In my experience, whether or not a saddle can fit properly and lie balanced on the horse’s back has a lot to do with the saddle pad and the girth. About 20% of slipping or instability issues are caused by these accessories. The function of the girth is to keep the saddle in place within the saddle support area. There are many different types, lengths and versions of girths available. They have different forms and functions, paired with saddle billets in their necessary length. A girth has the potential to put immense pressure on the horse’s musculature. Therefore, it should displace this pressure as evenly as possible along its length.
Be aware the girth can be a significant cause of skin irritations. The video shows the position of the girth as one leg goes forward and the other leg goes back, where the skin is wrinkled and the girth is buried.
Saddle fit issues and skin irritations from improper girthing occur when:
- the billets are not in the right spot
- the girth is the incorrect shape
- the girth alignment does not match up
Let’s look at the placement of the billets. The area where the girth is positioned and buckled is an area where several muscle groups converge and have their sensitive points – an area we should avoid irritating. The longer girth used with jumping and eventing saddles is usually bucked on the sweat flap, which means there is a relatively thick second leather layer protecting the horse’s flank from the buckle.
In dressage, short girths with long billets are the rule. A huge advantage is the girth’s buckles don’t bother the rider at his thighs and allow the saddle to be fastened more securely. However, the girth buckles are located at a very sensitive area of the horse’s rib cage. A short girth is buckled directly on the side of the horse, so the buckle (which may be protected minimally with one layer of leather) may cause pressure. The girth should be buckled to the billets as close to the widest part of the horse’s side as possible (as high up as possible) so the buckles are ‘pulled away’ from the rib cage and won’t put unnecessary pressure on his side and the insertion points (edge) of the M. Pectoralis profundus, but rather on its mass (flatness) – for example, the pectoralis or latissimus. The buckles should never cause pressure points to the horse or rider or interfere with riding and moving freely, without pain.
Next tip we will look at the shape of the girth in preventing skin issues.
Author of ‘Suffering in Silence - The Saddle fit Link to Physical and Psychological Trauma in Horses’ (2013) Jochen Schleese teaches riders and professionals to recognize saddle fit issues in Saddlefit 4 Life lectures and seminars. We help you find answers in a personal 80 point Saddle Fit Diagnostic Evaluation.