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Franklin Levinson's

Horse Help Center

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My horse is getting 'girthy' for no apparent reason.

Dear Franklin,

I have a 5 year old Quarter horse gelding. His name is Scooter. I have owned him for three and a half years and never had any problems with him. Two days ago he started a new habit. Whenever I bring him to the hitching rail he is fine. He is also okay when the saddle goes on along with the breast strap and rear cinch but, when ever he sees me touch the front girth he starts to slowly take a step back. When the girth actually touches him he tugs even if it hasn't been tightened. At first I thought that he may have pulled a muscle and was sore so I had the vet check it out. She said that he is fine and nothing is wrong with him. After she left I tried to saddle him again and this time he allowed me put the girth on him. I hadn't even tightened it and he bucked while he was tied. I took the saddle off of him and got on him bareback and he was fine. I was wondering if you could help or give any advice on how to treat this or find out why he has started doing this. He has never been mistreated or in an accident and yet he still does this. As I said before he has never given me any problems and I do not know why he has started doing this.

If you could please help me that would be great. Thank you for your time.

Sincerely, Abigail

Dear Abigail,

This is an easy one. First off your saddle may be too narrow or too wide (too short or too long) for the horse's back. Perhaps he has tolerated being uncomfortable for a while and finally is hitting the wall of the discomfort. You really need to have a professional evaluate the fit of your saddle. A good way to tell are dry spots under the saddle blanket after he is ridden. The swet mark should be uniform on both sides where the saddle contacts his back. Any dry spots indicate an improperly fitting saddle. If the saddle hits his withers at all when you are ridding him, this is a problem as well. If it is too narrow or too wide, this is a problem. Make certain the saddle is not too long for his back or too short, as either one causes pain. There are quite a few factors in a saddle fitting a horse properly. This is probably the main cause of your horse beginning to get girthy. He is in pain from it.

Once you determine you have a saddle that fits perfectly, you can retrain him not to expect it to be uncomfortable, which he is habituated (expecting to be in discomfort) to at this point. Put the saddle on and take it off and give him praise and a scratch. Do that a few times. Take a thick, soft cotton rope long enough to go around his girth area (you can use long, soft towels as well) and have a friend on the opposite side of the horse. Put the rope or towel under his belly where the girth goes and you and your friend then see-saw the rope or towel. Do it briefly and then offer a little support and praise. Gradually extend the time see-sawing with a bit of praise immediately after you stop. Then take the girth without it being attached to the saddle and see-saw that. Only see-saw briefly and then offer a little praise. You should see your horse gradually relax with the girth. Then put the saddle on with the girth attached to the off side. Walk the horse forward slowly and rub the girth on his belly without tightening it. Then walk the horse forward slowly and gradually tighten the girth. Then stop walking and tighten without over tightening as it will loosen once you get in the saddle and ride around a bit.

Probably the most important thing is to make certain your saddle fits perfectly. The girthy stuff should resolve easily. Let me know how it all goes.

Sincerely, Franklin

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