Girth Gall

Also Known As

Galls, Girth blisters

Description

A gall is a skin sore caused by on-going irritation. Galls caused by friction between poorly-fitted tack or tack that becomes worn and abrasive and a horse's skin are painful, swollen pockets of bodily serum similar to that found in a blister on the foot of a human. These chafed, swollen areas lose the protective hair of the horse and become tender to pressure. With continued abrasion, they become open sores susceptible to infection.

When these galls are under a girth that continues to rub and pinch the folds of the skin, they become very painful for the horse. Continued riding without a change in the girth and the way it fits the horse will exacerbate the wound, creating raw flesh, and will, most likely, affect the horse's attitude about being ridden or exercised.

Symptoms

  • Abraded skin
  • Open, weeping sores
  • Inflamed areas that are hot and sensitive to the touch
  • Hematoma (blood blister) formation

Causes

Typically, galls occur because of one or more of the following conditions:

  1. A conformation of the body of the horse that causes the girth to stay very close behind the elbows. The horse usually has an upright shoulder, "mutton" withers, and a wide torso.
  2. A recent change of tack or a new saddle that changes the position of the girth, causing irritation.
  3. A stiff, dirty, or ill-fitting girth that concentrates friction on the supple, sensitive skin behind the elbows without proper cushioning.
  4. Skin that is not well conditioned, leaving it vulnerable to damage.

Prevention

Gall-prone horses will do better with neoprene, string, or hour-glass-shaped girths that produce less friction behind the elbows.

The girth should be positioned so as to prevent galls. If a horse's skin is tender, a protective fleece girth cover may work well to prevent development of sores. The fleece cover should be cleaned often to preserve the cushioning effect and replaced when it begins to wear.

Treatment

Once a girth gall develops, the horse should not be ridden, but can be exercised on a lead or by lunging. If a swelling develops under the skin after a ride, an ice pack should be applied to the area for ten to fifteen minutes, with two or three treatments during the day, to reduce inflammation and fluid build-up and to relieve soreness. The area should not be rubbed or massaged.

If the skin is abraded and an open sore has developed, the discharge should be gently cleaned with a warm saline solution or hydrogen peroxide solution.

A drying antiseptic preparation should be sprayed on twice a day, and an overnight protective covering, such as a coating of Armoricaine paste, to minimize infection and keep flies and dirt out of the wound, should be applied. This clay 'bandage' can be removed the next day by sponging off with warm water.

Gall lesions should be kept as dry as possible and, once infection is controlled, application of a soothing ointment can be used twice a day. If galls do not heal promptly, a veterinarian should be consulted.

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