Does your horse react when you put his saddle on or girth him up? If so, it could be sign of underlying pain that needs to be addressed urgently.

'Girthiness' is so common that some horse owners consider it normal behaviour, but if your horse reacts when you are tightening his girth then he will be trying to tell you something isn't right.

Many horses will nip their owners, threaten to bite or swing their heads around towards the handler when they are tightening the girth, but there are a whole range of behaviours like tail swishing, head bobbing, licking & chewing and foot stamping that could also indicate a horse is finding the process uncomfortable. It may be that you have tightened the girth too quickly and hurt him in the moment but these behaviours could also indicate your horse has a serious physical condition. 

A recent study looked at the final diagnoses of 37 horses that were evaluated for girthiness at the University of California. Twelve of the horses were found to have gastric ulcers, 10 had various orthopaedic problems, 1 had reproductive tract neoplasia, and 10 had various diseases including liver abscessation, vena cava aneurism, sternum pain, and urinary tract infection. Three of them had ill-fitting saddles. These are very worrying results, especially as so many horse owners consider girthiness as just bad behaviour. 

Horses can only tell us how they are feeling via their behaviour and body language. When they react we need to listen!

Identifying the exact cause of girthiness remains a challenge for both vets and horse owners. But if your horse shows signs of reacting in any way do ask a vet to examine him urgently. If he has a physical all-clear then he may anticipating the remembered pain of a previous condition or ill-fitting saddle – this can be retrained with the help of a qualified behaviourist.

You can access the full study here:…/a…/abs/pii/S0737080619303223