Horseback riding is a great example of humans and horses working together to achieve a goal. Farmers use horses to help them get around the farm and do their work, and kids use horses to help them explore trails. Some people ride horses just for fun. Horses can even be pets! However, a special kind of equipment called tack is needed to go horseback riding. Tack is kept in its own room, called a tack room, so it stays nice and clean for a longer period of time. A tack room is usually close to a stable or horse shed to make it easier to prepare horses for a ride. There are a lot of different parts to tack, and they all play an important part in keeping both horse and rider safe on a trip.
Saddles and Stirrups
The saddle is the easiest piece of tack to identify. A saddle is what the rider sits on, and it fits on the horse’s back. It looks kind of like a cushion made from leather. The saddle supports the rider and makes the ride more comfortable, but it also helps the horse. For the horse, carrying a human is a lot like carrying a heavy backpack. If the saddle fits right, it won’t put too much weight on the horse’s muscles, and it’ll make the horse’s work a lot easier!
There are two main types of saddles. The saddle that is often used in Western movies and cowboy films is easy to remember because it’s called a Western saddle. A Western saddle has a grip at the front called a horn. Cowboys could use the horn to help lasso cattle, but they could also use it to carry a rope or whip.
The other kind of saddle is an English saddle. English saddles are smaller than Western saddles, and they don’t have a horn on the front. English saddles were designed to let the horse move better over long distances. If someone were trying to cover a long distance on horseback over hills and streams, the English saddle is the one that would be most comfortable for both horse and rider. After all, before the invention of cars, horses were the way most people traveled!
No matter whether a saddle is Western or English, it’ll have a set of stirrups. Stirrups are attached to the saddle, and they give the rider a place to put their feet, but they also help the rider stay on and ride better. Did you know that stirrups were actually invented in ancient China? Warriors used stirrups to help keep them on their horse during combat.
- Types of English Saddles (PDF)
- Saddle-ology (PDF)
- Horses Are Fun (PDF)
- Horses Wear Clothes, Too! (PDF)
- Invention of the Stirrup
- Tips for Caring for Your Tack
- Beginner Horsemanship Packet (PDF)
- Tack and Equipment (PDF)
Bridles, Reins, and Bits
Sitting on a saddle is comfortable, but it doesn’t tell the horse where the rider wants to go. For that, riders will need to put a bridle, bit, and set of reins on the horse’s head. A bridle is the most basic part of the horse’s headgear. It comfortably fits over the horse’s ears and around its jaw and nose, kind of like a collar for dogs or cats. Once on, different pieces of equipment can be attached to the bridle to help lead the horse around. Like with saddles, there is a Western bridle and an English bridle. The Western bridle is thin and light and doesn’t have a nose band to go around the horse’s nose. The English bridle does have a nose band. People can even make a bridle out of rope to lead a horse around the yard or back to the horse shed.
Reins are a long strip of leather that attaches to either side of the bridle, near the horse’s mouth, and loops around the back of the horse’s neck to where the rider can reach. By gently pulling on either side of the reins, the rider can tell the horse which direction to go. On Western bridles, the reins hang free. On English bridles, the reins are clipped together under the horse’s chin to keep them from swaying around.
The bit is the last piece of a horse’s headgear, and it goes in the horse’s mouth and connects to the bridle. There are a lot of different kinds of bits, but the most common is called a snaffle bit. A snaffle bit is made up of one or two pieces of rounded metal with rings on both ends. Some snaffle bits might even have a layer of rubber around the metal to make it more comfortable in the horse’s mouth. A metal snaffle is used for most horseback riding.
The kind of bit used might be different for each horse, depending on the horse’s mouth and what kind of control a rider needs. No matter the style of bit, it’s important to remember to not use the bit too much or too hard. A horse’s mouth is sensitive, so while the bit and reins can be used for gentle directions, lightly tapping a horse’s flanks can be a better way of telling the horse where to go. After all, a horse is a rider’s partner and should be treated with kindness and respect.
- Horse Sense: Preparing to Ride (PDF)
- Vocabulary: Horse Tack
- Basic Horse Handling and Bridling (PDF)
- Getting Your Horse on the Bit
- Bridle and Bit Facts
- Riding Gear Match Game
- Horse Safety Guidelines (PDF)