by Alison Kenward
I was asked by Haynet to review Total Saddle Fit’s new girth the Stretch Tec Shoulder Relief girth. I watched the video on their website and I was pleased to see it was anatomically shaped and could have a sheepskin liner because Neptune is rather sensitive.
The team at Total Saddle Fit were very helpful and happy to discuss my horse and his needs with regards to size and style of girth. They explained to me that the girth had different liner options, leather, neoprene and sheepskin. I choose leather and sheepskin as I thought Neptune would prefer the sheepskin as that is what he had been used to.
When the girth arrived the first thing I noticed was the great quality of the leather. I felt confident looking at the make that it would be secure and I was pleased at how soft and supple the horse side of the girth was. I was intrigued to find out what Neptune would make of the elasticated central section that had been designed to breathe with the horse. I was initially perplexed at how to use the sheepskin liner as I’m used to using a girth sleeve. Once I had unpacked it it became clear that the girth allows you to peel away the liner and attach a new one. This is great for washing and cleaning. Once separated from the leather liner, my first reaction was that the girth looked lightweight and I wondered at the design that allowed something seemingly delicate to function.
I reflected on the task of the girth. Essentially it is keeping the saddle in place and balanced, from the horse’s perspective I think it is probably the least comfortable piece of tack and I know that Neptune is not happy to wear a girth without sheepskin. So the sheepskin liner was applied and immediately the girth transformed visually into a familiar style. I marvelled at the design which allows you to use interchangeable liners, on first glance one could be forgiven for thinking I had two girths. There was no fear for me that the liners might separate or that the girth was anything other than ready to use!
I introduced Neptune to the leather option first. Neptune was tacked up as usual and I watched his face and expression. It’s fair to say Neptune resents the girth and we are always carefully to introduce it slowly. He doesn’t move fuss or object but he braces himself and if he were human I’d say it was a case of gritting his teeth. He noticed he had a new girth as the mid section touched him and he tensed. The girth was tightened and he held himself tense as usual. Then as always he exhaled and took a short breath. He had a look of surprise and uncertainty as he took another short breath and realised that this girth was not a tight band. He looked round at me and resumed his normal posture. I realised that whilst he liked the design he wasn’t sure about the feel of the girth so he was untacked and the liner was replaced with the sheepskin. This time he was ready for the new feel of the girth and more relaxed as it was secured. I was impressed with the fit and shape which allows room for the elbow. Neptune has had a history of small girth rubs on the near side especially as the season changes, he has always looked like the girth has been snug against his elbow. The rub has never been more than the loss of hair and he hadn’t objected to being touched in the girth area but I knew I had to find a solution and seeing the Stretch Tec girth in place I thought it might avoid this problem area.
Neptune was relaxed and confident in his warm up and stretching and I suspected that as we progressed to the canter work his back might come up a bit with the different feel. What actually happened was a great quality transition with him working over his back and into the bridle, it was a big canter but not wild, in fact it was joyful!
The biggest difference I felt was in Neptune’s response to lateral work and the rein back. Often in the legyield Neptune’s first steps might be tense as he found his balance yet today he flowed into the legyield as though it were our third attempt rather than our first.
There was a greater surprise to come. I rode a trot halt transition and waited quietly for him to take a breath. He felt so calm and with an air of self possession that I asked for rein back. This is a movement that Neptune can take exception too, either hollowing if he is distracted or shuffling. For Neptune a rein back is an exercise best performed when he is completely warmed up. Today he stepped confidently back and when asked, moved forwards into trot and tidily into a lovely light canter, swinging over his back pleased with himself and the world. After this ride I stopped thinking about the girth and wondering if he would like it and rode very much as normal though I did recognise that he liked the girth and it was now part of his kit!
Neptune is doing very well in training and at competitions. He has a full support team including an excellent Farrier, Masseur, Saddle fitter, Mctimoney Chiropracter and an attentive Mum who tries to make sure he is happy and comfortable. In return Neptune has given me his heart and soul and is flattering pleased to see me. He is confident in our routine and recently has shone at home and at competitions. I would recommend the Stretch Tec girth for its innovative design which offers the horse comfort, room to move and most importantly breathe. It’s easy to care for and suits Neptune. I am particularly impressed with the option to change liners allowing further customisation for individual horse preferences. I believe this design is leading the way for horses to feel more comfortable and this earns the girth our seal of approval. When Neptune is comfortable and relaxed he raises his game and offers an emotional connection as well as expressive movement and this for me is priceless.
For more information about the STRETCHTEC Shoulder Relief Girth, please visit TOTAL SADDLE FIT