Suggestions for girthy young horse

My green mare is turning out to be a bit girthy. She doesn’t bite or kick, it’s more of an attempt to walk away from the girth being done up. I’ve always done it up gently, relatively loose to start and then up a hole at a time, and a walk out in between. As far as I’m aware I’m the only person who’s ever saddled her up, I got her supposedly unbroken and with limited handling.

She’s fine once it’s been tightened. I suspect it may be a sensitive skin thing, she’s a TB probably with a bit of Arab and is very fine skinned. Her girth is just a straight synthetic Wintec (buckles don’t sit against the skin). Obviously she is young and green and it’s something to be worked on inc the continuation of ground manners, however if there’s anything I can do to make it easier for her ie a sheepskin girth etc I’d like to explore the options.

My mare is like that and has been since I started her. She preferred a fluffy sheepskin when she was younger. We now know that an anatomical girth is best for her saddling needs. Leather. She hates synthetic. I put it on loose and tighten it in at least three to four stages to give her time to adjust. She just wants time to get to know the girth.

All of her foals have had similar feelings about girths. They were sensitive, but not quite as diva-esque as the Queen…:woman_shrugging:

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Maybe she’s anticipating that “walk out” you’re doing? I would try not doing the walk out for every hole, maybe just the last two. Try a cookie and 2-3 minutes between the first couple and see if she quits anticipating it.


That is what I was thinking, maybe you trained her that saddling is walking around a bit?

Try without the walking, take one walk off at the end, then more, until you cinch with horse standing there, as long as is her idea to stand there, don’t force it, and see what happens?

A treat works because chewing also can loosen tight spots on head, neck and belly, plus works on the pleasure centers in the brain, releasing tension if any.

We started a TB filly that was uncomfortable when saddling with our regular webbed race horse girth.
We tried a mohair one and boy, she really didn’t like that one, after a bit of riding she laid down!

A regular English double leather formed at the elbows, with elastic on one end and all our problems with that were solved.

OP, you have a good idea there, try different girths and listen to what the horse tells you.
Hopefully your horse won’t have to shout her displeasure like our mare did, laying down.


How is she doing this? Is she cross-tied?

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Similar to yours my mare has always been sensitive about the girth - straight from backing. I tried a few options (wintec, leather, neoprene) and then shelled out and got a Stubben Equi-soft and she is quite happy with it. I don’t have the sheepskin liner (our barn is so dusty keeping it clean would be a nightmare) but she loves it.

Only time since switching that she got girthy is when she had ulcers.


Ulcers or some other source of gut pain/discomfort often shows up as “girthy” response. Sources of gut pain other than ulcers are feed intolerances. Experiment with what you are feeding her, see if things change. Many different things will be the source of ulcers, if that may be the issue, many different things can cause “stress” that you may not at first recognize. ANY issue in the gut may inflame the nerve that runs through the girth area. Run your finger past that area while grooming, see if that gives you a reaction/flinch. Vet involvement may or may not be helpful with this, only you can experiment with the feed switches necessary to find the culprit, if that is the source of the problem. Good luck.


There are quite a few reasons she is behaving this way.

Something I don’t see mentioned her is that young horses or mature horses that are coming back into work/being backed the first time, their bodies will change. Your saddle fit is a HUGE factor here. If your saddle fit even 2 weeks ago, her body could have changed since then. I’ve gone through 3 different saddles for my coming 4 year old since she was first backed lightly at 2.5 years.

Here’s a list of things I would consider:
Saddle fit
GI disruption (not necessarily ulcers)
Dietary changes
Girth type (1 of my mares can’t use neoprene or synthetic anything, instant girth galls)
Girth fit-its often overlooked. Where the buckles sit when it’s all done up vs where they are when she walks of?


I’d go this route before trying new tack, feed, etc. too!

@WildGooseChase above I think has some good suggestions.

Try a different type of girth, perhaps one of the so-called “humane” or shaped girths.

Check saddle-fit: if the saddle’s tree is too narrow, it could be pinching the sensitive areas on either side of the withers. The horse, anticipating the pinch, might be moving to avoid the coming pain.

Bonus question here: does she stand well to be mounted? If she moves off, that can also be an indication of poor saddle fit.

Some horses have a very sensitive vagus nerve. The nerve runs close to where the girth lies, and for some horses, having the girth tightened can cause pain or cause them even to fall down. Trying a different girth or using a sheepskin cover might help if that’s the issue.

And then there’s the possibility of ulcers or pain in the digestive tract. That would take more investigation from the vet but might ultimately be the culprit.


As NancyM, and others, mentioned above, you may want to check for Ulcers.

My young guy was sensitive to the girth for awhile, same reaction as you are describing- trying to walk off or move away, not nasty by any means. I originally attributed it to being young and getting used to the tacking up process. We had him scoped due to a few mild colic episodes. Come to find out he had two pinpoint ulcers. We treated, again really just focusing on the colic episodes, but guess what also diminished?! No more girthy movement! He stands totally still and happy. Sorry, dude!! And we also haven’t had a colic episode since OCTOBER!! Yay!!!


Thanks guys! She’s got less than 20 rides on her (doing brilliantly, super easy under saddle and such a good attitude) so it’s difficult to tell what’s just young horse antics and what might actually be discomfort. My other mare was always cranky about the girth but that traced back to a saddle fitter yanking it up harder than I’ve ever seen.

With regards to how she can walk off, it depends on where she is tied, which depends on the weather! I don’t have cross ties, in good weather I’ve an outdoor yard about 15 x 15. She’s a bit better in there as there’s obviously fences. Other times she’s tied up under a carport attached to the shed when my tack etc lives and the only the point there is a pole that she can walk around which I think is part of the problem. She stands tied quietly for pretty much everything else and is fine with the area being touched.

I’ll try the treats, I can assure you she will be very much on board with that idea haha. There’s been no changes in feed, we’ve such good pasture that atm that’s all she is on. No significant changes to routine etc either however stress causing ulcers could definitely be a possibility.

Whoever mentioned a sensitive vagus nerve is also something that’s a definite possibility, on occasion, and it was more at the start, when tightening she would seem to get a bit off balance (she did actually lie down with a lunge roller once) and walking between tightening holes seemed to help with this.

I’ll begin with treats, and then explore other options ie girth’s, ulcers etc. The girth was for my old pony so is a tab short on her as well I think. On the off chance that’s the issue I think I have a longer one floating around.

If using treats, think first what is wanted, don’t just become a haphazard treat dispenser, that horse may become anxious about the treat itself.

The old, wait for a horse to turn nose or head a couple inches the other way, which means the horse is asking you to please come close and offer treat (or play or scratch me, in different contexts) and then give treat, so horse doesn’t become pushy and demanding.

I would say, seems that cinching is a new thing to the horse.
That is reacting like it is could be any of all that has been mentioned, more than one thing maybe.

Young horses are so wonderful at learning and teaching us to teach them.
Let us know how it goes, so others can learn from your observations and what works best for both of you.


So I HATE those synthetic Wintec girths, unless they have changed them. If I can recall from my time working in a tack shop, they only have about an inch of elastic, in the middle. I have long preferred girth with double elastic at both ends. But that is my preference.

Good news, several companies make modestly priced (sub $70) double elastic shaped girths. Ovations “gel” shaped girth comes to mind, as does Lettia’s girth (I am assuming English girth, not western cinch?".

Yes it’s a synthetic wintec that’s some decade old so it probably is just the elastic in the middle. Could be partly why the older mare didn’t like it either. And yes English girth.

Bluey I assure you my horses are not allowed to be pushy about treats ever haha. I’m very insistent on good manners, obviosuly this young one is still a work in progress, I’ve had her about 6 months and she came with no manners. She’s already taught me a lot and I’m sure there is more to come.

Being in Australia our gear options are a touch more limited (very annoyingly so). I’m eyeing off the EA Mattes anatomical girth as the local stockist has the right size in stock…but a pricey investment on a maybe!

I just got a Mattes anatomical girth and have been quite happy with it. Mare was already in a Fairfax with a sheepskin cover, so no noticeable change in behavior, but just thought I would chime in that the girth you’re looking at is a nice one and would probably spread the pressure out more than the Wintec girth, being a bit wider (I have the slimline Mattes though; some reviews say the quilt one is too wide/bulky). It is also nice and flexible, and of course the sheepskin is lovely and soft.

Oh jeez, she’s super green. In that case, I might just try gently putting her back where she started when she tries to walk off with a little “AHH AHH quit that”, and give some praise when she gets it right. I’d untie her for awhile so I had more control over where the “end of the rope” is.

You sound like you’re making great progress with her. :slight_smile:

I am just starting my youngster and he was mildly protesting being girthed as well. He was turning his head towards me and stepping up and down with his back feet.

I was trying 2 saddles I have – trying to see which one was a better fit and I think one was just tad wide and with the thicker pad it was uncomfortable for him. I was using 2 Abetta endurance saddles, western cinch.

I went with my older saddle and a thinner pad and new girth and it stopped within 2 times of being tacked up. I still girth up very gently and do it in several increments. Some horses are just so sensitive.

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Little update, I have a sheepskin girth on the way (should be here in a couple days). Not the Mattes, while I was dithering it sold out and as its a 10 week wait minimum on custom (I still haven’t got the saddle pad I ordered in Feb…) I went with another recommendation from a friend.

As expected she is also quite amenable to the idea of trading a treat for girth tightening. I’ve been using a sheepskin half pad a) because it had the option of shimming and b) the saddle I had, whilst a reasonable fit, was a tad wide to start. I’ll check the fit with just the pad next time as she may very well have changed shape.

Sheepskin girth arrived, she seemed a bit more comfortable with it. I also checked the saddle fit and she’s filled out a bit so I removed the sheepskin half pad I’d been using as the saddle was a touch wide initially. I expect I’ll need to get it adjusted soon.

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