The cornerstone of proper saddling is a saddle that fits your horse properly and is suited for your chosen discipline. An ill-fitting saddle can cause your horse permanent physical damage. A professional saddle fitter is your best defense against improper saddle fit. Once you have the saddle, your other materials are straightforward and simple. Saddling a horse is commonly called “tacking” a horse, or “tacking up,” although full tacking includes a bridle.
Saddling your horse properly means grooming him first. If you ignore this step your horse can end up with sores, a tangled mane and tail, and sore feet. A hard brush or curry comb removes caked dirt, followed by a softer brush. Riding a dirty horse can irritate his skin. Use a tail brush to keep his tail free of tangles. Run your fingers through his mane to loosen tangles, then comb it with a mane comb. Use a hoof pick to clean his feet. Rocks, mud, manure and debris pack in there easily, causing sore feet and leading to infection.
Pad or Blanket
A saddle pad goes directly on your horse’s back, protecting him from saddle rubs. Don’t try to compensate for an ill-fitting saddle by using too-thick saddle pads, or too many. Some western riders use a saddle blanket; if it’s large, fold it in half. The center of the saddle pad or blanket should lie along your horse’s spine, with the sides hanging down equally along each side of the horse. If your horse is dirty, his sweat and the pressure of you and the saddle can cause sores -- which is why you brush your horse before saddling.
Girth or Cinch
If you ride English, the strap that attaches from one side of the saddle to the other across your horse’s abdomen is called a girth. For western saddles, it’s called a cinch. Your saddle has straps or loops to attach the girth or cinch. Tighten it so that you can just fit your hand underneath but not pull it away from the abdomen too far. Some western riders use a back cinch that attaches at the back of the saddle; make sure your horse is used to this strap before riding him with it.
After the Ride
Caring for your saddle materials after the ride is part of the tacking job. Wipe down your saddle with saddle soap if it’s leather, and brush off dust and dirt from synthetic saddles -- with water, if necessary. Rinse your saddle pad if it’s dirty and sweaty, and wash it weekly or as necessary. Continually riding in a dirty saddle pad can irritate your horse's skin. Clean his feet again in case he picked up debris on the ride, and brush him thoroughly or hose him off if he’s sweaty and the weather is appropriate.
Based in Central Texas, Karen S. Johnson is a marketing professional with more than 30 years' experience and specializes in business and equestrian topics. Her articles have appeared in several trade and business publications such as the Houston Chronicle. Johnson also co-authored a series of communications publications for the U.S. Agency for International Development. She holds a Bachelor of Science in speech from UT-Austin.