Saddling a Racehorse


California Chrome Dubai World Cup
California Chrome won the Dubai World Cup today, despite a girth that was so loose that the saddle had slipped all the way down his belly. Kudos to jockey Victor Espinoza for staying so balanced.

The recent photo of California Chrome racing with his saddle slipping toward his rump made me wonder about the saddling process for racehorses. How could something like this happen? When horses are galloping at 40 Mph (give or take), equipment failure can be a big issue. Victor Espinoza has been quoted as saying that his knowledge of the slipping saddle gave him impetus for the final surge.

“I was just trying to keep my balance and not move my body,” Espinoza said. “I just kept looking forward and thinking ‘where’s the wire?’ It was not coming fast enough.

It turns out that saddling a racehorse for racing, is a bit different than girthing up for a regular ride. Typically, on race days the both an “undergirth” (what you and I would use on our saddles) and an “overgirth” are used, the latter adding additional stability (eventers also sometimes use an overgirth as well).

Someone on the Chronicle of the Horse Forum describes the saddling process below:

For those that have never tacked up a racehorse both girths, over girth and under girth are completely made of basically the same elastic that you would find on the end of a leather girth that the buckles are attached to. It is stretched to almost twice its “resting” length when tacking up. Takes 2 people to put on the saddle. One to hold the saddle in place when putting on the under girth and one to hold the over girth in place while the other pulls down and up as the 2 “meet” at the buckle. So even if the saddle slips back there is still a fair amount of “grip” around the horse.

This video shows horses being saddled at Suffolk Downs in Boston. You can see the girthing up process quite clearly.

And what’s the takeaway for the rest of us? If you’re not Victor Espinoza, tighten your girth before you ride off!

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