We figured out why horses don’t like their girths

In a related post I have told you we solved the girth problem.  I know that sounds weird, but really, we did.


And now in 2018 have a workshop to prove it.

I heard a story a while ago at a clinic, while showing some girths to an interested crowd.

It goes like this: A friend who also rides for pleasure, was walking through CDI stabling at Dressage World Cup, witnessed a bunch of ears back, tails swishing behavior at tack up.

She asked, “How come all the nasty faces?”

Companion’s answer, “They are ALL like that–dressage horses.”


(And please, now that we know how to fix it–FIX IT!)


Here I am also going to tell you quite simply how we finally managed to make the horses more comfortable.  So it will perhaps make more sense.

The solution came about by trying things we suspected would work.  Most of them did not.  If you do this as a job and watch carefully without investment, the so called perfect answers really don’t work as much as you’d hope.

Our prejudices at the start:

  1. We liked our cord “mohair” girths–and on investigation found they were no longer made of corded mohair, but nylon with no give whatsoever.  Their only virtues were they typically do not rub and they are inexpensive.


Would anyone like a pile of them?

2. Real fiber with spring actually is good–but you can’t buy it for $24.99.  Ever feed a goat?  We have. You shear them once a year and it takes them a whole year to “grow” a fiber girth.  Then some human has to spin it and cord it and ply it.)


These things are gorgeous!  Darin Alexander, ArtCords did these.  They are much much better than nylon but at the tension we keep them they were not a solution unto themselves. I gave mine away because I could not bear to have the moths get them.

3. We thought unlimited stretch fabric girths would be nice.  Our horses don’t like them.  We asked, they made faces.

4. We didn’t like elastic ends.  Now we don’t care–the horses don’t care. But if you have them, please have them on both sides

5. We didn’t like short girths–too much hardware in moving places.

We still don’t like short girths and the horses have gotten over the bruising from trying the standard models.  Eventually we came up with one fitted with carefully measured–buckles as high as you can get them that actually works.  A tiny bit of elastic, a girth shield added–see lump like full snake in middle–and a girth cozy–no more ugly faces.  We will show you one at the end of the post.

6. We thought anatomic girths would be nice.  The horses walked off with peg legs.


Same of the “shoulder relief” girths.  The might work with a hunter saddle designed to be ridden up over the withers.   They cause a huge amount of elbow infringement in a “normally” placed saddle.  (Try one on and stick your fingers in the front side of it and walk the horse.  OUCH!)

7. We thought contoured girths with “humane” ends (which we still like–the humane ends) would be great.


The horses would not walk at all.

8. We thought the Balding was old fashioned.


The horses liked them pretty well.

Then we got frustrated that older and older was better and better and bought ourselves one of these very new things:


It is meant to check your saddle fit, but it worked very well on the bottom side of the horse too.

We strapped it to the beast and rode with it.  (Beast did not mind).


And then looked at it carefully.  The middle section is the pectorals–still some gel.  The spots that bottomed out–you can see light through them–are just behind the elbows at the base of the ribs.  And it bottomed out every single time we tried–a lot of pressure was being exerted there at the base of the rib cage.

So then off to the Internet and much study of anatomy and other people’s tests on race horses and girth tightening pressures and many many hours into it we came up with something that worked. The Girth Shield concept allows the horses to breath naturally while securely holding your saddle in place.  And that is what the horses are grumping about when you tack them up–when a normal girth is tightened it is hard for them to breath, and it hurts.

The horses are now all very happy.  No more ugly faces

Melynnda got her Silver Medal, I dusted off my Gold and then stuck it back in the car’s ash tray.

We found a way to give room for normal rib expansion by creating what is in effect a second tree for the base of the horse. 6,7,8 or 9 inches wide.  One size does NOT fit all.  But it’s not so complicated. a length that puts the buckles where you want them and a measurement across the pectorals.


The design evolves.


IMG_6169 6.46.07 AM


There are lots of ways to get around problems.

The X Girth is above, and it is about as simple as you can think of–other than it is hard to make because of the continuous loop.  It is easy to use.  Inexpensive.  We call it the dry martini of the girth world.

If you want one, make contact.

What’s to lose?  (Strong hint–the nasty faces and peg legs for a start.)


Below a modified girth  and how it looked before we modified it.




The heavily padded shield at the base of the girth creates a place for the horse’s ribs to expand when the girth is fully tightened.  Problem solved.

X-rated stretch (This one ought to get some air time. . .)

Actually, I am joking, there is nothing in the slightest bit x-rated about what I am going to tell you–but I will give you a story about Rudolf at the base that illustrates how very difficult it is for people in our culture to effectively teach riding when it is impossible to actually talk about anything from the mid-thigh to the navel of the rider–some would say mid-thigh to chin as advice of how to strap breasts down is largely ignored as well.

However, I promised to give you one basic (and fantastically effective) stretch which you can do in the saddle–as long as your saddle has a tree that you can access.

In fact, you MUST do it in the saddle, as there is no other way to do it that I can comfortably think of.    There are other stretches, but this one is too good to miss.  (Ms. Melynnda who originated this stretch, has a raft of them and will happily come do a clinic for you.)

Here it is, and given that you will not have your computer with you when you try this, I will keep it incredably short and to the point.

This is a picture of a pelvis with the muscles of the hip flexor and Psoas illustrated


Below is a saddle–mine–which a pelvis like the one above would sit over quite comfortably.

Stubben Tristan saddle showing correct triangular "pelvis marks" in the leather

Stubben Tristan saddle showing correct triangular “pelvis marks” in the leather

So, imagine yourself sitting in the saddle looking forward.

Take one hand (lets say the right) palm down and cross your body with it grabbing the catch strap that I hope you have, and holding it firmly.

Lean softly back against that right hand, lifting your rib cage just a bit and with your right hip joint look forward and down for the tree of the saddle–in my saddle rather where the white lines are.

When you can feel that edge of the tree with the inner side of your hip joint (which you will not be able to do if you have overly rotated your tail bone under yourself–you must stretch upward and downward) stretch against the saddle, loosening the base of your Psoas from the internal side.

Repeat on the left.

Interestingly, this is one of the main areas of communication with your horse–they lift the front of the saddle when you ask them to, you connect and speak with your seat.

Oh, I promised to tell you one story on Rudolf.  Here it is–and I hope he is effectively ignoring the blog.

One summer in Germany Rudolf persistently told me to stretch my leg down.  And I tried–and failed and tried and failed and tried and failed.  You know the story.

In desperation, weeks into this process, I finally asked him, “Do you mean I am supposed to open my thighs?”

Eyes down, slight blush from him. Assent.

Gosh darn it, though I, a whole summer and he is too embarrassed to say!

However, do remember, it is the rider’s job to translate the language of the teacher into their own body memory–and indeed the movement required is “opening the thigh”, but also engaging the base in a supple way.

And in any case, Rudolf can read the blog to his heart’s content as I am 100% happy with his instruction–years and years down the road.  That says something. It works.  It really, really does.  But from a master, who would expect anything else?

Another view of the Psoas. . .

Here is a great article from another blog brought to my attention by Laurie Baldwin of Kalispell Montana



This fits right in with what we have been doing.  (Please see the Rider Fitness section in “Contents.”)


With an out-of-town rider in for a week of training,  Melynnda and I have had a chance to yet again teach the stretches that one does in the saddle to open and relax the Psoas muscles.

They makes a profound difference in the ride.

The comment from our rider:  I never knew what a lot of SPACE there was in that area.

Yes, there is a lot of space, and awareness in that area.

It is called “your seat.”

A wonderful connection to communicate with your horse, and nicely attached to the rest of your body. . .

If you would like the stretches, please ask.


The timing of the dressage whip in trot

This came in as a question: What is the timing of the whip in trot?

Answer: As the horse begins to pick up his hind leg on the whip side.

I have a rather long post on the use of the whip, done in the depths of winter last year here:


The timing is really easy, but takes a little practice.

You are holding your whip correctly over your thigh, the heel of your hand slightly pressing it downward.

You can feel your leg move in your hand as the whip is connected to both.

As the horse begins to step forward with the hind leg (the one on your whip side) you will feel your hip and thigh dropped a bit.  Your hip, like the horse’s hip, are no longer supported.  And, as the horse bends his hind leg folding it to swing through, that side drops.)

If you follow your thigh around and tic with the whip at this point the rhythm of that hind leg will be quickened.  And assuming you do not let the horse sprawl in front or rush off, then the diagonal pairing will be improved.

Oddly, though you should be able to do this on both sides, it improves both hind legs as long as you make sure the horse travels straight.  This is true in piaffe as well and why it is important to make sure the horse travels straight.

How come I can ride trot better than canter?

Or, conversely, how come I can ride canter better than trot?

Rudolf used to note that some riders are more skilled at the trot gaits.  (I say “gaits” plural because piaffe and passage, never mind rein back, are also diagonally paired gaits.)

And of course some riders are more skilled at the canter.  I would say as a gross generalization that riders skilled in jumping are generally better riding the dressage canter than riders who have never jumped.

How come?

I will make this very very simple as it is so obvious–after one has been told!

The motion of the rider’s pelvis is different for each of these gaits, and if one takes the advice given to ride one correctly and applies it to the other, then trouble is likely to result.

Passage is a subject to itself, but in the basic trot a looseness of the thigh is important because it allows the riders pelvis to follow (or lead) the horse’s swinging back.  If one clamps the thigh inward (or levers it incorrectly under the knee roll to force the seat down) the pelvis is stabilized too much and will be “against” the horse in one phase of the back swing or other.  (Think brick.)  This is why Rudolf looked askance when I tried to show off how well I could post without stirrups in my first week in Germany.

“We don’t do that here!!!”

(Better luck next time for an ex jumper rider.)

Why don’t we do that here?  (Rising trot without stirrups)

German answer: Well, because we don’t.  You think about it.

Okay, I did.Please see all those other posts about use of the seat and how the pelvis is put together.

So strive for relaxed flexibility in the hip in the trot, but when a dressage rider canters, some contraction/closure of the thigh (rhythmically!) is needed.  If one loosens the thigh entirely for 100% of the stride, the rider tends to get behind the motion, “wallowing” in the saddle.  This will generally cause the horse to flatten and run rather than jump in the canter.  The rider actually leads the lift of the horse in the canter–can’t do that from the rumble seat.


(This for those of you who did not learn to ride with Fran and Joe  Dotoli,  jumping with Young Entry Stables in Massachusetts,  is a rumble seat.  Also Fran’s image for a rider hopelessly behind the horse approaching a fence.)

And this lack of getting “left behind” in the stride, is why jumper riders tend to find it easier to learn the dressage canter–though they often have to learn the moment to relax the thigh to allow the seat to settle.  They usually know the other skill.

The trot is in fact harder to learn to ride correctly than the canter, and a great deal of rider influence is also possible in this gait,  Which is often why you see some very skilled riders–Rudolf is an example, and so was Schultheis–who uniformly ride beautiful trots into their horses.  The riders influence of the diagonal pairing is very profound.

So, please trot differently than you canter, and canter differently than you trot!

See, that wasn’t so hard or complicated.

Practice, practice, practice. . . .

The Girth Shield Project




Last summer a clever student asked me why so many horses seemed to experience discomfort at girthing?  How come they made nasty faces, tried to nip, then walked out stiffly, or stayed tight in the back–particularly the young horses in canter?  We have a gazillion saddle sizes to choose from, clean pads, no sores, and we are always very considerate about girthing slowly.  Very frustrating.

My answer was far from satisfactory.

I did what we all do when we don’t really know, and said it was a problem, I was not sure of the answer.

Then I related that the so-called “cure” was that the horses had put up with it for years, and might well continue to do so–if they had enough grit. (Bad answer!)

And, that  they were not allowed to actually bite us! (True, but has nothing to do with what they are saying.)

I elaborated what I felt at the time–that it was a major issue for almost all dressage horses, and largely unresolved.

Further, lots of marketers had tried lots of things that really didn’t seem to work.

And, like specialty saddles, (though to a smaller degree), one could spend a ton of money on the newest thing and then be left with a pile of equipment that functioned no better (and perhaps worse) than before.

So with a shrug I went on–though I know that was not right.

But that question also spawned an answer because it came to bother me that some of my favorite and very successful horses had been bothered by their girths.

That solution required a lot of purchasing of different girths and a lot of sending back those failed trials, getting closer, and then some new creations based on what we found.  (We found there were some better than others, but the answer was not out there on the market for us to find.)

Now with a pile of experience–and  a several thousand $$$ pile of trial girths that did not work as hoped–we have an answer.

So TM in place, Patent pending our next year’s final drawing, here it is–an opportunity to participate  http://girthshield.wordpress.com/


This is anything but slick marketing, but that is not what we are about. You can  check to see if we have anything ready made in your horse’s size:  http://www.etsy.com/shop/GirthShield

And in another related post I have written the story about how we did it.  It was not too hard–it just took a LOT of time.  https://dressagesnob.wordpress.com/2013/07/16/we-figured-out-why-horses-dont-like-their-girths/


IMG_0443 IMG_1719 IMG_0445

Congratulations to Melynnda on Her Silver Medal!

Melynnda, as some of you know got a new horse last fall.  He’s really a good mover.  Expressive and elastic, sensitive but not silly.  Older, had some experience at the Grand Prix.  Half TB, bred from an old stallion of mine, Watson.  Spent his life in California and Germany.

A couple of weeks ago, first show of the season, Melynnda accomplished a personal best at the Prix St Georges, handily upping her past averages by almost five points and got the second score she needed for the USDF Silver Medal award.

Great work–we are all really proud of her!

Isn’t it great getting a new horse that is a better mover?

Well, yes indeed it is, except the horse she got the score on was her 14.2 downhill Mustang mare, Mariah.  The same horse she got her first score on as well–eeking out the sixty last year once  instead of this year nailing it with room to spare.  (It was a really nice test)

I don’t know how many FEI Mustangs there are, but I bet it is not a handful.

How did she do it?  Hard work over the winter, the new horse is teaching Melynnda a lot.

AND we have found a way to make that little horse happier than she has ever been in her tack.  She’s being ridden better, but she’s more comfortable as well.  Five points up, first show, how often does that happen?  Dressage is not so easy for that little Mustang.  We made her happier.  It paid off.

And finally, something if you are interested in we can help you with.  Yes, finally, something you can buy at Dressage Snob!  You know we know what we are doing.  Happy to share:  http://girthshield.wordpress.com/

Locating your diaphragm.

I gave this post two tags.  One is Rider Fitness.  The other, Organizing Your Time at the Barn.

Or in this case, your time not at the barn.

Perhaps it is the start of show season here in the Northwest that is creating a tendency in the professionals to nag, but I have been noticing that many of you spend a great deal of time in your cars.  In fact, I would say some of you spend more time in your cars than on your horses.  (This is something that should be thought of as a quality of life issue!)

Given that you do this, then I have a suggestion: use this time to find and strengthen your diaphragm.

Short story:

Yesterday I came home and Rick asked me about my day, “How did it go?”

I said, “Great!  Sally finally found her diaphragm!”

Not a long male silence, just a pause, the hint of a grin, neatly squelched.

“Perfect.  Where was it?”

There are days when he should just go straight to the creek, smoke a cigar and leave the niceties of coming home well enough alone.

But anyway, Sally drives rather a lot, and I gave her this task last week:  When driving, hopefully on one of those long, boring sections that are common in Eastern Oregon and the south side of Washington State,


place your hands at the base (YES–AT THE BASE) of the steering wheel, settling your seat bones in the seat nicely, lift your chest, press upward on the wheel, downward on your elbows, downward/backward on your seat bones.

Hopefully you will locate and press out and up the place just under your rib cage in the center–the same one that should ache like crazy on your first horse, about ten minutes into the ride.  That place is key to both your center and using diaphragmatic breathing to your advantage on a horse.

Frankly, I was surprised to hear how many people do long trips with hands at the 10 and 2 position.  I understand this for severe traffic, drivers education, or the Indy 500, but on a long trip?

On looking for the following totally frightening picture:


I located an article that says 10 and 2 hand position is no longer advised:


For one thing steering wheels have changed design, and then, should the airbag deploy, it will hit your hands going several hundred miles an hour.  And I gather, through some other unpleasant-sounding articles that nasty consequences can occur–such as “degloving” which I will not go into just now.

The consequence I am looking for is that you ride better.

Anyway, I always drive hands low on a long trip. and was surprised to hear others do not.  If you spend a lot of time at something it shapes you.  Give it a try.

(For more on this subject–diagrams!–please see previous post: https://dressagesnob.wordpress.com/2013/01/17/weight-aids-use-of-the-seat/)

Would you buy a young horse that clicks when it walks?

This is a new category–questions people are asking.

Question: Would you buy a young horse that clicks when it walks?

My assumption is that the question is joint clicking–not forging, which is when the hind foot strikes the forward heel which for whatever reason has not gotten out of the way in time–that makes a clicking sound too.

I have asked around in the past about the actual reason for joint clicking, as many of them do it.  No one I have talked to seems to know exactly what causes clicking, but if new news is out, please pipe up!

Answer: given we do not know exactly what causes joint clicking–usually in the hind fetlocks–it is not a 100% deal breaker for me.  But I would certainly prefer they not do it.  First, though it quite possibly is ligament noise, it makes me nervous about wear and tear.  Second, I associate it with stiff horses–not lame ones, but tight ones.  You rarely see a loose, fluid mover with this noise.  That said there is nothing wrong with working tight, strong and somewhat stiff  horses–they can be good too–you just approach them differently.  Also, interestingly, clicking can come and go.  Some horses do it when young and then you notice that you are no longer noticing it. . .

If we are referring to forging it is typically a sign that the horse is on the forehand–retarding the flight of the front foot, allowing the back to strike it.  Lots of green horses do it and as they get more balanced it goes away.

An attack of stupidity. Off to the vet?

Let me preface this post by telling you I have been going through a phase of seeming to guard against stupidity.  My own and others!

A stupid person or act is well-defined by this classic:

by Carlo M. Cipolla
illustrations by James Donnelly



This short treatise, (though I think inaccurate on the ratio of males to females born), asserts that stupid individuals are placed at an even rate through society and their very random, unthoughtful and irrational behavior makes them unpredictable and very dangerous.  They can cost you a lot if not guarded against vigilantly.

(Example, touring with a young couple interested in a short-term stay at the Odell House (my other line of work) when showing them a month-long place to stage a house hunt, they suggested that in this room:riverOne

We tear out the hundred year old built-in book-case at the foot of the twin bed


so their five-year old child could have his clothes stored more conveniently near to him.

This obviously did not happen, but it works well into the idea that people are either:

Intelligent.  Dealing with intelligent people is a win-win–both parties benefit.

Helpless.  These people lose by allowing others to take advantage of them.

Bandits. People who gain from others misfortune or loss.

Stupid. Stupid people cause themselves loss while also causing others to lose.

So how does this relate to horses and vets?  (Or in this case, horses, cats and vets)

An example of Intelligent behavior:

X client has been having difficulty with the bitting of her horse.  She rides very well and is conscientious about properly fitting tack.  The horse has had his teeth worked on, but still seems uncomfortable sometimes with his bitting.  We were talking yesterday and I said to her:

“Every day before you ride check his mouth for soreness in the bars, particularly on the right–and I really think you should make an appointment and have an x-ray of that lower jaw on the right.  I can feel something there, and we need to know if there is a spur or a leftover wolf tooth.  Better to know what we are dealing with than to guess.”

She has appeared hesitant to spend the money, yet later in the day I got a text:  “Appointment on Monday–soonest they could fit it in.”

This is an example of an intelligent well-reasoned choice to use medical help.  The benefit of knowing will almost surely outweigh the cost.

Here is an example of a not so well thought out moment.

This is Pasha, who you have met in other places in the blog.


Here he is shown admiring the new bike just come in from a winter ride.  He likes to go out, and does so on a leash, accompanying me to the grocery store in the car on occasion.


He’s obviously an indoor cat, but he does get to go and play in the chicken house looking for mice–his hobby.

But most of the time he just hangs out.


Last night Rick brought him in from the chicken house, and all seemed well.

But around two in the morning I noticed a large wet spot at the base of the bed, where he often sleeps.  I got up to see what was going on.  On picking him up I found he was rather helplessly attempting to lick himself on his chest–he was soaked!

Realizing in my semi-asleep state that there was a cat and a lot of wetness involved, I thought to myself, “This is an emergency!”

(I am not an expert in cats.  I do horses.)

But my cat vet has frequently pushed home the point that cats live on the verge of dehydration.


Disturbances to fluids are very serious.

I asked Rick to help me, and shined a flashlight on Pasha’s face and chest.  Pasha looked unhappy and unwell!  Continually licking himself, yet I could not find an injury.

I told Rick, “I think we might have to take him to the emergency clinic!” And went off to get dressed.

Rick appeared in a moment, saying, “Are you sure?”

Long stubborn female pause.

Rick again.  “He jumped off the bed just fine.”

As a primary diagnostic I went and got Pasha’s bag of treats–told him to sit, which he did, and daintily accepted the offering. (As you may see from his figure, Pasha typically has a good appetite.)

Pasha had not in fact gotten a stick (or mouse) lodged in his throat.

He was not stricken with the dreaded drooling disease.

He had, in fact, missed his jump to the bathroom counter and landed chest side down in the open toilet.

And, as there is a lot of fur involved in Pasha, there was indeed a lot of water involved–as well as some measure of feline distress and a great deal of licking.

This would have not been helped by a trip to the ER–though they might possibly have found it as funny as Rick does. . .