Essential Equestrian Horse Tack and Horse Riding Apparel
All English riders use the same essential articles of horse tack and riding apparel with some minor variations, depending upon the style of riding. The most basic horse tack includes the saddle, saddle pad, girth, stirrups, and stirrup leathers along with a bridle and bit. Equestrian riding apparel includes riding breeches, boots, and a helmet at minimum. As any horse lover can attest, there are always new and interesting products on the market to help riders ride better and to help horses look, feel, and perform their best, whichever style of riding is being done.
Styles of English Riding
The style of riding and the decision to compete in shows or not will determine many aspects of essential equestrian riding apparel and horse tack needs. Simply riding for pleasure on trails or in a ring requires only minimal riding equipment, whereas showing competitively requires far more extensive and style-specific riding equipment and equestrian riding apparel.
The most popular forms of English riding competition include English pleasure, show hunters, show jumping, and dressage, which share most of the essential horse tack and equestrian riding apparel. Many other styles of English riding, including polo, eventing, saddle seat, endurance, and racing have their own rules, regulations, and requirements regarding horse tack and equestrian riding apparel.
The Essentials of Equestrian Riding Apparel
The most basic articles of equestrian riding apparel include riding breeches or jodhpurs, riding boots, and a helmet. When showing, a riding shirt, also known as a ratcatcher and a show coat are also required. The point of wearing equestrian riding apparel, rather than baggy old jeans and sandals, is safety, control, and contact. Riders must be in close contact with their horse without getting their skin pinched or having their clothing snag, potentially resulting in a fall.
While riding for pleasure or in a lesson, riding breeches, riding boots and a helmet are all that are required. While the terms riding breeches and jodhpurs are frequently used interchangeably, they are actually two different types of riding pants. Jodhpurs refer to the city in India where they originated as baggy pants from the waist to the knee, which then fit snugly over the calf to the ankle. Riding breeches are snugly fitting riding trousers that reach just below the knee, sporting leather or other fabric stitched inside the knee area for a better grip on the horse. Riding breeches are frequently found with a longer than traditional leg as they have become more popular as a fashion item, but the fit remains the same, with the advantage of stretchable fabrics making them more comfortable. Riding jeans are acceptable for casual riding. Properly fitting riding breeches protect against skin being pinched by the saddle and allow for close contact with the horse. Riding breeches should be tan, beige, or gray for the show ring, unless it is for a dressage class where the riding breeches are white.
Shirts and Jackets
For casual riding and lessons, any shirt that allows for freedom of movement without risking catching on anything will suffice. In the show ring, a ratcatcher must be worn with a tie or stock pin. Traditionally, the ratcatcher is white and long-sleeved, though many shows currently allow riders to wear short-sleeved or pastel colored ratcatchers. While showing, riders must also wear a show coat.
The shadbelly is a black or other dark colored show coat worn by dressage and other high caliber riders. The shadbelly is short in the front and has long tails in the back. The shadbelly is worn with a stock pin and tie for an elegant look. Hunt seat riders must wear a show coat that is neat and trim. Colors can be navy, dark brown, hunter green, or gray. Black is legal, but is generally kept to the dressage ring.
The Riding Helmet
The most crucial article of equestrian riding apparel is the riding helmet. The traditional hard hat has been significantly improved for better protection and comfort over recent years. Riding helmets are tested by the Safety Equipment Institute (SEI) according to standards set by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM). Only riding helmets approved by the SEI will display an ASTM/SEI sticker.
ASTM/SEI helmets feature a hard outer shell, thick padding, a ventilation system, and an attached, adjustable harness. ASTM/SEI approved helmets must be worn when showing, unless it is an upper level dressage class where the rider will wear a top hat. Lower level dressage riders are required to wear ASTM/SEI approved helmets.
Riding Boots and Paddock Boots
Foot protection is always important when working with horses. Paddock boots are generally used for casual wear around the barn. Paddock boots, also known as jodhpur boots, are short leather boots with extra toe protection, called a toe cap, that can be laced up or feature an elastic side. Paddock boots can also be worn in the show ring, as long as they are neat and clean.
There are several types of boots for showing, depending upon the style of riding. Tall boots, which come just below the knee, include field boots, hunt boots, and dress boots. Dress boots are worn by dressage riders and they are rather stiff. Traditionally, dress boots are black. Hunt boots, also known as top boots, are similar to dress boots except that they feature a tan cuff at the top. Field boots offer lacing at the ankle, allowing for greater flexibility. Field boots can be dark brown, but the majority of them are black.
Essential Equestrian Horse Tack
To ride safely and effectively, a rider must fit their horse with horse tack that includes a saddle, a saddle pad, a girth, and a bridle. There are many varieties, again dependent upon the style of riding. Saddles provide a comfortable and secure seat that keeps the rider in the correct position and the bridle allows the rider to dictate the direction taken by the horse.
Saddles and Saddle Pads
Beginning riders should become familiar with the parts of their saddle to facilitate communication between rider and trainer. Saddles are built upon a wooden frame called a tree. The panels provide cushioning between the horse and the saddle. The space between the panels is called the gullet. The pommel is the front edge of the saddle and the cantle is the rear edge. Attached to the tree are the stirrup bars, which support the stirrup leathers. The skirt, or jockey, is the leather that covers the stirrup bar, protecting the rider's legs. Also attached to the tree are the billets, or girth straps, to which the girth is attached. The billets are covered by the sweat flap. The girth is the strap that holds the saddle on the horse's back by running underneath the horse's belly. Knee or thigh rolls may or may not be present. Stirrup leathers are used to hang the stirrups from the saddle. The metal part of a stirrup is called the iron.
Commonly used English saddles are generally referred to as "close contact" saddles. English saddles are of a forward seat variety, allowing greater freedom of movement for the horse while jumping. Dressage saddles feature a longer flap and a flatter, less forward seat, with the stirrup leathers moved more forward. Jumping saddles have a flap that is shorter and placed more forward, with a seat that is oriented closer to the cantle. Saddle pads protect the horse's back from chafing and rubbing and are generally white in color. The saddle pad should fit the shape of the saddle and extend no more than one inch from the saddle itself.
Bits and Bridles
Most English bridles use what is called a cavesson noseband. The plain or French cavesson is a noseband that surrounds the horse's nose one to two inches below the cheekbone. The flash or Aachen noseband holds the bit more securely, while the crank or Swedish cavesson keeps the horse's mouth closed, for dressage riding. The Hanoverian bridle combines the effects of the Aachen and the Swedish cavessons. The figure-eight noseband is highly popular in show jumping and eventing. Less popular among riders, though, apparently preferred by horses, is the drop noseband, which encircles the horse's nose at the chin groove.
Bits come in two basic styles: direct pressure snaffles and leveraged curbs. Curb style bits, such as the Pelham, use leverage against the horse's chin groove, poll, and mouth to control the animal's head and direction. Snaffle bits use direct pressure against the horse's tongue for the same effect. Some bits, such as the Kimblewick, use a combination of direct and leveraged pressure. Most bits use a single set of reins that are buckled together at the rider's end, while others require the use of an extra set of reins. New riders must use caution when applying pressure to their horse's mouth, as it can cause severe pain to the animal when used incorrectly.
Halters and Longe Lines
Halters and lead lines are fundamental pieces of equipment required by every horseman or horsewoman. The halter is placed on the horse's head and the lead line is attached under the jaw to lead the horse wherever the rider requires. When exercising and training a horse, a longe line and longe whip are commonly used for ground work. The longe line is long enough to allow the horse to walk, trot, and canter in a circle around the trainer who stands in the middle.
Other Riding Equipment
Most riders will also need to invest in a martingale, which prevents the horse from raising its head above a certain point. Horses also need a blanket if they are clipped or accustomed to living indoors. Horse boots and leg wraps are necessary whenever trailering and horse boots are always a good item to use when jumping.
Riders will also need grooming equipment such as a brush, curry comb, mane and tail comb, hoof pick, and hoof oil. To keep the leather tack in the best condition possible, it is important to clean it regularly with leather cleaner and then oil it with mink oil or some other leather preservative.Assembling the essential equestrian horse tack and horse riding apparel may seem daunting when, in fact, it is a simple matter of creating a list of items complete with sizes and getting online for a short while. There is no longer a need to drive to various tack shops for everything needed when it is only a click away.