Wednesday 12th of December 2018

Can a girth fix a problem?

Saddle specialist Tricia Bracegirdle of Childéric Saddles takes a look at the subject of girthing your horse and gives readers her top tips and advice in this often sensitive area!


When looking at a girth for a horse one has to remember that it’s not just the bit that goes under the belly – it’s also about the girth straps/billets too.

Conformation will play a large role in determining which type of girth you combine with your saddle and for the purposes of this feature, I wanted to share some examples to highlight four very different horses and needs.

In the first image, the shape of this horse will tend to send a saddle backwards. The billets coming from the saddle should follow the girth line. The shoulder on this Thoroughbred will move back into the middle of the circle which, if there were a billet there, would push the girth backwards. Also, the pecs would send the girth back as they also move. The fact there is no barrel would also add to the ‘going backwards’ problem. If your girth from your saddle came from any other place than the green line it will go backwards. No matter how tight, elasticated or not, it will move back. The fact this horse is also croup high will not help in this situation.

The position of the buckles on a short girth is not as important for horse as they shouldn’t be a problem because they won’t be anywhere near the elbow but still a good rule to follow. I would expect rubs to appear only if the girth has been done up too tight to try to stop it going backwards or not done up tight enough (always a dangerous plan!).

REMEMBER – using a breastplate to keep a saddle in place is a good idea with this type of horse but ONLY IF THE SADDLE FITS and preferably the girthing is in the right place.

This horse (two) brings entirely different issues with the girthing. I would watch for rubbing and galls behind the elbow – in the circled area. Also make sure if using a short girth with a single flap saddle that the buckles must not be too close the elbow – we have seen horses who present lame simply from knocking the girth buckles. This horse would also want a fairly slim girth behind the elbow but one which would require as much surface contact as possible underneath. If you are are using a front billet on this horse we would need to make sure its not restricting his deltoideus and triceps muscles (shown in the white circle) as they are very close to the billet.

If using a short girth the buckles would need to be above the elbow. There’s very little room to play with here so it has to be right.

On first glance you might think that this horse would not have any girth issues, but look again – the yellow line is showing how far the barrel comes into the girth line. What this will do is push the girth forward, so again you risk getting sore in the girth area and buckle problems. If your girth is completely vertical (the pink line), this will cause the saddle to lift at the back which will then add pressure points to the trapezius muscles – all this movement will also help send the saddle forward. The green lines are what would be the perfect solution for this horse for jumping or flatwork as the saddle must stay in the middle of his back.  REMEMBER, rubbing happens from movement so if your saddle is trying to move forward or backward there will be rubbing. Rubbing underneath can also indicate negative movement in the saddle.

With the correct girthing on the saddle I would recommend a girth that is shaped behind the elbow and is made with a material which is quite firm. If the webbing is too soft it will crunch up and have no effect. If using a short girth the buckles should be above the elbow.

The more shaped the girth the more specific it is for the horse. A wrong shaped girth can contribute to the girth and saddle moving. Two examples are: a stud guard on a horse with a big barrel can help send the saddle forward and a forward shaped girth (which usually helps keep a saddle and girth back) will accelerate the movement back on say a horse in picture one.

Now, in our final image, we are presented with a horse that potentially has the ability to send a saddle backwards. The buckle must be above the elbow and the girth must sit back of the caudal deep pectoral (pecs). You shouldn’t have too many problems with the girth as long as the buckle is above the elbow. The yellow line is the horse’s natural girth line – the green lines would be the perfect positioning for the girth straps. If we were looking to fit a close contact jump saddle, only the back green line would work well.

When looking at your saddle fit it is imperative to also look at the girth and choice of saddle pad as both can make a huge difference. Make sure you give your saddler as much information as possible and have your accessories to hand to wear and ride in, so that if you decide for example, just to wear your fluffy girth and fluffy pad for competitions only that your saddle really does fit your horse! A fluffy girth also creates movement and should only be used when you know your saddle fits, it should be kept clean and soft and not shedding or bobbling or you end up with bigger problems than you started with.


Please remember, sores from girths may be nothing to do with the saddle fit or horses conformation – the area should be kept clean and the girth cleaned regularly and if its cracked or split , always replace it.

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