What is Horse Tack

Horse tack are equipment items or accessories that are used to complete various tasks. Bridles, halters, saddles, and stirrups are all examples of tack. When this equipment is added to the horse, it may be called “tacking up.” A room within a stable that stores this equipment and other accessories is often referred to as a “tack room.”

What Is the Most Important Tack?

For most horses, the saddle is the most important tack item that is owned. The saddle provides a seat for the rider. It will often be fastened to the horse by using a cinch or a girth, depending if English or Western riding is desired. The cinch or girth is a wide strap that goes around the horse, behind the forelegs, and it secures the saddle tightly to the back of the horse.

A saddle blanket will usually go on the horse before the saddle is placed. The blanket helps to prevent skin injuries from the natural movement the saddle tends to have when a rider is in place. Because the blanket is usually considered an accessory, it is treated as a tack item as well.

Western saddles might also have a back cinch or flank, which is a second strap that secures the saddle to the horse.

English and Western saddles are slightly different in design, but there are also different saddles that are designed to complete specific tasks. Racing saddles, side saddles, and endurance saddles are all different options.

Accessories for a saddle that would also be considered tack, but are optional, include the following.

  • Crupper. This is a loop that comes with an adjustable strap that runs over the croup from the dock to the saddle of a harness. It is usually made from leather and stops the equipment from slipping forward on the horse.
  • Surcingle. This accessory is often used to teach horses to accept girth pressure. It is used for lunging and can attach to the reins or overcheck. It can also be used without a saddle, sitting just behind the withers.
  • Breastplate. This tack option prevents the saddle from sliding backwards or sideways while it is on the horse.

Many saddles include stirrups, which provide support to the feet of the rider while they are in the saddle. It is often treated as safety equipment, but the feet of the rider can also get caught in the stirrup and create a risk for dragging should they fall out of the saddle. Special boots can be worn and safety bars added to the saddle to prevent this from happening. 

Headgear Tack for Horses

Headgear tack for horses can come in a variety of styles and options. Each tends to be added for a specific task. Multiple headgear tack can be worn simultaneously and some tack is designed to be worn full-time by the horse.

The halter is the most common form of headgear tack. Sometimes called a collar or headstall, it has a noseband and head piece that buckles around the head of the horse. When properly secured, the halter allows the horse to be tied or led. A lead rope can be attached to the halter as well and this tack accessory comes in various lengths to complete specific tasks, such as picketing.

Stallions may require a chain to be attached to their lead rope or halter to increase handler control while they are being led.

Bridles are another common tack option for horses. They are very similar to bridles, but with one key difference: bridles have a bit attached, which lead to reins that riders use to help provide added control while in the saddle. The type of riding that is preferred will dictate which type of bridle is used with the horse.

English bridles have a noseband that allows the reins to be bucked to each other. They are designed to be simple and straightforward in use, so few adornments are usually added.

Western bridles do not generally have a noseband. They tend to give the rider split reins or closed reins. Different silver adornments are added to this tack, often a reflection of the personality of the rider, the horse, or both.

Double bridles are usually seen in English riding and they are unique because they have a snaffle and a curb instead of a single bit. This gives the rider an additional level of control while in the saddle.

Hackamore bridles are bitless and rely on a heavier noseband for control. These are used when working with senior horses or horses that have dental health issues. They can also be used to train younger horses the basics of riding. Bitless bridles are seen in English and Western riding.

Incorporating Bits into the Horse Tack

Bits are placed into the mouth of the horse and connect to the headstall of the bridle being worn. There are several different types of bits available and each is used for a specific type of training or riding.

Although some horses may like to chew on their bits, the tack is designed to sit behind the front teeth of the horse, but in front of the molars. This location is called the “bars” of the mouth. For a bit to function properly, it must not cause discomfort for the horse or impact their teeth in any way. Because of this, it is not unusual for a horse to have a custom bit.

There are several hundred different types of bits that are available through tack stores today, but most use one of four common styles.

  • The snaffle bit is the most common type of tack that is used and it has rings on either side that connect to the bridle to provide pressure. This bit can be single-jointed or double-jointed and does not contain a shank. 
  • The curb bit provides lever action for the rider, placing pressure on one side of the mouth or the other. It is a solid bar with an upward curve in the middle to create added pressure when commands are given.
  • The Pelham bit is a combination of the snaffle and curb bit, containing a bit ring and a bit shank. It works on several parts of the head instead of focusing on the areas of the mouth.
  • The Weymouth bit, or the full bridle, has two bits and four reins. It is used most often for horse shows and dressage when formal tack is required.

Because the bit is the piece of tack that provides the most rider control, there are some bits that are specifically designed to provide discomfort or even pain to “get the horse to listen.” These bits, which may be deemed to be illegal, may contain bike chain components, spiked bars, chain links, and twisted wires.

Any bit that is used improperly or in a manner that is unsafe, however, offers the potential of abuse.

Are Reins Considered Horse Tack?

The other common component of horse tack that is often used is the reins. Reins are usually leather straps, but could be synthetic materials or even rope. They extend from the outer portion of the bit or the bridle, around the head of the horse, and into the hands of the rider. It is how commands are given to the horse while riding.

Pulling on the reins can steer the horse in a specific direction, ask the horse to speed up, or tell the horse to stop. The reins pull the head of the horse to one side, which tells the horse the direction or the command that is being issued.

A harness is part of this tack group because it extends the reins over the back of the horse so other equipment can be pulled by the horse. A coach, a wagon, or even farm equipment requires a harness that is attached to the bridle or bit. The reins are then attached to the harness.

Reins can also be attached to halters so a horse can be guided or lead through a specific task.

Pairs of horses can be controlled with this combination of tack in multiple groups. Fours, sixes, and eights are all possible, a description which refers to the number of reins that connect to pairs of horses instead of individual horses.

One common mistake that is seen with the reins is that they are used to tie the horse. Reins are a thin material and will break easily, especially if the leather has been exposed to weather elements. If the horse is tied incorrectly with the reins, the bit can become quite painful for the horse as well. That is why a rope should always be used.

Any piece of equipment that is used with a horse is considered tack. Accessories that are used with that equipment are also tack. For that reason, it is usually better to reference specific tack items, such as the saddle, when speaking about the equipment instead of using the generic term. Otherwise, there can be a lot of confusion about what is being discussed.