how to tack up a horse

How To Tack Up A Horse

If you’re a horse owner or a rider, learning the proper technique of tacking up is crucial for your safety and the well-being of your horse. But what is the proper technique, and how do you tack up a horse?

Whether you’re new to horseback riding or just want to refresh your tacking knowledge, I’ve got you covered. In this guide, I’ll take you step-by-step through the process of tacking up, from A to Z. So grab your gear and let’s get started.

What Is Horse Tack?

Horse tack is all of the horse riding equipment and accessories you’ll need when riding and caring for your horse. This includes the items that are necessary for controlling, guiding, and protecting your horse – as well as keeping you safe and comfortable.

The type of horse tack you use depends on the discipline and style of horseback riding, but some of the most common pieces of tack include:

  • Bridle: One of the most important pieces of tack is the bridle. A bridle closely resembles a halter and is a style of headgear that lets you control your horse’s direction and speed. It usually consists of a headstall, bit, and reins.

  • Saddle: A saddle is a support that you place on your horse’s back to distribute your weight more evenly and keep you comfortable while you ride. There are different types of saddles, so be sure to use the right one for your riding style. For example, you’ll want an English saddle for an English riding style.

  • Girth or cinch: This is a strap or band that secures the saddle to the horse’s body. It usually fastens underneath your horse’s belly and helps to keep the saddle in place.

  • Stirrups: Stirrups are platforms or loops for your feet that are attached to the saddle on either side. This is to help give you support and extra stability when you ride.

  • Reins: Reins are the long straps that you hold onto that connect to the bit on the bridle. When you ride horses, this is what you’ll use to communicate with them and control their movements.

  • Bit: A bit is a metal mouthpiece that is inserted into your horse’s mouth and attached to the bridle. You can also use this to communicate with your horse through pressure in its mouth.

  • Martingales and breastplates: These are extra straps that are used to stop the saddle from sliding backward or to control your horse’s head carriage.

  • Protective boots: Different types of boots, like tendon, splint, or bell boots, can be used to protect your horse’s legs from being injured during jumping or riding.

Clydesdale horse in an english bridle

A well fitting bridle is essential

It’s important to remember that these are just some types of horse tack you’ll use. You may need some extra equipment or accessories that are specific to your riding style or your horse’s needs. But no matter what tack you’re using, you should always be sure that it fits well to keep your horse happy and comfortable.

Preparing To Tack Up A Horse

Before you tack up a horse, there are a few steps you need to take to get it ready. Go ahead and grab your tack and any gear you’ll need to groom your horse. Be sure to keep all of your equipment handy and within reach.

Secure your horse

Securing your horse is really important to keep your riding buddy safe throughout the process of tacking up. Typically, there are several ways to do this, so you can choose a method that suits you and your horse.

One option is to use cross ties, which are adjustable lines that are attached to the halter on either side of the horse. This will give your horse some freedom to move, while still keeping it still enough to stay secure. Alternatively, you can secure your horse using a lead rope and a tie post or hitching rail.

Two horses cross tied ready to tack up

Strom and Duke, cross tied ready to tack up

To start, you should always approach your horse calmly and confidently. When it’s calm, it’s easier to fit the halter onto your horse’s head and fasten it securely. Be careful not to make it too loose or too tight.

If you’re using cross ties, you can attach them to the halter on both sides of the horse. Or, if you’re using a rope, make sure to connect it to the right spot on the halter, above the shoulder height.

Remember that when you’re tying the rope, you’ll want to use a quick-release or slip knot. This type of knot is easy to release in case of an emergency. So, if your horse is easily panicked or spooked, you’ll have complete control and can help to calm it down.

Groom your horse

Grooming is an important step when you tack up a horse and has tons of health benefits for its overall well-being and your riding experience. Plus, it’s a chance to bond with your horse and connect with it before you saddle up.

Start by picking out the horse’s hooves with a hoof pick. Be sure to check the horse’s hoof you’ve cleaned for any issues that may prevent you from riding before you start the next one.

Picking out a horses hoof

Picking out a horse’s hoof

After that, you can move on to the fun part: brushing!

Try to get rid of any loose hair before using a curry comb to bring any dirt to the surface of the coat. Then, you can groom your horse as normal, being extra careful to brush and wipe off its face as well.

Keep in mind that grooming isn’t only about cleaning a dirty horse. It’s also a way for you to inspect it for any signs of discomfort or injury. After all, you don’t want to tack up a horse that’s in pain.

Horse grooming it with dandy brush, curry comb, body brush and hoofpick

Get yourself a good grooming kit with dandy brush, a body brush, a hoofpick and a curry comb

How To Tack Up A Horse In English Style

What you need:

  • An English saddle, equipped with stirrups and stirrup leathers

  • A saddle pad that matches the shape of the horse’s saddle to prevent rubbing and saddle sores

  • A padded girth

  • An English bridle that has a noseband and throat lash

  • An English riding bit

English Bridle

English bridle with throat lash and noseband

How to tack up a horse for English riding:

  1. Stand on the left side of your horse and carefully position the saddle pad. You can start by placing the pad slightly higher than the horse’s withers.

  2. From the left-hand side, place the saddle in the middle of the horse’s back, making sure it sits in the middle of the saddle pad. Make sure to slide the saddle down slightly and make any adjustments you need to keep your horse comfortable.

  3. Connect the girth to secure the saddle to your horse’s back. You can fasten the girth to the right side of the saddle, then move to the left and pull the girth across to secure it. Ideally, the girth should be snug enough to prevent movement. You should still be able to fit two fingers through it, though. If you can’t, it may be too tight.

  4. Adjust the stirrups to the right length. In most cases, you should adjust them so that they are as long as the distance from the tips of your fingers to your armpit.

  5. Put the reins of the bridle over your horse’s neck, making sure they’re not knotted or tangled. The buckle of the reins should face outwards for easy use.

  6. Put the bit into your horse’s mouth. You can do this by holding it in the palm of your hand and guiding the bit into its mouth. If it needs some extra encouragement, you can put a finger on the side of your horse’s mouth, which should help them open up.

  7. After the bit is positioned properly, put the headpiece over the horse’s ears and then the head. Then, buckle the noseband and throat lash, leaving enough space for around four fingers at the throat lash.

Putting a saddle on a horse

Stand on the left and put the saddle on

Making sure the numnah isn't pinched on a horse saddle

Make sure the saddle pad or “Numnah” follows the curve of the saddle and isn’t pinching the horse

Getting ready to tighten up the girth strap on a saddle

Adjust the girth to the correct length. Remember to check it again before you ride.

How To Tack Up A Horse In Western Style

Putting on a Western saddle is almost exactly the same process, just with a few changes in terminology.

You’ll need to know words like Latigo which is a strap used to connect the cinch to the rigging

A Cinch is another name for Girth strap

Rigging . Think of rigging on a saddle like the straps on a backpack. When you wear a backpack, you need the straps to hold it securely on your back. The rigging on a saddle is similar. It’s the system of straps and attachments that keeps the saddle in place on the horse’s back.

Just like you adjust the straps on your backpack to make it fit comfortably and stay balanced, the rigging on a saddle can be adjusted to ensure the saddle fits the horse properly and stays stable during different activities. Depending on what you plan to do while riding, like going on a trail ride or participating in a specific riding discipline, different types of rigging are used to provide the right level of stability and comfort for both the rider and the horse.

3 way rigging for a western saddle

Photo courtesy of wikimedia

What you need to tack up for western riding:

  • A Western saddle, including stirrups, stirrup irons, fenders, a breast strap, a front cinch, and buck straps (if necessary)

  • A saddle pad made for a Western saddle

  • A Western bridle

  • A Western riding bit

Western saddle

How to tack up a horse for Western riding:

  1. Start by placing the saddle pad on your horse’s back. Position it slightly forward on the withers and horse’s shoulder.

  2. Standing on the left side, put the saddle onto your horse’s back. Remember to place it in the middle of the saddle pad.

  3. Lower the cinch and fasten it on your horse’s back. You can reach underneath your horse to grab the cinch and pass the leather strap (latigo) through it before pulling it back up to the rigging. Make sure to tighten it enough to stay on while also being able to slip two fingers beneath it.

  4. You can secure any extra latigo by tying it through the rigging. You can do this by making a nice bow tie.

  5. Now you can put on the horse’s bridle. Place the reins over the horse’s neck and buckle the halter. Then guide the headstall upwards and over the horse’s head and neck. You can also place the bit you’re using into your horse’s mouth.

  6. Adjust the cheek strap on the headstall and make sure your horse is comfortable.


How often should I tack up my horse?

Grooming and tacking up a horse that you are training is an essential part of it’s development. Even if you arent going out for a ride, 30 minutes spent grooming, tacking up and walking your horse daily gets it used to the process and will help to get your horse comfortable in it’s tack.

What if my horse seems uncomfortable or resistant during tacking up?

If you already know how to tack up a horse and you’ve done everything correctly, your horse should be comfortable and compliant. But, if it isn’t, you may need to spend a little more time getting used to the feeling of all of the equipment. Young or anxious horses may take some time to adjust to wearing tack, so try to be patient and consistent.

How do I know if the saddle fits my horse properly?

Keeping your horse calm, happy, and comfortable are incredibly important. To ensure that the saddle is fitting your horse properly, you can check for:

  • Clearance at the withers spine

  • Balance on the back

  • The right width

  • Consistent contact with the horse’s back

Once you know how to fit a saddle on a horse, you should be able to check the fit quickly and easily before riding. You’ll also be able to read behaviour cues from your riding companion.

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