Many horses show signs of girthy (also called cinchy) horse behavior. These signs include:
- laying ears back
- turning head to look at you (not with fondness)
- taking a deep breath and holding it
- wrinkling nose in dislike
- trying to bite
- kicking at you or at their belly
- stomping or pawing with front feet
- in extreme cases, rearing and possibly falling over backwards
- also in extreme cases, dropping to the ground
The girthy horse will often start showing girthy signs at even the sight of the saddle.
Many conscientious horse owners try their best to put the saddle and girth on slowly and carefully. They purchase different girths and girth pads. All of these efforts are to be commended. However, if you’ve tried all of this with minimal change, you may still have a girthy (and potentially dangerous!) horse.
Some girthy horses seem to be fine once they’re tacked up. However, others remain uncomfortable. They may even be cold-backed or show other signs of discomfort (see complete horse problem list at the bottom of the “book” page for more examples).
Causes of Girthy Horse Problems
The causes of girthy horse behavior are:
- Poor saddle fit
- Chiropractic issues
- Nutritional deficiencies
1) Check your saddle and saddle pad fit
Checking your saddle fit can be a daunting task. And the amount of saddle pad choices available today are definitely overwhelming. However, saddle fit is extremely important. Even one small—dime size—pressure point will cause your horse to hollow out his back and use his muscles incorrectly. Over time, this will also cause rib misalignment (also called subluxation) that will need to be corrected by your certified horse chiropractor.
I highly recommend Dr. Joyce Harmon’s books on saddle fitting. She has researched this subject intensively and has books and DVD’s for both English and Western saddle fitting. Once you learn how to check your saddle fit, you will be amazed at the changes a good fitting saddle will make for your horse.
For additional saddle fit information, please click Does my horse’s saddle fit?
2) Do Body Checkups to find alignment issues
Body Checkups were designed by me, Renee Tucker, DVM. They are simple Checkups of individual horse body parts to find out if that part is working correctly—or not. Any horse lover can learn Body Checkups!
The Body Checkups to do for girthiness include:
- Cervical #7
- Thoracic vertebrae
Of the above five, the most common cause of girthy behavior is the ribs. Please click here to see videos of most of the above Checkups.
If your results for the Rib Checkup are “probable subluxations”, your certified equine chiropractor will realign (i.e. adjust) the ribs and your horse’s girthy behavior may disappear!
Ulcers are a consideration for girthiness. Horses with severe ulcers can show additional signs such as colic, weight loss, teeth grinding, poor hair coat, decreased appetite, poor performance, change in attitude, and laying down more than usual. If your horse has any of these severe ulcer signs, please call your veterinarian for assistance.
Horses with mild ulcers (or any intestinal irritation) may show only girthy signs, or even no signs at all.
You can try this simple tool to help determine if your horse has mild ulcers or intestinal irritation. Give your horse one bag per day of herbal Peppermint tea for two weeks. Just cut open the teabag (you don’t have to add water) and pour it on your horse’s feed every day. If you see positive changes in your horse (less girthy, perkier, happier, more interested in life, brighter eye), then you need to continue down the ulcer treatment path.
Kindly see my page on horse ulcers for more information.
4) Nutritional deficiencies
It seems strange to have nutritional deficiencies as a potential cause of girthy behavior. Even so, I have had more than one client whose girthy horse problems resolved after adding what was needed to their horses diet.
One horse, for example, had lysine deficiency. Another horse had zinc deficiency. The horses were given those items and all the girthy horse signs went away.
Please click nutrition in horses for more information.
I wish you the best of luck in solving your girthy horse problem!