What are galls - and how bad are they?
“Galls” are open sores caused by friction between tack and skin. Typically, you find girth galls where the girth meets the soft and wrinkled skin behind the elbow, although I have seen some that have happened between the legs or near the saddle pad.
You may also find sores caused by the saddle, which are referred to as saddle galls, or saddle sores. Either way, it’s critical to catch these guys early so that you can control the treatment.
For one of my horses, I know that in summer the combo of sweat and skin can create sores for him. So, I spend lots of time in the prevention phase, which also translates into the laundry phase…. (bear with me for a minute…)
The beginnings of a girth gall. The hair is rubbed shorter, and the skin is irritated. No more tack for this dude until the skin clears and the hair grows back.
Sores start usually as a tiny hairless spot. This is the time to act. It’s critical that you use eyes and fingers to inspect the girth area and more when you are grooming, before and after a ride. I have seen galls that are inches away from the girth, they result from the wrinkles and sweat and sometimes even dirt, foxtails, or burrs rubbing in the elbow area.
As more friction happens, the hairless patches grow and the skin layers slough away. I have seen sores that are so open and deep, they actively bleed.
So what do you do if you find the start of a gall but the skin is closed and hasn’t started to slough off?
- Evaluate your tack.
- Make the area friction free with a goopy ointment and a girth cover.
If the hairless patch is in the saddle area, grab your local saddle fitter and have a consultation. Pronto! Remember that an ill fitting saddle won’t be “fixed” by adding pads, this is like adding socks to shoes that don't fit.
Girths come in many varieties with lots of options for fit!
If the gall is in the girth area, see if you can find another girth option, perhaps a cut-away style is better. You can also use girth covers if you like to prevent sores.
A word or two about girth covers. I use a sleek nylon girth cover every single day along with a thick coating of ointment on the spot where my horse had a gall years ago. (Hence the laundry). The slick fabric significantly cuts down on the friction. I often see fleece or sheepskin covers, which I think work only to prevent sores. (Which is great! I just prefer to use the nylon type because they take less time to dry. More laundry tidbits for you.) Once the sore is there, using a texture like sheepskin or fleece with an uneven surface may very well irritate the sore even more.
Girth covers work wonders - this slick nylon type is more forgiving than fleecy or wooly types, which may irritate an existing sore. And, your girth remains cleaner, but you are doing more laudry!
Bottom line for me is that once the skin starts to slough away, the sore is open, there is great risk for infection, and the level of pain can be quite high. Think about it like this - you have a blister, yet you must put a belt over it, tighten the belt, and then exercise and sweat. OUCH!
If you have an open sore to deal with, consider spending some quality time with your horse without tack. Ride bareback, work on ground manners or lungeing, get your own butt in bikini shape by hand walking, or even clicker train some fun tricks. Trust me on this one - a small sore will heal quicker than a big one.
Join forces with your Veterinarian to game plan how to heal the sore. You will need to clean it daily (at least) and treat topically, maybe even internally depending on the depth and size. Keep in mind that your Veterinarian can give you the best prescriptions for healing medications. Also be diligent about fly control, the last thing you want is fly eggs hatching in there. (Yuck…)
What have you done to help with galls?