Health & CareRiding

How to Saddle a Horse

Whether you ride Western or English, the fundamentals of saddling up a horse are the same. The comfort and safety of both the horse and its rider should be the primary objective. These tips on how to saddle a horse apply to both English and Western saddles.

The difference between Western and English riding styles is how you handle their saddles (girth or cinch). The securing of an English saddle is slightly different from that of Western saddles. A Western saddle uses a cinch, latigo, and knot, while the English saddle secures with billets and a buckle girth.

Although the procedure below primarily involves an English saddle, you can also apply the steps to Western saddles. You’ll also learn how to tighten the cinch or girth safely.

Brush and Clean Your Horse

Brush the horse’s girth area and back while carefully removing any dirt or grit that may result in chafing under the saddle or girth. Brush the hairs to lie flat and sponge or brush away any dirt or mud from the girth area. Your horse may misbehave due to painful irritations and galls if you leave grit on their girth area or back.

Most riders generally saddle their horse from the left side, but you must learn to saddle from the right side as well if required.

Position the Blanket or Pad

Using Western saddle blankets generally requires that you fold it in half. When you put the blanket on your horse, the fold should be at the front. But if you’re using an English saddle pad, you won’t need to fold.

English saddle pads are usually shaped to fit correctly under the saddle. They may come with hook and loop tabs or ties attached to the saddle to help keep them in position when riding. The ties or tabs are positioned on the saddle top so it doesn’t rub against your horse.

Put the blanket or saddle pad on your horse’s back, over its withers, position it forward, and gently slide it back to smooth down the hair on its back beneath the saddle and pad. Ensure the pad or blanket is evenly spread on the sides and isn’t folded, rolled, or wrinkled at any point.

A man saddling a horse

Lift the Saddle

For an English saddle, run up the stirrups on the leathers. For a Western saddle, hook up the offside stirrup over the horn or fold it over the seat. This process will prevent the hard stirrup from hitting you or your horse while lifting the saddle. Fold back the girth or cinch (if attached) over the seat. Many riders often remove their English girth from their saddle completely after riding. They do this to prevent twisting of the billet straps when they store the saddle. Removing the girth after riding implies that you’ll undoubtedly need to buckle the sides when saddling up.

Ensure to lift the saddle very high to avoid knocking the pad out of place or hitting your horse. Place your saddle a bit forward and slide it backward. Make sure you’re placing the saddle gently on your horse’s back. Allowing the saddle to fall heavily on the horse’s back may lead to it resenting saddles (cold backed) or even spooking.

Check the Sides of Your Saddle

If using a Western saddle, take down your stirrup by moving to the offside and check the pad or blanket on both sides to ensure there’s no wrinkle under the saddle. Tie or buckle the cinch or girth if it isn’t attached to the offside. Check again to make sure the pad or blanket is flat, and the hair underneath remains smooth and lies in the direction of growth. If there are wrinkles in a blanket or pad, it may lead to galls or discomfort, and that makes horses misbehave.

Move to either the left or right side of your horse and reach beneath it to pick the free end of the cinch or girth.

An image of how to saddle a horse

Buckle Up the Girth or Tie the Cinch Straps

Either buckle up the girth or tie the cinch loosely. Then, gently tighten the cinch or girth in little increments. Girthing horses up tightly and suddenly is common among riders. Doing this can cause your horse to bite, kick, and even become ‘girthy‘ and resent being girthed up. It may also cause some horses to bloat themselves while anticipating discomfort. Make your horse move forward, and hold on for a moment while it exhales before tightening the girth or cinch gently.

Some riders believe that the girth is more secure when it’s tighter. The girth should only be tight enough to keep the saddle stable. Ensure the girth isn’t too tight, as it can compromise the horse’s breathing and result in injury. Your finger must slide with ease between the girth or cinch and your horse.

Loop the tabs (if there are any) at the front of the saddle pad through its D-rings and tie or fasten them.

A saddled horse

Remove Wrinkles and Allow the Saddle to Settle

Check the horse’s skin to ensure it doesn’t have wrinkles beneath the girth. You can stand at your horse’s head while facing back. Hold the pastern on one of its front legs and stretch it slightly forward. Repeat the same step for the other front leg.

The girth may become looser as your horse works. Ensure to always check it before mounting and also after riding for a few minutes.

Safety Precautions

  • Make sure the front cinch is always above your horse’s elbow area, around the fore flank.
  • Fasten the front cinch slowly and make sure it’s not too tight. If it’s too tight and firm, your horse may become cinchy and flip over backward or lie down.
  • Fasten the front girth or cinch first, before the back cinch.
  • Ensure to fasten the connector strap between the back cinch and front cinch so that the back cinch doesn’t go into the sensitive rear flank of your horse.
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