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Strong Reaction When Girthing & Grooming Girth Area

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  • Strong Reaction When Girthing & Grooming Girth Area

    I'm looking for ideas or similar experiences here. My horse reacts strongly whenever I fasten/tighten her girth, and she also reacts when I curry or press on her girth area behind her elbow. She snaps her head back towards me, and will sometimes snap her teeth in my direction but isn't actually trying to bite me.

    I go super slow when I fasten the girth, one hole at a time, alternating sides over the span of about 5-10 minutes. It's a soft, clean, fleecy girth, it has elastic on both ends and I do not ride with it tight. I've felt around and inspected her girth area over and over, and I can't see or feel anything like a sore or a lump.

    She is normally a very polite, mannerly horse and behaving this way is out of character for her. I really do think she's in some kind of discomfort, but I can't figure out what.

    She seems to be getting worse with it as time goes on. I feel kind of silly calling the vet out for something like this, since it's not like there's a bump or sore I can point out. Does anyone have any ideas?

  • #2
    My first thought is ulcers, or perhaps saddle fit.


    • #3
      A few thoughts -

      saddle fit
      sensitive skin
      mare in heat
      soured due to overwork - work that's too repetitive and boring
      poor riding or heavyweight rider causing discomfort
      past trauma from any of the above issues

      My personal experience is that once a horse learns to be defensive and crabby during tacking up, it will be very difficult to get them over it.

      My QH mare has some really awful experiences at her past homes (many of them!!) and had gotten really nasty about tacking up. It has taken years of riding her in a treeless saddle for her to finally chill out about saddling. The teeth snapping and grinding, or grabbing onto a board and tearing a hunk out of it, has finally turned into just ears and a head bob here or there, and sometimes nothing at all.

      Shortly after I got her she picked me up with her teeth when I set a saddle on her back. Left me with a nasty wound.

      After that I learned to tie her head up short and I would give her a hay bag with alfalfa to help keep her mind busy. I would also give her a bucket of soaked beet pulp and chopped carrots or other treats.

      The old standby of tightening the girth slowly never did any good because she didn't care if you tightened it one hole every 3 days - she still hated it. And she didn't need a girth around her belly to start getting angry. Just the sight of a saddle pad coming down the aisle toward her was enough.

      For awhile there I was feeding her beet pulp/grain ONLY in the aisle, tied up, while I tacked her. That way she associated something really good with the tacking up. I think that helped her quite a bit.

      Just be careful so you don't end up wounded like I did!

      But like I said, it's been many years of working on this to get her to where she is today. But then she's a naturally crabby old bag anyway so I'm sure a sweeter natured, more forgiving horse would be easier to retrain.


      • Original Poster

        Thanks for the ideas so far! Here's some more info:

        - She does it whether or not she's in heat

        - She's in veeery light work, just ridden a few times per week at a walk and with a few posting trot strides (she's 7 and green)

        - I'm a bit overweight (20 lbs maybe) but she is a stocky, compact QH so hopefully my weight isn't the issue

        - She has been adjusted by a chiro once so far, and he said she was pretty out of whack. She has some stiffness in her RH and moves a little stiff in general, though she doesn't appear to be in pain. (Probably not related)

        - She has a stiff, tense area in her neck, about halfway between poll and withers. I work on bending exercises with her and massage it well a few times per week. (Again, probably not related)

        I'm not sure about her previous owners, as I only got her this summer and the seller had only had her for 3 months (she bought her as a project horse apparently). She doesn't show any other signs of anger, fear or ill-temperment, though she does occasionally take a step away from the mounting block when I go to mount. I'll reposition her once, and she'll stand nicely.

        She does have a fairly vocal stomach and does seem to poop quite a bit (either when she's in the crossties or else when I'm riding - always) though that may just be her. Don't know if either one of these things are indicative of ulcers, so I thought I'd mention them.

        Would it be worth it to have her scoped, or should I just try putting her on an ulcer supplement to see if that helps?


        • #5
          Ulcers or selenium deficiency, or both.

          You can do a trial run of 5-7 days of Ulcergard, and if you get response, you'll know it's ulcers.

          For selenium deficiency, you need to get a blood test done.

          Could be both issues at once.


          • #6
            Interesting for me, I have a horse that's very similar. She does not react to the girth so much, but the grooming is another story. All within a few months period, went from a happy little mare to a sensitive and grumpy one. 24/7 turnout on pasture so we never really thought about ulcers. I do believe we are in a selenium deficient area though.
            Learn something every day.


            • #7
              First thought is ulcers. But ulcers might be a secondary condition caused by stress from chronic pain somewhere else. You could try her on Ulcergard instead of scoping, first. But even if you did a whole treatment course for ulcers, they could come right back if the underlying cause is not addressed.

              She also could be stiff because she is trying to protect from some soft tissue pain somewhere. Hard to say without a lameness exam. I chased around a lot of secondary issues with my current horse for quite a while. First thought it was hocks, then saddle fit, then finally diagnosed soft tissue problem in lower legs. He had become girthy and also started stepping off when I mounted. Soft tissue damage may not manifest with swelling or easily noticeable lameness at first. Protecting from pain in one area can make them sore in other areas, including developing ulcers, which my horse did.

              Suggest having a really good lameness vet do an exam before you start treating for anything. It may save you time and $ in the long run. Hope you are able to make her feel better either way.
              Fear is the rocket sauce.
              Jack Black


              • #8
                No. Here's what I think. I was digging through a binder that I keep with articles I've torn out from Equus, Practical Horseman and The Chroncile and came across one talking about the muscle in the girth area.

                When I get home, I will PDF and PM this to you. But basically, (according also to my friend who is an equine massage therapist), this is a very sensitive area for the horse.

                In the article, the massage therapist says, if you notice your horse acts girthy, takes shorter steps when you first get on or is reluctant to move forward readily or pick up a particular lead, this muscle might be knotted.

                She said to lay your flat hand on the muscle to first warm it, then, continuing to use the flat of your hand (not knuckles, thumb or elbow), continue to rub firmly and slowly.

                My horse never showed any signs of crankiness but I did notice that once I girthed him up, he'd look back on his right side and gently nip at the girth in that area. And, he takes a few minutes to start to stride out long. So, I thought I'd try it on him.

                Was I amazed when I touched his right side (his left was fine)! He flattened his ears like none other and reached back to bite me! The only thing that stopped him was the crossties. After a few minutes of holding his head with one hand and continuing to massage the area with the other, he relaxed, blew out and started to doze on the cross ties.

                The article says that the pain can be caused by too short of a girth. Too tight of a girth. A saddle set too close to the horse's shoulders, thus putting the girth smack dab too close to behind the elbow.

                She said to make sure that you pull your horse's legs forward after you've girthed up. And to girth up slowly. So, just secure it at first, pull your horse's legs out, walk to the mounting block, go up a hole, get on, walk around, go up another if necessary.

                Anyway, PM me your email and I'll send the article. Sorry so long!

                "If you have the time, spend it. If you have a hand, lend it. If you have the money, give it. If you have a heart, share it." by me


                • #9
                  It could also be a trust issue....When we got our guy he acted as though he didn't like any touch....He would get squirrely when we brushed, and was grouchy when we tacked up....He was from the track and I got the sense that he was well cared for, but not "loved" on.....

                  We spent every session with a thorough grooming being careful to be gentle in his problem areas.....We stayed matter of fact and lots of head rubbing ( he wasn't really head shy, but his tensometer went up when you wanted to brush his face )....It took some patience and some time, but it was a visible thing when he finally relaxed and trusted that this was just the daily thing and he didn't need to get worried....

                  The above followed right into the girthing up issue....He was never violent, but he let it be known he was not happy....We did the one hole at a time thing as well, but I really think it all came down to trusting....At this point he will stand to be groomed all day and you could slap a saddle on and go right up to the tightest hole if that was your thing and he doesn't even flinch.....
                  Crayola Posse: Mulberry


                  • #10
                    My first thought would be ulcers, saddle fit, chiro etc. If you get all that checked out and she is still overly sensitive, you may want to try some different girths on her. My TB is exceedingly picky about girths and has intensely disliked every single one that I have tried except the crappy Ovation neoprene that I bought when I first got him. I thought I would upgrade him to fleece or a nicer neoprene this spring and he regressed back to a saber-toothed monster horse when I made the mistake of buying him a Classic Equine neoprene. So, he wears the crappy one because he likes it and I just ignore the fact that it is ugly.


                    • #11
                      For 'girthy' horses, in my barn regular, intelligent chiropractic care is key. Also have saddle fit checked.

                      Study charts showing skeleton and muscles of horse. It helps to understand what all you're girthing up and sitting on.

                      Also, go to Amazon.com and purchase a little book called "Beating Muscle Injuries for Horses" by Jack Meagher. This book will help you assess whether your horse is in pain due to muscle issues in the area, and also helps you resolve them easily. It's a must-have book.

                      I'd really deal with chiro, saddle fit, and muscle sorenesss first. Then I'd be looking at things like ulcers.


                      • #12
                        My mare has a lot of muscle soreness in her pecs. She has it when she is not in work and not being saddled at all. She's been treated for ulcers already.

                        I was told by a chiropractor that it is due to her leaning on the forehand and not carrying herself correctly behind. Which can be indicative of hind end lameness or soreness.

                        My mare actually has a bunch of problems in her front feet and is lame up front, so I'm not sure what to make of that. I'm just hoping there isn't something additional going on behind now!

                        I discovered it one day when grooming, and whenever I touched the area, she'd squeal and kick. Had 2 vets out, one who acted like I was crazy and said she was only in heat, and one who agreed it was weird and did an ultrasound. Nothing significant on the ultrasound, but we thought it could have been a pulled muscle.


                        • #13
                          Ulcers. If you cant afford to get her scoped, put her on a supplement for a while and see if it helps. It won't hurt her even if she does not have ulcers. U-guard powder is an affordable and great buy, but lots of people recommend u-7 gastric aid by finish line. I used to use that when I first start treating my horse for ulcers but then switched to a cheaper alternative as he started getting better.


                          • #14
                            I have scanned the article if anyone is interested in the read. It is from Practical Horseman, October 2008. Tegan, I have sent it to you.

                            Tonight, I massaged my guy's right side in this area again and he was less reactive. You can completely feel the knot on the right side and not on the left side in the girth area. In fact, while I'm massaging the right side, I can feel the thing spasm. It does flatten out and he is noticeably more comfortable and non-reactive in just minutes of firm, stroking pressure in the area.

                            When I was done riding (and, of course having already massaged him earlier), the knot on the right side was non-existent and he was non-reactive. So, I wouldn't freak out over ulcers just yet.

                            "If you have the time, spend it. If you have a hand, lend it. If you have the money, give it. If you have a heart, share it." by me


                            • #15
                              Horses with sore front feet often develop sore muscles in the girth area from tightening when trying to protect their feet during impact. In fact, nearly every single girthy horse I know has mild to moderate foot issues.


                              • #16
                                Originally posted by lstevenson View Post
                                Horses with sore front feet often develop sore muscles in the girth area from tightening when trying to protect their feet during impact. In fact, nearly every single girthy horse I know has mild to moderate foot issues.
                                I'll second that... Eddie developed a habit of chewing at his girth area after a few minutes of work and during the work up for that we found he had pedal osteitis. When he was blocked he didn't chew on his sides. Makes sense.

                                However, def. get saddle fit checked out and the possiblity of ulcers.


                                • #17
                                  Originally posted by lstevenson View Post
                                  Horses with sore front feet often develop sore muscles in the girth area from tightening when trying to protect their feet during impact. In fact, nearly every single girthy horse I know has mild to moderate foot issues.
                                  Yes, I will 3rd that as well. You are very right. I've run across a few with sore feet/laminitis, and they were all girthy as well, come to think of it!


                                  • Original Poster

                                    Lameness and ulcers and spasm, oh my! I'm a little freaked out right now worrying about my mare. I am pretty sure there's no way I'm going to be able to afford having her scoped, adjusted, massaged and evaluated for lameness all at the same time. If you were me, where would you start? Scope her first? Lameness expert first? Work on saddle fit first (which is going to be as expensive or more than all of this vet and body work combined, I fear!)


                                    • #19
                                      I'll cast another vote for having saddle fit checked. Nerves from the wither area run down the barrel right under the girth, so if the saddle or something else is causing some wither soreness that could cause those nerves to be sensitive. You do say that the chiro said she was way out and that she has stiffness between her poll and withers somewhere. Sometimes it can take a few sessions to get the spine back into alignment and have all the associated soreness go away.
                                      Just some more thoughts to consider.
                                      "The captive bolt is not a proper tool for slaughter of equids they regain consciousness 30 seconds after being struck fully aware they are being vivisected." Dr Friedlander DVM & frmr Chief USDA Insp


                                      • #20
                                        And, take a breath. If all she is otherwise sound and you are just doing light walking with a bit of trot, you don't have to do everything at once. She's not in immediate danger if you don't have everything done right away. Also remember that we all have our opinions, but they're based on our experience. Maybe you should talk with the chiro that worked on her to see if there was something he/she found that could account for this behavior. If she were my horse I would go with the saddle fit and/or chiro first. We are very lucky here as we have a very good saddle fitter who works very reasonably. I can get a saddle adjusted if it is just a matter of making the panels fit for about $75 right at the barn, on the horse. Check with some horse people where you are to see if there is a good saddle fitter in your area.

                                        As for the ulcers, I know that it is commonly assumed that girthiness means ulcers, but my vet says there needs to be more to it than that. In fact, she won't treat a horse for ulcers just because they're girthy. She believes that scoping is necessary to diagnose ulcers, especially because she says the over the counter ulcer treatments are not sufficient to treat real ulcers. How is she eating? Horses with ulcers often have difficulty eating because it hurts. Sometimes they don't finish their feed and/or kick violently when they eat. What's her body condition? Ulcers cause loss of condition. There are lots of reasons for horses to bite at you when you tighten their girth besides ulcers, including a lousy work ethic. Has she done this as long as you've had her? If so, it could even be a habit. I have known horses that had to be tied or held short when they were girthed up because they would bite. That's not to say that they didn't have going on, but they did it for years and had no other symptoms.
                                        "The captive bolt is not a proper tool for slaughter of equids they regain consciousness 30 seconds after being struck fully aware they are being vivisected." Dr Friedlander DVM & frmr Chief USDA Insp