Short girth, long girth, lace-up girth, leather girth or one made of neoprene: saddle girths are available in a wide variety of designs and models – but not every girth fits every horse or every saddle. The selection and fit should be well thought out and, just like with the saddle, checked again and again. In theory, however, the topic of girths is rather neglected: too tight, too short, too long, wrong position. Very few people know that a too tight and ill-fitting belt can both disrupt biomechanics and compress organs. Saddle and girth belong together, both pieces of equipment are mutually dependent. So the issue of the right strap raises far more questions than the right length.
Where does the Girth Rest – Anatomical Basics
The girth stabilizes the fit of the saddle and provides the necessary support. However, it also lies precisely on sensitive structures on the abdomen: abdominal muscles, chest muscle, skin muscle as well as fascia, ribs and sternum. In deeper layers, however, the girth also has an influence on organs such as the lungs and heart. Scientific studies from England have shown that the highest pressure is not on the sternum, as assumed, but directly behind the elbow. For this reason, a girth should always be examined in motion: Does the girth hit the elbow? Does the girth wrinkle skin? Is the girth in the belt position? Is it strapped too tightly? All of this can have an impact on biomechanics and interfere with or hinder the horse's movement. In this way, the underfoot of the haunches as well as the forefoot of the forehand can be shortened.
The Choice of the Right Girth
When choosing a harness, attention should be paid to various criteria. Not every girth fits every horse or every saddle.
The Girth Length
The girth length depends on the circumference of the horse, but also on the length of the girth straps. A long girth should be lenghty enough that it can be buckled approximately in the middle of the girth straps. A short girth should always have buckles underneath that must not bump against the elbow – not even when moving – and must not lie on bare skin. In order to measure the girth length correctly, the saddle should be loaded, because the rider's weight pushes the saddle downwards, so to speak. This affects the girth length. Measurements are taken from the top edge to top edge of the buckles.
Saddle and Saddle Girth
The saddle determines the choice of girth insofar that the girth straps determine whether a long or short girth is required. Usually, dressage saddles have long girth straps and therefore require a short girth, whereas jumping and eventing saddles require a long girth. Meanwhile however, many saddle manufacturers have adapted to the wishes of their customers, so that the length of the girth straps can often be specified in a made-to-measure saddle. If the belt position is close to the elbow, the use of anatomically cut straps may be useful. A good girth should stabilize the saddle in combination with the girth straps on the horse and avoid sideways sliding back and forth on the horse's back. Various harness systems can also reduce slipping or rocking of the saddle. For example, using the Y-girth, the rear girth strap is particularly attached to the tree saddle. The attachment is divided into two different straps, one of which leads to the middle of the tree and the other to its rear part. In the case of belts with a wide plate in the middle of the belt, it is essential to ensure that the tension on the front and rear edges of the belt is as uniform as possible.
Distribution of Pressure
Of course, the pressure exerted by the girth is always related to the type and intensity of the girth. But the shape also determines the extent to which the pressure is distributed. Many girths now have a wider middle section, which better distributes the pressure. Such girths can be very helpful, especially for horses that are sensitive to girths. However, belts that are too thick can also exert increased pressure. The same applies to fur covers, which further constrict the horse and make the problem even worse.
The Right Maintenance
The girth, like the saddle, should be cleaned regularly. Visible dirt should be removed immediately after riding. Heavier dirt is removed with saddle soap on leather straps, and with water on plastic straps. Especially with girths made of fur, it is important to take good care. If the fibres stick together, this in turn creates pressure points on the sensitive horse's belly and also increases the risk of skin irritation.
The Correct Application of Girths
Pressure arises above all when the strap is too tight – and this is often the case in practice. The belt should never be tightened, careful strapping is a feel-good must. There are also some dangers to the widespread assumption that only the left strap should be fastened after mounting: If there is more and more pressure on the horse on one side, this can also literally shift the structures – the horse becomes crooked. Parallelism is important. Accordingly, the side should be changed again and again when strapping. Too tight strapping even has an influence on performance, according to an Australian study of racehorses. This is due to the strong compression of the lungs and heart. Horses with sensitive stomachs in particular suffer from excessive girth pressure.