8 Reasons Horses are Girthy and Cinchy, and What You Can do About it
I believe most horses can be pretty agreeable about most things. And, a girthy horse is trying to tell you something. And then there’s the horse irritated by the girth, or freaks out with the girth, or somewhere in between. Here are 8 reasons horses are girthy:
A commonly listed reason for a girthy horse is ulcers and/or hindgut issues.
- Among vets and every article about ulcers and other digestive issues, it’s the consensus that ulcers often create a girthy horse. Have I been able to find a linear reason for this? Nope. But checking your horse for gastric ulcers in the stomach with a scope can help eliminate this as a reason for your horse’s reaction to being cinched up.
- Your vet can also help you with the rest of your horse’s digestive tract – from hindgut ulcers to a dietary imbalance to a slew of other possibilities.
Your horse’s tack needs to fit properly.
- I would be girthy and cinchy, too, if I had to wear jeans that don’t fit. And then exercise! Of course, start with the saddle. Is it too wide, too narrow, too flocked, not flocked enough? Are you using too many saddle pads? Sometimes adding more saddle pads is like putting on more socks when your shoes don’t fit. It doesn’t always work.
- Then add in your horse’s actual girth. Too wide? Too narrow? Not the right construction, materials, or placement? What about using a girth cover? Lots of things to explore.
Girth covers come in many fabrics and textures.
Are there galls, sores, lumps, or cuts interfering with the girth?
- Gall sores are just about the grossest and open skin thing that can happen to a horse. The hair starts to rub off, then the layers of skin rub away. It can happen over day and weeks, or in a single ride. A gall sore is a blister gone awry, and might be happening where you can’t obviously see it – so use your fingers to inspect every inch of your horse daily.
- Lumps like bug bites, tumors, and allergic reactions can also create girthy-ness. These can even be the jump start to an open sore. Girth itch is also something to talk to your vet about, it could be some sort of infection that is irritating your horse.
- On another note, I use a body glide stick on my horse’s girth area, he’s super prone to them and the glide prevents them all. My horse has not had one since I started this habit!
What about a sore back?
- Nobody wants to exercise with sore muscles! It just stinks! Hind leg lameness, overexertion during exercise, and tying up disorders can cause sore backs and muscles. Thorough grooming and massage can find sore muscles. And is there anything that thorough grooming can’t discover?
Is any hair or skin being pinched or yanked in the girth area?
- I notice this more in the winter when a horse hasn’t been clipped. Those long winter coat hairs can get pulled and yanked by tack. I think this gets complicated with all the extra elbow area skin that some horses get.
- I used to leave a hair patch behind the elbow when clipping, but now I make that whole area smooth so that nothing yanks. The same goes for my horse’s “beard” – that gets trimmed so the bridle’s noseband doesn’t snag those long hairs.
Does your horse need some chiropractics?
- Regarding your horse’s back, it’s not just muscles to be mindful of. Your horse’s spine and how it connects to his muscles isn’t always perfect, and a Chiropractor can help your horse get sorted out. This might be something that your horse would appreciate regularly!
Is kissing spines something that is causing your horse to be cinchy?
- And the back stuff continues! Kissing spines are when the long wings of your horse’s vertebrae start to touch, overlap, and generally cause discomfort and performance issues. This can all be part of the longer conversation about what’s going on with your horse’s back, from saddle fit to chiropractics to soreness and lameness. There are treatments for kissing spines! Your Vet and your Saddle Fitter can help here.
Have we trained our horses to be girthy?
- And here’s some major food for thought. Is a girthy horse something that we have trained? When you think about it – a horse will communicate until he gets a reaction. He will nip at a pasture mate to make him move. He will paw at his bowl until it’s filled.
- When we are tacking up our horses, the girth might tickle or slightly irritate him. He reacts, and then we are done with attaching the girth. Mostly because it’s a quick job, and sometimes because we see his reaction and then stop the process. His posturing has actually trained you to release the source of his irritation.
- Over time, this just becomes part of the routine, the habit. Even when your horse feels delightful, his sneering and swishing and objections are just part of the tacking up process.
A “case study”
- There’s a horse a the farm where I board now that’s …. shall we say DRAMATIC… when the saddle and girth appear. He has a clean bill of health and soundness from the Vet and Chiropractor, the Saddle Fitter comes on a regular basis, and he shows no objections when being groomed.
- His rider has succeeded in retraining his tacking up behavior. She uses a clicker, positive reinforcement, and lots of patience. It didn’t happen overnight, but he has stopped reacting to being girthed up.
- Her secret? Like all things desensitization and operant conditioning – baby steps were the key. His rider played the game of rewarding when positive behaviors were shown. Instead of letting him dictate things, she would reward a deep breath or standing still or ears flipping forward during the saddling process. It wasn’t long before he figured out that not being dramatic would yield much more pleasant rewards than just the girth being finished.
- Start rewarding standing still and calm behavior as you are grooming, placing saddle pads, putting the saddle on, and go from there. You don’t have to ask for your horse to behave, you can reward the good stuff that he does on his own. Pretty soon you will notice that his girthy behavior fades. This is, of course, assuming that you have addressed any physical issues he may have going on.
- There’s a handy book that I adore, You Can Train Your Horse to Do Anything, that explains it all in amazing detail with easy-to-understand steps.
Go shopping – lots of girth options out there!
How can you help your horse with his girthy-ness?
- Start with the physical stuff about your horse. Your vet needs to be involved to rule out the big things. Then loop your saddle fitter in.
- You may also want to go shopping for some new girths to try or a squishy girth cover. Also, change the way you cinch up your horse. Consider it a process, not a one-and-done instance. Sometimes it helps to tighten the girth up one hole at a time, with a few steps in between. It’s always a good habit to check the girth after you get, your weight will squash things down and leave some girth room.
- A girthy horse might also need some retraining. Horses that panic, flip, escape, kick, and otherwise become dangerous while girthing likely need some kind and patient re-training in addition to medical care.
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