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Girth shy forever?

I recently found your website and was very impressed. I read an article you wrote in which you addressed the problem of girth shy horses and wondered if you had some advice for me.

I have had my American Saddlebred mare since she was 3 years old and now is 17. She has always been girth shy because the trainer that broke her was rough and rushed her. She was in the show ring at 2 1/2 years old as a 5-gaited horse. I have always girthed her up slowly leading her around and then going up a few more holes. When she feels the girth, even when it is very loose, she grunts and either rears or hunches her back. I then continue leading her around until she relaxes. She enjoys being ridden and is fun to ride, so she doesn't associate the saddle with something bad. I haven't even shown her in a long time, and I just have her at my house in the pasture and just ride her around home a bit. I thought after this many years she would get over it, but sadly she hasn't. Do horses ever get over being girth shy, or is it just something that is always there no matter how patient you are? Looking forward to your advice.

Sincerely, Fianna

Hi Fianna,

What a lovely name you have. I have had a lot of success with girthy horses that have had the issue for many years. I go back to the very basics of starting the horse again. When I am ready to move to introducing a saddle I get a very soft sheepskin or fleece girth cover and have one person on the off side and I am on the near side of the horse. We hold the sheepskin on both sides and under the horse’s belly where the girth goes. We then gently bring it up so it contacts the girth area of the horse and then move it up and down in a see-saw motion and just hold it up so the is a little pressure on it. We then remove it. We are sensitive as to the horse’s reaction to the feel of the sheepskin. If the horse gets nervous we back off a bit. If the horse is OK with it we keep it going a little while and then end the session. After several sessions or even less the horse usually is accustomed to the feel of the sheepskin or fleece in the girth area. I move forward with the training from that point.

There is no quick fix or magic bullet for most issues with horses. What is called for is a willingness to establish trust with the horse in all areas it does not trust. This always takes a bit of time. It is a simple answer, but one that takes some time. Most training issues are logically and practically worked out. What the human misses most often is the fact of going back to the basics of the training and starting over. Thank you for your question. Please let me know how it all goes.

I am free to travel to areas around the country to teach. If you think there may be interest in your area for a seminar, please let me know.

Sincerely, Franklin

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