What is Saddle Sores (Collar Galls) ?
A saddle that doesn’t fit correctly can cause other kinds of sores, such as on the withers, the elbows, or even in the armpits, and are simply due to a pinch or rubbing. Improper riding can also cause these types of abrasions. Sweating can predispose a horse to sores, making horses more vulnerable during the summer months or in hot climates. If the sweat is not wiped off, sores can be created as the saddle or harness move over the sweat. Ensuring that your horse’s tack fits properly can prevent your horse’s discomfort, and weeks of recovery time.
Saddle sores or galls, and collar galls, are formed from friction or uneven pressure of a bad fitting harness, saddle, or back pad on a horse’s skin. The area under the saddle and the shoulders are the most frequent sites of injuries to the skin, and to the soft and bony tissues deeper in. Often, these sores begin areas of inflammation, then progress to hair loss, pustules and crusting. Sores that have advanced in severity are termed galls.
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Symptoms of Saddle Sores (Collar Galls) in Horses
Symptoms of saddle sores vary depending on the depth and severity of skin damage, and by any secondary infections that may have arisen.
- Reddened, moist, and painful skin abrasions
- Elevated skin sores
- Pus or fluid filled blisters
- Inflammation of hair follicles
- Hair loss
- Swollen and painful skin
- Crusts from dried exudates
- Open wounds
- Skin boils
- Skin ulcers
- Hematomas, or blood filled sores
- Dry or moist skin necrosis
- Loss of feeling in affected areas
There are many types of saddle sores, each relating to the injured part of the body, or to the piece of equipment causing the injury. Common sores include:
- Saddle galls form from friction between the saddle or back pad and the skin directly underneath them
- Collar galls form around the shoulders from a badly fitted harness
- Girth galls form behind the elbow from girths that are badly secured
- Withers swelling forms on the horse’s wither from the saddle
- Armpit pinch creates crusty skin under the girth
Causes of Saddle Sores (Collar Galls) in Horses
The main cause of saddle sores is a badly fitted saddle and tack, which rubs on the skin areas it touches, creating abrasions and sores. Other causes include:
- Uneven pressure of the rider on the horse
- Constant side to side shift of the rider
- Incorrect posture of rider
- Contamination of the saddle blanket with dirt or foreign objects
Diagnosis of Saddle Sores (Collar Galls) in Horses
Diagnosis of saddle sores is based on the symptoms, and the locations of the sores and inflammations. Let your vet know if your horse has a history of skin issues, or if insect bites are a problem in your horse’s environment. It is important to discover what part of the tack is causing the problem.
If another cause for the sores and abrasions is suspected, testing may help to rule out those conditions, and can include skin cultures and allergy sensitivity tests.
Treatment of Saddle Sores (Collar Galls) in Horses
Treatment is simple for saddle sores, and involves the elimination of the portion of tack causing the skin abrasions. Rest your horse’s back by keeping the saddle off while the wounds heal. Supplementary care is given to heal wounds, similar to other dermatosis issues. Therapy can include the use of cold water to soothe skin, ointments for open wounds, and astringent packs. Topical antibiotics are often prescribed to treat infections or folliculitis. Hematomas should be drained by aspiration or incision. Any necrotic tissue needs to be surgically removed. It is common to see scars or white hairs after areas have healed.
Once your horse’s skin has healed, adjust your horse’s saddle, and try out different blankets and pads to see if one may be less abrasive to your horse. Monitor your horse for future abrasions, and make adjustments as needed.
Recovery of Saddle Sores (Collar Galls) in Horses
The time needed for recovery of saddle sores in your horse will depend on the severity of the sores and abrasions. Skin sores should clear up with treatment, which often include therapies to be given at home, such as treating wounds and administering antibiotics. Prevent saddle sores with a properly fitted tack, clean saddle blankets, and a lightweight saddle. Maintain proper balance when riding.