Riders are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of a good girth and it is certainly my experience that professional riders are paying a great deal of attention to the girths they use. No surprise when research has shown horses can experience more pressure from some girths than at any point under their saddle!
So what should we be looking for, I regularly get asked, should I use an elasticated girth? My answer is a firm YES but your girth should be elasticated at both ends not just at one end, or in the case of a dressage girth this may be centrally elasticated. Let me explain, a girth with no elastic will not “breathe” with your horse, the girth is fastened around your horses chest and as he breathes out his chest will contract and the girth will temporarily go slack. As your horse breathes in he will be trying to expand his chest against a rigid strap which may feel very restrictive to him and could cause discomfort. It is not surprising that horses “blow out” when we fasten their girths, perhaps they are trying to save a little room for later!!
The other effect of the girth going through this slack tight cycle, is that if your saddle has a tendency to slip and you put more weight into one stirrup while your horse is breathing out, then your saddle could very easily slip to the side. This problem is most common on wider flat backed types like cobs and many of the native breeds.
A girth that is elasticated at both ends will maintain a consistent tension through the breathing cycle reducing saddle slippage. When elasticated at one end only, the uneven tension can cause saddles to move
I prefer a leather girth but it is important to check it is comfortable for your horse. The inner part is usually padded to provide comfort but the outer solid leather applies the pressure. All too often this outer part is too narrow, sometimes only an inch wide!! The girth can look as though it is 3 or 4 inches wide but in reality the pressure is only applied along this narrow strip and the wider padded leather which appears to provide the width is having no effect whatsoever. So please take a good look at the girths you are using, and try to use one that applies the pressure over its whole surface area and is elasticated at both ends. In my opinion it is one of the cheapest ways we can improve our horses comfort and way of going.
Next month I talk about “When should I get a saddle fitted to my youngster?”