The girth is a vital piece of horse tack that keeps the saddle secured to the horse, and keeps the rider seated. A good fitting girth will ensure comfort for the horse and give security to the rider. It would appear that a one size fits all approach with a horse’s girth, but too often a rider has had the saddle slip to the side or even fallen off because the girth has come lose. This can be down to a poor choice of fit and material for the saddle and horse. This guide will help bear in mind all of the important factors to consider when making a purchase for a girth.
How a Girth Should Fit On a Horse
A horse will not be comfortable if the girth is twisted or does not fit in the right way. Here are some factors to consider. The way the girth is attached to the saddle is by using buckles. The saddle will have rows of holes, or ‘billets’ in the leather strap to allow tightening or loosing. The girth will have two buckles at each end. It is rare that all three billets can be used, normally the first and third one will be used, and leave a spare for the rider should one break.
A good way to make sure the girth isn’t too high or low on the horse is to check its position, about four inches behind the horse’s elbow is suitable. This allows the horse to move freely and avoid any rubbing and chaffing. A well fitted girth should still allow the horse some breathing room; this should always be checked before mounting a horse. There should be space enough to fit three or four fingers between the girth and the horse’s body; the girth should feel snug but not tight against the hand.
The girth can be adjusted when on the horse, normally on the left side of the saddle. The girth should be tight enough before mounting the horse that the saddle won’t slip down. Once on the horse check the girth again and get comfortable in the saddle without moving about too much.
Starting with the Saddle and Horse before Making a Choice of Girth
There are many factors to consider based on the style of saddle and the horse itself.
- What style saddle? English saddles have billets for attaching the girth, but western saddles have a single ‘latigo’.
- Where will the girth fit? Most saddle fit the girth towards the front of the saddle, but some styles fit more to the back of the saddle, therefore a thicker girth might be needed.
- Does the horse have thin skin or problems with chaffing?
- What is the intended activity? Will the horse be doing flatwork, or a lot of jumping? Some girths are designed for longer wear than others.
Having answered some of those questions above it is easier to begin the selection of the firth.
There are three main types of girth shapes:
- Straight girths - the same width of material from one end to another.
- Roper Style- this style widens out in the centre of the girth. This helps spread the pressure of the saddle across the horse’s chest.
- Contoured girths- these are designed to fit around the shape of the horse’s chest, allowing freedom of movement and greater comfort.
Type of Girth
Shorter than the average girth, this is to prevent the riders knees from touching the billets of the girth, as the saddle flap is longer on a dressage saddle.
These may have a ‘belly guard’ a large oval of leather in the middle of the girth to protect the horse from its own hooves when jumping.
Western Girth or ‘cinch’
Made from strands of cotton string, sometimes double layered, western girths are reinforced at the middle. These allow good airflow when riding in hot weather, as was the original function.
Made from leather, a less common type of girth to be found recently, but sturdy and hard wearing.
Measuring the Horse for a Girth
If the size of a girth is already known then the selection will be simple, but if buying for a new horse or saddle, is it best to measure the horse directly. Take the horse and place the saddle cloth and then saddle on comfortably. Take a soft tape measure and measure from the middle of the billets on the saddle, to the other side of the billets of the saddle. Take this measurement, and if it is an odd number, is it best to round up. Girths come in inch measurements, and increase in 2 inch increments.
Girth extenders can be purchased to increase the length of a short girth. These attach to the billets then to the girth. These are a handy option if there are several horses using the same girth. This is not a permanent solution to lengthening a girth; the correct size for the horse should soon be purchased.
Selecting the Material for the Girth
Now that the size has been assessed, the next important factor is what material to use. Girths come in a variety of materials:
These materials are available at sub type options when searching for ‘Girth’ under ‘Equestrian’ in sporting goods. The size of the girth can also be selected under the sub-type options to further reduce the search.
Buying Branded, and New or Used?
Whether to buy a new or used girth is entirely at the discretion of the buyer. Buying new is always a reliable option if the girth is branded, but buying a use one has many advantages for the new horse owner. Buying a used one depends on several factors:
- The age of the item
- How it looks in the pictures
- The feedback of the seller
- What it has been used for
The seller should be honest and upfront about the condition of the girth, and if unsure, don’t hesitate to contact the seller to find out more detail about the girth. The advantage of buying a second hand girth is that it may be cheaper than buying a new girth, although the life of the product may be shorter.
There is a wide range of branded horse girths, some specialising in specific types of girth in certain materials like leather dressage girths. The best known brands of horse tack are Rhinegold, Aerborn, Cottage Craft and Wintec, but it is best to view the wide range of brands and also research reviews on specialist horse forums to find out general opinion on branded girths.
Girths are generally light and flexible so postage will be reasonable. More heavy girths may cost more in postage and the buyer may have to consider with buying a used girth the possibility of collecting the girth. The seller may have other horse tack available so it is ideal to view the other items on sale to see if postage can be combined or combined on collection.
Adapting a Girth
For whatever reason, a girth may not be the right one after purchase. There may not be a need to return as there are options for adapting a girth. If a girth is rubbing on a horse, a girth sleeve can help alleviate this. As mentioned before a girth extender can be used to widen a girth if the one purchased is too short. Girth sleeves are an ideal option for padding and keeping a girth clean, these will be machine washable and easy to maintain. They will extend the life of a girth, especially leather girths. A girth sleeve will also help a thin skinned horse not get any sores.
Caring for Girth Sores on a Horse
An ill-fitting girth is painful for a horse as much as a blister in the wrong place is for a human. Sometimes even the best fitting girth may cause some discomfort for the horse. It can be new tack that causes this rubbing, or a change in training. Girth sores occur just behind the elbow of the horse. The horse’s sore must heal completely before riding again. A girth sleeve made from sheepskin can help prevent girth sores but the sleeve must be washed regularly to maintaining cushioning properties.
Storing a Girth and Care Instructions
Many riders will favour an easy care girth. The ones made from synthetic or washable materials can be washed in a domestic washing machine. Place the girth in bag or pillow case to avoid the buckles damaging the drum of the washing machine. Normal non-union laundry detergent can be used but ensure a very thorough rinse cycle to avoid leaving any residue on the girth. Dry naturally, preferably in sunlight. If drying indoor avoid leaving the girth too close to a source of heat, as this may shrink the fabric slightly. The same steps can be followed for a girth sleeve, but ensure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions on the girth sleeve.
Leather girths require regular cleaning as well, but they cannot be washing in a washing machine as it would soften or warp the leather. To clean a leather girth use a saddle soap and warm water then dry carefully with a clean towel.
Good fitting tack is vital for the horse and rider. With ill-fitting girths, the horse may develop sores and not wish to be ridden. Comfort is paramount when riding a long time and the girth will make the difference between an enjoyable rider for the horse rider, this is not ideal if the girth is too loose and causes the saddle to move about too much.
Purchasing a girth from eBay is a good option for the new horse rider as well as the experience horse rider. A wider variety of girths can be viewed than in a normal tack shop, and the buyer can rely on the knowledge of the specialist seller. Buying a girth has never been made easier than on eBay.