angle-left The Check-Out Drill: Saddle Girth Safety

The Check-Out Drill: Saddle Girth Safety

Incorporate this girth-safety program into your pre-horseback riding routine.
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In AQHA’s Fundamentals of Horsemanship series, AQHA partnered with La Cense Montana to provide you with the “Check-Out Drill,” an exercise promoting saddle girth safety that is easily incorporated into your pre-horseback riding routine.  

This girth-safety program has three objectives:

  • To assure the horse is comfortable after being saddled so the girth can be tightened once he’s “deflated.”
  • To make a thorough evaluation before getting onto his back through the use of several movements: backing, sending and lateral movement.
  • To be certain the horse is not bothered by the saddle, flapping stirrups, etc.

Once a horse has been saddled, never simply turn your back and lead him off without first sending him to the right and left. If the girth is pinching him or he is stuck or feeling “girthy,” he might leap toward you, particularly in the case of a young or highly sensitive horse. 

Follow the “Check-Out Drill” before mounting:

  1. Move his feet. Give him some direction and send him away at a walk, then a trot. Direct the horse toward a fence, and then send him away between you and fence. 
  2. Tighten the girth slightly after Step 1. Then, repeat Step 1 in the other direction and tighten the girth slightly once more. Three small girth adjustments are infinitely preferable to one big one. 
  3. Take him back a step. Once a horse is moving forward nicely, ask for a few backward steps. If the saddle is giving the horse any discomfort, it will become obvious at this point.
  4. Play is OK! If your horse is fresh and wants to buck and play around, allow him to do so, but keep him busy with transitions, cantering and direction changes, until he is calmer. It is better for him to express his exuberance now – before you get on his back. 

Errors to avoid:

  • Do not turn your back on the horse to lead him away just after having tightened the girth.
  • Do not tighten the girth against the rhythm of the horse’s breathing.
  • Do not simply try to wear your horse out physically before you get on. He will just become fitter and fitter.
  • Do not stop the exercise when the horse is still bucking or jumping around, or this is what he will learn to do. Stop only when he is calm and attentive.