Your Girthy Horse – 8 Reasons Why


I believe most horses can be pretty agreeable about most things. But a girthy horse is trying to tell you something. Is there a larger issue at play here, like equine ulcers, a saddle fitting poorly, or another horse health problem? It’s always best to rule out medical conditions and then look for additional signs to help the cinchy horse. There are 8 big reasons horses are girthy, and it may be an easy-to-solve common problem or, in more extreme cases, a big mystery to be solved.


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Why is my horse girthy?


This is a common question with many answers, so you should detective your way through it. Rule out some stuff, see if some issues overlap, and listen to your horse’s body language.


Girthy horses may have ulcers 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 gastric ulceration leading to girth aversion? Nope, but it likely has something to do with the location of the girth putting pressure on the location of any ulcers. Or, your horse knows that the upcoming exercise will be painful, and the girth tightening is a trigger.


  • Your veterinarian can check your horse for stomach ulcers with a scope. Gastroscopy is the only current way to definitively confirm lesions, and you may also hear this referred to as endoscopy.


  • Your vet can also help you with the rest of your horse’s digestive tract – from hindgut ulcers to a dietary imbalance to many other possibilities. Gut health starts with nutrition, supplements, exercise, and turning out, and less stall time.


Read more about gastric ulcers here

Read more about colonic ulcers and hindgut acidosis here


Discomfort from the saddle creates a girthy horse


  • I would be girthy and cinchy, too, if I had to wear jeans that don’t fit. And then exercise after putting on pants that don’t fit! Of course, start with the saddle fit as a possible cause of girthiness. Is it too wide or too narrow? Is the flocking too much or 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 or cinch. Is the tack too wide? Too narrow? Not the right construction, materials, or placement? Do buckles and straps place have weird alignment on your horse’s sensitive sides, elbows, or sternum? What about using a girth cover? There are lots of things to explore.


sox for horses used as a girth cover to help the cinchy horse or girthy horse

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 open-skin thing that can happen to a horse, and they will trigger major signs of discomfort. The hair starts to rub off, then the layers of skin rub away. It can happen over days and weeks or in a single ride. A gall sore is a blister gone awry, and it 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, using a body glide stick on your horse’s girth area creates a slippery surface and makes girth galls less likely to appear. 


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?


  • Many horses do well with some veterinary help when dealing with a sore back. Your vet should do a musculoskeletal examination to start, and then possibly some flexion tests. But why look at the limbs during flexions? They are all connected to the spine, and a sore back may be compensation for a sore leg.


  • Arthritis in any part of the body can create soreness that resonates in the back.


a hand pressing into a horse's back to feel for soreness


Look for yanked hair and skin in the girth area


  • 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. Make sure you are grooming with your fingers to feel your way through the hair and elbow area.


  • Sometimes, clipping the elbow area reduces the yanking and tugging of hair.  Leave a smooth surface for your horse’s tack to rest upon, and long winter coat hair won’t get tangled.  


Does your horse need some chiropractic?


  • Regarding your horse’s back, it’s not just muscles to be mindful of. Your horse’s spine and how it connects to their 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!


  • Acupuncture is another avenue to explore, and many vets are trained in equine acupuncture.  


horse's hind leg getting adjusted by chiropractor to help the cinchy horse


Does your horse have kissing spines?


  • And the back stuff continues! Kissing spines is when the long wings of your horse’s vertebrae start to touch and overlap, generally causing 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 and this may help your cinchy horse. 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 they get a reaction. They will nip at a pasture mate to make them move. They will paw at their bowl until it’s filled.


  • When we are tacking up our horses, the girth might tickle or slightly irritate them. We may have trained ourselves to stop tightening when we see that reaction.


  • Over time, this just becomes part of the routine, the habit. Even when your horse feels delightful, their sneering, swishing, and objections are just part of the tacking-up process.


belly guard girth on a gray jumper horse to help a cinchy horse

Go shopping – there are lots of girth options out there!


A “case study” in the girthiness of a mare


  • There’s a mare at the farm where I board now that’s …. shall we say… DRAMATIC… when the saddle and girth appear. She was treated successfully for ulcers and another minor medical issue that led to her transformation into a girthy horse with a dislike of saddling and riding. The vet and chiropractor have since given her a clean bill of health and soundness from hoof to ears. The saddle fitter comes on a regular basis, and she shows no objections to being groomed. Subsequent coping was negative for ulcers after treatment.


  • Her rider has succeeded in retraining this tacking-up behavior of girthy behavior. She uses a clicker, positive reinforcement, and lots of patience. It didn’t happen overnight, but this mare has stopped reacting to being girthed up.



  • Her secret? Like all things desensitization and operant conditioning – The first step was taking tiny steps toward positive reinforcement. Her rider played the game of rewarding when positive behaviors were shown. Instead of letting her dictate things, she would reward a deep breath, standing still, or ears flipping forward during the saddling process. It wasn’t long before this mare 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 groom, place saddle pads, put 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 they do on their own. Pretty soon, you will notice that their girthy behavior fades. This is, of course, assuming that you have addressed any physical issues they may have.


  • I adore a handy book called You Can Train Your Horse to Do Anything. It explains it all in amazing detail with easy-to-understand steps.



flax for horses

Feed for gut health to help the cinchy horse!  This includes flax, probiotics, and prebiotics for great gut health. 


How to help the cinchy horse


  • 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 on; 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.


  • Check your horse’s diet. Gut support comes when a horse is slow-fed, has proper vitamins and minerals, and gets supplements balanced in vitamins, minerals, omega-3 fatty acids, probiotics, and other gut-supporting ingredients.



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