How to Tack Up a Horse Western Style-Correctly! (Including Photos)
It's Just Important!
Many horse people out there already know one of the most important things about riding a horse. Tacking them correctly. While anyone can tell you that, not many will tell you exactly HOW. Or, if they do, you have a pretty good chance of getting incorrect information that could result in you or your horses' injury, be it serious or minor.
First Things First.
First, you want to make sure you have all the tack needed for the particular event. In most cases, you'll need the basic essentials, also depending on your horses personality. Basically, you'll need a bridle, saddle, and breast collar. (See pictures.) For best results, you'll want tack that matches your horses character and look, so they don't look goofy. Example: Having a pure white saddle on a black horse.
Depending on your horses' attitude and personality, you might need extra tack. Examples are boots, gaiters, etc. Boots are normally used for Gymkhana horses to ensure they don't pull a muscle or tendon. Also to protect their legs from all the other legs when they are flying around the barrels and poles.
These can be put on in any order, but I usually begin with my Saddle Pad. You start with your horse standing calmly with a halter on and tied to a post in a slip-knot. If the horse isn't accustomed to a Saddle Pad yet, calmly handle it around them until they are used to it, though that might take a few days to weeks.
Come up to either side of the horse with the Saddle Pad in your arms. There is usually a little leather/plastic/fabric box tag with the Saddle Pads' maker on the side that represents the front. Raise it onto the horses back and don't worry about position yet, right now we are just setting it on the horse.
Next, you need to position it. Take the front of the Saddle Pad and pull it up past the horses' whithers, as seen in the picture. It should rest with a couple inches of the neck from there the mane starts underneath it. Adjust as needed, it should look comfortable on the horses' shoulders.
Now, you need to check how even it is on both sides. Walk on both sides of the horse to make sure that the Saddle Pad is not lop-sided or hanging too far off one side. If it is, adjust it so that it's even on both sides. Hooray! Your now ready for the Saddle!
Do the Horse a Favor
Place the saddle on the horses back. Lobbing it up and allowing it to come back down on the horses back is counter productive to a horse that accepts being saddled.
I've witnessed so many times, people set the saddle on the horses back, then reach up and shove the cinch and girth straps off the seat, and remove the stirrup from the horn and drop it. Do the horse a favor and go around to the right side so you can take these items down gently. Have you ever had a stirrup drop on you? They hurt!
Saddle Up Partner!
Awesome! You've made it this far! Now, it's time for the mighty saddle!
Assuming you're using a western saddle, the front of the saddle is the area where the horn is. Of course, you'll want it so that you'd be facing the horses head if you were to mount.
Before you pick up the saddle, you'll want to have the stirrup on the right side hooked up onto the horn of the saddle. Lift the girth and cinch strap, on the same, right, side, and lay them on the seat of the saddle. There's a few reasons why we do this. One, when you carry a saddle to place it on the horse, you pick it up, and carry it, on the left side of the saddle. Lifting the stirrup, cinch strap and girth up onto the seat and horn, on the right side, you won't trip on it as you walk carrying the saddle. Second, when you place it on the horses back all those straps won't get stuck up under the saddle. And third, you won't startle or hurt the horse when all those straps flip around when you put the saddle on.
So, you have all the straps and stirrup up on the horn and seat, right? Now, on the left side of the saddle, grasp the saddle with your left hand below the mantle. With your right hand, grasp the saddle by the back of the seat. Carry to the left side of the horse and lift it high enough to clear his back, and set the saddle down.
Don't worry about the position just yet, we just want it ON. THEN we'll deal with the position and such. Go onto the opposite side and pull down the stirrup, girth, and cinch strap and let them hang loosely at the horses side.
Adjusting the position of the saddle, on the saddle pad, is important. The saddle pad should be pulled to just past the horses withers. The saddle should be up to where the horses withers are inside the cave the mantle creates. Again, check that it isn't lopsided, and the saddle pad is square underneath the saddle.
So that you don't impede shoulder movement, you'll want to adjust the Saddle Pad again. Pull up the front part that is resting on the whithers to the mantle of the saddle so that there is a couple inches between the top of the saddle pad and the horse. This gives the horse more room to move with the saddle on.
If you feel that your stirrups aren't at the right length, you can try a few tests. One of the most well-loved ones is the Armpit Test. Standing beside the horse, put the stirrup in the pit of your arm. Reach out your arm and touch the saddle. You should be able to JUST touch the saddle seat. If you are in the middle of the seat, adjust. If you can't touch it, adjust. If you can't get the perfect length for your stirrups, remember that shorter is better. It's always better to have your legs a bit bent than to lose a stirrup in the case of an emergency.
Securing the Saddle
Stand at the left side of the horse and grab the Girth. (Indicated in picture.) This part goes in the 'armpit' of your horses front legs and is meant to be nice and snug so that the saddle doesn't fall off.
Take the long strap on the left side of the saddle and loop it once through the underside of the Girth. (Again, see picture.) Pull it up and through the metal half-circle the strap is hooked onto and then loop it again and again until you have about a half a foot of the strap left. The Girth shouldn't be tight at this point, but it should be resting on the horses stomach.
Following what the picture shows, after you've brought it up the top metal loop, you wrap it back around the strap and through the metal loop again. You go above and then through the wrapped strap part to secure it. See picture for details.
You still need to tighten it though, so grab a vertical part of the long strap and pull. You'll want to pull it almost as tight as you can and you'll have a lot more extra strap. Pull it tight at the end again and then check the tightness. You should be able to just get a finger into it, but not too easily, or else it will slip off.
Second Cinch or Bucking Strap
You've come so far! I'm proud of you!
Move to your right a step and take the cinch, which is indicated in the picture. This strap is also known as the 'Bucking Strap' because rodeo's secure a rope at this area of the horse to make it buck. What this cinch actually does, for you, the rider, is it helps to keep the saddle from sliding forward when you're riding down hill. If this strap is fastened too tight, it will be uncomfortable for the horse and you may induce unwanted behavior. So, secure the strap loosely, but not too loose!
Congratulations!! You've finished with the saddle!
The Breast Collar
The breast collar is usually a well-known piece of tack, though not everyone uses it. The point of a breast collar is to prevent the saddle from sliding backwards when your riding uphills. Most Gymkhana horses use it too because it helps the saddle stay forward when the horse suddenly launches forward and around turns.
The breast collar is made up of 3 either clips, loops, etc. Just three ways of attaching itself to the saddle. Two of the three are usually different than the other though, and they signify the top.
With the design facing away from the horse, attach the left side of the breast collar (the top strap) to the metal loop in front of the tie strap holder. (See Pic). Do the same to the other side of the saddle and breast collar. Tighten it so that it is only slightly snug and where the center rests in the dip of the horses chest. Make sure that it is above the point of the horses shoulders so that they can still move their legs freely.
Next, you'll have to take the last strap and duck under the horse. The girth will have a small loop facing the front of the horse in the exact middle of the belly. Clip the last strap to that loop. Tighten it so that it just rests against the horses chest, but isn't snug. Let the horse have room to move. Now for the bridle!
One More Favor for Your Horse
Just as you shouldn't lob the saddle onto the horses back, when you mount the horse, take some care. This is an animals back. When you swing your leg over the horses back don't kick him in the butt with your boot, or his spine! And when you have swung your leg over, set down into the seat. Plopping yourself into the seat is not going to be comfortable for a horse.
Bridal or bridle? The first bridal refers to a woman and her wedding. The second one is the one we want. The bridle is how you convey to the horse what you want him to do with his head. There's several ways we let the horse know what we want him to do through our body, our seat, hands, feet, everything! The bridle is the part for which way you want his head to turn. This is the piece that usually includes a bit that goes inside the horses mouth and a headstall, which loops over one or both of the ears.
First things first. You'll have to take off the halter and loop it around the horses neck, as seen in the picture. This leaves you the head to be dealt with, but the horse is still in your control.
For a loop-snaffle bit with a chin strap, you'll have to do a bit of positioning with your body. Hold up the bit above the chin strap so that it can be easily slipped into the horses mouth with one hand. With the other hand, hold the head stall up and over the horses head, but out of his (or her) eyes.
Press the bit against the horses mouth as a signal for him to open his mouth for the bit. If he refuses, stick a thumb into the corner of his mouth and tickle his tongue with it. For a stubborn horse, you might have to do this a few times. They will then open their mouth and you can slip the bit into his mouth and the chin strap under his chin.
He'll probably open his mouth over and over while you're adjusting it. You're adjusting the straps and he's adjusting the bit to set on his tongue. If your horse continual mouths the bit, or opens his mouth when you apply the bit, with the reins, there's probably a problem with the bit and it should be checked. Now, pull the headstall back and up to his ears. It should be fairly easy to slip each of his ears into the large loop, if it's not, stop and adjust the size.
To make him look pretty, be sure to pull the forelock into the loop as well so it decorates his forehead. Now, check the bit. How tight is it? This part is more of a personal preference. How tight do you like your bit? If you're not sure, then a good place to start is when it is in the exact corner of his lips. If it's lower down and he is mouthing still, you'll want to tighten it, that means it's more on his teeth than on his gums. Usually, having a slight wrinkle, or two, at the corner of his mouth is a sign of a well-tightened bit.
Last, but not least, the throat latch. The throat latch is a small piece of leather that goes under the large disk that resembles the horses cheek, right at the base of the head. It's meant to be a bit snug, but not enough to choke the horse. It's part of many bridles and helps the effectiveness of the bridle.
Congratulations! You have now properly tacked up your Western Pleasure Horse! Good Job!