If you haven’t grown up horseback riding, it can be difficult to find what gear you absolutely need for riding. There are tons of useful products in the horse industry, but in this blog, we’re going to break down exactly what gear you need to get started horseback riding.
What gear do you need for horseback riding? You’ll need the following:
- A saddle that is correctly sized for your horse.
- A saddle pad that is correctly sized for your saddle.
- A girth/cinch to secure the saddle to your horse’s back.
- A bridle with reins to help you control and steer your horse.
- A certified horseback riding helmet.
- Comfortable and safe riding clothes.
If you have everything listed above, you’ll be ready to hit the trails. But in order to help you select the best gear for the type of riding you’re planning to do, let’s look at each piece of gear in more detail.
Necessary Horseback Riding Gear
One of the first pieces of gear you should find is your horseback riding saddle. Saddles vary in design based on the type of riding that you plan on doing. If you’re planning on pursuing an English riding discipline, you will want to purchase an English saddle. If you plan on pursuing a Western riding discipline, then you should look into purchasing a Western saddle. It’s important that the saddle you choose is correctly sized for your horse, and that your combined weight with the saddle’s weight won’t be too heavy for the horse to carry.
Once you’ve purchased your saddle, next you’ll need to get a saddle pad. Saddle pads are typically necessary in order to avoid any discomfort for the horse or slipping of the saddle. The make and fit of your saddle will determine what saddle pad you need.
Now that you’ve got your saddle and saddle pad, you’ll need a girth/cinch to hold everything in place. Girths and cinches come in all kinds of shapes, sizes, and colors. The one you should select depends on the type of riding you’re doing, how sensitive your horse is, and the size and make of your saddle. We’ll cover the selection process in more detail further on.
Next, come your bridle and reins. Attached to your bridle and reins is a piece called a bit that goes in the horse’s mouth. It’s important that your bridle is correctly adjusted and sized to fit your horse. The reins for your bridle shouldn’t be too long or too short, and the bridle you choose should have a bit that is comfortable for your horse.
Before you mount your horse, we always recommend wearing a certified riding helmet. In the US, ASTM approved helmets are the gold standard. Just as important as getting a certified helmet is getting one that fits your head correctly.
Now that you have all of your riding gear, you’ll want to make sure you have comfortable and safe riding clothes. The best riding clothes are form-fitting, so as to avoid getting caught in any gear, weather appropriate, and durable. A good pair of riding boots are a must because they are made to not get caught in your stirrups, provide good grip, and offer protection in the event that you are stepped on by a horse.
How to Choose Your Horseback Riding Gear
Choosing a Horseback Riding Saddle
Determine Your Riding Discipline
Your saddle is one of the most important and most expensive pieces of gear that you will need for horseback riding. In order to determine what saddle is best for you, you will first need to determine what type of riding you plan on doing. For English riding disciplines, you will need an English riding saddle. English saddles are smaller than other types of saddles and allow for closer contact with your horse, which is often necessary for English riding styles. Western saddles tend to be larger than English saddles, but allow for better weight distribution across the horse’s back, and provide a higher level of comfort for the rider than English saddles.
Find the Correct Saddle Weight
It is normal for saddles to weigh anywhere from 10 to 60 pounds. If you are thinking of going with an English saddle, they typically weigh between 1o to 25 pounds. Western saddles can range from 25 to 60 pounds. As you are selecting your saddle, keep in mind that a healthy horse should not carry more than 20 percent of their body weight. Make sure that your weight in addition to the weight of the saddle your choosing won’t push you above the 20 percent range. For more info on saddle weights, we have an entire blog dedicated to the subject that you can find here.
Find the Correct Saddle Size
When choosing a saddle, you will first want to make sure that it fits you, the rider, properly. You can tell that a saddle is too large if it sticks out too far behind you when you are seated on it. A rider should be balanced the front of the saddle to the back of the saddle, placing them in the center. To know more on how to measure what size English saddle you need, click here. To know more on how to measure what size western saddle you need, click here.
Once you are certain that the saddle is a good fit for you, you will want to make sure that it is properly sized for your horse. If a saddle fits well on a horse, it will be evenly balanced. This means that when you sit on it, neither the front end or back end will be pushed up or down. One way you can test to see if a saddle fits a horse correctly is to place the saddle on the horse’s back without any blanket or padding. Press down on the front end and back end of the saddle to see if it moves significantly up or down. If it does, this means the saddle isn’t balanced well for the horse.
You want to make sure that the saddle isn’t too wide for your horse. Note how the saddle sits and lays on the horse to determine this. No part of the saddle should touch the spine of the horse, rather there will be a channel down the underside of the saddle that alleviates any pressure from that area.
If a saddle is ill-fitting, it can cause the horse discomfort. If your horse’s back is sore to the touch, then you may have an ill-fitting saddle. Another way to check if the saddle doesn’t fit properly is to examine sweat marks after a hard ride. If there are dry patches within the sweat marks, that means that the saddle doesn’t fit properly.
Average Horseback Riding Saddle Price
The average price of a saddle can range from $100 dollars to several thousand dollars depending on its condition and brand. You’ll find that synthetic saddles run cheaper than leather saddles; but then again, leather saddles can last much longer. We go over a few of our favorite saddle options here.
Choosing a Saddle Pad
Find the Correct Saddle Pad Style
Saddle pads come in a variety of materials and shapes, which can make it difficult for new riders to decide which one to get. The purpose of a saddle pad is to add comfort and protection for your horse’s back and to absorb sweat. Just as there are English and western saddles, there are English and western saddle pads. English saddle pads have several different shape options, but the most important variable to keep in mind when selecting one is that it provides a complete barrier between the horse’s back and the saddle. Western saddle pads generally have a rectangular shape and look more like blankets.
The most popular materials for saddle pads are fleece or cotton which are both great at wicking sweat away from your horse’s back. There are synthetic variants for both cotton and fleece that are easy to clean and last a long time, making them an attractive option.
Find the Correct Saddle Pad Size
You should choose your saddle pad in relation to your saddle. For a western saddle pad, you will want to measure both the length and the width of your western saddle’s skirt. You do not want the skirt of your saddle to be longer than your saddle pad. Always choose a western saddle pad that will be at least a few inches longer than the skirt in length and width.
For English saddle pads, If you’re using a full saddle pad that is square shaped, then make sure that the saddle does not go over the saddle pad in any direction. That means that the saddle pad should be longer than the seat of the saddle and the flaps of the saddle. If you’re using a shaped pad, the same principle applies. Make sure that no part of the saddle makes direct contact with the horses’ back.
The position for the saddle pad is the same for both English and western. The saddle pad and the saddle should not interfere with the mobility of your horses’ shoulder. For this reason, the saddle pad should go slightly over the withers. Once you put your saddle on, make sure that your pad is pulled up and away from the withers to prevent any pinching or rubbing. It’s also important to note that your saddle pad should not extend past the point of the hip because this can cause discomfort for your horse.
Average Saddle Pad Price
The average price of a saddle pad ranges from $20 dollars to $200 dollars.
Choosing a Horseback Riding Girth/Cinch
Find the Right Style
A girth, as they’re called for English riding, and a cinch, as they’re called for western riding, are the piece that goes underneath your horse’s belly to secure the saddle and saddle pad to their back. You should use the corresponding style for the type of saddle that you have.
Find the Right Size
The easiest way to make sure you get the correctly sized girth or cinch is to measure your horse’s girth area with a flexible measuring tape. In order to do this successfully, you will need someone to assist you.
If measuring for an English girth, Make sure that your saddle pad and saddle are on the horse. Have your helper stand on the other side of the horse with the measuring tape. Have them put the start of the measuring tape on either the 2nd or 3rd hole of the billet on the saddle. Next, they should pass the measuring tape underneath the horse to you. Make certain that the measuring tape rests at least a hands width behind your horse’s elbow because that is the where your girth should fall. Bring the measuring tape up to the 2nd or 3rd hole of the billet and take note of the final measurement.
If measuring for a cinch, hold a flexible tape measure at the center of the horse’s girth area then bring the tape up to directly below the area of the ribcage that is the widest. If you take this number and multiply it times two, you should have a good idea for what cinch size you’ll need for your horse.
Average Horseback Riding Girth/Cinch Price
The average price for a girth or cinch is between $15 dollars and $100 dollars.
Choosing a Bridle
Find the Right Bridle and Reins Style
Bridles and reins come in a plethora of styles. So to keep things simple, we’ll touch on the most popular styles for beginners to choose for English and western riding.
The big difference between the two styles of bridles is that the English bridles usually include a noseband, browband, and throatlatch while western bridles may not. Nonetheless, both styles of bridles carry out the same function and serve the same purpose.
English bridles will have leather-braided reins that keep the reins from sliding through the rider’s fingers. Western reins are usually two different strands of flat leather and are much longer than English reins. Both styles of riding tend to hold reins differently.
English riders will hold the reins going in-between their pinky and their third finger, then up through their hand laying over the index finger and held down by the thumb. The proper western neck-reining technique is very similar; the reins are held in the left hand running up vertically through the fingers and held down over the index finger with the thumb.
Find the Right Bridle Size
The first step to finding the correct bridle size is to note that bridles are sorted into designated sizes for ponies, cobs, horses, and drafts. This will make your search much easier as you can narrow your choices down to whatever type of equine you have.
It’s important to make sure that the parts of the bridle are made for the size of horse you have; click here to see a chart for these measurements. The bridle has many parts, and it can be difficult determining if every part fits.
The browband should not squeeze too tightly to your horse’s head, but it also shouldn’t be so big that it sticks out overtly from the forelock. A noseband should be able to fit snugly around your horse’s nose, allowing one finger between the nose and the leather. If it’s too big, it can rub or get in the way of other parts of the bridle.
A bridle should be able to hold the bit so that there are two wrinkles around the edges of the horse’s mouth. If there aren’t any wrinkles, then the bridle is too loose and the horse can stick its tongue over the bit. If there are more than two wrinkles at the edge of the horse’s mouth than the bit can cause discomfort to your horse by creating sores and irritation.
Average Bridle Price
Bridles can range anywhere from $30 – $300.
Choosing a Bit
Find the Right Bit for Your Horse
There are many different kinds of bits out there to serve the horse and rider. A bit is a piece of tack that goes in the horse’s mouth to help the rider communicate with the horse. The reins are connected to the bit, and this is how the rider gives cues to the horse.
In a horse’s mouth, there is a gap between the back molars and the incisors. This gap is where the bit should lay. The bit does not lay over teeth but over gums.
Some horse owners believe that bits can be too harsh for horses. This can be true if the rider does not communicate correctly, has heavy hands, and does not have their bridle correctly adjusted.
On the other hand, if a rider can communicate correctly through the reins and use other means to cue the horse, (as in the seat and leg pressure) than the bit should not negatively affect the horse. This would also include a rider that rides with soft hands, has the bridle adjusted correctly, and understands the concept of pressure and release.
There are many different types of bits, all ranging from soft and easy on the horse’s mouth to hard and harsh. The type of bit can have a big effect on the type of ride you’ll have. The right type of bit should cause your horse to accept pressure and stretch into the bit; this will make for a good ride.
Another type of bit may cause your horse to be irritated, sucking the bit in their mouth and hollowing their back. This will be a bad ride.
The best way to see what type of bit your horse needs is to try out a few different ones and see how well the horse rides. Always start with the softest bit. A bit’s softness is determined by its make.
The material that the bit is made out of can be a factor for how easy it is on your horse’s mouth. Bits can be made out of rubber, iron, and even plastic. The rubber is usually considered the easiest on the mouth while iron can be harsher.
Another aspect that determines an easy bit is the design and structure of a bit. The softest bit would be a solid, smooth, and thin bit without any breaks or links. The more breaks and links in the bit with a rougher surface, the harsher it becomes. If the bit has pieces that would protrude towards the top of the horse’s mouth than it is a harsher bit.
Find the Right Bit Size
It’s important to get a bit that fits your horse. If a bit is too small, it can pinch the side of the horse’s mouth between the mouthpiece and the cheekpiece. If a bit is too big, it may hit your horse’s teeth and cause discomfort.
A bit that fits your horse correctly should stick out from the sides of their mouth no farther than a half an inch. If the bit sticks out any further than the bit is too big.
The easiest way to figure out what size bit you need is by using a string. Take a string and put it in your horse’s mouth. Be sure to note the distance between the corners of the horse’s mouth using the string. Take the string and measure the distance. This will be the bit size you need.
When you are measuring for the bit, make sure you are measuring in the area the bit would rest, which is the gap in between the back molars and the incisors.
Average Bit Price
The average bit price can range anywhere from $5 – $150. You can usually purchase a simple snaffle bit between $5-$10.
Choosing a Certified Horseback Riding Helmet
Find the Right Riding Helmet Style
Horseback riding helmets are prevalent in English riding disciplines. While western riders still tend to veer away from the headgear, riding helmets are getting more popular across all disciplines of riding.
Unlike bicycle helmets, the horseback riding helmet covers the whole skull to protect every part of the brain. Horseback riding helmets are not only to protect your head when it hits the ground, but they’re also designed to protect your had from a horse-kick or any other sharp blow you may receive while working with horses.
Horseback riding helmets consist of a few main elements. The skull and the brim. The skull of the helmet should go one inch above your eyebrows and all the way over your head and to the bottom of your skull. Depending on what style helmet you choose, there may be a brim attached to the front of the helmet to shield your eyes from the sun.
If you choose a helmet that has a brim, always make sure that the brim is removable and can break away in the event of a fall. Otherwise, if you face-plant, the brim can cause injury to your neck and spine.
Every ASTM approved helmet will also have a chin strap to keep your helmet from flying off in the event of a fall. Many riders think that chin straps are uncomfortable so they ride with them very loose. Its important that your chin strap is tight enough to keep your helmet in place. Ideally, it should be tight enough to comfortably allow one finger between your chin and the strap.
There are many different types of riding helmets to choose from. Depending on what discipline you compete in, there is a specific look that is typical in that discipline. Eventers use skull-cap helmets while hunt seat riders may opt for a helmet that has more of a hunt-cap design. As long as it is ASTM approved then it doesn’t matter what helmet you choose. Here’s a list of some of our favorite ASTM approved helmets.
Find the Right Riding Helmet Size
A horseback riding helmet should fit snugly on your head. If you shake your head, the helmet should not slide back and forth, but rather stay firmly in place. That being said, if your helmet squeezes your head and causes you to have a headache, then it’s probably too tight.
To measure for a riding helmet, take a measuring tape and measure from one inch above your eyebrows and then go around your entire head like a halo, ending back at your original spot of measurement. Whatever the circumference is will be your helmet size.
Average Horseback Riding Helmet Price
Horseback riding helmets can range in price anywhere from $25 – $300. The cheaper helmets will tend to have a bulky plastic outer cover while the more expensive helmets will be name-brand, like Charles Owens or IRH. These helmets have a sleeker look and tend to come across more heavy-duty than the cheaper plastic ones.
Choosing Comfortable and Safe Riding Clothes
Determine Your Riding Discipline
If you aren’t planning on competing in any type of riding event, then you have a lot of options to choose from for riding clothes. If, however, you’re planning to compete in either an English or western riding discipline, then you will want to look into the specific requirements for your competition. The general requirements will usually include riding boots, a good pair of riding pants, and an ASTM approved riding helmet.
Upper Body Clothing
The best tops for horseback riding are long or short sleeve shirts that are form fitting so as to avoid getting snagged in your tack. If you’re riding in the summer, it’s good to keep in mind that cotton shirts don’t dry quickly when you sweat, so you might be more comfortable in some type of synthetic material.
Vests are a popular option when temperatures begin to drop. They keep you warm but not too warm as you exert energy while riding. In the winter, wearing a thermal shirt underneath your normal clothes can help keep you nice and warm without adding too much bulk.
When selecting riding pants, you should avoid any pants with a prominent inner seam in the pant leg, as this can rub against your leg while riding. You should also avoid anything baggy that could get caught in your tack. The best riding pants are breeches and jodhpurs. These pants are made specifically for riding and come with tons of features that not even your favorite pair of jeans can boast. You can read more about the best types of riding pants in an article we wrote here.
Riding boots are many rider’s first choice of riding footwear because they prevent your leg from being pinched by leather stirrups, sliding through stirrups, and offer good protection in the event that you’ve been stepped on by a horse. When selecting riding boots, make that the heel is between one to one and a half inches tall.
The most common type of English riding boot is dress boots. They are the clean black riding boots you’ve likely seen in movies. These are used in a number of English riding disciplines so they can be a great option if you’re looking to purchase only one pair.
There are fewer styles of western boots available. Western boots tend to have higher heels than English riding boots. Normal western riding boots come up to mid-calf, however, there are ankle versions available as well.
If you need more information on what boots to choose, check out our guide for choosing the right boots.
What Other Things Do You Need for a Horse?
If this is your first time buying a horse, then it’s good to know that there are other things you need for your horse besides riding gear.
A few other things you would need for your horse would be a set of brushes that includes a hoof pick. You’ll need a halter and lead rope so you can catch and lead your horse. You’ll also need buckets to feed and water your horse. Something else you may need if you live in an area with colder winters is a horse blanket to keep your horse warm.
Common medical items to have on hand would be Swat, which can be used on cuts as an antiseptic to repel bugs, and a bag of Epsom salt to use for abscesses. Liniment is another good thing to have on hand after a long ride. It’s a liquid that you rub into the muscles and legs that gives relief to the sore or worked areas.
Thank you for reading! You can trot your way over to all of our recommended riding gear by clicking here.