Is Your Horse Girthy or Cinchy? Top Reasons and Key Girth/Cinch Selection Considerations and Solutions

There is no single correct way to load the dishwasher.  That probably seems like an odd way to start a blog post regarding how to help solve the problem of the girthy or cinchy horse.  Translated, it means that like all things horse related, there is no single girth or cinch solution that works for every horse.  A girth or cinch that works for one horse will not work for another horse.  I have no doubt that some riders will agree with the information and tools provided here and others will disagree and post contrary experiences.  That is all good!  Let’s get the discussion going and solve this painful problem! 
My goal in writing this blog post is threefold:
  1. Raise awareness that a girthy or cinchy horse is in real pain.  Most often, it is not simply “bad behavior” for no reason.
  2. Provide information that helps explain the most common causes of girth/cinch pain
  3. Put some tools and girth/cinch information into the hands of riders/owners so they can try to solve this problem and relieve their horse’s pain
What are the Symptoms of Girth/Cinch Pain?
When fastening and tightening the girth/cinch, the most common symptoms of pain are**:
  • Laying the ears back
  • Trying to bite the rider or looking back (not in fondness)
  • Stomping, kicking or pawing
  • Acting uncomfortable and trying to step away
  • Flicking the head up and/or swishing the tail
  • Expanding the chest/abdomen to “protect” the ribs and prevent the girth/cinch from being too tight
  • Reactive when the muscles in the girth/cinch area are touched (pecs, serratus ventralis)
(**Note:  There can be other issues that cause similar symptoms such as poor saddle fit and medical issues.)

There has been a tendency to write these symptoms off as "bad behavior."  In most cases, it is not.  The horse is in real pain.  Horses are smart.  They know pain coming when they see it, and they know it when they feel it.   Humans are no different.  When was the last time you had a medical or dental procedure you knew would hurt or it was hurting and you sat there calmly without exhibiting any outward sign of concern, dread or pain?  

I have been privileged to help many owners/riders solve this problem, and these symptoms are the ones that most commonly present.  I often hear stories of riders being concerned about these symptoms, sometimes for years, but they do not know what to do about it.  So, let’s dive into this further and learn some causes and solutions.
What Are the Most Common Causes of Girth/Cinch Pain?
While there is no set of 100% conclusive scientific data regarding what causes a horse to be girthy or cinchy, based on my experience and observations and those of fellow bodyworkers, saddle fitters and vets I have discussed this with, I believe the most common causes are:
  1. The material the girth/cinch is made of;
  2. The fit of the girth/cinch;
  3. Improper handling of the girth/cinch when the horse is tacked up and the girth/cinch is tightened; and/or
  4. An underlying medical issue.
These are not mutually exclusive.  More than one can be occurring.

The good news is that most of these causes can be addressed.  The key to fixing the problem is taking a three pronged approach:  1) Select the right girth/cinch for your horse; AND 2) Address any muscular and skeletal issues that have been caused by the “offending” girth/cinch; AND 3) Tighten the girth/cinch correctly.   Without addressing all 3 prongs, you may not be 100% successful in solving this very real and very painful problem.  NOTE:  If you believe your horse has an underlying medical issue such as ulcers, that must be addressed first.  Contact your vet for assistance. Otherwise, you will not get a true read when you select a different girth/cinch.
Selecting the Right Girth/Cinch For Your Horse
There are 4 main factors to take into account when selecting a girth/cinch for your horse.  These include:
  1. The material the girth/cinch is made from;
  2. The actual working width of the girth/cinch.  More width = more weight distribution.
  3. The condition and age of the girth/cinch; and
  4. The fit of the girth/cinch on your horse
All of these need to be properly addressed to solve this problem.

Here are some specific considerations and questions so you can assess your current girth/cinch and start to look for a new one if needed:
  1. If you have a leather girth/cinch, is the leather old and hard?  Is the leather thin or padded?  Padded leather which provides protection and comfort.
  2. If you have a felt girth/cinch, is it hard? Dirt and salt from sweat can cause it to become hard over time.  Is the felt thick or thin? 
  3. If you have a fleece girth/cinch, is the fleece clean and thick so that you cannot feel the seams and areas where the buckles are sewn in at both ends?  Is the fleece warn away in places?
  4. If your girth has elastic, is the elastic only at one end which can cause one side to constantly pull?
  5. If your girth/cinch is mohair (or other material), does the buckle lie directly against your horse’s body?  Many horses feel the buckle rubbing on their rib cage when moving.
  6. If you hold the girth/cinch between your thumb and fingers (thumb on the back/fingers on the front), can you feel the buckle when you press?  If you can, so can your horse.
  7. If you have a neoprene girth/cinch, did you know some can hold in heat (even those with air vents) potentially causing muscle damage over time?
  8. If you hold the girth/cinch between your thumb and fingers and run your hands down it, can you feel lumps and bumps?  Some girths/cinches have plastic in them that can cause discomfort.  Also, over time, most fleece girth/cinches will become lumpy and bumpy.
  9. Did you know that felt and neoprene can sometimes pull the hair on the horse’s coat, and for some horses, this causes discomfort?
  10. Did you know that some horses do not like the “ropey” feeling of mohair girths and cinches?
  11. Did you know that no girth/cinch lasts forever?  :)
Proper Girth/Cinch Tightening
This is very simple.  Slowly tighten the girth/cinch.  Do not “yank it up” all in one swift motion.  Buckle it loosely at first.  Hand walk your horse a bit, and then SLOWLY tighten it.  Do not make it too tight. I have actually seen a horse fall down and almost “pass out” when girth was fastened too tight and too swiftly. Of course you want to ride safely, but a girth/cinch that is too tight is not safe for your horse.  It also may be a sign that you are compensating for poor saddle fit or an incorrect saddle pad, both of which can cause girth/cinch pain.
Selecting A Different Girth/Cinch
As I said at the beginning of this is blog post, there is no single correct answer. Every horse is different. You may have to try a few different girths or cinches. In general, my advice is that if your horse is girthy or cinchy, padded leather and natural fleece are good options to try.  But, you must be sure you cannot feel the buckles, seams or lumps and bumps when you pinch the girth/cinch between your thumb and fingers and run your hands down it.  Even new ones must be tested.
How Can I Get More Information About How to Check Out My Girth/Cinch and Find A Solution?
The Stretch Your Horse Coach video collection contains videos that heop you solve the painful problem of the girthy and cinchy horse.  Each of the videos contains an extensive discussion of the following items:
  • Pros and cons of common materials girths/cinches are made of, the impact of each on your horse and suggestions about the right girth or cinch for your horse;
  • How to check your girth/cinch to see if it is causing or contributing to pain; and
  • How to do a massage move to help alleviate spasms in the girth/cinch area

What kind of girth or cinch are you using?  Share your girth and cinch experiences by commenting here or visiting our Stretch Your Horse Facebook page.


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