They’re awkward things aren’t they, girth galls? They come in just the wrong place and take forever to heal, only to be opened up instantly.
So what are they? Girth galls are basically areas of irritated and sore skin under the girth. They can be as mild as raised bumps, or as severe as open wounds. Some horses are more prone to them than others, and sometimes tack is to blame.
Yesterday I clipped a very hairy Otis very early on, and was shocked to see that the skin around his girth was slightly agitated, almost like hear bumps. I stretch his front legs forward each time I ride, and always wash him off afterwards. I can only assume that his thick winter coat means there is a build up of scurf and I can’t get in deep enough to properly clean and dry the area. Today however, he looks much more comfortable and the skin is calmer.
Usually thin skinned horses are more prone to girth galls, and those with excess skin in that area. For that reason, pulling the forelegs forwards once the girth is tight helps stop any rubbing under the girth. You can also prevent galls by rubbing the area with surgical spirit, which hardens the skin and makes them less prone to rubbing. This is one of the BHS’s favourite steps in their fittening programme (worth a few brownie points in exams). Cleaning the girth is also a useful preventative action as there’s less chance of dirt rubbing against their skin. Personally I don’t like the fabric girths as they can get ridged with dried sweat and are difficult to clean thoroughly (they crease up and then the creases fill with grime). On the same note, proper grooming before and brushing off after will help reduce the likelihood of girth galls occurring.
Another favourite with people is to buy sheepskin girth sleeves, which are softer on the skin. But it’s no good using them if you don’t wash it regularly! I have a story about these; a client has always used a synthetic sheepskin sleeve on her loan pony, as directed by his owner. However, we have had terrible problems with her saddle slipping around this rotund pony. So we naughtily removed the sleeve, making sure that she neurotically cleaned his girth area, and the saddle stopped slipping. Feeling guilty though, her Mum bought a real sheepskin sleeve, which is coarser and not as shiny. The saddle still didn’t slip!
The moral of the story is that solving one problem usually causes another!
Back to girth galls. The girth is the one area that must be checked thoroughly every single day, and the girth kept scrupulously clean to avoid causing a problem, because once a horse is prone to galls they’re always susceptible to them.