Have you ever seen a girthy horse?
The one that seems to dislike the saddle the minute you place it on, ears back, non-friendly nose nudges or even nips as you do up the girth? Or perhaps the horse that tosses his head and thrashes around, rearing or even falling?
It’s not fun.
As an owner of one of those horses, we want to make them as comfortable as possible, but we still want to ride them – so how can we overcome the issues?
Your horse could be telling you he is uncomfortable, he is in pain, or it could be behavioural.
The way to overcome a girthy horse is to first know the root cause of the problem.
Here are 4 common reasons horses become girthy, and what you can do.
Poor tack fit
If the saddle or saddle pad are not fitted correctly, the tree of the saddle is twisted, or the girth is regularly pinching the skin, this could result in the unwanted girthy behaviour.
The Fix: ensure all tack is properly fitted. Do some research or even get a professional to reevaluate. You may have to invest in new or additional pads or specialised equipment, such as shoulder relief girths.
Some horses may be living with chronic abdominal pain, such as that caused by ulcers, and the simple action of tacking up can create more discomfort.
The Fix: Identify if there are any other signs of abdominal discomfort, such as loose stools, dry stools, fussy eating, difficulty maintaining weight, or poorly digestion (evidence of grain in the manure). If there is, consult with your veterinarian about appropriate treatment, which can include further investigation, dietary changes or supplements.
If you horse has poor alignment across the back, shoulders, ribs or pelvis, you may get some negative reactions when tacking up. This could be a combination of currently pain or remembered pain.
The Fix: Chiro review is in order regularly for any horse, but applying training scale correctly can reduce the likelihood of misalignment occurring. Register here to find out more about our course Foundations of Equine Development Green to Self Carriage.
Horses are often a lot smarter than most people give them credit for. They have a strong memory, so painful or scary moments, such as improperly introducing them to the saddle when they were being broken in, could create lingering issues.
Also, horses have an incredible ability to learn behaviours that give them the release they seek. In the case of a horse that may be girthy, it may have started out as an attempt to get out of work, and once that worked, they repeat.
The Fix: Behaviour issues can be difficult and lengthy to fix, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t possible. And when you understand the basis underlying the correct behaviour training for horses, it becomes a simpler process (although it may not take any less time, it just depends on the issue). A horse that is fearful will often stop breathing (read about these horses here), and you will need to help them overcome that. If you have a horse that has learnt these behaviours because of positive stimulus, training on pressure/release is ideally suited (read more here).
Girthy horses can be annoying, and sometimes dangerous, but we shouldn’t give up.