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

Rachel Murray, Russell Guire, Mark Fisher, Vanessa Fairfax
November 2013
The Veterinary Journal

Girths are frequently blamed for veterinary and performance problems, but research into girth/horse interaction is sparse. The study objectives were (1) to determine location of peak pressure under a range of girths, and (2) to compare horse gait between the horse’s standard girth and a girth designed to avoid detected peak pressure locations. In the first part of the study, and following validation procedures, a calibrated pressure mat placed under the girth of 10 horses was used to determine the location of peak pressures. A girth was designed to avoid peak pressure locations (Girth F). In the second part, 20 elite horses/riders with no lameness or performance problem were ridden in Girth F and their standard girth (Girth S) in a double blind crossover design. Pressure mat data were acquired from under the girths. High speed video was captured and forelimb and hindlimb protraction, maximal carpal and tarsal flexion during flight were determined in trot. In standard girths, peak pressures were located over the musculature behind the elbow.

Pressure mat results revealed that the maximum forces with Girth S were 22% (left) and 14% (right) greater than Girth F, and peak pressures were 76% (left) and 98% (right) greater (P < 0.01 for all). On gait evaluation, Girth F was associated with 6–11% greater forelimb protraction, 10–20% greater hindlimb protraction, 4% greater carpal flexion, and 3% greater tarsal flexion than Girth S (P < 0.01 for all). Peak pressures were located where horses tend to develop pressure sores. Girth F reduced peak pressures under the girth, and improved limb protraction and carpal/ tarsal flexion, which may reflect improved posture and comfort.