2016-07-23 / Columnists


Prevention of Summer Saddle Woes a Necessity for Horsemen

Summer days allow for longer hours in the saddle. But too much of a good thing can also lead to all types of saddle woes. Some people have never heard of the term “gall,” when it comes to horses. The word is an old one. Gall, in a horseman’s vernacular, means, to hurt the skin. A “gall” is what we commonly know as a sore on a horse.

The skin of horses, just like their coloring, comes in all types. Some horses are known to have thick skin. They seemingly never flinch at a bee sting or a fly bite. Many draft horses have what we call a “tough hide,” but not all of them. Some draft horses can be as sensitive to the menace and needling of bugs landing on them as the most expensive purebred Hackney prancer. The same holds true in getting galls.

Usually lighter colored saddle horses have thinner skin. The fine hairs on gray Egyptian Arabians, for example, helps to illustrate this. Their skin often retains scars from the cuts and scrapes that may have befallen them. Another example is the Palomino-colored horse. But all horses, no matter where they’re from, can show ugly bruising from galls.

Saddle sores can appear as slight rubs, where just the hair is missing. They are not restricted to the saddle, though. Girth galls occur around the belly and sides of a horse, where the cinch (Western tack) or girth (English tack) is positioned. The hair, however, may not be just rubbed off. The gall may appear as a swollen lump under the skin, very much like an unbroken blister. Just like a blister of your own, it can be very tiny or quite large. Usually a girth gall can be found, or formed, just behind the elbow of the horse on the main body of the horse, yet the galls might form on any area where the girth lies.

Galls can also happen to dray and carriage horses, those that wear a horse collar or a breast strap (pulling leather across the chest of a horse). All of these galls are caused by friction. Others can be caused from a tick, a bur, or a splinter. Many sores are caused by tack that is dirty with a buildup of grime and sweat. The sweat and grime can “grind” into the horse’s skin. Terrible chafing from tack that is new, stiff, too tight, or too loose can cause rubs. This is perhaps the main reason for being conscientious about having a clean girth, clean saddle pad, or collar. The best tack is supple, which is why for centuries leather has been used. Once cleaned and conditioned, it can last a lifetime and be a friend, not a foe, to a horse. Good, clean, and conditioned leather has a “give” to it, which allows for the continuous motions of a horse at work.

One reason why carriage and draft horses wear a padded collar, or why there is a soft padding under a collar, is to reduce friction. If the constant motion has caused a rub, which turns into a blister, and the blister breaks, then a serious and painful set of conditions can occur. Infection is the main foe when it comes to open gall sores. Serious infection can render a horse helpless and useless for work or riding. Another spot for galls on a horse in harness is on the small “harness saddle” that sits on his back, as well as the breeching strapping that goes around his buttocks, and even the crouper that goes under his tail. A chafed tail is exceedingly uncomfortable for a horse and the raw skin there can easily become infected.

So what does one do to help prevent galls and other “saddle sores?” There are several things that help, beyond clean and proper fitting tack. If your horse is one of those who is “thin skinned,” then use a clean padded girth cover slides over your girth or cinch. For English riders, the best (and most expensive) is a natural sheepskin girth cover. Sheepskin saddle pads are also effective - they naturally help to wick away sweat. Woolback pads also work well. When not used, they (like girth covers) should be air-dried and brushed clean. If they look grimy, then wash them. There are also gel back pads as well as neoprene pads that help cushion pressure areas in both English and Western discipline. The idea behind these is to allow air to circulate and a gel to cushion as well as cool. The same holds true for driving horses.

In the “old days,” often a wash with Epsom salt and warm water was applied at night, and a wash with cold water was used in the morning. This was especially true for working farm horses and those in draft. If the skin blistered and broke, then a lotion of carbolic acid and water was applied and the area was padded. Today there are many products that help and heal. Often these are rubbed into the affected areas once they’ve been cleaned with soap and water.

There is still a product that is in use today, which had its origins in the workhorse of yesteryear, and is made in Brighton. The product, made by Bickmore, can be purchased online or just as easily at most farm supply companies, from Sault Ste. Marie to Adrian and beyond. A blend of alum, borax, and sulphur are the main ingredients. Its name is none other than “gall salve,” and according to the directions, “Be sure and work the horse.”

Here’s hoping your steed never gets a rub. Have a great week!

Candice Dunnigan is a resident, writer, and equestrian on Mackinac Island. She belongs to various national and local equine organizations.

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