Apparel Gear Riding

Head-to-Tail Buyer’s Guide to the Best Horse Riding Gear

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Written by Stephanie S.

Our horse riding gear list saves you from spending money on stuff you don’t need.

Few sports have as much equipment as horse riding (just ask my bank account). Riders can easily become overwhelmed trying to figure out what they need–and don’t. We’ll cover the essential “need to haves” and some “nice to haves” when it comes to to the best horse riding gear.

Apparel and footwear, safety gear, tack, and stable supplies all play a role in your equestrian pursuits. While there is something for every price range, the key features of any item you purchase is that it fits you and your horse properly, is safe, and is designed for the job.

 

Apparel and Footwear

Most riders start their gear collection with apparel and footwear, and for good reason. You may only be planning to take lessons, or you may be searching for your dream horse.

The sweetest, calmest horse in the world can stumble and fall, or get spooked by something–or more specifically, anything. Really. And although your mount can be replaced, you can not.

In fact, horseback riding often makes it onto lists of the most dangerous sports . Invest in a helmet, and other safety gear, before you saddle up for the first time. You want protection for the irreplacable you.

Either way, it’s easy to start with apparel and footwear for the rider, and you’ll need these items regardless of your chosen discipline or riding cadence.

Boots with a heel

The style can vary based on whether you’re riding English or Western style, but a boot with a heel is mandatory footwear for all equestrians. The heel prevents the rider’s foot from sliding through the stirrup in the event of an unplanned dismount.

Horse riding boots don’t always fit the same way that regular shoes do.

Click to see this hiking-style riding boot at Amazon

You may need a different size, or notice that the pair of English boots you’re looking at has European sizes instead. Do your homework ahead of time, and understand boot fit issues.

(State Line Tack has a useful article about How to Fit English Horse Riding Boots that’s well worth reading.)

Western boots should have a relatively snug fit, as they typically stretch over time. Also, when trying them on, your heel should rise away from the sole a little bit.

See our favorite horse riding boots on the Horse Rookie Riding Essentials Amazon List.

If you plan to do cross-discipline riding, you may prefer equestrian footwear that resembles a pair of sneakers or hiking boots. The Ariat Terrain H2o Hiking Boot combines the riding safety heel you need with the comfy fit of a waterproof hiking boot that you love.

Comfortable Cowboy Boots

Riding pants

If you’re going on the occasional trail ride or doing Western disciplines, you can wear jeans. Make sure they’re designed for riding before you mount up, as many “normal” jeans feature bulky inseams can rub and be painful.

Click here to browse horse riding jeans at Amazon, and stick to well-respected brands like Wrangler and Ariat for your first pair.

Click to see our favorite Kerrits Ice-Fil Tight at Amazon

Many English riders prefer jodhpurs or breeches instead of jeans, as these options are stretchy, designed with a knee patch or full seat for extra grip, and there are a myriad of options at Amazon for all seasons, body types, and style preferences.

Shirts and jackets

Shirts and jackets tend to be form fitting for equestrians. One of the reasons is that loose tops can blow around, and perhaps spook a horse, or become caught on a tree or fence post.

We love the Ice-Fil collection from Kerrits because the material is durable, fashionable, and — most importantly — keeps you cooler than traditional fabrics.

Chaps and gloves

Chaps and gloves fall into the “nice to have” category.

While they will help protect your legs and hands, and increase grip, they are not imperative for you to enjoy your ride.

See our favorite options on the Horse Rookie Riding Essentials Amazon List.

Safety Gear

You should always put your seat buckle on when you get in a vehicle, and you should always wear a helmet when you’re riding or driving a horse (or donkey).

The sweetest, calmest horse in the world can trip and fall, or get spooked by something.

In fact, horseback riding often makes it onto lists of the most dangerous sports. Invest in a helmet and other safety gear before you saddle up for the first time.

Helmet

Many companies offer quality helmets, and there are even stylish options that look like a cowboy hat.

Click to see the Tipperary Sportage at Amazon

Our favorite all-around helmet is the Tipperary Sportage, as it has ample venting, fuller coverage in the back, and the fit is comfortable over the long run.

A helmet is only effective if it’s fitted correctly, and only ASTM-SEI certified helmets offer the protection you need.

If you experience a fall while wearing your helmet, it should be replaced.

In addition, ALL helmets should be replaced after five years. Read more in our article about How Often to Replace Horse Riding Helmets.

Body protector

Perhaps you’re a little nervous about watching your little one handle a 1,000-pound animal by her or himself. Or, perhaps you really want to avoid getting hurt because of your personal and professional obligations.

A body protector can offer you increased peace of mind. Make sure you have the fit correct and purchase a body protector that is SEI-ASTM certified.

Check out the 6 Best Horse Riding Body Protectors for Unplanned Dismounts for our favorites.

Air Vest

In addition to a body protector, you may also want to invest in an Air Vest.

The Hit Air Vest attaches to your saddle with a simple strap. If you have an unplanned dismount, the vest inflates to cushion your fall.

Click to see Hit-Air Vests at Amazon

We love these so much, we wrote an entire Hit Air Equestrian Vest Review.

A word of caution: make sure you unhook the vest before you dismount!

Tack

The most important thing about horse riding tack is that it fits the horse — and you — properly. Horses are individuals, just like we are, and have different fit requirements.

If you’re taking lessons, you can probably use the tack at your lesson barn. If you’re purchasing a horse, wait to buy tack until after you’ve found your dream horse. Then, work with a professional to make sure the tack fits correctly.

Four of the most crucial pieces of tack you will need include a saddle, girth, bridle, and saddle pad.

Saddle and girth

There are lots of options, including English, Western, and hybrid saddles, such as an Outback saddle (available at State Line Tack).

Your equestrian goals and the horse you ride will dictate your saddle choice.

Professional saddle fitters can help you with this process, but you can also learn a lot on your own, including through this saddle fit tutorial from Schleese Saddlery Service.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U2mKz0uP_K8]

Research your girth options while purchasing a saddle, and measure your horse to make sure you select the correct length.

If you’re embarking on the saddle/girth search, check out: 

Bridle or headstall

Western and English bridles differ, and you’ll also find hybrid bridles.

Whether it’s the browband on an English bridle or the earpiece on a western headstall, make sure it’s wide enough for your horse, and not too tight.

Click to see this hybrid trail bridle/halter combo at Amazon

The bit is an essential piece of the bridle, unless you choose a hackamore or bitless bridle. Measure your horse’s mouth to make sure you are buying the correct size bit.

Pro Tip: An easy way to do this is with an old piece of garden hose. Use a permanent marker to label the quarter, half, and inch marks, for example, at five inches, and then slide it into your horse’s mouth.

If you’re embarking on the bridle/headstall search, check out our other articles: 

Saddle pad

Saddle pads help protect your horse’s back, cushion the saddle, and absorb sweat.

But, don’t use saddle pads to make up for an ill-fitting saddle. It won’t work.

Find a saddle pad that is the correct size for your saddle, so that all parts of the saddle are covered by the saddle pad.

Check out our article on the 6 Best Saddle Pads for Trail Riding.

Bell boots, martingale, etc.

As you continue in your equestrian pursuits, you may start accumulating tack that falls into the “nice to have” category.

These items include bell boots, splint boots, martingales, and seat savers that cushion your saddle seat. Your horse should be measured for correct fit prior to purchasing all of these items.

Stable Supplies

Horse care is one of the major components of being a responsible equestrian. Most of us enjoy the time we spend in the stable taking care of our horses and find that it deepens our bond with our horses.

There are some essential stable supplies that you’ll need to keep your horse comfortable.

Halter and lead line

When you purchase a horse, it will likely come with a “won’t miss these” cheap halter and lead line that you’ll want to swap out for better equipment.

Click to browse rope halters at Amazon

Consider replacing any nylon halter for a safer, leather or breakaway version–or try these durable rope halters like we use on our horses.

Rope halters feature a series of knots that help guide and correct your horse while leading it, and they’re very popular among equestrians.

Pro Tip: Keep a spare halter and lead line around in case you lose or break one.

Feeding equipment

Do you have water buckets, a water tank in the pasture, and grain buckets or dishes? If not, you’ll need to acquire these before your horse comes home, and supply them in some boarding situations.

Most horses can eat their hay off the ground. That said, a slow hay feeder might be a nice addition to your stable supplies to help your horse have a more natural eating pattern, meaning they are continuously grazing.

They also waste less hay!

Cleaning equipment

A wheelbarrow, pitchfork, and broom are must-haves for any barn.

Grooming equipment

Part of keeping your horse healthy and happy is good grooming. Removing dust and debris is essential anywhere your tack touches your horses, but the best part of grooming is building your human/horse bond.

Click to see this Weaver Leather grooming kit at Amazon

The essentials are a curry comb, hoof pick, stiff brush, soft brush, and comb for the mane and tail.

Pro tip: Don’t use the stiff brush on sensitive areas, such as the face.

Blankets, fly sheets, and fly masks

Some of these items will depend on your geographic location and the living arrangements of your horse. Horses in warmer climates generally don’t need heavyweight blankets, but may find a fly sheet and mask essential.

A quick discussion with other local equestrians or your riding instructor can help you decide which of these items are must-haves for your horse.

If you’re embarking on a fly-free mission, check out our other articles: 

Tack box

This falls into the “nice to have” category, but you won’t regret purchasing a nice tack trunk.

As you acquire more gear for your horse, you will find that storage can be challenging. This is where a tack trunk comes in handy. Many have built-in grooming totes for your brushes, and compartments to help keep you organized.

Tack boxes also protect your investment by keeping your gear clean and dry at the barn.

Learn more from our article Equestrian Storage Wars: Comping the 6 Best Tack Trunks.

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Different Parts of Horse Tack Infographic

You’re welcome to use this infographic on your own website *as long as you link back to horse-rookie.local.*

Feel free to share on Pinterest, as well by hovering over it and clicking the Pinterest icon. #knowledgeishorsepower

Parts of Horse Tack Infographic

Frequently Asked Questions

What is horse tack?

Horse tack is the equipment used to ride or drive a horse. This typically includes items like a saddle, bridle, reins, bit, stirrups, harness, martingale, and breastplate.

Some people also refer to the halter as part of their tack.

What should you wear horseback riding for the first time?

You should wear long pants that don’t have excess fabric to cause rubs, boots with a heel, and a helmet. If you’re riding at a stable, they may have a helmet for you to use.

Do NOT use a bicycle helmet, as it was designed for a different type of impact that’s insufficient for equestrian sports.

We wrote an entire article on the subject, so trot on over to What to Wear Horseback Riding.

What kind of boots should you wear for horse riding?

Always wear boots with a heel. The heel prevents the riders foot from sliding through the stirrup in the event of an unplanned dismount. There are many styles of boots, including western, English, or boots that are similar to a hiking boot.

Boots should fit properly, and be comfortable for you to wear for many hours at a time.

Check out our other boot articles: 

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How should you dress for a riding lesson?

Your attire will depend on the barn where your riding lesson is occurring, and the equestrian discipline.

For example, if your lesson is in dressage or jumping, it may be expected that you wear breeches, field or dress boots, and a shirt with a collar.

Other barns may be okay with you wearing jeans and a t-shirt, as long as you have boots and a helmet.

You can ask the riding instructor what the standard dress is for their barn prior to your first lesson, or observe some of the other riders when you visit the barn before signing up for lessons.

Check out these other Horse Rookie articles:

What is horse riding gear called?

You’ll hear a lot of different terms for riding gear. “Tack” is the term used universally for the gear that goes on the horse – saddle, bridle, and accessories.

Equestrian apparel is a common term for the rider’s gear – breeches, boots, chaps, gloves, and helmet.

Stable supplies is the term often used for the wheelbarrow, pitchfork, feed buckets, and brushes.

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About the author

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Stephanie S.

When I'm not writing how-to guides for equestrians or researching new blog topics, I'm working my day job at a university or riding my Morgan Horse Remi. My work has also been featured in Equus, Holistic Horse, Equine Journal, and Equitrekking.