The tropical weather of summer 2019 seems to have brought with it an increase of flying irritants. With these warm, wet, weather conditions becoming increasingly frequent due to our changing climate, it is likely our flying friends will remain in abundance.
But what effect do they have on our horses? No exposed flesh is safe with such a population of infection transmitting insects, and the bite of a horse fly can be extremely painful. In fact, my horse Elfine was bitten by something last week right on a tigger point of her biceps brachii muscle, causing so much pain that her movement was inhibited. She went lame for 2 days.
They are also extremely annoying. For us, this means a lot of hand waving to swat them away, but for our horses, it can mean huge increases of muscular contractions whilst they twitch to remove them. Beneath the skin of the ventral abdomen of the horse is a thin sheet of muscle called the panniculus carnosus. The panniculus carnosus has muscle fibres which extend into the skin creating that generalised twitch response noticable when flies land anywhere on their under carriage. Of course, most of the muscles elsewhere on the horse's body can respond with a localised twitch response but the panniculus is especially sensitive. The muscle itself actually extends into the area where we position the girth of the saddle but also where we use our legs.
This muscle is sensitive in all horses, you only have to place a finger on your horse's belly to demonstrate this, but in some horses can be hyper sensitive and cause 'girthiness' issues and reluctance to tack up.
If your horse suddenly resents the girth being placed or touching in this area it is definitely worth investigating potential causes.
- check tack fit, particularly saddle fit and saddle length, a saddle which has long flaps may rub or irritate your horse
- check girth fit and placement. Often tacking up issues are not just due to saddle fit and discomfort, the girth is a huge factor. Look at the width of your girth, does it trap skin folds? does it pinch your horse's elbows? or is it too narrow, placing a lot of pressure over a smaller area? What material is it made of? Cold hard leather? friction inducing webbing?
- Do what you can to remove irritants and reduce sensitivity. Groom your horse regularly so they can learn to enjoy having their body touched, it helps build a great bond with your horse and helps you to learn what is normal for them. Use a good brand of fly repellant and provide plenty of shade/escape from flies.