View Full Version : Girthy horse - can it be cured? (long)
Jul. 23, 2011, 12:17 PM
My 4 yr old mare was very girthy when first started as a 2 yr old. Bucked violently ( so I was told) and eventually tolerated the girth but still was not happy. I was not there when she was backed, but it was by a cowboy who starts a number of young horses and is highly recommended - I have seen him work and he takes his time - not a 30 day wonder.
A a 3 yr old, I was very careful to check saddle fit, be gentle, girth up slowly, lead around, mount from a block etc. I always lunged before getting on - just a trot and canter depart each direction, - prob less than 5 min total -but just to have her feel the girth in the depart - just in case. About 4 or 5 times in the year, there was some humping just as I got on and before I sat down in the saddle or as we took the first step or 2 . I managed to stop it, would either get off and lunge or continue and she would be fine. She bucked once or twice when learning to jump, when she overjumped and the girth hit her, but not terribly. I came off, but that was my poor positioning, not her buck.
There was 1 rodeo , when I got to a show and did not lunge enough - she was tense and when I mounted , she thought she was at Calgary or something. Somehow, she managed to come down under me multiple times , but it was purely luck. She was shaking, and acting like she was scared ( me too!). Got off, lunged her, got on and she was fine.
So, this year, at 4, she seemed to be much better. , I had stopped lunging her since about April or so at home, although I still do when I go somewhere., I still am very careful about slowly girthing up , stretching her legs, walking her around , putting foot in the stirrup and hopping up on it once or twice, saddle has been checked and I though we had gotten through it. She is jumping around BN courses and competing, schooling Novice , , trail rides, goes by herself, etc. She is ridden regularly 5-6 times a week, with hacking out, jumping and dressage work .
Well, last week, just as I mounted her at home , she displayed some real bucking talent and launched me in 2 bucks and continued to buck for another 2 minutes, then stopped . I got up ( very slowly....), lunged her, got back on and she was fine. Absolutely no warning, and since it happens before I sit down in the saddle, I am already unbalanced and she really bucks. She does not buck at any other time under saddle or jumping now and is really a pretty quiet and easygoing horse otherwise.
Happens more with the dressage saddle ( long billets) and she is touchy in her left side elbow area, so I really think it is the girth making her feel constricted or something. I use a Wintec elastic girth which is very stretchy. Has happened in my jumping saddle too - which has short billets
I am now really nervous- can I say scared?- about mounting - the bucking is pretty violent - and am lunging again and having someone hold her as I mount, which is not ideal but I don't trust her. After I get on, I'm fine - I have no fear about riding, just mounting. I had tried giving her some treat after I got on in the past, but since that means I have to lean over to feed her ( putting me closer to the ground) , that worries me too.
Has anyone used clicker training to work on this problem? I am not sure what else to try and since it is so infrequent and unpredictable- she'll be fine for months and then explode - I am not sure to tell how if it is working
Any other suggestions or experiences that I can use? I am getting way too old to hit the ground and at 16.2, it is a long way down....
Jul. 23, 2011, 12:47 PM
I know you are an experienced horsewoman, but I have heard that there is a nerve that runs down the girth area. I had an experience like that recently with my mare when a new rider was using her own saddle - one with a short girth that widened out near the buckles. I was tightening the girth myself and doing it very gently because she has tender armpit skin and I am always careful. Before she could be mounted she exploded and made two circuits around the arena - then stopped and came to me with head lowered and a mild look on her face. She never does that, she is a real sweetie in every way. Poor rider - I thought she was very brave after that demo....no further issue, then or since.
Jul. 23, 2011, 12:49 PM
I would try some different girths, like fuzzy, or even plain leather. I've dealt with a few extremely girthy horses, and a key to all of them is choosing a girth wisely (not all are the same. One did best with neoprene, while others preferred fuzzy, etc). The one thing I find with girthy ones, especially thin skinned ones, is that they don't like the stickiness of the synthetic girths (like Wintecs, neoprene, etc) and are more comfortable with the fuzzy or just smooth, flat leather.
Be very sure not to over tighten (sounds like you are). We often run our girthy ones way looser than normal (which is a little nerve racking on one who is naughty with the discomfort).
I would also not be above continuing with the lungeing. There's no harm and it does the job.
Last thought, which isn't very "nice" but...can you tan her hide when she reacts violently? Her reaction to her discomfort is inappropriate and dangerous, and I think if you (or someone braver/younger/stickier) can put the fear of god into her for it, she might get over herself a bit. This helped with a crazy SOB I had for awhile who would bolt and buck like a freaking bronc every time he spooked. He got me off once. Second time I stopped it, the raised holy hell with him for about 15 seconds. While he would bronc for other reasons after that, I don't recall it every happening again because he decided something was scary. For the record- this one was cold backed and girths and I lunged him just like you described. I always really regretted the days I decided not to.
Jul. 23, 2011, 12:52 PM
Are you sure it's not ulcers? They can sometimes cause that reaction.
Jul. 23, 2011, 01:08 PM
I would check into different girths also.
The horse I am currently riding went from sweet to girthy, only with my dressage saddle.
The girth I was using has a billet system where the two buckles are connected through a ring, so when you pull one up, it pulls the other down a bit (I had trouble finding a picture). I switched to a regular neoprene girth - now I just have to make sure the part behind the buckle doesn't fold or she will get fussy.
With my mare, who was quite girthy when she was first started, I put the girth on loosely, walked her around (initially it was hold the lead while she bucked and ran around me), then tighened it a bit, walked some more, tightened it a bit more. We did this every ride for over ten years. After a while, she stopped being girthy. (she was never girthy with the previously mentioned dressage girth).
Jul. 23, 2011, 01:10 PM
If you've got the cash, you could consider trying a le Tixerant girth - it's super stretchy and has a wide weightbearing area. I got to put my hands on one a couple of weeks ago and it's pretty neat, and the general consensus is that they're great for horses who need it. that is, if you're sure that it's a discomfort thing and not ulcers, or something else.
Jul. 23, 2011, 01:15 PM
Apollo is 15 and has never outgrown it-- doesn't usually buck but will throw himself backward and down.
That said, it can definitely be minimized/ managed. My guy does best with a girth with elastic on both sides. I buy it a size bigger than I would normally and start with it very loose. I use the fleece kind because of his skin issues, but I do find that the neoprene ones are less stretchy and more grippy, which could possibly be an issue. Both of my saddles have short billets so I am able to tighten the girth once I've ridden a bit.
I don't lunge anymore, but I do walk up and down the aisle at home and I do a couple of big laps around the trailer area at shows/ lessons. I pick the mounting up spot very carefully-- NOT in the trailer parking area at my trainer's farm, where there are dogs, tractors, wheelbarrows, etc. I need to be able to get on and immediately send him forward-- if there is anything spooky or if there isn't much room that can set him off. Do be careful with having someone hold the horse's head unless you are mounting while walking (like with a racehorse) as I've found sometimes that can make things worse.
Jul. 23, 2011, 01:20 PM
Is she girthy or cold backed?
Jul. 23, 2011, 01:21 PM
Highflyer makes a good point about going forward. Anybody I've dealt with who has an issue in the first minute or two of mounting (be it girthy, cold backed, or just plain silly, like Toby) does better if they are moved off quickly or not held still. I find most of these types get worse if confined...and it is much hard to sit a series of fly bucks from a stand still than it is to sit bucks that are traveling forward!
Jul. 23, 2011, 01:48 PM
Sent you a pm.
Jul. 23, 2011, 02:16 PM
My Intermediate horse was the mother of all girthy nuts when I got her.... she had been through three trainers, including a cowboy who "threw her" when she bucked, because she put her former owner in the ER with a punctured lung, then I bought her. She would usually freak out and start bucking like a nut when you mounted, but occassionally she would go wild just when you saddled up and went to walk to the arena. It was like she would move and "realize" the girth was constricting her, and that set her off. Her back was VISIBLY (to a layperson) out of alignment and the chiro also said she had ribs out of place, and had probably been that way a while so it was mental as well as physical.
So, she always got girthed up one hole at a time with walking in between, she had chiro and accupunture, got longed, always used a mounting block, had the saddle custom fitted, got an anatomical girth for the dressage saddle, etc. And after about 2-3 years it went away. Now, we always treat her with "consideration", but we don't have to be paranoid about it anymore.... just saddle up, walk around the ring a time or two, and hop on.....
Jul. 23, 2011, 02:25 PM
About trying different girths... Wintecs have their stretch on the inside in the center. It might stretch and feel funny, that "something crawling under my skin" funny.. just a thought.
I would try some other leather, double ended elastic girths to see if she is more comfortable with those.
And is your dressage saddle girthed a little further back on her barrel than her jump? Or with a v billet system, so it pressures her ribs (and nerves that run over them) differently? Hair in the billets, since they are long?
Good luck, and let us know what you find that works for her.
Jul. 23, 2011, 03:53 PM
Definitely try some different types of girth. I've ridden some that just hate neoprene and similarly textured girths but do great (relatively speaking) with fleece or plain leather.
It sounds bad, but consider finding someone who will (as yellowbritches put it) put the fear of god into her if she reacts that way. I understand she doesn't like it, and that it's not comfortable, but she cannot react that way. It's dangerous to you, others, and in an extreme situation, herself. She can pin her ears, even stomp a little, and twitch all she darn pleases, but that behavior is unacceptable and rude.
Think of it like a kid getting a tooth pulled who kicks the dentist and runs out of the room. The mom wouldn't just bring the kid back over and sit him down, she'd probably beat his fanny, ground him, then send him back into the room with an apology for the dentist! That's how it should be with the horse.
It's unpleasant, yes, but it doesn't mean she should react that way.
Best of luck!
Jul. 23, 2011, 04:00 PM
Poor horses - they are trying to tell us something - but what the heck is it?
Jul. 23, 2011, 05:28 PM
It might be coldbacked too - sometimes I am not sure how you make that distinction between the two - girthy and coldbacked. She doesn't ever seem to mind the saddle being put on - it is the girth which seems to bother her. There is no reaction to the seat - most of the time the bucking occurs before I get all the way into the saddle - once when I was halfway up...
Third Charm - that sounds like it exactly. I t is almost like she all of a sudden feels the girth and it panics her.
And these are head down to the ground , all 4 feet together, piledriving , leaping bucks ( albeit shortlived - they are spectacular) . I understand that she should not be allowed to do this - ever- ,and I'd be happy to find someone who will ride the buck out and punish her if that worked. BUT it hasn't happened for 8 months so it is hard for me to find someone to do it when I never know when it will happen and how infrequent it is.. And honestly - I can't even get her head up and stay on when it happens , much less try to punish her , so me doing it isn't going to happen.
I am not sure physically I can get on her and keep moving. I am not as young as I used to be and just getting into position takes a little time .
As far as ulcers - I would think at this point after 2 years, she would have shown more signs than just a bucking episode once every 8 months Otherwise , good doer, good weight, happy, easy to deal with, etc
Jul. 23, 2011, 05:59 PM
I would look at a couple physical things along with what others are suggesting...
Ulcers...can you get her on a week of omeprazole and see if the smaller daily symptoms get better? They can be ulcery and maintain their weight, etc...this could be her way of expressing a day that the ulcers are really acting up. How do your ride times relate to her feeding and hay schedules? Maybe on the bad days her belly is empty/more acidic?
Kissing spines...I think sometimes this is actually what is going on with a cold backed horse. I had an amazing horse in training last year that ended up being diagnosed via x-ray with kissing spines. He blew up on me in the biggest bucking spree I've ever ridden (during which I ended up riding his head while he continued bucking before I decided to bail)...this was triggered by asking for some leg yield at the walk on a circle. Now I know that the torque of the lateral movement triggered his problem. Is it possible that the torque of mounting is twisting something in her back?
Chiro/massage...I would also get a good chiro assesment/adjustment and a good massage to help pinpoint the problem area(s). Whatever the root cause is, she is likely compensating for it in other parts of her body, it's possible that she's locking herself up to protect whatever hurts and something is being tweaked and triggering her blowups on occasion. While it shows as a girth issue, a chiro and massage evaluation could show that its actually a back or stomach or withers issue...
Just some ideas, this is where I would go if it was my horse...and they can do standing x-rays for kissing spines to the area where the cantle is in many cases, so not so crazy expensive...good luck! I hate bucking!
Jul. 23, 2011, 08:32 PM
I had one who really resented mounting as well, altho' not quite as spectacularly as your horse. I found 2 things: I never climb up on her- I just get on something ( like fence, truck bumper , trailer fender...) that allows me to simply put my leg over the back, so I don't use the left stirrup to get on. The other is a chiro found her to very reactive at the withers.....have you tried a contour girth? Good Luck!
Jul. 23, 2011, 09:34 PM
Mine has improved a lot. He used to grind his teeth and bite at the wall when I girthed him. I got this technique from Parelli video, but it's simple and it worked: You girth three times, and you have him move his feet between each time.
So the first time, you put the saddle on, and you pull the girth up to the snug position, but you don't pull it tight. If there's any misbehavior, you just ignore it. (And, yes, I used clicker training here. I'll explain that at the end.) Then you have the horse trot around in a circle -- just enough to get him breathing and not tensing his muscles against the girth.
By now, the girth is probably hanging, so you snug it up again, but don't pull it tight. Again, ignore any misbehavior. Have him trot in another circle. That's 2.
Just repeat a third time. And if you don't think the saddle is tight enough, you can do it again; but be sure you let him move his feet between each hole, so you're always just snugging it up, never pulling against his braced barrel.
I've been doing clicker training with my horse for a long time. So he already knows he can get a click/treat for reaching to touch a cone (or any other behavior you like. Head down also works nicely here.) So, at the moment I'm ready to pull the girth, I might also say, "Touch!" Then he reaches to touch the cone, at that same instant, I do the girth up that one painless hole, and click, and there's a treat in his mouth -- and he hardly even noticed the girth.
This has worked at my house.
Jul. 23, 2011, 10:50 PM
I cured my current sale horse of it with round pen work.. but I don't think she was girthy in the same way yours is. Mine would seriously dance around, spin around on the crossties, you could feel her heartbeating, she would vibrate.... from the time you put the saddle pad on until after you were done snugging up the girth.
I just worked with her on it in the roundpen with the basic, you can stand her quietly and calmly and have your tack put on, or you can work around the outside. She "got it" in one short session. Took maybe 15 minutes. Transferred very well to the barn grooming stall.
I did another session just to make sure it stuck. It did. I think perhaps she had been tacked roughly or had ill-fitting tack used before.
Best of luck with it. Stay safe!
Jul. 24, 2011, 10:29 AM
The girthy horse I've been working with has been made happier with a change of girth - like your horse it's something she has always been sensitive about - sometimes she sits down and flies backwards, sometimes she bucks.
With her the keys have been to tighten the girth very slowly, one hole at a time with a walk between, or a least a go put on your helmet and gloves, re do the fly spray etc as she stands in the crossties.
Also, the girth she likes best is this giant Mattes fleece contoured thing. She did OK with the neoprene padded one, but it wasn't shaped and bumped her elbows every step (and that just looked annoying when I watched her go!). My plain flat unpadded neoprene girth was a big NO. Plain leather shaped also "NO". Shaped leather with fuzzy was tolerable - so I went for the uber fuzzy/uber shaped mattes and she has been a happy princess. I still do it up slowly.
There is a nerve there and some of them just need more time to get accustomed to the tight belt.
GOod luck with your mare.
Jul. 24, 2011, 07:28 PM
I recently read/heard that Catherine Haddad (Dressage rider) "ALWAYS uses a string girth" (She says "always has and always will")!! You might add one to your arsenal as you are checking out different girths.
Also, is your saddle too far forward? Just a thought.
Isabeau Z Solace
Jul. 24, 2011, 07:28 PM
Hah ! I have a 'girthy/serious bucking' once a year mare. One of my favorite horses to ride. She is now 10 and first did it when attempting her first canter under saddle. Then she did it at the mounting block. Bucked me off twice one day... (Houston, we have lift off :D !!) Then bronced at the canter again. Then at the mounting block again. Doo dah.. Doo dah...
Took a few years to figure out she was just a teensy bit girthy. Would tip toe away from the mounting block on occasion, but she was so spooky as a youngster it took a while to figure out that the mounting block tip-toe was a girthy thing and not a spooky thing.
After time I had to realize she needed a quick longe before mounting. I ALWAYS longe her before mounting at home, and ship her tacked when riding away somewhere. I usually ship them tacked for local stuff anyway, and my theory was that rocking back in forth in the trailer she was going to 'brace' into the girth many times during the trip. And that that was just as good as longeing. So far, it seems to be true :D Time will tell if I am completely correct about that.
I ride the mare in a variety of different saddles including dressage, treeless dressage, jumping, and a western saddle. She does not seem to be 'cold backed' she is 'girthy.'
What I have noticed in other horses is that short, 'dressage' types of girths can make it worse. You are tugging and buckling right at the area where the sensitive nerves in question are located. So go for an over long dressage girth that definitely comes up around the sides or just a switch to a long girth all together.
Horses that are seriously COLD BACKED I have had, and seen, less success with 'curing'/being dealt with. Horses buck worse, for longer, more often. Riders (and horses) are more terrified.
We have other 'girthy' horses in the barn and one who was BOTH girthy and cold backed. When you deal with enough of they you can definitely tell the difference. Often, the 'girthy' ones seem to be 'safe enough' with variety of riders so long as they obey (whatever) the proper girthing protocol. Cold back ones will only NOT dump a few riders who can mount/ride the 'right' ('right' as defined by horse.) And 'cold back' horses often worse when not worked, and very likely to launch rider if not worked 6 days/week.
Girthy horses, it doesn't matter so much the work schedule or the lump on their backs.
I am sure there are some horses with ulcers who buck/girthy (I know at least 2) and some horses who have developed the 'habit' of bucking who can be 'cured.' But I am also sure there are horses for whom it is a lifetime issue.
The way I look at it horses are living beings. They were not designed by Toyota or Volvo for carrying human beings around. Not all of them are going to think it is a really good idea to cart a rider around. If you have done nothing 'wrong' and the horse seems physically fine, then you may have to accept that horse needs a little longe before every ride, and it is NOT anyone's fault. (Not my fault I need glasses, just the way it is:cool:)
My girthy mare is my favorite. Jumps. Schooling solid 3rd level dressage, canter pirouettes, trail riding rock star, ships like a star. I just need to take a little extra time before I ride so I don't get my pretty butt launched through the air !
Jul. 24, 2011, 07:39 PM
OP, I don't have any more wise words other than what you have already heard. But . . .
Please, please remember that your safety is paramount. We had a rogue horse here about 6 months ago (not saying that yours is rogue) that exhibited unexplained and ferocious bucking. Bucking that went past even the horse's sense of self-preservation. Would be fine to mount for 2 weeks straight and then BLAM!
Sometimes they do stuff that we will never understand. We educate and take the time for the education to pay off, but if the behavior is persistant - please just be careful.
Jul. 24, 2011, 08:55 PM
The racehorse people get the jockey mounted while the horse is moving for that reason - that might work for them but I am not that athletic, and I suspect Elizabeth is not, either! And I agree that some horses do not like to be held while being mounted as it causes them to tense up and/or explode. Personally, I really, really need my horse to stand while I mount.
Jul. 24, 2011, 09:24 PM
I can totally sympathize with not being able to leap onto a moving horse, believe me! But sometimes you can get away with creating the feel of forward, by lungeing or handwalking and then mounting in an open space and keeping a slightly loose rein. It's just like when you're riding a horse and trying to make it stand in the startbox or lined up at a hunter show and you start to get that "stuck" feeling where you know they're going to blow-- once it happens you have to either bail, ride it out, or boot the horse forward and hope that works, but often you can avoid the feeling all together if you are careful.
Jul. 25, 2011, 10:16 AM
Try one of the Bit of Britain girths with the very thick foam, these girths can be used very loosely and not have your saddle slide around. I galloped prelim xc in one with a girth that most would feel unsafely loose to some(just use a breast plate). Saddle never moved or felt loose to ride, but to hand feel was lots of room.
If the girth isn't bulky for her, hitting her elbow, I would have bofb make me one without elastic for your girl.
Elizabeth if your heading to NJHP for the event, let me know, happy to have you borrow one of mine for a couple weeks to see if works before you fork out $$.
Stay safe, Linn
Jul. 25, 2011, 05:58 PM
I've got one.
not sure they grow out of it but we can try to help.
I actually posted a thread in April about this mare...she's darling. One of my favorite rides. But girthy.
Like one buck and bam Purp is on the ground type of girthy. Sometimes I can trigger her issue while still in the cross ties. Sometimes it comes just after I get on. Sometimes 20 minutes into the ride!
Huge grunt from horse and Bam! On the ground.
She was started western and is much better with a string grith than a rubber western girth.
English: she really likes the soft touch girth. She got me twice with a long billet saddle with a short girth. She has NEVER bucked with the soft touch.
Go to VTO. They are 20 bucks. Very soft type of non slip rubber that your fingers can actually sink into. Also I started using the Equinity Performance pad on Toby and tried it on Abby. She moved off more forward with less hesitation with this pad.
Also, I usually do a quick lunge just like you. When she has had consistant rides I do not lunge, but I do trot her out in hand before hopping on.
Jul. 25, 2011, 06:19 PM
I have had 2 horses that had this behavior the 1st being so violent he almost ended up as a rodeo mount....but thru a shear fluke of good luck I was introduced to therapist who quickly found horse had a serious siatic nerve issue..Accupuncture and massage therapy almost completely alleviated the proble. Horse always remained a tad tense on mount but when the jolt of pain didn't emerge he was fabulous.
Horse 2 had issues they thought was ulcers but turned out to be Kissing Spine, properly diagnosied w/ Full body Scan, spine films and Myelogram.
Her problems came and went intermitant but the Buck was wicked.
She spent time w/ most likely same Cowboy, and several other luminaries famous for dealing w/ buckers...once the diagnosis horse retired. But left a trail of training dollars spent, chiro, horse physcic, custom saddles, ulcer meds etc...and she was young as well.
Jul. 26, 2011, 07:34 PM
The one and only time my horse exploded was when a new rider used her own
saddle and it had long billets and a girth with wings on it. Pinched her nerve somewhere.
Jul. 27, 2011, 08:00 AM
Certainly have a good vet/chiro check out the horse. Bet more then a 50% chance the horse has ribs or ulcers.
Jul. 28, 2011, 12:07 AM
Certainly have a good vet/chiro check out the horse. Bet more then a 50% chance the horse has ribs or ulcers.
100% chance of ribs!!:lol:
If not... no wonder she's girthy!!!:cool: