Natural Horse Therapies

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Natural Horse Therapies

Girth Galls and Saddle Sores

Posted on Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009 at 11:06 pm


Girth Galls and Saddle Sores ….

Hello friends. In today’s blog I thought I’d chat about girth galls and saddle sores, which I have to say are unfortunately common in greater or lessor degrees, amongst the horse community.

So first of all, what are they and how can one identify if my horse has one?

Generally girth and saddle sores are found on or around the rug, saddle and girth areas as pressure points, where weeping, sore and devitalised areas can be seen. These can become infected and painfully inflamed. They can sometimes appear like a large flat haematoma or blood blister – raised, hot and sensitive to touch. Your horse will be resistant to riding, saddling, girthing or any pressure whatsoever! Early signs of saddle sores are tender areas to the touch, areas of heat and pain, and white/grey patches reflecting uneven pressure and suppressed circulation.

Left untreated the area may swell, blister and develop pus. The final stage of this development is death of the tissue in the area, which must be removed before healing by granulation can occur.Absence of hair and the presence of calluses is the sign of a chronic saddle sore. To feel, these hardened and small lumps can sometimes also feel like a crusty scab or solidified mud attached to the skin.

Saddle sores on the withers is said to be one of the most painful and serious of locations. Here pressure is being applied to the spinous processes, and this can lead to damage of the bone itself. Bone damage of this sort can lead to overlapping of the spinous processes resulting in lameness. Wherever white or grey hair is present around the saddle area, it is incredibly important to ensure your current saddle is well fitted. All too often I am called out to work on a horse with a sore back, only to find the saddle is the culprit!

Pressure sores are common where saddles are poorly fitted, or there is inadequate padding for use. Excessive movement with poorly maintained or excessively tight girths and saddlery, quickly damages the skin and sensitive back tissue. It is vitally important where saddle fitting is concerned, that no contact be made with the spine along the entire stretch of the horses back, including the wither zone. This ensures your horse is comfortable and no damage is done to the spinal column.

A rider or load sitting in an unbalanced position, excessive uphill and downhill riding, or wet skin caused by rain or sweat, are also primary causes of saddle sores.

Conformation can pose a challenge when ensuring a good saddle fit. Thin or unevenly shaped horses with narrow chests or low or high withers can increase the likelihood of pressure sores.

So now that we have identified these greebly little fellows, what can we do about them?!!

A horse with an open sore should not bed ridden or have any equipment placed in the saddle region. Total rest of the affected area is essential for healing to take place. In some cases, this may mean riding bareback, as long as the sore is not likely to get re-rubbed.

I recommend to my clients to regularly check the fitting of one’s equipment and invest in a professionally fitted saddle. Ensure the padding is even and comfortable and all gear is maintained to be supple and clean for use. Keep in mind that your horse very often changes sizes, with the fluctuation of the seasons, and their exercise routines. Padding can help to accomodate these changes in most, but not all situations.

Petroleum jelly can be placed in front of the girth area, behind the point of the elbow, to help reduce the rubbing of the girth. A clean girth of course is also a must. Encrusted sweat and mud can easily irritate the skin unnessecarily.

For sores that are not advanced, massaging with stimulating ointments is beneficial.

Continue to feed a good natural diet to support the wellbeing of your horse. With caution, one can add fresh Comfrey leaf to your horse’s morning and evening feeds to help with healing the sores. Be aware that in some countries comfrey is considered a toxic plant. So knowledge of your local plant life is important.

A paste of aloe vera gel and crushed fresh comfrey can be applied to the sores. Clean with a warm saline wash and apply. Comfrey is a wonderful herb that has been used for thousands of years primarily to mend broken bones.Comfrey works well on wounds and soft tissue damage due to the content of allantoin speeding up the replacement of cells and reducing scar tissue.

If you would like to use essential oils, a 2.5% dilution of Lavender Oil, can be mixed into an aloe vera gel and applied topically. Lavender Oil is useful to remove heat from an area. Lavender also encourages cell growth and regeneration and is known for its soothing and relaxing qualities.

Homeopathic Arnica is good for any bruising, given once daily for 3 days at 30C. 30C of Calendula given once daily (kept separate from feed and Arnica) for 5 days will help reduce the pain of the sores.

There are other helpful homeopathic remedies that are suitable, and I go into more depth in my report on saddle fitting, which will be found shortly on the website.

I hope these tips helped you and I wish your horse a speedy recovery from saddle sores! As always, prevention is the best medicine, so I wish you well in your endeavours, and happy riding.

Warm wishes,


4 responses to “Girth Galls and Saddle Sores”

  1. j craig says:

    I used the lavender/aloe vera on a rub on my thin-skinned Arab gelding with wonderful results. The skin returned to normal colour in a few days and the hair started to re-grow in a week. I shall keep some on hand and use it every day after work. Thank you for the advice.

  2. andrew vowell says:

    I had a horse trained recently and was told by the trainer he was unsure of how good of a horse she would be since she was “broncky”. After looking at the horse when we got her home and looked closer at the mares back and found a 3″ and a 4″ sore and down her spine she was very “touchy” I believe I have found at least part of the problem.
    Thank you for the article

  3. donna frost says:

    hi there

    i would like to know how do girth galls work?

  4. Olivia says:

    I have a question- if a horse has had a saddle sore and the hair has grown back white, is there a way to get it to grown brown or black or whatever color again? Is there something you can spray on that can help?

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