How To Use a Dressage Girth? (A Step-by-Step Guide)

When horse riders first start dressage, they may be confused about how to use a dressage girth and other types of dressage tack.

This is especially true if they have only done one sport, or just trail riding, their whole career.

Don’t worry when you first see a dressage girth and thick it looks strange.

I will explain everything you need to know about using a dressage girth in my guide; so keep reading.

READ MORE: What is the Best Girth for a Sensitive Horse?

Where Should a Dressage Girth Sit?

girth being properly placed on a horse but how to use a dressage girth properly?

Let’s start with the main question – “how to use a dressage girth?”

The dressage girth should sit behind the horse’s elbow, with one human hand of the distance between the end of the girth and the elbow. 

The girth position that will ensure equine comfort may be different depending on how the horse is built. Seek out the advice of a saddle fitter if you have trouble sizing and fitting a girth

The best way to find the girth groove is to put your saddle on your horse with the girth loosened and hand-walk them for a few minutes. The girth will slide into place thanks to the horse’s movement.

Placing a girth is hard because most horses do not like having their girth tightened. 

A horse I used to ride named Shane was a girthy horse. He would pin his ears back whenever someone would tighten his girth for proper saddle fit.

Correctly placing the girth is essential for your horse’s comfort. I found this expert’s explanation of girth placement really helpful. Check it out.

Which Way Does a Dressage Girth Go? How To Use a Dressage Girth?

The girth attaches to the saddle billets and wraps around the horse’s stomach area. The girth should be put on with the buckles facing the outside so that they can keep the saddle secure. 

Girths have a front and a back, so it is important you put it on facing the right way. The easiest way to check placement is to look at the middle of the girth in the area that sits between the horse’s front legs.

Most will have a metal ring here. Some will have the ring right on the edge of the girth. This design is easier to figure out. When the metal ring is closer to the front of the horse it is correct.

Some other designs are a little trickier, and you will find the metal ring more towards the middle. When the curved part of the ring is pointing forward and laying comfortably it is usually correct. 

Another way to determine if the girth is the right way with this type of design is to look at the shape of the girth. One side will have a curve. When this curve points forward, the girth is the correct way around.

Some girths have elastic straps. If it has elastic straps on one side only, make sure the side with the elastic is attached to the left saddle billets. If it has elastic straps on both sides, you will need to look at the metal ring and shape.

Not only is placement important, you also must ensure that you use the correct size.

What Size Dressage Girth Do I Need?

a person measuring something

What size dressage girth do I need? Sizing a dressage girth can be a challenge because dressage girths are much shorter.

The girth should be the right size for the dressage saddle to avoid chafing and pinching.

This allows freedom of moment and proper airflow because there is elbow clearance which prevents sweat from building up.

Here is how to measure a girth properly if you are a dressage rider. (1)

First, place the saddle and saddle pad on your horse without doing up the girth. Then, find the heart girth. Grab a measuring tape and hold the end of it on the second hole from the bottom of the saddle billets.

Grab the other side of the girth with your free hand and wrap it under your horse’s heart girth, measuring it to where the second on third billet holes are on the other side.

Record the measurement from the tape measure, which is the measurement of the heart girth, and divide it by two then subtract by three to get the correct dressage girth size for your horse.

Typical dressage girth sizing charts have these sizing guides:

Horse Height Short Girth Size Long Girth Size 
14 hh – 15 hh42-44 inches 22-24 inches 
15 hh -16 hh46-48 inches 26 inches 
16 hh -17 hh50-52 inches 28 inches 
17 hh+54-56 inches 30-32 inches 

Here is a video that explains more about the process of measuring and fitting a dressage girth. 

Importance of a Well-Fitting Dressage Girth

Girth fit is necessary to have a comfortable ride, whether you have a neoprene girth, fleece girth, leather girth, synthetic girth, anatomical girth, or anything in between. Nevertheless, it is overlooked by riders.

Why is a well-fitting dressage girth so important? Renowned saddlery, CWD, says that “it is essential that the girth is adapted so as not to negatively impact your horse’s health and locomotion.” (2)

Many riders find that contoured girths or those with a sheepskin cover increase their horse’s comfort level.

It Has An Impact on Your Horse’s Performance 

a competitive horse running sport

If a horse is uncomfortable in their tack, they will act up which will negatively affect their performance.

Whether your girth is an ergonomic girth or a straight girth, your horse will have more freedom of movement the better it fits.   

A study carried out on racehorses and published in the Australian Veterinary Journal found that – “both the type of girth and the tension at which it is applied affected the horses’ athletic performance. The researchers concluded that lower girth tension and the use of elastic materials may optimize equine
performance.” (3)

The Girth is the Only Thing That Keeps the Saddle in Place 

Unless a horse is too young to be backed and ridden, it will have a visibly marked girth area somewhere between its abdomen and its shoulders.

As horses are ridden, their back will start to sink in. So their withers will stick out while their backs do not. 

Without a proper fitting girth, the saddle and saddle pad will not stay in place. So, you must choose a girth that fits your horse’s body type as well as their saddle.

The Girth Affects a Horse’s Posture and Range of Movement     

a horse running though a course

A big reason why equestrians ask “where should the girth sit on a horse?” is because the girth affects how the horse moves and how they carry themselves

A bad girth puts pressure on the muscles that allow for front leg and hindquarter engagement and lateral flexion. The best dressage girths make it possible for horses to use their full range of motion

Girths can also press on the rib cage, making it harder for the horse to breathe and forcing them to compensate with other muscles.                                        

A Step By Step Guide on How to Use Dressage Girth

Putting on a dressage girth can be a confusing process. Here are some steps to help you learn how to put on a girth.

Step 1: Attach the Girth to the Saddle 

Before wrapping the girth around your horse’s abdomen, you need to attach it to the saddle.

Take the right side of the girth and connect it to the first and third saddle billets, starting with the first billet hole. Once the right side is on, you can attach the left side. 

To secure the left side, reach your hand under your horse’s abdomen and pull the girth underneath from the right side and secure it on the first and third buckle.

Step 2: Adjust and Tighten the Girth

Once you have the girth secured, you need to take care when tightening it. You want to make sure that the girth is tight enough to keep the saddle in place, but not so tight that it makes the horse uncomfortable

You want the girth to be tight enough to where you can still fit four, flat fingers under it when you go to check it.

Here’s a youtube video on how to properly attach a girth

FAQs

How tight should my dressage girth be?

The girth should be tight enough for you to fit four fingers, flatly held, underneath it.

Can you use a dressage girth for jumping?

Dressage girths are shorter than those for jumping because the saddle has longer billets, so you cannot use a dressage girth for jumping because they will not fit the saddle.

How long should my girth be?

something being measured

The length of the girth depends on the height of your horse. For example, a 15 hand horse needs at least a 22-inch girth, while a 17 hand horse needs at least a 30-inch girth.

How do I care for my dressage girth?

Keep your dressage girth clean by cleaning and conditioning it regularly. This will not only ensure it lasts long, it will help prevent any skin problems for your horse.

Conclusion

Knowing how to use a dressage girth is important so that you are providing your horse comfort in any situation whether it is during dressage training or shows.

The girth sits just behind the elbow and holds the saddle in place. The length of girth that your horse will need depends on its height and should be tight enough to fit four fingers between it.

Guide to Putting on a Dressage Girth

Have you tried putting on a dressage girth before? Please share with us your experience down in the comment section!

References

  • 1. “Measuring an English Girth in Five Easy Steps.” Horse.com. https://www.horse.com/content/tips/measuring-an-english-girth-in-five-easy-steps/. Accessed 22 Apr. 2022.
  • 2. “The Importance of a Well-Fitted Girth.” Blog ISPORT, 15 Mar. 2021, blog-isport.cwdsellier.com/en-us/the-importance-of-a-well-fitted-girth/. Accessed 22 Apr. 2022.
  • 3. Scott, Colleen. “Girths May Seem a Ho-Hum Subject. So Why Did the British Olympic Team Call One Design Its Secret Weapon?” Accessed 22 Apr. 2022
Bryanna Tanase
Bryanna Tanase

Bryanna is a 23-year-old Florida-based Grade 1 Para-dressage rider based in Florida and she has been riding for 5 years. Horses are her passion and her ultimate goal is to be selected for the US Para-Equestrian Team and represent the US at the Paralympics. She rides at Quantum Leap Farm and Emerald M Therapeutic Riding Center and her equine partners are Shane, an American Paint Horse, and Cappy a Welsh x Thoroughbred. When she is not helping at the barn, riding, or training, she is learning about horses, writing articles about them, and using her social media platforms to raise awareness for therapeutic riding and para-equestrianism, shares her journey, and advocates for greater inclusion of para-equestrian in the media and equestrian sport at large.
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