You will need to clean it daily (at least) and treat it topically, maybe even internally depending on the depth and size. Keep in mind that your veterinarian can give you the best prescriptions for healing medications. Also, be diligent about fly control, the last thing you want is fly eggs hatching in there. Yuck…


What have you done to help with girth galls?




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