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Horse "bloats" when saddled

From: Tammy

Dear Jessica, my horse Rico bloats up whenever I put the saddle on him. I can hardly tighten the girth he bloats so much. Then when I get on in a little while I have to get off him again to tighten the girth again because it is all loose. I don't understand why he does this. It doesn't get him out of being ridden and it just gets him punished so he must not be very smart if he keeps on doing this. I am short so it isn't easy for me to knee him in the gut like I'm supposed to get him to let his air out, so I always have to get off him again later to tighten the girth. I wish I didn't have to do it twice every single time I ride. Is there some way I can get him to stop bloating? Some times I'm thinking about something else and I don't remember about his trick and my saddle starts to slipping sideways before I remember and get off and tighten it. I just know one of these days the whole saddle is going to slide around underneath him and I'll get hurt just because he pulls this trick every ride.


Hi Tammy! Your horse isn't actually bloating - that is, he isn't taking a deep breath and holding it. What he's doing is tensing his muscles. Horses that tense their muscles when you reach for the girth are typically horses that have learned the hard way that someone is about to make them very uncomfortable by pulling the girth hard and suddenly and trying to make it as tight as possible.

It's been a long time since I heard someone say "Knee him in the gut" but there probably ARE some people who still teach this. Don't worry if it's difficult for you to do it - the truth is that you shouldn't do it at all. Your horse isn't inflating with air, and you can't let the air out of him. You can hurt him and frighten him and convince him that being ridden is a miserable experience and that he should worry whenever he sees you, but I'm sure you don't want him to feel that way. You should probably give up the idea that you can fasten your girth once when you first saddle your horse and then make no further adjustments until the ride is over. Girth-fastening should be an incremental, gradual process, not a sudden, extreme movement.

Don't punish him when you reach for the girth and he tenses his muscles. He's anticipating pain, which makes perfect sense if you're always in a hurry when you saddle him. When you pull hard on the girth and try to go from "no girth" to "tight girth" in the course of one or two seconds, it's not a nice experience for your horse. He knows what you're about to do, but instead of stepping away from - or biting or kicking - the person who is about to hurt him, he's just trying to protect his own body. That's actually very nice of him.

There's no reason to punish a horse for anticipating discomfort - all that will do is teach him that it's painful AND scary when you get near the girth. Since you have to get off and tighten the girth again anyway, why not make the whole process easier on your horse and yourself? When you tack up, fasten the girth slowly, gently, and loosely, then walk the horse for a few minutes, stop him, and tighten the girth a little. Walk him for another minute or two, and THEN tighten the girth to its final position and mount up. It's possible that you might need to get off in another fifteen minutes and tighten it a little more, but it's also very possible that you won't, and in any case you won't need to tighten it much. If you can teach your horse that you're going to be gentle with him and he doesn't need to brace himself whenever you touch the girth, you'll have an easier time fastening the girth - and you'll be much less likely to find your saddle slipping underneath him later during the ride.


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