Every equestrian needs to know how to tack up a horse properly.
Whether you participate in English riding or Western riding, it is an important skill to learn if you want to ride safely or at all.
I’m here to help you and will explain what tacking up a horse is and the difference between tacking up for each style of riding.
I’ll also talk about how to saddle up a horse that is difficult, and other topics related to getting your horse ready to ride.
Table of Contents
What is Tacking Up or Horse Tacking?
When you are new to horse riding and horses, you may be confused by the phrase “tacking up” and what it means. Tacking up a horse is a common phrase in the language of horse people.
When equestrians talk about tacking up, tack is the equipment that the horse wears for riding such as the saddle and bridle. The up refers to taking the tack from the tack room and putting it on the horse in the right way.
The tack room is the area in the barn or stable where the tack is stored. Tack needs to be stored in a dry, room temperature, area so the leather stays in good shape.
Tacking up a horse seems like a long and tedious process, but you get faster at it over time. It is my favorite way to connect with my horse before we ride.
The process of tacking up requires the horse and rider to work together so that it is done well.
It is necessary to learn how to saddle up a horse properly to ride safely. If the bridle is on the wrong way, the rider will not be able to guide the horse properly with the reins. It can also cause the horse discomfort or even pain.
The same goes for an ill-fitting saddle. A poorly fitting saddle will make the horse uncomfortable and can even cause serious muscle pain or injury in the back.
There have been lots of studies into the problems a poorly fitting saddle causes. In one study by the head of clinical orthopedics at the Centre for Equine Studies at the Animal Health Trust Dr. Sue Dyson, Dr. Dyson says:
“A well-fitting saddle is crucial for a horse and rider to perform well together. Improperly fitted saddles may cause lameness.” 
Groom your horse before riding to keep the horse clean. Grooming is a necessary step for any style of riding to ensure your horse’s comfort.
You also need to check the tack once it is on to make sure it is secure.
So, know that you know the basics, let’s get into the details. I’ll start with tacking up with English riding equipment first then move on to western style.
How To Tack Up a Horse For Beginners English Riders?
There are slight differences between English tack and Western tack.
If you follow the below steps, you will know how to tack up a horse in English style the right way.
Step 1: Get Your Horse’s Tack From the Tack Room
Gather everything you need from the tack room in the barn before you retrieve your horse. This includes their saddle, bridle, saddle pad, leg wraps, and extra pieces like a breastplate or martingale if necessary.
Don’t forget a grooming kit if you did not already groom them. Grabbing the tack beforehand will make the process easier.
Step 2: Get Your Horse From the Pasture or Their Stall and Tie Them
To groom your horse, you have to catch them. Once you bring your horse into the grooming area or the barn aisle. Secure them into the cross ties, or tie them with a quick-release knot in the aisle.
In the University of Missouri’s haltering and tying guide they stress the following:
“The first requirement in correctly tying a horse is to use a knot that can be untied quickly, will not slip, and can be untied even though the horse may be pulling back on the tie rope.” 
Tying your horse ensures they will stand still enough to have their equipment put on, but if your horse has good manners they can stand for tacking without being tied.
The quick-release knot keeps the horse secure but can also come loose and allow the horse to move freely if they are scared. All horse riders need to know how to do this knot as it helps prevent accidents.
Step 3: Groom Your Horse
Grooming your horse allows them to be clean and reduces the possibility of the tack irritating their skin. Start by picking out their hooves.
Then use a curry comb, hard brush, and soft brush in that order, following the direction of the horse’s hair, to lift and remove dirt from the horse’s skin.
Step 4: Put on the Saddle Pad
The saddle pad provides a cushion for your horse’s back and protects it from saddle sores and uneven pressure. It also absorbs sweat and protects the leather underneath the saddle.
Place the saddle pad slightly past their withers and then slide it back into place on their back to ensure it falls in the right place. You want to make sure that the pad is even on both sides.
Step 5: Put on the Saddle
Put the English saddle on top of the saddle pad, with the pommel, or front of the saddle, just behind the wither area. If the saddle is too far on top of the withers, it will pinch them.
Once the saddle is on, shift it around gently to see if it is in the right place on the horse’s back. A properly placed saddle will not budge.
Always put on tack from the horse’s left side, also called the offside. This is the side you will mount from.
With the saddle on, you can fasten the girth to it to keep it in place. Attach the girth to the saddle billets by fastening the buckle to the saddle billets.
Once the girth is attached to the saddle, let it drape down by the horse’s right side. Then, walk over to their left side to put it under the horse and to the girth straps on the other side.
Tighten it enough so that it is secure, and tighten it fully before mounting. You want to make sure you can fit two fingers between the horse and the girth.
There should be about one human hand of space between the girth and the horse’s elbow so that the girth does not rub on the elbow.
Step 6: Add Leg Protection if Needed
If you are going to be practicing jumping with your horse, providing them with some leg protection is recommended.
Boots protect your horse’s legs from bumping into things or strikes from their own legs.
Step 7: Put on the Bridle
The bridle is what goes on the horse’s head and allows you to communicate with them through the bit and the reins.
The bit is the metal piece that goes in the horse’s mouth, and the reins are the leather straps that connect to the bit so you can direct the horse.
To put the bridle on, place the reins over the horse’s head and allow them to slide down onto the horse’s neck. Take the headpiece and noseband of the bridle into your dominant hand and lift them to place them gently on the horse’s head and over their ears.
Then, take the bit in your non-dominant hand and guide it slowly into the horse’s mouth, allowing them time to feel and accept the bit. Stick a finger slightly in the corner of their mouth to ask them to open it for the bit.
Guide the bridle upwards with your dominant hand as the horse takes the bit to slide the other components into place.
Once your horse has its mouth open, pull the headpiece up onto its face and get it around the ear farthest from you, followed by the close one.
Fasten the noseband and chin strap of the bridle tightly enough so that you can place two fingers underneath the noseband and your whole hand between the throatlatch and your horse’s chin.
Once you have the bridle on, your horse is ready to ride. When you are done riding, use your favorite leather tack cleaner to wipe down your tack once you untack, groom, and put away your horse
Here is a video that explains more about how to tack up a horse in English style.
How to Tack Up a Horse For Beginners Western Riders?
Western riding uses slightly different tack and has different names for some of the equipment. However, the process is largely the same.
Step 1: Prep, Catching, and Grooming
Grab all of the equipment you will need from the tack room before getting your horse from the stall or pasture. Then, secure your horse in the cross ties or by tying them in the aisle.
Once they are secure, begin grooming. Start by picking out their hooves and then brushing down their body with the curry comb, hard brush, and soft brush, to remove as much dirt, loose hair, and debris as possible.
Step 2: Put on the Saddle Pad
Western saddle pads are typically square in shape while English ones are shaped to match the edges of the saddle. Place the saddle pad on the horse’s back just above the withers.
Then, slide it n place by moving it back towards its hind end. Never move it the other way or it will rub and cause discomfort under the saddle.
Step 3: Put on the Saddle
Western saddles are much heavier than English saddles. Lift the saddle up onto the horse’s back, placing it over the saddle pad. Make sure that both the saddle and pad are even.
Once the saddle and pad are in the right place, attach the girth to the billets and let it hand down over the horse’s right side. The girth is called the cinch in Western riding.
Go around to the horse’s left side and reach your hand under your horse’s stomach to pull the cinch and secure it to the latigo, or billets, by fastening the buckle on the left side,
Run the latigo through the cinch twice and up the rigging to make everything snug, Tighten the cinch if needed, and tie any excess latigo in a bowtie.
Step 4: Put on the Headstall
In Western riding, the bridle is called the headstall. Headstalls can go over just one of the horse’s ears or both and do not have a noseband. Otherwise, they work just like any other bridle.
Put the reins over your horse’s neck, and buckle the halter. Then, take one hand and slide the headstall gently upwards to allow the horse to take the bit.
Once the horse has the bit, pull the headstall over the ears and adjust the cheek strap. After this step, the headstall will be in place.
Besides headstalls, there are other fancy western bridles that your horse can wear as well
Here is a video that explains more about how to tack up a horse western style.
Considerations When Tacking a Horse
There may be times when you have to know how to tack up a horse in circumstances far from the usual. The following are some things you should consider when tacking up a horse.
How Do You Tack Up a Difficult Horse?
In order to get tack on a horse that does not want to cooperate, you have to be slow, gentle, and patient.
Horses cannot be willfully uncooperative, so there must be something you are doing that is causing them pain, discomfort, or fear.
If your horse does not want to take the bit, take your time and allow them to see the bridle. If all else fails, gently press your finger against the corner of their mouth to get them to open it.
Sometimes it can help to rub the bit with something like ‘bit butter’ if they are reluctant.
If your horse is moving away from the saddle, see if any parts are hanging from it to tickle your horse and cause them to move.
What Do You Need to Tack Up a Horse?
To tack up your horse, you need your grooming kit, their saddle pad, their saddle, their bridle, and anything else you use when you ride.
It is also important to have a tack cleaner to keep your equipment in good condition. This means you will need to learn how to clean tack.
How Long Does It Take To Tack Up a Horse?
This depends on how much equipment you have to put on and if you have to groom beforehand. If you just have to put on the saddle, saddle pad, and bridle and have tacked up before, it shouldn’t take more than 10 or 15 minutes.
Tacking up can take 45 minutes or more if you have to put on more tack than this and groom.
What is it called when you untack a horse?
Untacking a horse is simply called untacking.
What is the best way to get on a horse?
Getting on a horse involves going around to their left side, putting one foot in the stirrup, and lifting yourself up and over to bring your right leg to the other side.
Knowing how to tack up your horse is an important skill. Whether English or Western, you have to catch your horse, tie them, groom, them, and then put their saddle pad, saddle, leg protection if needed, and bridle on.
You may also have some extra equipment to add on afterward as well.
How do you tack up your horse? Let us know below!
- 1. “Study Finds Ill-Fitting Saddles a Recurrent Problem.” Www.americanfarriers.com, www.americanfarriers.com/articles/9264-study-finds-ill-fitting-saddles-a-recurrent-problem. Accessed 19 May 2022.
- 2. “Haltering and Tying Horses.” Extension.missouri.edu, extension.missouri.edu/publications/g2844.
Bryanna is a 23-year-old Florida-based Grade 1 Para-dressage rider based in Florida and she has been riding for 5 years. Horses are her passion and her ultimate goal is to be selected for the US Para-Equestrian Team and represent the US at the Paralympics. She rides at Quantum Leap Farm and Emerald M Therapeutic Riding Center and her equine partners are Shane, an American Paint Horse, and Cappy a Welsh x Thoroughbred. When she is not helping at the barn, riding, or training, she is learning about horses, writing articles about them, and using her social media platforms to raise awareness for therapeutic riding and para-equestrianism, shares her journey, and advocates for greater inclusion of para-equestrian in the media and equestrian sport at large.
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