I have been saddling horses my whole life. I have a lot of experience with how tight the girth should be on your horse, and I want to share my experience with you.
How tight should a horse’s girth be? You should be able to get two fingers under the horse’s girth. Keep a hands width between the girth and the horse’s elbow. Make sure that there is no skin pinched under the girth. You can stretch your horse’s front legs forward after cinching the girth to make sure there are no wrinkles.
The challenge is to get your girth tight enough that it will hold your saddle in place without any slipping. However you do not want it so tight that it will make your horse uncomfortable and interfere with his ability to perform. With a little bit of experience and additional knowledge you will become a good judge on how to fit your saddle and horse comfortably and safely.
Tightening the saddle’s girth
Before you put your saddle on, you should groom your horse.
Then check the pad and the girth thoroughly. Make sure both are clean and free of sticks, pebbles or burrs.
You don’t want to accidentally cinch a burr down tight against your horses’s back, that could really set it off.
Set the pad and saddle on your horse’s withers and slide them backward into place. This makes all the hairs lie down in the right direction.
Smooth the saddle pad or blanket so there are no creases in it. It is a good idea to pull the pad up a little in the front, so it peaks up into the gullet of your saddle. This will keep the pad from putting pressure on your horse’s withers and allows air to circulate.
On the right side of your horse, bring the girth or cinch downwards, lowering it gently so the buckles don’t hit into his legs. Check that the girth isn’t twisted or that the blanket isn’t wrinkled
Girth your horse up gradually, not all in one squeeze. It’s good to do it in stages.
Also, always check the girth again after about 10 minutes of riding.
If you are riding in a western saddle it probably has a back cinch, fasten it after you have tightened the front cinch. The back cinch should not be tight. It should touch the horse’s belly, so he can’t put a hind foot through it, but you should be able to slip your hand under it easily.
Avoiding bloating while cinching the girth
Don’t be surprised to discover that your horse has found a way to prevent you from tightening up the girth.
He could take a bellyful of air and hold his breath; then you tighten the girth over his expanded belly and ride off unknowingly only to have the saddle slip later when your horse let’s out his breath. Tricky horses indeed.
When you own your own horse and saddle you will be able to judge by the wear marks on your cinch or latigo, as to how tight the girth should be. This will allow you to pull up your girth to the approximate same mark every time. Even if your horse gains or loses weight you will be able to tell if you are riding him regularly.
If it suddenly becomes impossible to tighten the girth in its usual position, you can suspect that your horse is bloating.
A look at your horse’s face should confirm this. His nostrils and mouth will seem pinched, and his eyes will have a faraway look, as he concentrates on holding his breath. His sides will be almost motionless as he tries not to breath.
In order to get your horse to breathe naturally so that you can tighten the girth right, lead him around in a few circles. This will help deflate him so you can tighten the girth a little more.
Whenever you ride a strange horse you should always be aware of this trick that horses love to pull. Just assume that he is probably going to bloat when you are trying to saddle him and take precautions.
Another tip is if your horse has an irresistibly itchy or ticklish spot somewhere that you know about, take advantage of that. Give him a good scratch that he will love and forget all about bloating his stomach.
Your horse will lose the bloating habit if you are careful to girth up in stages, and if you avoid cinching too tightly. If you have a riding instructor, have him show you how.
If your horse suddenly begins to bloat, when he has not done so in the past; review your own methods and make adjustments. Remember he is bloating for self-defense. `