Girths and so on…

4th August 2023

Girths and so on…

Have you ever considered that your grumpy or cold-backed horse may be reacting to the girth rather than the saddle? There are lots of sensitive nerves just behind the elbow, so it pays to look just as carefully at your girth as your saddle fit. Research tells us that the narrow girths of yesteryear are more uncomfortable than wider ones which offer a greater pressure bearing surface. Also check the edges of your girth – are they sharp? Is your old synthetic girth beginning to degrade on the underside? Does your girth have roller buckles at both ends? The old non-roller buckles are more difficult to tighten and will eventually damage the billets (girth straps).

If you use a short girth for your dressage or monoflap jump saddle, ensure that the buckles do not sit just behind the elbows. Ideally your girth should be as long as possible without catching on the bottom of the saddle cloth/numnah.

There is a myriad of girths on the market, and it can be confusing to know what to go for when buying a girth for your horse.

My first advice is to avoid an elasticated girth, as any saddle slip or instability will be exacerbated with elastic. If you must, then a short bit of elastic at both ends, or in the middle, is better than just on one side. Also choose a girth with stiff elastic, even if it is a bit more expensive. Finally, as soon as the elastic gets loose or baggy it’s time to replace the girth.

Most girths nowadays are contoured, or anatomically shaped. These offer space behind the elbows, and in some cases, horses can show increased stride length and greater freedom over a fence. Anatomic girths can also help with saddles that tend to slip forwards.

Most event riders choose stud girths, to prevent the horse accidentally studding itself, particularly if the horse is very “neat in front” over a fence. However stud girths, whether short (for monoflaps) or long (for double flap saddles) can be quite heavy and expensive. Show jumpers don’t tend to need them as they mostly compete on artificial surfaces without using studs.

If you use a martingale, breast girth or training aids it can be useful to buy a girth with a central ring or buckled loop, so that you avoid the pressure of a strap between the girth and the horse’s skin.

Make sure that you buy a girth that is the right length. If too long you will struggle to tighten it sufficiently when riding.

So how to girth up: On a GP or jump saddle that takes a long girth I normally recommend using the first and last billets to provide an even “pull” along the length of the tree. With a “girth sensitive” horse, tighten the girth slowly – a hole at a time, while you put your tack on. Check the girth is tight enough before you mount, so that you don’t pull the saddle over. Most horses puff themselves up during girthing, so once on board and before you move off, check the girth again, and one final check after you have walked a circle or so. You should end up with the girth on the same holes both sides – particularly if you are using an anatomic girth. Once you are on board and riding, your girth should be firm. It amazes me how many riders forget to check their girths and feel that their saddles have slipped.

The most important thing is that the saddle stays put and your horse is comfortable, moving freely to the best of his ability. And if a new girth might make the difference, it’s well worth a try…

Please do not hesitate to get in touch if you have any queries about girths or saddle fitting. I am available on 07941 512933

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