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Choosing the Right Horse Tack and Equipment

A gorgeous girl leading her horse. She is 20 years old.

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Once you become immersed in the world of horseback riding, the sheer amount of equipment you need—not just for yourself but also for your horse—can be overwhelming. Much of the equipment needed to ride horses falls under the descriptor “tack,” but horse tack is not one-size-fits-all.

Each piece must be sized appropriately for both the horse and the rider, and it is the horse owner’s responsibility to come into the equation with a solid knowledge regarding all types of equipment to ride safely and prevent injuries.

If you’re about to hop on the horse for the first time and need a primer on the different types of equipment and tack, read on.

What Exactly Is Horse Tack?

The definition of horse tack can vary, but generally tack includes:

  • Saddle: where a rider sits
  • Stirrups: where a rider puts their feet
  • Girth: the strap that reaches around the horse’s belly to keep the saddle in place
  • Bridle: the headgear used to control a horse
  • Bit: a metal piece that goes in a horse’s mouth and allows the rider to guide the horse
  • Reins: straps attached to the bit
  • Fly mask: a mask that covers a horse’s eyes to protect them from flies—for example, a Kensington Protective Products fly horse mask
  • Halters: headgear that allows someone on the ground to lead the horse
  • Sport boots: supportive boots, such as Tough-1’s vented sport boots, that protect the horse’s legs

While there is a wealth of tack and equipment options, Cyndee Roszel, a New Jersey-based certified riding instructor, says all equipment should demonstrate a certain level of quality.

“Most people like leather equipment, but there are many people who prefer biothane and a vegan leather,” says Roszel, who, along with her husband, received the 2014 Governor’s Award for Horseperson of the Year. “And details matter. Double stitching is a quality indicator many people look for. Another is a reputation for durability. Beyond that, most everything else comes down to personal choice.”

Different Tack for Different Riding Styles

There are two main horse-riding styles: English and western. Each style has its own unique tack.

English riders use smaller and lighter horse saddles designed to keep them close to the horse’s back. English riders hold one rein in each hand and rely on them heavily to give the horse direction. Roszel, who has owned and shown horses for more than 45 years, says there are many kinds of English saddles, all of which come in various sizes, several horse bridle styles and thousands of different bits.

Western horse tack uses larger, heavier horse saddles, and some riders hold their horse’s reins in one hand. Most western horses are trained to respond to neck reining, which means they change direction when the rein rests against the side of their neck. This type of riding requires a lighter touch from the rider, whereas English style relies more heavily on direct contact.

Roszel notes five types of western horse saddles, all of which come in various sizes for horse and rider measurements. There are thousands of different western bits as well, she adds.

Weaver Leaver’s all-purpose bit can be used for both English and western riding styles. It also features malleable iron that’s safe and nontoxic.

Choosing the Right Size

The only way to ensure you’re choosing the right size tack for your horse is through very careful measurement, Roszel says.

“The manufacturing companies each have their own measurement standards, much like clothing,” she explains. “They are not the same.”

Each piece of horse tack and horse equipment must be sized individually, so a certain saddle size does not necessarily indicate a corresponding girth or bridle. Additionally, sizing requires knowledge of exactly how to take measurements.

Roszel describes the steps involved in sizing a halter or horse bridle: “Usually, you measure the horse from the corner of his mouth, over the ears, back to opposite corner of his mouth. Then, you measure the forehead from right below the ear to the other ear, and around the nose. You need to include two to three finger widths from the facial bones to size for halters or bridles.”

While halters don’t require a browband measurement and usually are chosen by general horse size, bridles require more specific dimensions. Weaver Leather’s adjustable halter features six sizes from sucklings, or foal-sized, to fully-grown large or oversized horses.

What Influences Sizing?

Simply put, the size of the horse and the size of the rider influences sizing. Different breeds and types of horses can vary wildly in size, from ponies to draft horses. The horse’s size influences not only the size of the saddle, but also the size of horse tack, such as the girth or cinch, which is the strap that goes around the horse’s barrel (chest).

Weaver Leather’s felt-lined cinch with roll snug cinch buckle features a roll snug cinch buckle that measures 7.5 inches in the center. It provides increased surface area to help make horses comfortable and the saddle more secure.

When sizing horse saddles, the height, proportions and weight of the rider also come into play, along with the shape of the horse’s back. Roszel encourages new riders to speak with experts to determine the right size.

New riders also should take into consideration that some measurements for horses are taken in “hands” rather than inches. One “hand” equals 4 inches, so a horse that is 15 hands tall is 60 inches (or 5 feet) from the ground to its withers (the spot between the horse’s shoulder blades).

Further Guidance

If you’re unsure about how to size a certain piece of horse tack or horse equipment, Roszel recommends deepening your knowledge through vetted sources and reaching out to professionals in your area.

“I learned a lot when I was younger by pouring over catalogs and speaking to people who were knowledgeable on the subject,” she says, adding that some trial and error was involved as well.

Reaching out to manufacturers can help you pinpoint exactly the tack that you’re looking for. There also is a wealth of publications focused on horses, horse tack, horse equipment and horse competitions that can serve as a point of reference.


By: Kate Hughes

Featured Image: Via iStock/FluxFactory