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Even those who don't have much to do with horses know what a girth is - the essential piece of tack which keeps the saddle securely in place.

Choosing a girth though is not just about matching it to your saddle, making sure it is the best-looking one in the competition ring, or even ensuring it is the right length. A lot of research has been done that shows that the shape, width and even the material it is made of can have a big impact on a horse's performance.

Like people, horses' body shapes vary, and each has a unique way of moving, and different levels of skin sensitivity. These are all factors to consider when choosing a girth.

Girths come in straight belt-like styles of various widths, or with anatomical contours and curves, built in belly guards, elastic ends, and built in rings for training aids. You have to decide which of these features will best suit your horse and the work you expect him to do.

Leather girths are the most traditional choice of material, are smart and easy to care for. Neoprene has become popular for every-day use, and neoprene girths are generally wide and comfortable, and obviate slipping problems. Synthetic girths are the most affordable, while string girths made of natural fibres are best for horses with sensitive skin.

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