How to Tack Up a Horse

Knowing how to tack up a horse means first deciding on the type of riding that you plan to do. This piece will cover two common forms of riding: Western Style and English Style. Although the steps are fairly similar for both riding styles, there are some important differences of which you will want to take note.

Before starting the tack up process, no matter which riding style you prefer, it is important to secure the horse. Use cross ties or a hitchingpost for best results so the horse stays in place while you begin to follow the next steps. Make sure to use slip knots or release snaps to secure the horse so you can free yourself should you get tangled up for some reason.

If it hasn't been done already, you'll also want to groom the horse before tacking up a horse. If there is dirt or debris that winds up underneath the saddle and the padding or blanket, the it can cause skin irritation and sores for the horse. It is also a good practice to check the shoes of the horse for tightness and debris. Look for signs of swelling and injury so you don't ride a horse that should probably be resting.

Once you've completed all of that, you're ready to know how to tack up a horse for your preferred riding style.

How To Tack Up a Horse For Western Style Riding

#1. You will need to place a saddle pad or blanket on the center of the horse's back. This is necessary to protect the skin of the horse from rubbing that can occur from the saddle placement.

#2. Position a Western saddle on top of the saddle pad or blanket you have placed on the horse. You'll want to make sure that there are a few inches of padding or blanket in front of your saddle to prevent the development of sores on the horse.

#3. Attach the cinch to the off billet to the right side of the horse. This is the strap that looks like a belt buckle.

#4. Now you'll want to go around to the left side of the horse and tighten the cinch by using the latigo. You'll want to tighten the cinch in three stages to make sure it has been placed properly. Tighten when the saddle is first on and then tighten again one more time after you have finished tacking up. Give it one more tightening after doing some lead work to make sure the saddle is as secure as it should be.

#5. Attach the uptugs of the breast collar. These will attach to the D rings on both sides of the saddle. Don't settle for cheap D rings – look for steel or brass for best results. Check the rings for corrosion if you've been using the saddle for some time or you purchased a used saddle.

#6. Run the center strap of the breast collar between the front legs of the horse and then attach it to the D ring that is on the cinch for that collar.

#7. Now you're ready to place the halter and bridle up on the horse. You can still use a noseband if the horse likes to drop his head some while riding or has the habit of throwing his head from side to side. The bridle is used to maintain control, including reins and a bit, but is not necessary for all tacking up. If you use it, you'll need to secure the throat latch and make sure the horse is willing to take the bit before you start riding.

How To Tack Up a Horse For English Style Riding

#1. Place the saddle pad or blanket up by the horse's neck and then gently slide it into place on the back.

#2. Next you'll want to slide the stirrups up on their straps so you don't hit the side of the horse when you place the saddle. After doing that, place the saddle onto the top of the pad or blanket. Then bucked the girth on the ride side of the horse, repeat on the left side, and slide the stirrups slowly down to their preferred location.

#3. Give the horse a minute or two to adjust to the saddle. As the horse moves, the girth may begin to loosen. If this happens, just tighten it back so that it is secure once again.

#4. If you're using a martingale, that needs to be buckled on at this step. These straps attach at one end of the noseband and the other end at the girth so the horse doesn't raise its head too high. You can use a standing martingale or a running martingale based on your riding preferences.

#5. Now you're ready to put on the bridle. Untie the horse or remove the cross ties and but the reins from the bridle over the neck of the horse. Doing this will give you more control over the horse if it happens to be needed. Place your fingers on either side of the bit and then give it to the horse, placing it in the mouth. Slide the headpiece up and over the ears and buckle the throat latch.

#6. Give your tack up one last review. Make sure the reins did not get crossed for some reason. The bridle should be fitted correctly and the girth of the saddle should not be lose. Make corrections as needed and you'll be ready to mount up the horse.

What If I Want To Put the Bridle On First?

Some owners prefer to reverse the steps listed above for both riding styles and put on the bridle first. For the most part, this can be done without difficulty. You'll just want to make sure that you've tied the head-collar of the horse so that it is around the neck.

What About Placing Boots on a Horse?

Not listed in these steps is the issue of the boots. You may need to put on boots or polos while tacking up, depending on the needs of the horse. The boots are designed to help protect the tendons and ligaments of the horse while it is being ridden for various reasons. There are several types of boots that may be necessary for the health of a horse.

Brushing Boots: These are used to protect the horse from injuries that occur when an opposite leg brushes against the inside of another leg.

Hock Boots: If there isn't a lot of bedding for a horse, then these boots are long-term wear options that can avoid common hock injuries.

Knee-Cap Boots: This type of boot protects the knee joint from bruising and knocks which can occur during a ride. Light, medium, and heavy padding options are usually available based on what the horse will be doing. 

Leg Wraps: This type of boot, wrap, or bandage provides extra support for the horse, but can be difficult to apply if you're tacking up on your own.

Over-Reach Boots: This type of boot protects a horse from injury when the back hooves make contact with the front legs. 

Rubber Pastern Boots: Sometimes called Sausage boots, they're made of thick rubber tubing and fit on the hind leg. They're used more for jumping purposes, but can also be useful for horses that like to kick out.

Tendon/Fetlock Boots: These boots are more for jumping purposes. They reinforce the strength of the ligaments of tendons in the leg for high energy applications.

Travel Boots: This type of boot is generally not used for riding. Made from cotton, fleece, or sometimes foam, they protect the entire leg while traveling with the horse.

If you're unsure of what size of boots your horse should have, this chart offered by Equestrian Buzz can help you figure out standard sizing options.

Pony up to 12.1 Hands    XS    S
Pony 12.2 – 13.1 Hands    S    S
Cob 13.2 – 14.1 Hands    S    M
Cob or Full 14.2 – 15.1 Hands    M    M
Full 15.2 – 16.2 Hands    M    L
Extra-Full 16.3 Hands +    L    XL

It's Easy To Tack Up a Horse With Practice

If you're wondering how to take up a horse properly, then it is not uncommon for the first few attempts to not go as you may plan. A cinch might not tighten as it should or you might have the horse shake off the saddle pad or blanket. These things will happen. Give yourself plenty of time to work with the horse, let the horse get used to the new tack, and over time the process will begin to get easier.

And always make sure to look for dirt or debris that may be under the tack before riding the horse. Saddle sores can be extremely painful for a horse and they can become infected if they are not properly treated. Simple grooming and ongoing checks can prevent this from happening in most circumstances.

Knowing how to tack up a horse will let you enjoy a nice ride. Follow these steps for your preferred riding style so that you and your horse can have a great time.