In Monday Myths we debunk common misconceptions about a range of topics regarding equine digestive health and care. These are real statements made by real horse people. Have a question or topic you would like to see covered? Submit your idea here.
Statement: Your horse has been acting cinchy lately? Better have your vet scope for gastric ulcers.
It’s a widely-held belief that one of the most common symptoms of gastric, or stomach, ulcers is girthiness. A horse acting “cinchy” or “girthy” reacts in some kind of negative way to having its cinch tightened; it may be as minor as pinning its ears or as serious as going down in the cross-ties. The misconception is that a horse may react this way due to putting pressure on an ulcerated stomach and causing more pain.
First, at the risk of stating the obvious, let us point out that there are many reasons why a horse may act cinchy. It could be from tightening too quickly, getting pinched, poorly fitting tack, discomfort in the muscles or spine, memories from a bad experience, or just the equine nature that calls for a horse to panic when confined. It’s always important to consult with an experienced trainer and your veterinarian to examine all possible causes.
Second, if a horse does display negative behaviors when having its cinch tightened due to a problem in the digestive tract – it’s much more likely to be a hindgut issue.
Take a look at this sketch of a horse and rider, revealing the horse’s gastrointestinal tract anatomy:
The horse’s stomach, which makes up only 10 percent of the whole GI tract, is that smooth organ up high in the abdominal cavity between the rider’s knees. Notice how high it is positioned and, more importantly, that it is fully protected by the horse’s rib cage.
Now notice the large rippled organ that fills up most of the space, including the soft lower belly area up underneath the girth. This is the horse’s colon! The colon, part of the large intestine, in the horse’s hindgut is responsible for digesting the structural fibers found in forage – the bulk of a horse’s diet.
So if a horse is indeed acting cinchy as a result of a digestive health condition, it may actually be from the discomfort of the pressure exerted on its colon.
When girthiness is paired with other behavioral and health symptoms that point to a gastrointestinal problem – it’s much more likely to be related to the hindgut than the stomach. Digestive imbalance, hindgut acidosis, colonic ulcers, and even colic are all-too-common hindgut conditions that affect the health, behavior, and performance of horses today.
A cinchy horse may have gastric ulcers = myth. Tightening the girth may exert pressure on the horse’s colon, not on the stomach which sits high, forward of the cinch, and protected by the rib cage.