All equipment used when riding a horse is referred to as tack and placing all this equipment on a horse is called ‘tacking up’. Depending on the style of riding, this process and the tack itself will differ. The different parts and straps can be confusing which is why I have compiled clear steps on how to tack up a horse.
How to tack up a horse for beginners
- Start with a saddle pad.
Place it across the horse’s back and over the withers. Where you place, the saddle pad is important as it needs to sit in a position that is most comfortable for your horse. Place it slightly higher than its intended position so you can slide it into the correct place when you put the saddle on.
- Place the saddle on the saddle pad.
The saddle should sit in the middle of the saddle pad. Both the saddle and saddle pad should sit just behind the horse’s shoulder.
- Next, connect the girth.
Attach the girth to the saddle’s right-hand side and fasten it under on the left-hand side, with the girth running underneath the horse’s belly, behind the front legs.
- Finally, put the bridle on, starting with the bit.
Cup the bit in your hands and slowly insert it into the horse’s mouth. Once in, slide the top of the bridle over the horse’s ears and head and fasten the noseband and throat latch.
How long does it take to tack up a horse?
The length of time it takes to tack up your horse varies and depends on the amount of equipment you need, if your horse stands still and if you have everything you need at hand to move from one step to the next.
If you are tacking up with just a bridle, saddle pad, and saddle and are comfortable around a horse, tacking up shouldn’t take more than 10 to 15 minutes. If you are tacking up with additional equipment such as exercise boots, overreach boots, or any other tack, the process will take 45 to 10 minutes longer.
Typing up your horse or placing them in a saddle can shorten the time it takes to tack them up as they cannot move around or run away while you are busy. Some horses who don’t enjoy being tacked up and who tend to move around a lot may tack slightly longer to get their saddle and bridle on.
How do you tack up a horse in English style?
There are 10 steps to take when tacking up a horse for the English style of riding:
- Place your horse in a secure paddock or stable to allow for a more controlled environment.
- Get all the tack you need together including a bridle, saddle pad, and saddle.
- Stand on the left-hand side of your horse and place a saddle pad on the horse’s back. Place the pad a bit higher than the withers at first. You will slide this down once the saddle is in place.
- Place the saddle on the horse’s back, again from the horse’s left-hand side. The saddle should sit in the middle of the saddle pad. Slide the saddle slightly down and adjust as necessary o ensure it fits comfortably on your horse’s back.
- Fasten the girth. The girth is what fastens and secures a horse’s saddle to its back. Attach the girth to the right-hand side of the saddle. Move to the left-hand side of the horse and pull the girth across to fasten it on this side.
- Make sure the girth is tightened correctly. As a rule of thumb, the girth should be tight enough that it does not move around but still allow you to fit two fingers between the girth and the horse.
- Adjust your stirrups. For most styles of riding, stirrups should be as long from your fingertips to your armpit.
- Place the reins of the bridle over your horse’s neck. Make sure that the reins are no tangled or twisted and the buckle at the end of the reins is facing outwards.
- Place the bit in your horse’s mouth. To do this, place the bit in the palm of your hand and gently place it in your horse’s mouth. Some horses may need some encouragement which you can provide by placing a finger in the side of a horse’s mouth to encourage them to open.
- Once the bit is in the horse’s mouth, place the headpiece of the bridle over the horse’s ears and head. Once in place, buckle the throat latch and nose band. Four fingers should fit between the horse’s throat and throat latch.
What do you need to tack up a horse?
Depending on your horse’s needs and your style of riding, there are a number of different tack items you will need to be prepared for riding. The following list focuses on English riding:
- A Bridle: this looks similar to a halter and is fitted onto a horse’s head. A bridle consists of a headpiece, a brow band, a nose band, cheek pieces, a bit and reins. This is the most important part of the tack set up as it allows you to control your horse. Bridles are predominantly made of genuine leather.
- A Saddle: is what fits onto a horse’s back and allows a rider to maintain balance while riding. Saddles are made from genuine leather and are raised both in the front and the back to allow for optimal fit on a horse’s back.
- A Saddle Pad: is what sits between your horse’s back and the saddle and provides support and cushioning for your horse’s comfort. Saddle pads come in various shapes and sizes, depending on the equestrian discipline.
- A Girth: is made of heavy cotton and a long and thick belt with buckles on either side. These buckles connect to either side of the saddle. Girths fit underneath a horse, right behind the front legs.
- Stirrups: are used to support a rider’s feet and aid in a horse’s mounting. Stirrups are comprised of long better straps and iron frames which a rider’s footrests upon.
- Exercise boots: depending on whether you are doing dressage, showjumping, or cross-country, the type of protective boots you place on your horse will vary. Bushing boots are used mainly for dressage, tendon boots are used for showjumping, and thicker, more protective medicine boots are used for cross-country.
- Overreach boots: sit just above a horse’s hoof and are made of rubber. They protect a horse ‘overreaching,’ meaning that the back hooves’ tip clips the back of the front feet. This commonly happens when horses are walking, trotting, or cantering.
- A breastplate is a piece of tack which keeps a saddle in place and prevents it from sliding backward. They are made from genuine leather and fit across a horse’s chest, and connect to the girth.
- Martingale: is used to control a horse’s head in movement and prevents a horse from sticking their head up high, making them more challenging to ride. A martingale fits around the base of a horse’s neck and connects to the reigns and girth.
How do you tack up a horse in Western-style?
- Start by placing the saddle pad on your horse’s back. In Western riding, this can be a conventional saddle pad as used in English riding or a woven blanket. The pad/blanket should be placed slightly more forward on the shoulders and withers.
- From the left-hand side, lift the saddle onto its back. Gently place it in the middle of the saddle pad.
- Lower the cinch. A cinch is the same thing as a girth in English riding and fastens the saddle to a horse’s back. Reach under your horse to grab the cinch, run the latigo through the cinch and back up to the rigging. A latigo is a piece of leather that connects the cinch to the rigging.
- Tighten the cinch just so it’s secure enough to keep the saddle in place but loose enough to place two fingers between the horse and the cinch.
- Tie the excess latigo through the rigging. This is commonly fastened like a bow tie.
- Now, it’s time to put your bridle on the horse. Place the reins over your horse’s neck and buckle the halter to the neck. Use one hand to slide the headstall upwards and over the horse’s head and neck.
- Lastly, adjust the cheek strap on the headstall. That’s it! You are tacked up and ready to go.
As Western riding does not typically include jumping over fences or jumps, no specific protective boots are used when riding.