The “Cinchy” Horse

Reasons & Remedies for Saddling Sensitivity

by Stefanie Reinhold

What is ‘cinchy’?

In a nut shell: ‘Cinchy’ describes a horse that shows an adverse reaction to the saddle cinch or saddle girth, either during the saddling process or well before – for example when approaching the horse with the saddle.

These adverse reactions can range from subtle (tense facial expression) to aggressive (kicking or biting). Any response apart from a relaxed acceptance must be viewed as a defensive response on part of the horse.

Why is my horse ‘cinchy’ or ‘girthy’?

When looking at any unwanted behaviors in horses, we are looking at 3 possible scenarios:

  • An unpleasant physical experience at this moment (pain, discomfort, etc.)
  • An unpleasant emotional experience at this moment (fear, panic, etc.)
  • A memory of an unpleasant physical or emotional experience, which is now anticipated (but may not occur…)

A google search shows: Most trainers address a negative reaction to the girth or cinch as a behavior issue. This is an unfortunate misrepresentation. As responsible horse owners, we need to consider physical pain and discomfort first, then rule it out or address it in order to then successfully address the behavior issue or habit that may be associated with this discomfort.cinchy_girthy_horse

Physical Discomfort as Cause for Cinchy Behavior

Asking ourselves ‘could it be pain?‘, we need to start looking at the girth area, mainly the area of the deep pectoral muscles. Here some tips:

  • Run your fingers (carefully) from the center of the rib cage (under the horse, sternum) up towards the saddle area, across the ascending pectorals (see image). Look for reactions: Anything from muscle flinching in that area to more volatile reactions like kicking and biting. NOTE: Be careful! Start with very soft touch, take it up a notch only if no reaction from the horse. Never press harder than would be comfortable for you. Practice on your own leg first.
  • Did you get a reaction? If yes, it is time to investigate girth fit, tightness, material, placement, etc. Your horse is in discomfort!!
  • More clues: Is your horse ‘short-strided’ or tight in the shoulder? This could be another indicator of discomfort in the deep pectorals.

The detective work in finding out what causes the discomfort in the girth area (meaning in the deep pectorals) does not stop at riding equipment.

You also need to look at feet, any hidden front leg or shoulder discomfort, tightness in the poll, imbalance in self carriage. The underlying problem can also be a subluxation of any of the underlying skeletal structures (vertebrae), often called a ‘rib out’. Contact an equine chiropractor to rule out this very common cause of girthyness. More often than not, it is difficult to find the reason if all factors have been sufficiently addressed and girthy behavior persists. Gentle bodywork that addresses the entire system of the horse’s body and rules out compensation patterns – such as the Masterson Method of Integrated Equine Performance Bodywork – will often be the key to resolving the hidden causes of girthy behavior.

a bridging dressage saddle
Looks nice, but doesn’t fit. This saddle bridges and slides back under the rider. A torture instrument for the horse.

Reasons for girthy or cinchy behavior can include:

  1. Saddle problems

    • a saddle with a tree that pinches in the whithers
    • a saddle with protruding screws or knotty, aged flocking
    • a saddle that does not conform well to the shape of the horses back (bridges or rocks)
  2. Girth/cinch or pad problems:

    1. a saddle pad that bunches
    2. a saddle pad that is too thick, thus making a well fitting saddle fit like a shoe, that is too small
    3. a soiled saddle pad (for example plant debris, sand, old hardened sweat etc)
    4. a synthetic saddle pad that ‘heats up’ during the ride and promises discomfort later on
    5. a pinching girth/cinch or buckle (especially Western cinches with the buckle in the wrong position)
    6. a too tight girth/cinch
  3. Physical problems (sometimes caused by above)

    1. Sore spots, abscess, insect bites or other wounds in the girth or saddle area  (infected tick bites)
    2. Back pain: the horse anticipates back pain when being ridden and thus has anxiety around the saddling process (for example: back-pain due to muscle spasms or hock problems).
    3. Sore feet: The abdodimus pectoris muscle can get tender and sore when horses have pain or soreness in their front feet because of the way the horse moves to avoid the pain.
  4. Emotional problems

    scared-horse-200x132
    An expression of fear has no place in the saddling process.
    1. The horse associates the process of being saddled with a stressful experience, such as
      • feelings of panic or claustrophobia (often caused by starting the young horse in a hurry)
      • a negative riding experience, either in present or past (former owner, trainer)
      • unsoundness or painful illness (such as any digestive issues, ulcers, hoof sensitivities) that become very stressful when ridden

Equine massage or body work can help with any muscular issues, whether they may be primary – such as muscle spasm – or secondary – such as sore ascending pectoral muscles due to sore feet.

However, the first recommended course of action is to uncover the root cause, involving professionals such as vet, farrier, equine chiropractor, acupuncturist, etc. After the root
cause for the discomfort is remedied, the secondary discomfort and tension due to compensation can often be helped within only a few sessions of equine massage or body work.

So here again in a nutshell:

  • Check Saddle Fit
  • Check girth/cinch placement and material
  • Check for wounds, bruises or muscle pain
    (see above)
  • Involve an equine chiropractor or vet (or both)

Resolve the problem, then release any tension resulting from compensation through gentle bodywork. (You can learn basic equine bodywork techniques yourself.)

Only then is it time to replace the problematic and now habitual behavior in the horse through training measures.

As always, enjoy your horse!

Stefanie Reinhold

 

10 Tips from the Old-School Groom

Horses have been around for a lot longer than our modern conveniences like horse vacuums and show sheen spray. While we can be grateful to have access to these conveniences, not everything we use today is actually helpful or beneficial.
What did experienced stable hands do in the ‘old days’? What can we learn from them?

Sometimes, it’s the simple ‘old-school’ solution that gets the best result.

Here 10 “old-school” grooming and horse care tips:

  1. 100 strokes to shine

pferdepflegeThe German cavalry prescribed a minimum of 100 brush strokes (with a horse hair brush) per horse per day. The recruits had to groom their own horses and were subjected to rigorous inspections. Grooming was not only viewed as a means to clean the horse but also to provide a good massage, increase blood circulation and well being. But the recruits were encouraged to be quick about it: “There is no value in grooming beyond the point of when the horse is clean.” (Care of the Troup Horse, 1937)

  1. What’s in an onion?

Apparently something that makes the horse hoof shiny. Cut an onion into half and rub the clean and dry hoof with the raw onion before entering the show ring. It will provide shine without the unwanted side-effect of attracting sand and dirt.

a healthy horse hoof
Treating a horse’s hoof with a hoof conditioner with Bay Leaf Oil.
  1. Laurel oil for hoof growth

Laurel oil (bay leaf oil) has been a staple in hoof care for centuries. The thrifty groom would massage the oil into the coronet band, then sparingly spread a thin film over the rest of the hoof wall. Then hoof treatment was applied to the collateral groove and the sole of the hoof, never the frog!

  1. Caring for the sweaty horse after exercise

The hot and sweaty horse appreciates having his eyes and nostrils cleaned with a damp cloth. Then 10-15 minutes of calm walking in hand, in winter or cool weather covered with a simple wool blanket. Follow up with a vigorous rub down with a bunch of clean straw to dry the coat further, then brush the coat smooth with a coarse natural brush.

  1. Caring for the horse’s mane

The knowledgeable old-school groom never combed a mane! Instead, the mane would be finger-combed, the dandruff on the crest would then be brushed off with a horse hair finishing brush, parting small sections with the fingers, and then the groom would smoothen the mane by brushing.

  1. Fly prevention

catch_flyWherever there are horses, there will be flies… Besides cleanliness, the old-school barn master prescribed a natural ally in the war against the buzzing pest: swallows. Encourage swallows to nest in your barn and you will keep the fly population low.

  1. And another fly repellent…

If you cannot convince the swallows to nest in your barn, try a ‘spiked lemon’. Spike a lemon with cloves and hang it up in your barn.

  1. Keeping leather soft

After cleaning saddle, bridle & other leather accessories thoroughly with saddle soap, the old-school groom would not let the leather dry out completely but instead apply leather conditioner when the leather was still somewhat damp. After letting the conditioner soak in, remove excess fat with a wool cloth, easily made by shrinking an old wool sweater in a hot wash cycle.

  1. Cleaning very sweaty bridles

In order to remove caked on dirt and sweat before cleaning the bridle with saddle soap, take the bridle apart and soak it for a few minutes in lukewarm water with a squirt of ammonia.Be sure not to forget the bridle in the bucket! Remove after a few minutes.

  1. Last not least… a tasty snack!

The groom in old times provided his horses with tasty branches from fruit trees, birch trees and hazelnut bushes. This was supposed to be healthy and good for the teeth. If you’d like to take it up a notch, soak some bread in beer, a snack that was (or still is…) supposedly popular in some parts of Germany. (Note: This tip is provided for entertainment purposes. If you would like to try this, please check with your vet first! 😉