My claim to fame is that I tend to have looser-than-normal girths when I ride. It's not because I want the saddle to slide off; rather, it's so that I can keep my horse as comfortable as possible.
My (now 29 years old) show mare, Annahi, taught me early on how sensitive she was to tightness around her girth area. She is chestnut and thin skinned. She would also sweat quickly when in work. Long before I knew much about saddles and saddle fitting, I would take extra care to not tighten the girth too much so as not to put too much pressure or cause girth galls.
And so my most recent purchase for my gelding, Cyrus, was bought with the same purpose in mind. It is a new style girth, wide and long enough to distribute pressure, and made of soft leather.
I thought it was perfect.
Until I talked to Justin of Total Saddle Fit about their newest girth, the StretchTec Shoulder Relief Girth™. I have heard of the company before. Their original girth, the Shoulder Relief Girth™, is already being used by some of the top level riders that I most admire in my area. I had seen them at the shows and was always intrigued about their design.
Before I knew it, the newest model of the SRG arrived at my door. This girth comes with three types of liners: neoprene, leather and sheepskin. I ordered the leather and the sheepskin liners.
It is called StretchTec because it has a feature that I haven't seen in any other girth model: the elastic in the middle of the girth.
If you haven't held one before, it might seem a little overly flexible at first. The girth is divided into three sections and so it feels different when you carry it. Think of a three-piece snaffle bit with the French link in the middle and you'll have an idea of how the movable middle of the StretchTec feels.
My friend and I played with it by each holding an end to watch the stretch action. The elastic is wide to the back of the girth, but is held snug at the front by the leather of the girth. We could imagine how this elastic would allow for the horse's girth area to expand and contract as we pulled and released it. The action was the same with both the custom designed leather and the sheepskin liners.
I tried the girth with the sheepskin liner first on Cyrus.
You can clearly see how the girth is cut back at the elbow to allow greater freedom of movement. The middle of the girth falls forward and naturally into the horse's girth groove while the cut back section allows the saddle billets to be directed straight down. This prevents the saddle from being pulled forward to the horse's shoulder blades, hence, the "shoulder relief" action of the girth.
Next, my friend tried the leather liner on her horse, Boss.
The leather liner is also wide and made of a pliable, quality leather. In my opinion, it's perfect for a tidier "show" look (but honestly, the fleece liner would be great at a show too). It comes off in seconds and can be cleaned as you would any leather tack.
But the key feature was most evident when I looked underneath the horse's belly at the elastic.
The "stretch" part of the StretchTec Shoulder Relief Girth™ has got to be the most innovative feature I have ever seen on a girth. It literally expands and contracts with the horse's movement. While it stays flush to the body and keeps the saddle balanced and snug on the horse, it allows the horse's girth area the flexibility it needs for any and all movement and breathing.
While I thought that the leather liner would be my preferred choice, I realize now that the sheepskin liner is soft, cozy to the skin, and easily washable. You could use the sheepskin for everyday riding (and wash at will) and use the leather liner for special events.
I have to say that I have never had a better girth on any of my horses. Even my newish "fancy" girth is not nearly as beautiful and functional. I can now say goodbye to loosely fitted girths, and hello to snug-without-restriction. If only there had been such a thing when I was riding my sensitive chestnut mare, Annahi!
There are many more details available for you if you'd like to learn more about this girth. The Total Saddle Fit website has diagrams, videos and more information about the design and rationale behind the StretchTec Shoulder Relief Girth™.
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