How and Why the Shoulder Relief Girth Works
- Poor Saddle Fit – Any saddle that is out of balance, the wrong shape for the horse’s back, or has improper billet placement can cause a saddle to ride up onto the shoulders. Usually the saddle’s instability lets it shift around and over a few minutes finds it’s way into a horse’s range of shoulder motion.
- Forward Girth Groove – A horse whose narrowest part of his barrel is set forward past the scapula will cause a regular girth to sit too far forward relative to the saddle, and will actually pull a saddle forward. This is because the saddle initially girths up with billets angling forward, and over a few minutes of riding the natural nature of the saddle is to creep forward to line up with the girth. This inevitably pulls the saddle into the shoulders.
- Big Shoulders – Blame it on the blood line (or thank it for the big movements), but some horses have big shoulders that come back quite a ways into the saddle. Even if a horse doesn’t have a forward girth groove or bad saddle fit, they can still be impinged due to their conformation and where the saddle naturally wants to sit with a regular girth.
The Plot Thickens
When you walk next to your horse you will see his shoulder moving as he reaches his leg forward. His scapula actually rotates backward as the front leg moves forward. This is because of the point of connection where the soft tissue attaches to the scapula. So this means that even if a saddle is clearing the shoulders in the cross ties, it actually needs an additional 1-2 inches of clearance to account for the movement.
Enter the Shoulder Relief Girth
- What is the ideal girth length? For dressage/monoflap jump girths we recommend the girth be 4-6 inches from the bottom of the saddle flap. This will keep the buckles above the elbow, allow for greater pressure distribution, and prevent the edge of the girth from resting on the horse’s pectoral muscles.
- Does every horse need the Shoulder Relief Girth? No, some horses are lucky enough to have the conformation perfectly shaped for saddle fit. However, many horses do need it, and sadly there are way more horses that feel the pain of interference from the saddle than you might imagine. And as horses are more frequently bred to be big movers, the need for shoulder freedom becomes more and more of a real issue.
- What if I have a perfectly fit custom saddle? First off, congratulations! Second, if your horse exhibits any of the above conformation characteristics then you (and he) could benefit from the Shoulder Relief Girth in a big way. No matter how well a saddle fits, if it is being pulled into the shoulders by “external forces” then it could cause an issue that would benefit from the proper girth.