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Girth Galls and Saddle Sores

Girth galls and saddle sores can afflict your horse for a number of reasons. Most cases are minor, but left untreated these sores can result in damage, scaring and discomfort. Here's how to identify, treat and prevent girth galls and saddle sores.

The Causes

Saddle sores and girth galls are caused by friction. They are similar to the blisters that form when you wear ill-fitting shoes. The sores can be caused or exacerbated by tack that is dirty and features a build-up of grime and sweat as this will be ground into the horse’s skin. Tack that is too tight or stiff and inflexible may lead to chaffing and occasionally a foreign object like a burr or wood chip can become lodged between tack and horse. Horses with very sensitive skin are prone to saddle and girth sores and will require special care.

The Symptoms

Sores may first appear to be slight rubs with some hair missing from the affected area. You could also see open wounds like blisters. Alternatively, a sore may initially present as a swollen lump under the skin. Such lumps can vary in size. Girth galls often form just behind the elbow of the horse in the girth area, but can occur at any site where the girth contacts the skin.

Very severe saddle sores can form deep indents which may become infected. Left untreated, permanent damage and scaring to the skin and underlying muscle will occur. Saddle sores could form anywhere beneath the saddle, although they most commonly appear underneath the cantle area or near the loins and withers.

How to Treat the Sores

If you discover an open sore, sponge the affected area with a saline solution and apply a soothing ointment. You may choose to use something with an antibiotic in it. It is important to keep the area clean and the skin in good condition.

Galls or sores that manifest themselves as swellings under the skin can be left but tack should not be placed over the area until it is healed.

How to Prevent Sores

Always keep your tack clean and look out for foreign bodies and debris. Leather tack can become stiffer as it ages. It pays to look after your tack so it remains supple for as long as possible. If you sense stiffness, it’s time for replacements. Regular grooming will also help you to prevent sores.

Ensure that your tack fits correctly. Ill-fitting saddles and a girth that is too narrow or too wide will be problematic. Don’t overly tighten the girth and if your saddle pad tends to shift, try a different style.

If Your Horse has Sensitive Skin

Sometimes, despite all of your best efforts, you could struggle to prevent sores if your horse has sensitive skin. Try washing blister-prone areas with salt water to toughen the skin. It might also help to increase the length of time that you ride your horse gradually to give the skin time to toughen up. A fleecy girth or cinch covers might also the trick. Double check that your saddle fits perfectly.

If at all in doubt about a skin condition or injury contact your vet for assistance.


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