24 Feb How to Tack Up a Horse English (Complete Guide)
How to Tack Up a Horse Using English Tack
When it comes to tacking up your horse, it may seem as if there are a lot of parts and straps you can confuse. If a horse is tacked up improperly, the tack can cause pinching and discomfort to the horse. It’s important to know exactly where the tack should sit on your horse and how tight all the straps and girth need to be.
So, how do you tack up a horse using English tack? Here are some simple step-by-step tips to follow for tacking up your horse:
- place the saddle pad across the horse’s back and over the withers so that the saddle pad can slide into the proper place when you put the saddle on.
- lay the saddle over the saddle pad, adjusting both the pad and the saddle so that the saddle is sitting behind the horse’s shoulder blade.
- For the girth, first, connect the non-elastic end of the girth to the right side of the saddle, then the elastic end of the girth to the left side of the saddle.
- Put your English bridle on your horse and make sure that all the straps are adjusted as necessary.
Tack is used for giving the rider more security and control of the horse; however, if your horse is tacked up incorrectly, then you’ll have less security and less control. Keep reading to get an in-depth look at each step you need to take when tacking up your horse using English tack.
Putting On the Saddle Pad
The saddle pad is the first piece of tack you’ll put on your horse. This blanket provides a cushion between the horse’s back and the saddle. Keep reading to learn how to put a saddle pad on your horse.
How to Tell the Direction Your Saddle Pad Should Go
In English, there are two types of saddle pads; there is a full saddle pad, which looks like a rectangle, and then there is a shaped saddle pad, which outlines the shape of the saddle. It’s important to know how to tell the difference between the front and the back of the saddle pad and how it should fit on your horse.
Full Saddle Pad
It is more difficult to determine the front and back of a full saddle pad. The easiest way to tell which end of the full saddle pad is the front is finding the end of the blanket that has all the straps. Usually, full saddle pads will have long straps at the front end of the saddle pad. These straps are called billet straps and they attach to the saddle to hold the saddle pad in place.
If you don’t have a full saddle pad with straps, look for a tag on the centerfold of the pad. The tag usually sits towards the front of the saddle pad.
Shaped Saddle Pad
With a shaped saddle pad, it’s easy to tell the front from the back. Since this saddle pad will look like the outline of your saddle, determine which end is the front and which end is the back by comparing it to how the saddle should sit on your horse.
The reason it’s important to know the front end of your saddle pad from the back end is that the front of the saddle pad will be the end that sits towards the withers while the back end sits towards the horse’s hips. When placed on your horse correctly, the saddle pad will contour to your horse’s back, allowing for more comfort.
Where to Place the Saddle Pad on the Horse
Place your saddle pad over your horse’s back; the front end of the pad should overlap your horse’s withers. I tend to place my saddle pad a little higher over my horse’s withers since when I put the saddle on, the saddle pad will slide down into its proper place.
Putting On the English Saddle
The most important thing when it comes to putting your saddle on your horse is where you place the saddle. If you put it too high up on their withers, it can pinch the horse’s shoulders and limit your horse’s mobility in their front end. If you put it too far down on their back, your weight will be set over the wrong place in the horse’s back, which can cause your horse pain.
If you need to know how to measure your horse for a saddle, check out our article, Measuring a Horse Saddle: Everything You Need to Know.
Where to Place the Saddle on the Horse
Put your saddle over your horse’s back. The front of your saddle should sit at the base of your horse’s withers, or right before the withers start to rise from the horse’s back. If you look at your horse’s back, you’ll see there’s a slight dip behind and down from the withers. The front panels of your saddle will rest in this dip.
How to Adjust the Saddle Pad Under the Saddle
Once you’ve put the saddle on, you’ll need to adjust the saddle pad underneath it. First, connect the billet straps to the billets of your saddle. Second, pull your saddle pad up and away from your horse’s withers so that the pad won’t rub uncomfortably. Make sure that your saddle doesn’t overlap your saddle pad in any way; the pad should always be between the horse and the saddle.
Attaching the Girth
Next, you’ll need to secure your saddle to your horse’s back using a girth. The girth connects to either side of your saddle and goes around your horse like a belt.
How to Tell Which Way the Girth Goes
Believe it or not, there is a front and a back to a girth. The front side of the girth will sit under the horse facing the horse’s head. A metal ring will usually be in the middle of the front end of the girth and will sit directly back between the horse’s front legs. This ring is where you could connect a martingale or a breast collar to your girth.
You’ll also need to know which is the left and right side of the girth. The right side of the girth will have two unelastic straps that attach to the right side of your saddle. The left side of your girth will have to elastic straps that attach to the left side of your saddle.
How to Properly Attach Your Girth to the Saddle
To attach your girth to the saddle, start on the right side. Connect the right side of your girth or the nonelastic side, to the first and third billets of your saddle. Make sure you buckle your girth on the same holes of the first and third billets. Start at hole one.
Next, go over to the left side of your horse. Reach your hand under your horse and pull the left side of the girth over. You’ll want to attach the left side of your girth or the elastic end to the left side of your saddle. On this side, tighten the girth considerably; however, always make sure that your buckles are always on the sale holes of the first and third billet.
The elastic or left side of your girth will always be the easier side to tighten. When you go to tighten your girth, always attempt to do so on this end.
Where Should Your Girth Sit On Your Horse
An important aspect to know is exactly how your girth should sit on your horse. You don’t want your girth to sit right behind your horse’s elbow, as this can limit the horse’s front end mobility and cause pinching.
The center of your girth should sit four inches from your horse’s elbow. This way, your horse has complete mobility and the girth isn’t too far forward or too far back.
How Tight Should Your Girth Be
Like wearing a belt to keep your pants from slipping down, you want your girth tight enough to keep your saddle from slipping side to side. However, you don’t want it too tight that your horse is uncomfortable and can’t breathe. You want your girth tight enough so that you could comfortably fit four fingers between the girth and the horse.
Putting on the Bridle
The bridle is usually the last piece of tack you will put on your horse. Your bridle will attach to the horse’s head and your reins, giving you another avenue to communicate with your horse.
How to Properly Put an English Bridle on a Horse
First, start by putting the reins of the bridle over your horse’s head before you even take the halter off. This way, if your horse were to go to walk away, you’ll still be able to control them. Next, take the halter off of your horse and put it aside so that the horse can’t accidentally get tangled in it.
Put your right arm under your horse’s head and use your right hand to hold the crownpiece of the bridle. (the top of the bridle) With your left hand, you’ll hold the bit and ask the horse to open its mouth by putting your left thumb into the corner of the horse’s mouth. If you have trouble getting your horse to open its mouth and accept the bit, read our article Horses That Won’t Take the Bit: Easy Solution.
Once the horse opens its mouth, insert the bit and pull the crownpiece of the bridle over your horse’s ears. If your horse tends to throw their head up when you try to put its bridle on, check out our article Why Won’t My Horse Let Me Put Its Bridle On?
How Tight the Straps Need to Be
Once you’ve gotten your bridle on your horse, you’ll want to make sure that all the straps are in the right place and are tight as they need to be.
There are two cheekpieces on every bridle; these straps connect to the bit and determine how tight or loose the bit is in your horse’s mouth. These straps should be tight enough so that the bit creates 1-2 wrinkles at the corner of your horse’s mouth.
The noseband is a strap that goes around your horse’s nose. Make sure your noseband is tucked under the cheekpieces. This band should sit no farther than one inch from the ring of the horse’s bit. When tightened correctly, you should be able to fit just one finger between your horse and the noseband.
The throatlatch is a strap that goes around your horse’s jaw and attaches to the left of the bridle. You should be able to fit four fingers between the horse’s jaw and the throatlatch when tightened correctly.
The browband is a band that goes over your horse’s brow and under their forelock. When adjusting the browband, you’ll want to make sure that the band is sitting just below the horse’s ears, down enough that it’s not pinching the base of the ears but up enough that it’s not squeezing the horse’s head.
While you can’t tighten or loosen your browband, you can change this piece out with a piece that fits your horse more properly. You should be able to fit a hand in between the browband and your horse’s head.
Now that your horse is all tacked up, you’re ready to ride! Before you get on, check your girth to make sure it’s as tight as it needs to be. Horses tend to puff out their bellies when getting the girth tightened so it doesn’t get tightened properly. Lead your horse around for a moment to encourage them to release the air. 😂
I hope this article was helpful to you! Maybe you’re not a fan of using a saddle when you ride your horse. If so, check out our article How to Ride a Horse Without a Saddle: Complete Guide.
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I’m a lifelong horse trainer and horseback rider who’s passionate about teaching others about the things I’ve learned. I grew up competing in numerous English horseback riding disciplines and am now a certified equine massage therapist. I currently own three horses.