FAQ Gear Riding

What is it called when you put a saddle on a horse?

dressage saddle with flowers
Written by Horse Rookie

What it means to saddle up a horse for riding

If you’re new to the horse world, you might feel as though you’re wandering around a city where everyone else is speaking a foreign language. Curry comb, hoof polish, hobbles, girth, forelock… the list of horsey terms seems to go on and on. With a little time and practice, though, you’ll be able to speak “fluent equestrian” with the best of them. 

One of the most common things you’ll hear riders talk about is putting a saddle on — though it can be phrased a few different ways, such as tacking up or saddling up. 

What is tacking up a horse?

When it comes to preparing for a ride, the phrases “tack up” and “saddle up” are interchangeable.

The word “tack” is a broad term that describes all of the equipment you might put on your horse to ride or do groundwork. Typically, it refers to the saddle, saddle pad, girth/cinch, bridle, and bit — but even items like horse boots, breast collars, or lunging equipment are often called “tack.”

When someone says they’re going to tack up, it means they’re going to prepare a horse for riding by putting on basic equipment — including the saddle. 

“Saddling” or “saddling up” is a more specific way to describe putting the saddle onto the horse and securing it with a girth or cinch. 

What is the proper way to saddle a horse english style?

Saddles come in lots of shapes and sizes, depending on the type of activity you’re going to do with your horse. Generally, though, saddles are classified as English or Western. 

English saddles are used for disciplines like jumping, dressage, and three-day eventing. They are usually lighter weight and less bulky than their western counterparts.

To tack up, you will:

  1. Groom your horse.
  2. Put on the saddle pad(s). 
  3. Place the saddle on top.
  4. Affix the velcro “keepers” that help keep your pad and saddle together (if your pad has them).
  5. Attach the breast collar or martingale, if you use one.
  6. Secure the saddle with a girth, slowly tightening it over the course of several minutes (and checking that it’s still tight before you mount).
  7. Add horse boots, if you use them.
  8. Put on the bridle.

This instructional video shows how to saddle up english style:

What is the proper way to saddle a horse western style?

Western saddles are used for disciplines like reining, cow work, ranch riding, and barrel racing. They are usually heavier, have a horn in the front, and can have ornately decorated leather and hardware.

To tack up, you will:

  1. Groom your horse.
  2. Put on the saddle pad(s). 
  3. Place the saddle on top.
  4. Attach the breast collar, if you use one.
  5. Secure the saddle with a cinch, slowly tightening it over the course of several minutes (and checking that it’s still tight before you mount). If your saddle also has a back cinch (i.e. second cinch further back), also attach this.
  6. Add horse boots, if you use them.
  7. Put on the bridle (e.g. headstall).

This instructional video shows how to saddle up western style:

Frequently Asked Questions

Where do you put a saddle on a horse?

Every horse is shaped differently, but they all have something called “withers.” Withers are the sloping area where the base of the neck meets the horse’s back. 

Saddles are designed to be placed slightly behind the withers (~2 inches), which helps ensure your girth or cinch rests slightly behind your horse’s front legs. 

Not sure how to position your saddle or whether it fits properly? Check with your trainer, or schedule a saddle fitting session at your local tack shop.

This video walks through saddle position for english style riding:

This video walks through saddle position for western style riding:

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When can you start putting a saddle on a horse?

Most horses are “started under saddle” as two or three year olds. By this time, the horse is more physically and mentally mature and able to handle mounted training

Many equestrians will desensitize younger horses (e.g. yearlings) to the saddle by letting them see and smell it. They might also place the saddle on the horse’s back for short periods of time (without using a girth or riding). This way, the horse is more familiar with this core piece of tack once it’s time to begin “real” training as a two or three year old. 

Where should a cinch sit on a horse?

The cinch (i.e. girth) should sit comfortably behind the horse’s front legs — usually about two inches back from the “elbow” area. It’s important to choose a cinch or girth your horse finds comfortable.

Many english riders now use anatomically-shaped girths that free up horses’ shoulder range of motion even more. Western riders often opt for fleece-lined cinches for additional comfort.

shoulder relief girth

Check out shoulder relief girths at Amazon

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About the author

Horse Rookie

I began riding horses at age six, and I'm just as infatuated (OK, more!) with the sport decades later. My AQHA gelding exemplifies the versatility of the breed -- reined cow horse, reining, roping, ranch riding, trail, dressage, and jumping. We're also dipping our toes (hooves) into Working Equitation!