It is important to know that your horse will most likely have as much of an opinion about girths as he or she does about saddles!
The best things to do is to find a way to offer your horse a few different options in terms of design and materials and pay attention to his/her feedback – there is not one sort of girth that is best for everyone. As always, the horse will be the best judge as to what works, what does notand what feels best to him/her. However, we have found that certain design features are favoured by most horses. These include:
That whatever material the girth is made of, it is kept scrupulously clean and supple. Stiff, sweaty, dirty girths can cause great discomfort!
A quality of smoothness. Avoid wrinkles and creases in either the girth or girth cover. Check this when the girth is curved as it would be around the horse and not when it is lying flat.
Sufficient width (bearing surface) over the sternum area of the horse.
We do recommend that whatever girth you choose, it should split into two separate sections well before you get to the buckle end (see left).
There are pros and cons for different girth materials, such as:
Wide/Soft Mohair/Trevira/String/Cord Girths
PROS: We have seen these work particularly well for a lot of different horses; they seem to find them very comfortable.
CONS: They must be washed regularly and not allowed to become stiff with sweat or mud. If you trail ride out in the country where there are burrs/sharp seed-heads/thistles etc. these can catch and stick onto the girth.
PROS: They can help stabilizing the saddle with crooked horses and/or riders due to the grippy quality of it.
CONS: If the horse is ridden hard/for a long time/in hot weather, the skin underneath the girth can over heat and blister. Some horses do not like the ‘grippy’ feel of the neoprene.
PROS: Some horses like the ‘give’ provided by the elastic part of the girth.
CONS: If the girth is elasticated on both sides, it is very easy to over-tighten the girth! If the girth is just elasticated on one side, it is important to do your final tightening of the girth on the side without elastic to avoid over-tightening. Some horses like the feel of elasticated ends and others do not. We have known some horses who were very bothered by the constant and unrelenting pressure (albeit not a high pressure) created by an elasticated girth, and were much happier in a solid leather girth where the pressures could vary.
PROS: A lot of horses find these girths very comfortable, providing they are kept very clean and supple.
CONS: They need to be cleaned and conditioned very regularly (cleaned after each use and conditioned at least every week) and it is important that they do not become impregnated with sweat. If they are not kept clean they become stiff and could crack.
We tend to avoid the ‘humane’ sliding girth arrangement because it is almost impossible to avoid pressure under the metal fitting that you find on these girths.
It is important to remember that with any girth, it should not be overtightened. If you are having issues with a saddle moving laterally when the girth is sufficiently tight, it is of vital importance to address the balance and straightness of both horse and rider rather than just over-tighten the girth in order to compensate.
(For new saddle owners... You’ll need to make sure that your girth is long enough because the girth straps (billets) on new saddles are shorter and stiffer than on well-used saddles. If you only have a girth that does up at the bottom of the straps/billets of your current saddle, it will probably be too short to use with your new BALANCE saddle when you first get it).
Most BALANCE Saddles have 3-short girth straps (or billets), for use with a long girth, as standard. This is because long girth straps (billets) create more potential for:
The horse to be pinched if the long billets catch the skin below the saddle
High pressure to be exerted from long girth straps when compared with the broader surface of a long girth
Excessive over-tightening. The low position of the buckles on the short girths that are used with the long billets creates more leverage so that more pressure is exerted with no more effort from the rider.
The buckles of the short girths to bruise the horse in the very sensitive area just behind the elbow.
With the three short girth straps, you also have more choices for positioning the girth to best effect, but with long girth straps you only get two, so are more restricted.
Which girths offer more saddle stability, long or short?
The answer to this varies a lot depending on the girth type/design, however, a long girth attached to short straps seems to be more consistently stable and so if stability is an issue, this is probably the best option.
If someone uses a ‘’short’’ girth that is actually long enough to have the buckles well above the level of the elbows, it will come a fair way up the horse’s rib-cage and can also be stable. In this case there may not be much difference in stability or comfort.
However, if someone is trying to use a very short girth on long straps, where there is a lot less girth relative to straps, then this is definitely not as stable and not as comfortable for the horse (especially when combined with a short saddle pad). In more recent years, there seem to be less very-short dressage girths being used, which is a blessing, but it used to be much more common.
Being able to move in a powerful, balanced and engaged way, without restriction or discomfort, is every horse’s birth-right and essential in order for him to be able to carry the unnatural weight of a rider, without doing harm to himself.