The Beginner's Guide to Western Tack

Whether you've just bought your first horse or you are building your tack collection, choosing tack and equine equipment best for you and your horse can be a daunting task. As a beginning Western rider, a simple outfit consists of a saddle, cinch, and pad, as well as a bit and bridle.

After grooming your horse to remove any loose hair or dirt, the saddle pad is the first piece of tack you should equip. Choose a saddle pad that is thick enough to provide some cushioning but not so thick that it allows the saddle to slip. Your trainer or an experienced horse person at your stable can help you choose a saddle pad that best fits your horse and your saddle.

The saddle is the next piece of tack, and it is the most important item you’ll need. It is critical that the saddle fits properly; a poorly fitting saddle can slip or create pressure points that are unsafe for you and uncomfortable for your horse. The type of saddle you will choose depends on your discipline-- Western pleasure riders often use lighter saddles with decorative horns, while ropers choose heavier saddles with reinforced horns. Your trainer or an experienced saddler can help you fit your saddle. Poor saddle fit can be mitigated somewhat with strategic padding; however you and your horse will never perform as well as you could with a saddle that fits well.

The cinch should be attached to the saddle when equipped. Remember that most cinches are sold separately. There are a great variety of cinches available such as neoprene or wool-covered cinches. Choose a cinch that is long enough to buckle with plenty of girth left over but not so long that it runs up under the edges of your saddle.

Now that your horse is saddled, it's time for the bit and bridle. The style of bit and bridle you use will depends on your horse's experience, your own level of riding experience, and personal preference. Many beginners start out "plow reining" or steering with both hands. If so, a snaffle bit would be advisable. Most Western shows require a curb. Choose a bridle that can be adjusted at the cheek strap until there is one skin fold at the corners of your horse's lips. Bridles with leather ties to attach the reins and bit are handy because they can be easily repaired if the leather snaps. Long reins made of nylon or heavy harness leather are versatile and wear well over time.

Once you have the basics down, there are infinite variations you can try until you find the tack outfit that works best for you. Breast collars, back girths, tie-downs, martingales, and decorative tack all have different uses, and your trainer or an experienced horse person can help you decide what you need. For now, your horse is tacked up, so go out and enjoy a relaxing ride!



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