The principle behind a cinch or girth for a horse is deceptively simple: Hold the horse saddle in place so that it's comfortable and safe for horse and rider. But anyone who has ever had their cinch or girth fail and found themselves sideways, upside down or on the ground can tell you that it pays to select the right cinch or girth for the horse, the saddle and the riding activity. And any horse who's ever had to endure chafing, pinching or the painful constriction of a poorly designed or ill-fitting cinch or girth would certainly agree.
Whether you ride English or Western, plenty of styles and materials are available. In fact, the selection can be a little overwhelming. So to help you zero in on the type of cinch or girth that will best suit your horse, your saddle and your circumstances, we're going to cover some of your options.
Of course, a big part of your choice will rest on personal preference (and your bank account). However, making an informed decision also means knowing a little bit about design and construction.
Cinching: Best Practices
Some horses make it very clear that they do not want that cinch or girth tightened around them. In fact, they might take issue with the sight of it as you approach them to tack up. A truly cinchy problem will need a veterinary or training solution, or perhaps both. If the horse is apprehensive because he has pain, then training won't solve the problem. And punishing him for avoiding being girthed up certainly won't, either. For training problems, see the November 2002 issue, because being cinchy isn't something that you or the horse should "just live with," nor is the gradual cinching method always safe.
One way to help prevent your horse from having a bad cinching experience is to follow these saddling guidelines.
There should be a relatively equal distance between the saddle and girth on both sides of the horse. For instance, if you use the third billet hole on the off (right) side of your English saddle, you should use the same hole on the near (left) side, if possible. If you're using a Western saddle and you think the latigo will go down about six inches on the near side, adjust the off side to six inches before you start cinching up.
Although horses vary in conformation, a good rule is to make sure the cinch or girth lies about four inches behind your horse's elbow. This will allow him to move more freely and will help prevent rubbing and chafing.
As soon as you have the saddle in place on your horse's back and have everything smoothed out (hair lying flat, pad pulled up into the gullet), use a steady pull to tighten the cinch or girth enough to ensure that the saddle will stay put if the horse should make a sudden move.
Be sure to check the cinch again prior to mounting and tighten it as necessary so that it is snug enough to keep the saddle in place before you put your weight into the stirrup and swing aboard. While you want the cinch to be secure, you don't want it to restrict the horse's freedom of movement or chest expansion as he breathes. You should be able to slip two or three fingers between the girth and your horse's body and feel the girth as snug against your hand, but not tight.
Start With the Saddle… and Your Horse
Before you dive into the variety of options you'll find in tack shops, catalogs and across the Web, take a look at how your saddle (or the saddle you plan to buy) is designed. Basically, you need to know how it's rigged so that you can determine what types of cinches or girths can attach to it properly.
You should know the answers to the following questions. (Your saddle manufacturer can help you with some of this.)
Does the saddle have double billets (typical of English saddles) or a single latigo (common on Western saddles)?
Will the cinch or girth attach toward the front of the saddle or is it "center fire" (back toward the middle of the saddle)?
If your saddle fits but won't stay in place, does a breast collar or crupper help alleviate the problem or is it time to investigate a different size or type of cinch or girth?
Just as important as saddle mechanics are the issues relating to your horse.
Has your horse had problems with soring, chafing or galling?
Does your horse have "thin skin," prone to abrasion and tenderness?
Does your horse have a challenging conformation that makes it hard to keep a saddle snug and in position? (Assuming your saddle fits him, you'll want to look for cinches or girths that can help compensate for his shape.)
Will you be riding your horse for hours at a time, where long-term girth or cinch comfort is a factor?
Straight, Roper Style or Contoured?
Although you'll find dozens of styles of girths and cinches, the shape basically falls into one of three categories.
Straight cinches and girths are just as the name suggests - the same width from one end to the other. Standard English girths and Western cinches fall into this group.
A second design is called roper style. You'll see many girths and cinches with this shape, regardless of whether they're actually intended for roping activities. The roper style widens out in the middle (the part that will lie directly underneath the horse). This design helps spread the pressure of the girth or cinch across a wider area, which gives it more comfort and stability.
The third basic category consists of girths that are contoured in some way. These girths are designed for comfort and freedom of movement by conforming to horse anatomy, generally curving away from the elbows and widening somewhat across the belly area.
The choice you make should be based partly on the type of riding you're doing. (For instance, a roper style may be advantageous if you'll be shifting your weight around quite a bit.) But it's also important to consider how your horse is built and what design will fit him most comfortably. If he's had problems tolerating a particular design in the past, it might be worth investigating an alternative style.
What Are They Made Of?
Another primary concern in selecting a cinch or girth is its material. Various materials may offer significant benefits (softness, sweat absorption, resistance to slipping, easy maintenance) or possible downsides (lack of durability, a tendency to cause galls, an affinity for brush and burrs, too much give). Therefore, you'll want to know what a cinch or girth is made of and the characteristics of each type of material.