I am thrilled to have the opportunity to review the new StretchTec Shoulder Relief Girth from Total Saddle Fit. I had heard a few reviews from people I know on the older version of the Shoulder Relief Girth (mostly the western cinch) and I was curious to see if this product would help promote a more free and relaxed gait from Spice. As a Thoroughbred he doesn’t have the flashy, fancy movement of a warmblood bred for dressage, but he’s got good, serviceable gaits and a great canter. Anything to help improve natural gifts is welcome in my book.
Here’s a bit more information about the product’s design: The overall shape of the girth helps to adjust the billet line back to keep the saddle off of the horse’s shoulders. This cut back shape also helps to reduce interference with the elbow and allows for more range of motion in the forelimbs. It also is supposed to have indestructible billet keepers. The StretchTec Shoulder Relief Girth includes a triangular shaped center elastic (the leather liner also includes two other elastics) that allows for expansion of the chest for breathing, reduces restriction and claustrophobia for the horse, and helps the girth fit better to the horse’s natural shape to provide more consistent girth contact. There is also an option for a neoprene lining which has its own natural stretch and is easy to wash.
My first impression was that the girth is very high quality and the leather liner is lovely, soft and padded. I had no concerns for Spice’s comfort. The billet keepers are strongly attached and are well designed to keep the billet ends tidy and allow this to be a perfect show girth. The hardware also appears strong and high quality. On first use Spice was a bit sensitive as he’s used to having a fleece girth, but he quickly got used to the feeling of leather on his skin (he’d also just gotten clipped). Over time he’s shown he has no problems with this girth and is actually a little less tense when girthing up now than he was with his old straight girth. When secured, the girth doesn’t feel nearly as restrictive and tight as it had with the previous girth and it took me several rides to decide how tight it actually needed to be (with the elastic, it’s tempting to put it a little too tight).
Right away there was a difference in saddle fit, shoulder freedom and elbow restriction vs his traditional straight girth. As you can see in this photo , his straight girth was interfering with the back-reach of his elbow. With the new girth, it’s placed well back of the elbow and his trot is much more swinging and relaxed. There is no interference at the elbow at all and he’s got all the room to move that he needs. The girth fits perfectly to his shape and there’s no gaping or pressure points. I have been using the leather lining for everyday schooling and shows and it is fantastic and showing no wear.
His owner/trainer has started using my StretchTec Shoulder Relief Girth when she rides him and she was impressed with the quality, comfort and design of this girth. I have been very impressed overall with this girth. It’s very high quality and really easy to keep clean. Spice seems to think it is comfortable and our rides have just gotten better since I started using this product. It feels secure and yet free/stretchy at the same time somehow.
My only concerns about this product are long term. How long will the Velcro stay good? I will have to keep after that and keep it clean. How long will the elastic stay strong and when it starts to lose some of it’s integrity, how will that affect the girth? I’ll just have to see. (Note, I have been informed by the company when asked about this issue that the elastic has been heavily tested and will last a long time). I promise an update down the line to follow up on these potential issues if they become a problem.
I won’t be using another girth again if I can avoid it and I highly recommend it to other dressage riders (I am sure the jumping and western versions are coming soon). It is a bit on the expensive side, but its benefits are worth it.
Update July 2017: This girth is still going strong. The stitching and billet keepers are perfect. The center pad has lost a bit of padding and gotten creased (the girth wants to fold in the middle), but it still works fine. The elastic may have stretched out a bit or Spice may have lost a little weight (I’ve found myself needing to tighten up one more hole the last month or so. If it’s weight or stretch out, I’ll have to update on in the future.