Cinchiness or girthiness, what is it?
“Girthiness,” or a horse “puffing up” when being tacked up can take many forms.
On the cross ties it can be as dramatic as the horse flipping themselves over in the ties, to lying down or collapsing when the front legs are moved, looking like they are going to faint.
Or it can be as subtle as fidgeting, splinting the rib cage to avoid pain/restriction, making faces on tightening the girth or biting at the handler.
Sadly, the problem is not limited to young horses unused to girths. The problems with girth restriction actually tend to increase as the horse ages and reaches a more advanced degree of work. They learn to cope–sort of. But they are never at their best.
It is easy to see and people should do this:
Longe without saddle. Observe how the horse moves.
Longe with tack–no bridle. Observe how the horse moves
If your horses move worse in their gear, you have a problem.
Is it the saddle or the girth?
Bad saddle fit does happen, but more often than anyone suspects it is actually the girth.
What is going on to cause this? And how do we fix it?
Above a series of girths, the first one not complete. Added Girth Shields are made of high tech stiffeners, and padding to “flatten” the lower curve of a normally “sling shaped” girth.
Though a badly shaped girth that interferes with leg movement backwards can cause gait deficit, the actual cause of the “girthiness” that horsemen and women recognize is compression of the lower rib cage. This compression forces the horse to change breathing strategies rapidly, which is not something that inexperienced horses know how to do on a moment’s notice, and not something bruised horses in work appreciate first thing on the cross ties.
The problem can be intractable after the work begins as well, because multiple things are going on when a horse must move under the restriction caused by a girth. These include movement up and down of the rib cage at landing, and breathing in and out all of which require a lot of motion in places we have not traditionally thought about in those terms.
Keep in mind through all this that the horse’s torso is suspended between the shoulders by a flexible and strong band of ligaments. It is designed to move up and down. This is particularly true of jumping horses whose rib cage descends downward on landing, the guts of the horse pressing forward on the diaphragm. forcing the exhale and then the inhale occurring at the next moment. Horses breathe once a stride in canter, on rhythm out as the forelegs land–and not a all over a jump.
(Georgia Dillon, in action, her horse happily wearing the Girth Shield belly guard version.)
Breathing in on up, out on down. It is natural to them.
When horses are made comfortable in the girth–which we approach in a unique but simple four step process–the horses are easier to tack up, warm up faster, work more comfortably. Many girth-related problems like stiffness in the back, difficult canter transitions and limited front leg movement are minimized.
Here are two of the long leather model. We make three different ones.
The inside layers are specially produced for the military and used in body armor. The official term for the characteristic is “very low back face distortion.” It always springs back after compression–and it’s not easy to compress, and remarkably resilient when put over a semi stiff backing. That’s why we call it a Shield, and it profoundly changes the shape of the lower end of your girth. The base layer, near the girth and covered by these paddings is a very stiff polymer layer, custom made for every girth and every horse individually. There are some common sizes that fit many horse. But one size does not fit all.
Note the “liquid edge” near the horse– and also that the lower foam does not compress easily. (Nor is is different at any working temperature.) It is a shield, not a “contour”, and it gives room for the lower expansion of the rib cage.
The Girth Shield solves the problem. We make them one by one taking notes and asking for pictures.
“Can’t recommend this product and seller enough. Communication was timely and all questions were answered prior to purchase. The girth was beautiful and in excellent condition. The GirthShield is an amazing product, and is the first of it’s kind that directs pressure onto the sternum and away from the horse’s sensitive axillary space (arm pits) & rib cage. I’ve spent the better part of a year trying different types of girths (short, long, padded, covered, wrapped) and everything I tried eventually rubbed my horse’s elbows and axilla. Ordered this girth with a GirthShield in place and finally found a solution. Right from the start, his tail and back were up, he stretched into the bit, and was moving beautifully. My saddle, which had a tendency to slide slightly back, stayed beautifully in place. Best part: NO RUBS!!!”
For a bit of the story of how we did it, please see The Dressage Snob Blog:
If you have questions about what might work for you please ask, and to see what we have available ready-made you can take a peek: