Choosing the right tack for your horse is important for a number of reasons. First and foremost it needs to be comfortable and a good fit for him and for you. You’ll also want it to have good functionability so it is safe for you and your horse. Quality in workmanship of the tack will provide many years of good use. Much of the styles and options you choose beyond these things are just a matter of personal preference.
For instance, you might like a lot of bling or color on your tack, or just prefer simple durable leather or nylon, or single-ear headstalls vs. browband style. Whatever you prefer, be sure to select tack and equipment that fit properly, and always maintain it well to keep it safely functioning and to make your investment last as long as possible.
Here are a few basic guidelines to ensure that your equipment is best suited for you and your horse.
There are basically two types of halters most commonly used. Nylon web or leather halters and rope halters. The flat types made from nylon or leather are gentle and easy to put on and buckle and use detachable lead ropes with snaps Many trainers and professionals prefer rope halters as they are more durable and less likely to break if a horse pulls hard, as they have no hardware that can break (the lead ropes are tied directly onto the halter).
Saddle fit is one of the most important issues when it comes to selecting tack. A horse suffering from back pain will often drop his back, while raising his head and neck. Or, some have been known to buck or act out-of-character with an ill-fitting saddle. If your horse shows any these signs, you may want to investigate and might need a different saddle with a better fit.
The bars of the tree should make and maintain even contact along both sides of the horse’s back. There should be enough gullet height and width that the underside of the saddle (with rider mounted) at no time touches the horse’s withers or spine.
The best way to determine if a saddle fits properly is to saddle the horse using a good pad with even thickness, work or ride the horse hard enough to cause him to sweat. When you take off the saddle, look at his back to see if it is evenly wet. If there are dry spots this could be an indication of too much pressure or gaps in pressure under the saddle.
Each time you saddle your horse, be sure to check the condition of strings, lacings, buckles and stitching, latigos, off-billets, etc. Failure of your equipment could result in a serious wreck.
You can choose from a wide variety of saddle pads and pad materials. I like about a 1 inch thick wool pad with either an attached or separate blanket on top. Make sure it is the right size for your saddle, which has at least an inch showing around the edges of the saddle skirt.
Be sure your pad is large enough for your saddle. There should be a minimum of 1 inch of pad showing around all edges of the saddle.
Whichever pad you choose, the goal is to use a pad that provides cushioning and cooling for the horse’s back. A pad should never be used in an effort to try to make a poor fitting saddle fit better.
When you saddle your horse, always shove your hand under the front of the pad under the gullet to press it up into the saddle and off your horse’s withers. This will give him extra space and also help facilitate breath-ability to keep him cooler and more comfortable during the ride.
Just like saddle pads, cinches can be found in an assorment of materials and styles. I prefer neoprene straight cinches because they don’t slip and can be easily washed and kept free of bacteria. Mohair and natural blend string cinches are also popular. No matter what material you choose, make sure the length is correct (it should be a few inches short of the bottom edge of the pad on each side) and the center ring aligns right in the middle of your horses breastbone.
If you’re using a back cinch, be sure to have it snug enough to touch his belly, but not tight. Too loose of a back cinch is worthless and actually creates a hazard. If you can see daylight between the cinch and the horse, you might as well leave it off as it does not good hanging down there and your horse could put a foot through it. When using a back cinch, you must have a cinch keeper strap attaching the front cinch to the back at the center ring, which keeps the back cinch from sliding back too far.
The bridle is made up of several parts so I’ll address each specific part below:
All headstalls are pretty much going to perform the same, but will have different styles for different tastes. There are sliding one-ear headstalls with or without a throat latch, browband style headstalls mostly all have a throat latch. They can be simple leather, leather with rawhide, webbed nylon, brained nylon, leather with colored inlays, conchos, beads, tassels. The options are many!
Any bit can be severe and any bit can be gentle. It depends on the rider’s hands. There are countless types and styles of bits. It’s important to choose the mildest one that gets the job done, while keeping your horse comfortable and relaxed. In my opinion if you feel like you need a more severe bit, maybe a better answer is to go back to training basics and get your horse responsive and connected the way they should be regardless of the type of equipment.
Make sure the bit you are using is the right width and is adjusted properly in his mouth. It should be just tucked into the corners of his mouth, creating the slightest wrinkle.
If you’re using a shanked bit, which requires a curb strap or chain, be sure to check the adjustment, as this directly relates to how your bit functions. Keep in mind that the tighter your curb strap or chain is, the sooner the bit engages and applies pressure to your horse’s chin.
They type of riding your doing may dictate the type of reins you choose. If you’re trail riding, you may want split reins or a long loop rein or mecate. Barrel racers and ropers prefer a short contest loop rein. Certain disciplines in the show ring require a romal rein. Again, personal preference will also play a deciding factor. Use the style of reins that are safe for what you’re doing and that you like best.
There are many more tack items that you may want or need to add to your collection: Breastcollars, different stirrup styles, saddle bags for the trail, lunge lines for ground work, leg wear, etc. but this guide can get you started off in the right direction.