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This may be due to a sensitive vagus nerve. My stallion has this. Just do the girth slowly, as it sounds like you are doing the correct thing, and he is getting over it. If this is it (the sensitive nerve) you will never be able to just yank that girth up. I agree, the clicker may help get him over a bad association.
 

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There are several reasons why some horses do this and as usual our members seem to have covered most of them so I'm really just going to repeat what's already been said and offer some examples from first hand experience.
1.
The true 'cold backed' horse, IMO, is one that has a super sensitive vagus nerve or has a much lower ability to self control itself so has the extreme panic attack that you see.
I find that they seem to get on better with a sheepskin girth. The girth has to be tightened very gradually. Never tie these horses up when saddling. Use reward and clicker training.
What I've always found with these horses is that when ridden regularly they learn to cope with it but if left for any length of time the problem returns.
The worst horse we had took months to get over it. We eventually left her with a sheepskin padded surcingle on all the time for a couple of weeks and she stopped reacting to the pressure when saddled.


2. Always have the horse checked for back problems - you can't see things like kissing spines or tumors.
A lovely mare that we paid a lot of money, for so were determined to persevere with, never seemed to learn to deal with the girthing process and would also over react when ridden if she did something that expanded her area around the girth that caused the girth to feel suddenly tighter. When sent to a vet hospital for a full examination it was found that she had a tumor on her spine.


3. Be sure that the horse doesn't have stomach ulcers, the tightening of the girth puts pressure on the stomach and the colon.


4. Be sure the horse is correctly de-wormed. Use a moxidectin based product to treat for encysted small strongyles as they will make a horse's digestive system ulcerated and sore which will make girthing painful.
I knew someone who had a young horse shot because it was so dangerous when it over reacted to girthing and unpredictable in the same way when ridden. When it was opened up at the hunt kennels is stomach and colon had masses of cyathostomes and was completely ulcerated.


5. Be sure you're saddle is comfortable. If uncertain, see what happens when you use a surcingle.
 

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oh, for goodness sake! clicking is really easy. I wish I could click at my husband and kids instead of actually 'talking' at them!
I click at my siblings when they won't move - it's an instinctive thing, though they get offended - "I'm not your horse." My answer: "Well obviously, if you were my horse you'd be moving..."
 
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