Girth Pressure's Impact on Equine Performance

Girth Pressure's Impact on Equine Performance

Researchers say girth pressure can impact horses' performance quite a bit.

Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt/The Horse

We know that some pieces of tack—from bits and reins to saddles and pads—put various pressures on our horses. But what about that one piece of equipment that we're taught as youngsters to make as tight as possible? How does girth pressure affect horses' welfare and performance?

A group of British scientists say girth pressure can affect them quite a bit. So much, in fact, that they've created a new girth shape that curves around the primary high-pressure area, including on the horse’s barrel just behind his elbows—a common place for girth sores.

Rachel Murray, PhD, researcher at the Animal Health Trust in Newmarket, United Kingdom (UK), and Vanessa Fairfax of Fairfax Saddles in Walsall, UK, developed the low-pressure “Girth F,” which dips around the high-pressure point behind the elbows and provides cushioning around this area. Murray said the new design didn’t just redistribute pressure—it actually reduced peak pressure levels from the girth.

“Girth F in this project did not produce such high pressures (as a classic girth) at any point,” Murray said. “This is probably related to the design because of the shape of the girth and the pressure-absorbing material lining the underneath of the girth and the front edge where there were high pressures on other girths.”

In the study, Murray's co-authors Mark Fisher, British Equestrian Federation consultant and master sadder, and Russell Guire, PhD, of Centaur Biomechanics in Moreton Morrell, UK, used a pressure mat to measure pressure levels under several different standard girths in 10 riding horses. They localized the peak pressure points and used that information to develop the Girth F.

In a pioneering step, the team compared Girth F's and a standard girth's pressure on 20 elite riding horses during movement. They also evaluated the way the horse moved in different gaits with the different girths. This marked the first time scientists have performed these evaluations in moving horses, Murray said.

Peak pressure was 98% higher in the standard girth than in Girth F on the horse’s right side and 76% higher on his left side, Murray said. Further, the maximum force was 22% higher on the left and 14% higher on the right in the standard girth compared to Girth F.

The horses' gaits also improved under the new girth design, Murray said. With Girth F, horses had 6-11% greater forelimb protraction (or extension), 10-20% greater hindlimb protraction, 4% greater knee flexion, and 3% greater hock flexion compared to the standard girth.

While loosening an excessively tight girth could relieve some peak pressure in standard girths, other problems can arise from a saddle that moves around on a horse’s back, said Murray. The best way to relieve peak girth pressure is to use a girth that is designed to keep the pressure at a minimum, she said.

Girth F was used by Great Britain’s 2012 Olympic Team during the London Olympic Games.

The study, "Girth pressure measurements reveal high peak pressures that can be avoided using an alternative girth design that also results in increased limb protraction and flexion in the swing phase," was published in The Veterinary Journal

About the Author

Christa Lesté-Lasserre, MA

Christa Lesté-Lasserre is a freelance writer based in France. A native of Dallas, Texas, Lesté-Lasserre grew up riding Quarter Horses, Appaloosas, and Shetland Ponies. She holds a master’s degree in English, specializing in creative writing, from the University of Mississippi in Oxford and earned a bachelor's in journalism and creative writing with a minor in sciences from Baylor University in Waco, Texas. She currently keeps her two Trakehners at home near Paris. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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