Must Haves: The StretchTec Shoulder Relief Girth from Total Saddle Fit
I am always on the lookout for products that can improve my horse’s well-being and comfort, especially when it comes to under saddle work. I try to ensure that all my tack fits correctly, allowing my horse to move with freedom and ease. However, that has always been a challenge when dealing with girths, as their very purpose necessitates that they fit tightly over parts of the body that really should not be restricted. Certainly, many modern girths are an improvement over what was available when I started riding back in the Pleistocene, but even with the addition of elastic at both ends and various attempts at ergonomic shaping, it has been my experience that girths often still apply pressure in ways that simply cannot be comfortable for the horse. Shortened strides, girth galls, sore backs and other problems can result, and that looming possibility has kept me on the hunt for the perfect girth.
Having tried out and been disappointed with quite a few girths, including some obscenely high-priced ones that claimed to be chocked full of innovation, I was skeptical that the StretchTec Shoulder Relief Girth from Total Saddle Fit was really going to be much better. I am thus delighted to report that this girth actually does deliver on its promises, providing increased comfort for the horse which you are likely to notice from the very first ride. For my horse, the superb fit and mobility that the unique design of this girth provides translated into a longer stride, a more relaxed back, and increased willingness to stretch into a “long and low” carriage. It doesn’t apply uneven pressure and “gap” at the front like some supposedly ergonomic girths do, as the “floating” center piece allows each side of the girth to conform to the horse’s contours, as well as to move with the rib cage as the horse breathes.
Another benefit was the increased stability of my saddle, which, being treeless, can have more of a tendency to roll than a treed saddle. I had wondered if the “stretchiness’ of this girth would make that tendency worse, but I found just the opposite. In fact, I didn’t feel the need to tighten the StretchTec girth as much as any others I had tried, and that alone would mean more comfort for the horse. This girth was a definite improvement in both design and performance, so I decided to find out a bit more about it. I contacted Justin Baghai, the founder of Total Saddle Fit, and asked him a few questions:
The Essential Horse: What inspired the development of the StretchTec Shoulder Relief girth?
Justin Baghai: We developed this girth because we were looking to solve a couple problems. First, I’d read a research article on equine breathing. It was about how horses breathe differently at each gait, and it explained that the diaphragm expands and contracts around 1.5 cm while breathing. We wanted to address that with a girth, given that the girth is potentially the number one piece of tack that could inhibit expansion/contraction. Second, we wanted to create a girth that gave softer contact over the sternum. On some horses, we would hear from clients that the pressure from a more traditional shaped girth was too heavy at the sternum
TEH: Tell me more about the testing process, and exactly what the girth is designed to do.
JB: We tested a bunch of variations and ultimately settled on the patented design you see for sale. The triangular elastic provides the stretch we were looking for, in the place it is needed. In addition, the girth stretches more at the rear edge than the front. This provides the soft contact we were seeking, as it stretches in a proportion that follows the shape of the sternum. Lastly, because of the requirements of the girth along with our need to prevent any moving elastic rubbing on the horse’s skin, we made it with a removable liner system. This was done out of necessity to accomplish our goals with the girth, but actually ends up benefiting the rider because she can buy one girth and simply keep replacing liners as material or seasonal needs require.
TEH: How does this girth differ from other types of girths?
JB: The StretchTec Shoulder Relief Girth differs from other regular and anatomical girths in a few ways. It still serves the primary purpose, which is to enhance freedom of motion in a horse’s shoulders by changing the position and angle of the billet line, which prevents the saddle from being pulled into the shoulders. Second, as I mentioned earlier it allows for easier breathing and softer sternum contact thanks to the triangular center elastic. Third, it has a removable liner system so one girth can have fleece, leather or neoprene liners interchanged. This allows a rider to buy one girth yet still have a wide variety of material choices for her horse.
I have yet to feel any need to change or replace the leather liner of my girth, though I love having those choices. And, while I haven’t been riding in it all that long, the girth appears to be wearing well and is surprisingly easy to clean. The various options for liners, along with the fact that you can get this girth for both jumping and dressage saddles — and even now in a Western cinch model — mean that just about anyone can find a StretchTec girth/cinch to fit their needs. To top it all off, the girth is beautifully made, yet is still quite affordable compared to anything of similar quality. I highly recommend giving them a try! – Susan Kauffmann for The Essential Horse