Belly Bands are… dumb?

A couple weeks ago I was scrolling through my facebook feed when my eyes caught on an article from Heels Down titled “Belly Bands are a Dumb Trend”. Meant to be attention-grabbing, obviously, and I suppose it worked because I stopped scrolling. It was a very confusing title to me because 1. I had no idea they were a “trend” 2. I tend to disagree with the idea that they’re dumb. I own one, after all.

Image result for belly band horse
they LOOK dumb, I’ll give you that

So I opened the article and the gist was that people use belly bands because they’re trying to hide spur marks, and if you’re such a bad rider that you leave spur marks, maybe you should work on your horsemanship. This just compounded how perplexed I was. I agree with the latter part, but strongly disagree with the former.

I mean, first of all… have you seen a belly band? It’s literally this hideous chonk of black elastic that is, quite frankly, a freaking upper body workout to even put on. There’s nothing semi-attractive about it, nor does it make you look cool. It looks like a dang hernia belt. Or a girdle. People DO look at you more closely, to try to judge why you’re using it. You’re not standing out in a good way. If they’re trendy then I guess I’ve totally missed that boat, because I don’t know a single person that uses one without reason or just to look cool. It doesn’t, and it’s a PITA.

My real problem with the article started here:

“Some may even be prone to rubs from riders’ boots or girth-fit alone. But there are options out there for managing a problem like this. Most of them come down to proper education and horsemanship.”

See, I do own a belly band, and have used it with great success. I have a horse who gets extremely sensitive skin in the summer, and just about anything will give him a rub. Like his halter. Or a saddle pad. Or my leg touching him. Or looking at him funny. The horse was getting rubs and I wasn’t even wearing spurs. Let me repeat: not wearing spurs. But I do ride him for long periods, he does sweat a lot, and those two things create the perfect environment for skin irritation.

I tried to use one of those spur pads with the extended sides and he got rubs from the edges of the pad. Congratulations, now he had MORE rubs. I tried wearing two other different pairs of boots to see if that would make any difference, but no dice. I tried slathering the area in Vaseline before rides to reduce friction (yes, I voluntarily made my horse more slippery). I had the vet look at his skin, I treated it with products, and always carefully bathed all the sweat off. None of that fixed it. So I bought him sheepskin pads, picked up a cheap used belly band to put over top, and voila – my problems were totally solved. The existing rubs healed, and he didn’t get any more. Once we got past the sweatiest grossest parts of the summer I was able to stop using the belly band and it’s been hanging in the tack room since. Will I need it again next summer? I’d be thrilled if I don’t, but probably. We’ll see. If I do, I won’t hesitate to reach for it. So, given all that, I am very interested to hear what other options exist (according to this author) for managing a horse like this, particularly those pertaining to my alleged lack of horsemanship.

The article goes on to say that a belly band is a quick fix solution, and maybe you need to learn how to make your horse be more forward and light off your leg.

Girlfriend.

If I get my horse any more forward and light off my leg, he will take up permanent residence somewhere in the stratosphere. That animal is so sensitive I have to be really tactful and deliberate about how I use my leg. I’ve spent years working on getting him to accept the leg and allow me to actually use it appropriately. Trust me, I ain’t squeezing his guts out the whole ride. But you DO have to put your leg on a horse and be able to ride with your leg as an active aid… I can’t just ride around with my leg off his sides as a solution to prevent rubs.

very abused, this one

Are there people out there using belly bands to cover something up? Of that I have no doubt. Truth is, people can misuse even the most innocuous pieces of equipment (like sponges. people have literally abused horses with sponges.). If you’re using a belly band to prevent a particularly severe spur from leaving a mark so you can skate around the blood rule then you’re not that bright in the first place, because a belly band dulls the effect of a spur. If that’s your intended usage you may as well take the dumb-looking elastic girdle off and use a duller spur. I do agree that they should not be legal in competition for any sport (they already aren’t legal for some competitions) – I have never used mine in the show ring and would never want to, because see above comments about how freaking ugly it is. Taking it off for one day or just for your class shouldn’t be a big deal if you’re using it for legitimate purposes.

But I do think it’s incredibly small-minded, and if I’m being honest, a bit ignorant, to lambaste the product and all the people who use it just because there are a few people who also misuse it. Particularly when it’s a product that’s intentionally designed to protect a horse’s skin. By that logic there must be something wrong with all my sheepskin pads, too. Digging deeper into the article, it seems like what the author truly has a problem with is the misuse of spurs, and we can absolutely find common ground there. Shoot, the only spurs I even own are those teeny tiny little roller balls, and given my history on this blog I think it’s pretty clear that I would never defend rider-induced blood on a horse. What I just can’t get behind is the leap from “abuse of spur” to “belly bands are dumb” and roll them up in the same conclusion: people who use belly bands have bad horsemanship. That’s the point at which I admittedly get lost. And yes, I definitely have a real problem with someone questioning my horsemanship because I use a product that has actually worked to make my horse more comfortable.

Anyone else ever used a belly band? Do you think they’re covering up a bad rider or a lack of horsemanship, or is there a legitimate use? Where do you stand?

37 thoughts on “Belly Bands are… dumb?

  1. It’s like you said, some people will find a way to abuse anything (I’m curious to hear the sponge story…..). It seems that you found an entirely legitimate use for a belly band on a horse that needs something like that.

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        1. Sabotage and race-fixing, usually. There was at least one case where a gambler was found to be the culprit, and others where someone had paid a groom to sabotage a horse.

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  2. Yeah I was bemused by this whole thing too. I use a belly band on Frankie at times, and I will freely admit that it’s due to the effect of my weak/overactive left leg. It is entirely due to my own faults as a rider/lack of horsemanship/call it what you will. It’s something I am very conscious of and working very hard to address. So here’s my question: why on earth should I punish my horse in the meantime? What’s wrong with giving him a layer of protection from his decidedly amateur rider while I work to build a better solution? There may be people using belly bands for nefarious purposes (like you said, people can and will use anything for nefarious purposes), but I’m going to go ahead and give my horse every possible comfort within my power.

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    1. Yeah that seems totally fine to me as well, and honestly to me I think that’s far better horsemanship than just allowing the horse’s skin and coat to become irritated. Unless you’re using it specifically to hide something or try to skirt a rule, I just don’t understand the big deal and massive negative judgment.

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  3. I’ve had a few horses get rubs just from legs (and girths, and bridles, and…). They are just sensitive to the sweat and rubbing. Current horse gets rubs from legs: but he is also a ‘lives behind the leg’ sort that you have to get on your side before he starts to be forward. I’ve been chastised about all H/J riders leaving rubs on their horses and you have to use your leg differently. There is truth in that…but it’s not the sole explanation and it’s not truth for everyone.

    From a trend perspective: something doesn’t have to be cool or pretty or even useful to be trendy. If riders that are admired start using something, it can work its way through the ranks whether someone needs it or not and whether it’s cool looking or not, etc.

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    1. I get that regarding trends, but in this case, I almost never see anyone using a belly band, and I don’t see the author saying that. S/he never says the issue is people using them that don’t actually need them. So are people really using them when they don’t have to, to the point that they’re being labeled as trendy? That’s not been my experience. The author seems to insinuate more that bad horsemanship is the trend here? Maybe I’m completely misreading.

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      1. This: “I don’t know a single person that uses one without reason” and this: “I almost never see anyone using a belly band” are the persuasive arguments against it not be a trend, for me at least. The bulk of the rest of the ‘trend’ paragraph felt like you were making the argument that they aren’t a trend because they aren’t cool or neat looking or easy to use. That didn’t persuade me to believe they aren’t a trend.

        Not really material, because I agree with you that they are useful in the right circumstances, but could be used in ways that are questionable, It’s just where my brain got stuck…because it’s like that.

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        1. Nah, I was saying that I definitely haven’t noticed them being a trend item at all, and additionally I’m not sure why it would be since they’re ugly and difficult to use and dull the horse to whatever spur you might be wearing. Those types of items tend to not be very successful as trends lol. Plus I was confused by the author’s use of the word in the original article title… she says “dumb trend” but then says it’s basically a bandaid… which isn’t the same thing. Still not totally sure if she actually meant to say they were trendy (ie fashionable) or not, or what she was basing that statement on. Confusing wording.

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  4. I saw this article as well and read through it. Was confused also, especially since I didn’t know it was “trendy” either, and every person I’ve seen using it is using it for sensitive skin just like you did for Henry. Like you said – people can use any number of things as abusive towards horses. The whole time I read the article, I felt like the author was venting about misuse of spurs while putting it under the umbrella of “bellybands” so it wasn’t just a rant piece. Maybe I’m wrong but it felt like that to me.

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  5. I also feel like the author was ranting about the “wrong” thing here. Rant about the misuse of spurs, or being able to use them in competitions ( it’s only show jumping isn’t it? ). I would rather hear about why people think it is okay to use them in competition. I don’t think there are horses out there that are THAT sensitive to rubs that they cannot get around one round without extra protection. That’s when other things should be getting looked into.

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  6. A few years ago, my horse picked up some skin funk at an away show (vet said they refer to it as “track rash”). One of the small affected areas was right where my heel sits on the left. I do wear a small nub or small PoW spur on him almost always and have never had a spur rub. But, with the affected area being tender, hairless and daily chlorhexidine washes, it was getting worse when I rode, even when I took the spur off. That clearly wasn’t nice for my horse plus provincial championships were coming up and there’s no way a steward would be able to accept y story, true as it was.
    So I bought a belly band, finally sorta got the hang of putting it on, used it for 2 weeks, spot healed bc it wasn’t being further rubbed. Viola! It hasn’t seen light of day since but I will hang onto it in case me or a friend is n need of a short-term assist like that.
    As for “trendy” …yeah, I don’t think so – everyone assumed I’d given my horse spur rubs despite wearing the same spurs on him for 5 years and never before (or since) having rubs. So 😝

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  7. first off, can you IMAGINE trying to put a belly band on Remus? everyone….yes let’s think. NOPE..hahahah now that we have a giggle…what a moron post (not yours the other person’s). UGH…..that is insane they think they are trendy.

    Poor delicate hot house flower Henry. SO ABUSED (not) 🙂

    People annoy me totally all the time 🙂

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  8. As an alternative to the belly band I’ve also seen people leave a more hairy patch where the spur would rest on their horse when clipping. I have even witnessed people trying to draw negative attention to it when it was a picture of Eric Lamaze’s horse Fine Lady 5. This promptly was shut down by numerous other people saying that “obviously a rider of that calibre would only have the best intentions for his horse”… so why wouldn’t us amateurs also be allowed to care about our sensitive critters in the same way?

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    1. That would work if your problem is sensitivity when the horse is clipped… doesn’t help so much during the summer. The author even had a problem with that too though, calling it a “trick” to try to get around the blood rule. Maybe in a small percentage but certainly not the majority.

      I’m with you on not understanding why anyone would have a problem with trying to help out a sensitive horse, be it with hair patches or a belly band or whatever, no matter who the rider is. Nobody wants their horse to have rubs.

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      1. For sure! Climate comes into play here a bit as well, as I only clip my mare in the winter because she becomes a yak to fend off the awful weather (it was -40 last week). While down south you have a completely different beast to deal with as the horses try to survive in the heat of summer. I do sometimes get rubs, but only in the winter when my mare is clipped.

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        1. Yeah I’ve mostly had rubbing issues in the summer, relating to all of the skin sensitivity that comes along with the allergens, sweat, etc. Leaving a patch makes sense if your problems with rubbing are mainly in the winter. It’s why I leave a back patch when I clip, after all, so I def don’t have a problem with anyone that leaves patches on the sides too! Extra protection is never a bad thing IMO.

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  9. PREACH. The amount of sanctimonious so-called “purists” in the horse world is just puke inducing. Clearly they have no dealt with a horse with super sensitive skin (like henry). I mean FFS. Hampton is sort of the opposite – in the winter when he is clipped he gets these “areas” that i wouldn’t really called rubs but they kind of are. they appear where my reins touch his neck, and also where my legs lie. I’ve actually thought about using a belly band even just a couple days a week (because they look like a PITA to put on). But I guess the internet assholes would rather I just ride him like a saddlebred with my legs totally off and somehow also never let my reins touch his neck. Guess I better up my horsemanship.

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  10. I think if the horse is prone to rubs, you have an obligation to protect it either by hairy patch or belly band. If your leg sucks and you rub your horse, you have an obligation to fix that too. If you are using it because you thought it was cool, leave it off. The best riders in the world have to deal with the same stuff we do. Charlotte Dujardin got eliminated from the Europeans because it a rub. At the end of a day, we all have an obligation to protect the horse. Do what works for you.

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  11. Agree with you 100%. Freaking Eros has a rub on his legs from the bottom of his blanket. And two under my saddle. And one on each side of his shoulders from the two days I used a regular saddle pad instead of a baby pad. (Evidently clipping makes him sensitive.) Somehow I haven’t rubbed his sides yet, but you best believe if I see that starting there will be a belly band on him. Also… does it go under the seat of the saddle (I’ve never actually used one) and if so, might it prevent rubs there? This was the first year we clipped him, so didn’t leave a back patch. Next year for sure we will to avoid the back rub.
    Anyway, I thought that article was ignorant as well.

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    1. I put mine over the saddle pad, but under the saddle. Mostly because I figured that if I didn’t, somehow it would rub him, so I wanted to keep just the sheepskin touching his back. I’ve seen people do it both ways though.

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  12. Are belly bands even allowed when competing? If so, wouldn’t they be checked by the stewards?
    I get that there are very likely people who do try to hide spur marks with a belly band but to assume that everyone is is just plain ignorant.
    Thank you for the link, I was wondering what the sponges were used for. People are scum.

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  13. LOL. That’s all. I used huge spurs on my horse, because otherwise my heels had to turn completely in and my knee had to come up to reach touch his appropriately flexed dressage belly. Never had a spur mark in my life. I DID use to rub all his clipped hair off with my leg when riding him bareback in flats, though. Mostly at the walk. Guess that’s some real ridiculously abusive riding.

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  14. I was watching the warm-up ring for the Grand Prix jumping at the National Western Stock Show in Denver a couple days ago (so these are fairly high-level riders, some local and some not as local!), and one of them was using a belly band. So of course, I watched her very closely. I didn’t like what I saw. She seemed to fall under the category of “using it to protect against spur marks”, because her lower leg was super sloppy and her spurs were kind of everywhere in her horse (who was a gray, so any marks would be very obvious). Every time she’d go over a jump (remember, these are BIG jumps), she’d aggressively spur her horse in the side, because her leg was sloppy and unstable (not because her horse was uncooperative). I didn’t see if she took it off for her competition round or not, but overall I wasn’t impressed with what I saw and I wish she’d work to stabilize her lower leg so she didn’t NEED the belly band.

    That said, I understand your use of it: and would probably consider using it myself for that purpose, as my Arab is just as sensitive as it sounds like Henry is. We just don’t have weather as hot here, so she doesn’t get sweaty simply by existing. I struggle more with rubs in the winter, actually, when the hair is longer and more breakable!

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  15. Any piece of equipment can be abused beyond its intended purpose. Why call out every single user in one fell swoop of the keyboard? Seems like lazy writing to me. Just write an article about spur usage and sloppy lower legs. Add in some exercises that help support the lower leg. Don’t hide your opinion under the guise of ripping to shreds a piece of equipment meant to help sensitive horses. Sheesh.

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  16. I didn’t realize it was a trend.

    I think it’s more “Using Shady Tactics to Cover Up Shitty Riding is a Dumb Trend”. eg using black towels at the vet box… Which like, that post would be interesting. Looking at all the ‘stuff’ we’ve developed to fix problems we created.

    Not to say you have shitty riding you’re trying to cover up. You don’t ride with spurs anyway?? Plus that thing is ugly and it’s not navy so I know you’re only using it because Henry’s got rubz for dayz, otherwise you’d never let it ruin all your outfits like that.

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