Anna Bostrand-Daly is a Classical Dressage rider whose horse Zavir battled with the problem of girthiness for a long time. More precisely, it was Anna who battled with it… no sooner did his saddle come into vision or Zavir would change his demeanour. She had Zavir scoped but no ulcer was noted by the veterinary surgeon. He decided it was just the horse’s character. Then Anna got Aloeride… what a welcome relief to the problem of girthiness for both. The video below shares Anna’s experience after only 1.5 months (still see some signs but past behaviour may play its part) and below the video we discuss reasons why your horse may be girthy and what you can do about it.
Girthy because of mechanics – tack
The underside of every saddle must fit the shape and comply with the movement of your horse’s back during riding. The topside of every saddle must fit the shape and comply with the movement of your derrière during riding. Each discipline has its own functional saddle shape but, regardless of discipline, the underside of the saddle must fit the moving horse, moving being the operative word. Imagine you running a marathon in underpants one size too small… your horse cannot verbalise, it can only become girthy. Using the same tack over time works if neither your horse’s topline nor your derrière change. Does your saddle help or hinder these? Is there a foam channel under the girth to spread the pressure evenly?
Girthy because of mechanics – orthopaedic/neurological
Remember that in girthing up, you put a circular band around your horse with increasing compression on the entire circle. That compression can be uncomfortable anywhere. Horses with a degree of Kissing Spine Syndrome (read our KSS page) may find girthing uncomfortable and respond with the usual tails swishing, making intention to bite movements, making intention to kick, or throwing their head around. Thinner upper thoracic intervertebral disc space may cause intercostal nerve irritation, resulting in pain along the rib, contributing to the problem of girthiness. Below the underside of every saddle is the top line, the erector spinae muscles. The bigger these muscles are, the more padding your horse’s back has to carry a saddle and you on top of it. At the top end of the circle, your physiotherapist, osteopath, chiropractor or veterinary surgeon may want to check facet joints and costo-vertebral joints for abnormal (im)mobility or spasm around them. These give your horse’s back its flexibility as they do yours. At the bottom end of the circle they may want to check the costo-sternal junctions. Frankly, if your horse is on a properly appropriate diet and if its daily cardio-respiratory workouts are substantial, then none of these joints should be stiff unless he’s a veteran. Older horses get stiff, as does the author of this article… Sure enough, osteo-arthritic changes after trauma could stiffen the back, but for most horses this will not be the reason why they are girthy. Aloeride is a massive boost to condition and top line, our XC rider Victoria Bax was surprised about the ‘ready for the season’ condition of her horses when they came out of winter stabling.
Interesting perhaps for bulking out that top line: a 2005 study from Virginia Intermont College showed that supplementing both young and old horses in light work with the limiting amino acid Lysine resulted in improved muscle mass (when RNA puts together a protein string, if the next amino acid in line isn’t available, protein building is stopped, the missing amino acid that puts the brakes on protein building is called the limiting amino acid). Why supplement narrowly with Lysine when Aloeride gives your horse 7 out of the 8 dietary essential amino acids (Isoleucine, Leucine, Lysine, Methionine, Phenylalanine, Threonine, Valine, there’s no consensus on Tryptophan yet. An essential amino acid is one that the horse cannot construct in his own body and which must therefore be present in the diet. Aloeride gives your horse 12 dietary non-essential amino acids (Alanine, Arginine, Asparagine, Cysteine, Glutamic Acid, Glycine, Histidine, Proline, Serine, Tyrosine, Glutamine, Aspartic Acid). Aloeride gives your horse vitamin B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B9, B12 and vitamin A and C. Aloeride gives your horse the inorganic minerals Calcium, Magnesium, Potassium, Sodium, Zinc, Iron, Phosphorus, Manganese, Molybdenum, Copper and Chromium. Next to these nutrients, Aloeride gives your horse other, aloe-vera-specific nutrients that you can never get from even the best feed. Next to that, by firmly supporting digestion, Aloeride promotes the uptake of nutrients in regular feed. Small wonder Aloeride is valued for boosting condition and topline.
Girthy because of digestive issues
The girth surcingle circles right over the solar plexus. Probably the single most common reason for your horse being girthy is gastrointestinal discomfort. Given the location, gastric erosion is much more likely cause for girthiness than hindgut acidosis is. Of course the two are linked, the latter just takes longer to develop (given the direction of flow through the digestive pipe). Isn’t it interesting that Anna’s horse was scoped and no actual gastric lesion was observed and yet Zavir responded immediately to Aloeride aloe vera. A known problem is that horses can go from Grade 0 to Grade IV in as little as five days. Without gastroscopy you can check the likelihood (and grade) of gastrointestinal erosion also, here’s how to do this before your horse has eaten:
- PC1 = along the line of the girth surcingle, in between the ribs and behind the front leg level with your horse’s elbow, gently apply and increase pressure, either side, often it is the first point to become sensitive to touch when your horse suffers from digestive issues
- CV17 = over the midline of the chest (sternum), a handwidth behind the leg, with pressure upwards slide your hand backwards
- BL42 = below the withers where the shoulder blade (scapula) makes contact with the rib cage (eighth intercostal space), in significant erosion there is tenderness also where the withers turn into the back
- If any of PC1, CV17, BL42 are tender but also the entire area of the lower back is sensitive, then hindgut acidosis is likely
Fight or flight response means that, in severe erosion, your horse becomes either aggressive or evasive. So, be careful when you test. Look out for the following signs: does your horse drops its head and/or does it lift its back and/or does it move away and/or worst of all does it kick. Anna fed Zavir 1 sachet of Aloeride aloe vera a day (sprinkled over feed). We spoke about Oats and CF Lucerne diet. Anna said that most horses (even competition horses) in Sweden, where she originates from, were still fed a traditional diet of (soaked) oats, good hay, the occasional carrot/apple and turnout and didn’t get much compound feed at all. Note that treatment with Omaprazole or Ranitidine only addresses stomach ulcers, not hind gut acidosis. Note that both antacids and proton pump inhibitors increase your horse’s vulnerability to parasites. You may want to read our advisory page on EGUS.
Girthy because of psycho-emotional issues
This is about remembered pain fueling your horse’s fight or flight reaction. This is Pavlovian response i.e. ‘if you hurt me, I’ll hurt you’. A girth too tight or rubbed, an improperly fitting saddle, an injury, a digestive problem that caused pain… it fuels adverse behaviour. But behaviour can be changed by removing fear and/or pain. We like Luca Moneta, the Italian show jumper who is known as ‘The Carrot Man’. He won the Puissance event at the prestigious Olympia Horse Show feeding his horse Quova de Vains a carrot after every successful jump. Consistent behaviour by Luca created clarity and direction for his horse. Remembered pain can often be healed by consistent remedial care from the rider. Monty Roberts is one of the best known horse whisperers, there now is a whole equine sector (natural horsemanship) working on desensitisation. Monty says that he doesn’t whisper to horses and that the man responsible for the term ‘horse whisperer’ is John Solomon Rarey (1827-1866) who worked for the late Queen Victoria. Monty Roberts listens to horses and this highlights a very common human failing: most people do not listen with the intent to understand, they listen with the intent to reply.
Girthy because of something else
If a mare is in season she may feel tender and need TLC girthing up. Uneven lumps in numnah (or underside of the saddle) may cause focal pressure when girth tightened. Check for miscellaneous lumps and bumps under the skin or on the skin, contact your vet if there are any. If a horse remembers that a girth hurt once, he may be afraid it will hurt again.