Question of the Week: Grumpy with the Girth


Q: I take lessons at a busy stable and ride an older gelding. While he’s being groomed and tacked up he tries to bite whenever his girth area is touched. My instructor says to yell at him or smack his neck. Is there a less aggressive way to handle his behavior?

A: At any busy riding school it’s difficult to monitor every student and make sure that the saddle and pad are fitted properly and the girth is tightened slowly. Consequently, the horses can become sore and more than a little cranky. His biting is probably a method of protest.

If you want to develop a better rapport with this school horse—or any other horse that bites while being tacked up—here are a few suggestions. First, make sure that the tack fits correctly and that the horse’s back and withers are not sore. Physical pain can elicit biting for obvious reasons. Next, try de-sensitizing the horse to the girth area by firmly rubbing the area with an open palm, almost like a massage. Keep an eye on the horse. Until he learns that your actions aren’t going to cause him pain or annoyance, he could still bite. Then, as you tack up the horse, tighten the girth in increments. Allow the horse to take several steps out of the cross-ties or away from the hitching post before you tighten it again and mount. All along, however, discipline the horse if he attempts to bite. After all, you aren’t doing anything to harm him and he could seriously injure you with a nasty bite. Smacking him may not be necessary, though. Yelling, “Wrong!” or merely tugging on the reins to gain his attention could be enough of a distraction.

–Cindy Hale

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  1. I can’t discipline my horse because it involves hitting him and that’s just abuse!!!Who on Earth would have the nerve to hit their horse and abuse them like that!!! O.K. If give your horse a good hard smack when he deserves it once in a while the world won’t end. But MAKE SURE THE GIRTH ISN’T HURTING HIM BEFORE YOU DISCIPLINE HIM.

  2. “Almost 60% of performance horses have ulcers.”
    “0% of horses with ulcers show no outward signs of gastrointestinal disease.” According to the study by Murray MJ, Grodinsky C, Anderson CW, Radue PF, Schmidt GR. Gastric ulcers in horses: a comparison of endoscopic findings in horses with and without clinical signs. Equine Vet J. 1989;7(suppl):68-72.
    Lesson hoses who are often asked to give multiple lessons per day, horses who are kept in stalls, and horses who get insufficient forage and/or large amounts of grain are at high risk for gastric ulcers. Girthing up a horse with gastric ulcers can be very painful for the animal and can initiate the behavior described, even if the horse’s tack fits well.

  3. Yea you could check his ulcer count. or see if the girth fits right on his belly. or maybe the saddle on his back? make sure he isnt getting rub marks.
    I hope i helped!!!!!

  4. Make sure that your horse’s girth is fitted properly.And make sure the saddle is in the correct place on your horse’s back.

  5. I agree, tighting the cinch slowly, walk him around, and then go back and retighten it somemore. Give me something to do after the ititnal cinching up.

  6. Good suggestions to help the horse besides just smacking it. But I don’t get how a girth can bother a horse’s stomach ulcers. The girth is kind of close to the lungs but not near the stomach. But if a horse is always in a bad mood then yes I’d have the vet take a look.

  7. I’ve always found that when one of our horses gets grumpy with a girth that it’s usually pinching him or not in the proper place and with a little adjustment or the purchase of a new padded girth it doesn’t seem to bother the horse any more.

  8. We always cinch up our horses slow. We start by putting it on somewhat loose then walk over to the pen and tighten up a little more before we have the horses lunge. After warming up we check one more time before we get into the saddle. Plus my horses get professional massages every other week! They’re spoiled to the bone!!


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