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Beginner Basics: Western Tack

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All horse equipment can look a little complicated at first but if it’s broken down to basic parts, it is much easier to learn and use. Let’s start with the basic equipment, called tack, used for Western riding. Tack can be made of leather or synthetic materials.  Although tack can come in a variety of colors and styles depending on the type of riding that you choose, the basic pieces are the same.

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A Basic Western Saddle

The three basic pieces of tack used to ride a horse are:

  1. Saddle – This piece of tack sits on the back of the horse and is where the rider sits. Typically a thick felt or wool pad, also called a saddle blanket, is placed under the saddle to keep it clean and can add cushion for the horse’s back. Saddle blankets are generally rectangular in shape and come in a wide variety of colors. Saddles themselves are usually made of leather but can also be made from synthetic materials. Attached to either side of the saddle, the stirrups are where you place your feet for support and balance. They can be made from leather, rawhide, or metal. As saddle fit is very important for the comfort of the horse’s back, work with a tack shop or saddle fitter to find the perfect fit for you and your horse.
  2. Cinch – A short piece of leather or synthetic material that has a buckle on either end. It holds the saddle in place and runs under the belly just behind the front legs.
  3. Headstall – This piece of tack is part of the steering and controls the horse’s direction. It is the piece of tack that is attached to a horse’s head and has the bit (metal piece in the horse’s mouth), and reins (what the rider holds onto). Not all headstalls have bits, some, called bosals, are bitless and work on pressure points on the horse’s face.

Additional Western equipment:

  1. Bit – The bit is attached to the headstall and rests in the horse’s mouth in the space between the front teeth and back teeth. It can be made of several different types of metal like stainless steel, sweet iron, or copper as well as rubber or plastic. The choice of which bit to use depends on the horse experience, discipline regulations, rider’s ability and personal preference. One of the most noticeable differences between English and Western bits is that some Western bits have long side pieces, called shanks.
  2. Reins – The reins are a part of the headstall and run from the bit or headstall to the rider’s hands. They can be made from a variety of materials including leather and cotton. Western reins can come in several styles like split reins, which are longer than typical reins and are not connected in the middle.
  3. Breastcollar – Not all Western riders use a breastcollar but they are common. A breastcollar helps to keep the saddle in place. Made of leather or synthetic materials, they  attach to either side of the saddle and run across the horses chest with an additional strap that runs between the front legs and attaches to the cinch.

Western tack can vary depending on its function and the standards within each discipline. For example, Western show saddles have beautiful silver accents for a little sparkle in the ring while barrel saddles are built lighter for a faster ride. Trail saddles have extra cushion in the seat to make the longer rides more comfortable. Talk to your trainer or local tack shop for the exact Western tack and equipment you will need for your style of riding.

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Alek Majtenyi’s love of horses began at a very young age with pony rides and reading endless horse stories. She started riding English at age 10 and joined The United States Pony Club at age 18 where she earned her C1 Level Rating. While earning her B.A. in English at the University of California, Davis, Alek worked at the UC Davis Equestrian Center giving beginning riding lessons to horse crazy girls and riding horses. She has worked closely with all ages and levels of riders in the last 10 years as the manager of The Tack Room, a small retail shop in Modesto, CA. She currently lives in Oakdale, CA with her German Shepherd Dog, Kyra, and lovely Thoroughbred mare, Miss Vesta.

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