Saddling a horse is one of the most important parts of good horsemanship. Being able to correctly saddle your horse will ensure a safe and comfortable ride for you and proper care for your horse. In this step-by-step guide, we’ll walk you through the entire process of how to saddle a horse the right way.
Step 1: Secure Your Horse
Before you start the process of saddling a horse, you need to tie them to make sure they’re secure. We recommend cross-ties if possible. You can also use a quick-release slip knot for most horses, but if your horse is savvy about untying knots, you may need to get a bit more creative.
Step 2: Brush Your Horse
People may jump to placing the saddle on the horse next, but that would be a mistake. You’re missing a great opportunity to check over your horse and to make sure they can ride comfortably. An essential tip is to groom before saddling up your horse. They can become sore and irritated when ridden without being properly groomed.
Brush your horse with a curry comb to remove any caked mud. Then use a stiff brush to remove hair and dust, and finish with a soft brush. Make sure you get the horse’s back, girth, and belly to remove any potential irritants. Use a comb to remove any tangles and burrs in the mane and tail. Last, clean the hooves and check for any stones that may have gotten lodged. Take care when brushing the tail and checking the hooves so that you don’t get kicked. If you’re inexperienced, you should request help until you’re comfortable.
Learn more: Riders Guide to Horse Grooming Supplies
Step 3: Check Over Your Horse
Before placing anything on your horse, look the animal over for any sores or wounds that could cause discomfort, especially under the saddle. You shouldn’t place a saddle over any sores. If you find any, your horse is likely unfit for riding, and you may need to seek veterinary attention.
Step 4: Place a Blanket or a Saddle Pad on Your Horse
The best way to protect your horse’s back is by using a saddle pad. It also helps keep the saddle in place when you’re riding, so it’s beneficial for you both. Place the saddle pad a bit higher on the withers and slide it back into place just behind the mane. Doing this makes sure the hair on the horse’s back will lay flat beneath the pad and the saddle.
The pad or blanket should be even on both sides of the horse. If you use a contoured pad shaped like the saddle, there should be an inch of pad all the way around the saddle. Square pads should have at least an inch around the front edge of the saddle. If the pad has any tabs or ties, they go on the top side and not against the horse.
Learn more: Ultimate English Saddle Pad Guide
Step 5: Saddle the Horse
It’s not until you have completed these other activities that you should saddle your horse. Be sure you have the right saddle for your horse to make sure riding will be safe and comfortable for you both. People traditionally saddle their horse from the near or left side. For the English riding discipline, the majority of work is done from the left side of the horse, including leading, getting on and off, holding for vet or farrier, and jogging in hand.
A best practice for English riders is to run up your stirrup irons (also called running up the leathers) after you ride your horse. However, if you've overlooked this, your first step is to move the stirrups higher and secure them in place so they don’t dangle down in your way. To do this, simply slide the metal foot stirrups up and tuck them under the saddle to hold them in place, so they won’t hit you or the horse as you lift the saddle over the horse’s back. Once the saddle is on the horse, attach and buckle up the girth.
Lift the saddle high enough so it doesn’t hit the horse or move the saddle pad out of position. It should be placed slightly forward and settled back into place, just as you did with the saddle pad. The pommel of the saddle should rest just behind the shoulder blades. Take care to place the saddle gently on the horse’s back so you don’t spook your horse. If the experience of being saddled is unpleasant, your horse may not want to be saddled in the future.
Learn more: How to Measure for an English Saddle
Step 6: Adjust the Girth
If you removed the girth to saddle up your horse, you need to reattach it so you can tighten the saddle and secure it into place. Start by attaching the girth to the girth billets on the horse’s right side, or off side, and then on the left side, or near side. The girth should be just behind the horse’s front legs, and you should see a small gap between the horse’s elbow and the girth. If you do, the saddle is too far back, and you should adjust it before securely fastening the girth. It should be a snug fit, but you should still be able to get a hand between your horse and the girth.
Step 7: Drop Your Stirrups
When you get to the mounting block, drop the stirrups into their proper position before you mount your horse, so you can access them after you mount.
Now you’re all set to mount your horse and go for a ride! Saddling your horse should be an enjoyable bonding experience for you and your horse. When done correctly, it prepares you both for a safe and pleasant ride.
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