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Girthy horse - can it be cured? (long)

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  • Girthy horse - can it be cured? (long)

    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....

  • #2
    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.
    Proud member of People Who Hate to Kill Wildlife clique


    • #3
      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.


      • #4
        Are you sure it's not ulcers? They can sometimes cause that reaction.
        *OMGiH I Loff my Mare* and *My Saddlebred Can Do Anything Your Horse Can Do*


        • #5
          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).


          • #6
            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.
            "Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work." - Thomas Edison

            So, the Zen Buddhist says to the hotdog vendor, "Make me one with everything."


            • #7
              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.


              • #8
                Is she girthy or cold backed?


                • #9
                  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!


                  • #10
                    another approach

                    Sent you a pm.
                    Intermediate Riding Skills


                    • #11
                      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.....

                      Third Charm Event Team


                      • #12
                        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.
                        Last edited by Bif; Jul. 23, 2011, 02:26 PM. Reason: cruny grammar
                        I'm not really at the top of my game today. I'm not even exactly sure what game I'm supposed to be playing, in fact... or where it's being held...

                        My horse's antics iamboyfriend.com


                        • #13
                          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!
                          Last edited by GingerJumper; Jul. 23, 2011, 03:53 PM. Reason: of course she CAN react that way... it's "should" not "can", Appy... bad grammar day :P
                          Trying a life outside of FEI tents and hotel rooms.


                          • #14
                            Poor horses - they are trying to tell us something - but what the heck is it?
                            Proud member of People Who Hate to Kill Wildlife clique


                            • Original Poster

                              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


                              • #16
                                A couple thoughts...

                                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!
                                Thoroughbred Placement Resources, Inc


                                • #17
                                  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!


                                  • #18
                                    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.
                                    I have a Fjord! Life With Oden


                                    • #19
                                      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!
                                      2016 RRP Makeover Competitor www.EnviousBid.com


                                      • #20
                                        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.