Is your horse showing signs of girthiness? Also known as girth aversion or cinch sensitivity, horses that are girthy express signs of discomfort when they are being saddled.

A girthy horse may respond to having a girth tightened by expressing various behaviors ranging from tossing their head, biting, swishing the tail, stomping their hooves, and moving away from their handler. [1]

Such behaviours can be problematic for horse owners, handlers, and grooms to manage. These behaviors could also be a sign of an underlying health problem, such as gastric ulcers.

Girthiness may also be caused by active pain, improperly fitting tack, other health conditions, or the anticipation of physical pain based on past experience. [1]

If your horse shows signs of girth aversion, have them assessed by a veterinarian to determine if a health problem is causing the issue. It is also important to have their saddle fit evaluated to rule out any pain that might be caused by a poorly fitted saddle.

Girthiness in Horses

Girth aversion (or cinch aversion) refers to a horse’s adverse behavior to having a saddle girth or other training equipment tightened around the belly.

Although behaviors associated with girthiness can occur in different circumstances, some horses are particularly prone to reacting when being tacked up or when their abdomen is touched. Your horse may even become girthy upon seeing a saddle.

Girthy behaviour is a response to discomfort. [1] If these behaviors continue, they can be unsettling and potentially dangerous. Without intervention, the aversive behaviors may worsen over time.

Identifying specific causes of girth aversion can be challenging for horse owners and researchers. However, various contributing physical and behavioral issues have been identified in horses. [1]

Research

According to a 2019 research study that examined the problem in 37 male and female horses of various breeds and ages:

How you address girth aversion will depend on the cause of the condition and may involve rest, medications, therapies, dietary and management changes, changes to the tack utilized, and behavioral interventions.

Prevalence

The exact number of horses that display an aversion to having the girth tightened is unknown. However, in a survey of horse owners, 34.2 percent reported abnormal behavior in their horses during tacking-up and mounting. [1]

Google reports that there are over 8,100 searches for girthiness in the US every month.

Anecdotally, girthy behaviour is a common clinical observation although it is rarely the reason owners present their horses for veterinary assessment. [1]

Over a 12-year period, 0.09% of the total number of horses presenting to UC Davis were noted to show signs of girth aversion. [1]

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Signs

Common signs of girth aversion include: [1]

  • Turning and looking at the area on the belly where the girth is positioned
  • Biting the person who is tacking the horse up
  • Biting at objects such as the stall door
  • Nodding the head
  • Swishing the tail
  • Pinning the ears backward
  • Sucking in air
  • Kicking out
  • Moving away
  • Humping up of the back

Note: Signs of pain can be nonspecific as some horses show general behavioral changes, regardless of the cause/type of pain. [1]

Diagnosis

Accurately diagnosing the cause of girthiness often requires a systematic approach to rule out potential health problems. [1]

Diagnosing girth aversion in your horse may require veterinary tests and a saddle fitting evaluation. <