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Girthiness: Gut Health x Behaviour

One of the hardest parts of supporting our animal's health & happiness is that they cannot explain what's wrong. As such, it is so important that we don't look at our horse's health & happiness in a vacuum!

For instance, GI discomfort can contribute to undesirable behaviour, such as reactivity or irritability, which will impact performance (and your horse's welfare). Let’s consider girthiness as an example.

A retrospective* study done by Millares-Ramirez and Le Jeune (2019) described common clinical diagnoses of horses who were described to be “girthy” at large animal clinics from 2004-2016. Ulcers, orthopedic pain and miscellaneous pain were the largest diagnoses of horses who had been described as girthy as part of their intake.

*Retrospective study: assesses samples of data collected in the past, ie patient records or medical notes, for patterns & potential applications for the future.

Due to the retrospective nature of the data, not all horses were gastroscoped. 92% of girthy horses who were gastroscoped had ulceration present. As such, ulcers may be an under-represented contributor to girthiness in this study.

What does this teach us?

Behaviour is information.

Girthiness is associated with pain & discomfort.

Increased ‘aggressive’ behaviour is a pain response.

Noticing these signs of discomfort helps give us a starting point towards helping the horse out of the discomfort. Instead, we must notice what they show us. And if it's difficult to identify, all we can do is look harder.

Remembering that behaviour is information equips us with a valuable critical lens - information is something that we can do something with!



Fureix, M., Menguy, H., Hausberger, M. 2010. Partners with Bad Temper: Reject or Cure? A Study of Chronic Pain and Aggression in Horses. PLoS ONE 5(8)

Millares-Ramirex, EM., Le Jeune, SS. 2019. Girthiness: Retrospective Study of 37 Horses (2004-2016). Journal of Equine Veterinary Science 79: 100-104.


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