Essential Guide to Horse Tack

by Michelle Drum August 24, 2021 5 min read

brown horse wearing horse tack

When you first begin riding, it can seem like there are hundreds of pieces of equipment to use with your horse. Some horse tack items are required, and some are optional. This guide will tell you what you need to know about horse tack when you’re just getting started.

What is Horse Tack?

First, let’s define what’s included in the term “horse tack.” Horse tack is the equipment used to handle, ride, and care for your horse. When you get your horse ready to ride, you’ll hear the phrase “tacking your horse” or “tacking up your horse.” It means getting your horse ready to ride by placing all of the necessary equipment for riding. You’ll find this equipment at tack shops like the Farm House.

Types of Horse Tack

As you might expect, there are a lot of different kinds of horse tack. In this guide, we’ll focus on all of the tack required for your horse for riding and care. Here is a list of the most common horse tack.

  1. Saddle — This may be one of the most familiar pieces of horse tack to new riders — it serves as your seat while on the horse. Saddles are made to fit both the horse and the rider, and saddles need to be measured properly for safety and comfort. 
  2. Saddle pads — These are worn under the saddle to provide cushioning for your horse. They keep dirt and perspiration at bay and prevent the saddle from rubbing against your horse, causing heat build-up.  Saddle pads also protect the saddle. Be sure to check out our English saddle pad guide to find the right pad for your discipline.
  3. Girth — A girth is a band running under the horse’s belly that attaches to the saddle to keep it in place.
  4. Breastplate — A breastplate is a harness-type structure sometimes used to keep the saddle in place, preventing the saddle from slipping too far back. It has straps that extend around the sternum and forelegs of a horse.
  5. Martingale — Martingales are used to control head carriage on a horse. The most common types are the standing martingale and the running martingale.
  6. Bridle — A bridle is worn over a horse’s head and used for communication when riding. A bridle includes four parts: crownpiece, noseband, headstall, and cheekpieces. A martingale is attached to the noseband when used. Learn more: What is a Bridle and How Does it Work?
  7. Bit — The bit is a metal piece that attaches to the bridle and sits in the horse’s mouth used for communication. There are many types including snaffle bits, pelhams, kimberwicks, and D ring bits.
  8. Halter — A halter is worn over a horse’s head used when grooming, shipping, and when turning out a horse. It’s similar to a bridle. However, since it is not used with a bit, it is not intended for riding. Check out our riders’ guide to horse halters for expert tips on choosing the right halter for your horse.
  9. Lead rope — A lead rope is used to guide a horse or to tie up a horse.
  10. Reins — Reins are the straps that attach to a bridle used for a rider to direct a horse while riding.
  11. Stirrup irons and stirrup leathers — Stirrup irons are the metal rings where you place your feet when riding a horse. Stirrup leathers are attached to the tree of the saddle under the skirt and are what holds the irons in place.
  12. Protective legwear — These protect a horse’s lower legs from injury. Protective legwear is available in many types, including polo wraps (also called polos), tendon bootsbrushing boots, and cross country boots.

Horse Tack for Styles of English Riding

The core tack you need for different styles of English riding are similar, though there are some differences between them. Here’s what you need to know.

Dressage Horse Tack

With dressage, horses are minimally tacked. A traditional English saddle is used to allow the rider better control with more support while riding the horse. There are dressage saddles available, though you can use an all-purpose saddle. The saddle pad must be a solid color and plain, generally white or a dark color. A black bridle is used, though brown may be acceptable as well, with a snaffle bit. Stirrup leathers should match the saddle color.

Hunter and Jumper Horse Tack

Hunter and jumper competitions require conservative and tasteful tack, though Hunter is generally a bit more formal. Saddles are usually close contact saddles, and the girth should match. A white square saddle pad is used for jumpers and schooling, where a white shaped pad is used for showing in the hunters. 

In both the hunter and jumper rings, you’ll use a plain brown bridle with a cavesson noseband and a plain leather browband. Jumpers have the option of using other nosebands, such as Figure-8s. The reins should match the bridle in color, and hunters traditionally use a braided rein. The bit can generally be snaffles, pelhams, and kimberwicks, though many hunters prefer D ring bits. Hunters use polished traditional stainless steel stirrup irons and Jumpers may use any style or color. Breastplates and martingales may be used, but they should match the tack. Leg protection may be used in the jumper ring though it’s not used in the hunter ring.

Eventing Horse Tack

Any English saddle may be used for all of the eventing tests. However, riders will often use a black dressage saddle for the dressage test and a brown all-purpose or jumping saddle for cross country and jumping. Riders use a white unadorned dressage pad for the dressage test and a pad with some grip for jumping and cross country in any color. The bridle should match the saddle, and most are permitted. Reins should match the bridle and saddle, and they must attach directly to the bit and/or bridle. 

There are a number of different bits allowed for dressage tests. However, refer to the rule book for bit rules as there may be a lot of requirements. And the same goes for stirrups. A breastplate is allowed for dressage, but martingales are not. You may not use any protective legwear during the dressage test, though you may use polos, tendon boots, brushing boots, or cross country boots for the jumping and cross country tests.

Now You’re Ready to Ride!

Once you know the essentials of horse tack, you’re one step further towards mastery. Knowing the right tack to keep your horse happy and safe is an important part of horse ownership. 


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