Horse Tack – Western or English? The Basics

One thing that you must decide is whether you will be riding English or Western. There is a distinct difference between the two disciplines, and the required tack will depend on which one you choose. Some people are drawn to Western riding because there is not as much tack needed for the horse. If you are into barrel racing and rodeos, this is definitely for you. On the other hand, if you prefer jumping and fox hunts, or dressage, then English tack would be the way to go. No matter which one you choose, you are looking at a costly initial investment, but one that is well worth it, because properly fitting tack is essential. If you require help with fitting your horse’s bridle or choosing the right bit, it is best to consult a professional. There are also a lot of resources on the internet that will teach you how to measure for your horse’s bridle, etc., but it is best to at least check with somebody with prior knowledge (perhaps a friend who already owns a horse.) The main thing is, once you purchase your tack, if you take care of it properly, it will last for many years to come.

Tack is generally made from either leather or nylon. Leather will require regular cleaning, but the upkeep of nylon may be a bit easier in that it may be washed. Some of the different pieces of tack your horse will need includes saddles, a girth (English) or cinches (Western), stirrups, bridles, saddle pads, and in some instances breastplates and a running or standing martingale, halters, harnesses, lunge lines, and lead ropes – the list goes on, but those are the basics. Three types of bridles that you will need to choose from include the hackamore, the single bridle and the double bridle. There are also choices when it comes to girths or cinches, including nylon, leather, string and webbing. Depending on your riding discipline, you may prefer a pleasure saddle for leisure riding, training saddles if you need to break your horse, side saddles, military saddles, polo saddles, jumping saddles, roping saddles, endurance riding saddles and dressage saddles, among others.

Choosing the right equipment for your horse will keep both you and your horse safe and comfortable. And please don’t forget about your own safety – I always recommend wearing a good quality riding helmet as part of the essentials. Also, remember not to ride in sneakers, as they can slide all the way through the stirrup, causing a hazardous situation for the rider. Your riding shoes or boots should always have a little heel on them to prevent that problem.

Now that you have learned the basics of horse riding equipment, get out there and enjoy bonding with your new friend!

Western Horseback Riding – The Basics

We all know that there are obvious differences in the tack (equipment used to ride, such as saddles and bridles,) but when I was taught to ride, we weren’t taught why the tack was different, and how different the two types of riding really are. I was always mesmerized by the beautiful Western horses with their fancy headstalls and breastplates and the riders with their chaps and cowboy hats walking in the parades, but other than that, I didn’t really see a lot of Western style riders growing up, except for on television. During my research I have discovered that English riding is initially more difficult to learn, and it is easier to switch from English to Western than vice versa. I am not going to focus too much on English riding today, and will pretty much just explain the fundamentals of Western riding. I will go much more in depth on English riding in a future article.

I guess the first place I should start is at the beginning… the very beginning. Western riding can first be traced back to about 400 B.C. when it is widely accepted that Xenophon, a Greek solider and historian, founded modern horsemanship. Although any breed of horse can be used for Western riding, the most popular breeds are Quarter Horses, Paints, and Appaloosas.

Western riding basically evolved on cattle ranches in the American West The Western rider uses their non-dominant hand to handle the reins, and uses neck reining to control the horse. When neck reining, you push your horse gently into the direction that you want your horse to go instead of pulling in the same direction. For example, if you want your horse to move to the right, you would touch the left rein to your horse’s neck. Western trained horses are trained to listen to your commands without much mouth contact. You might be wondering why you would use your non-dominant hand to hold the reins – the reason for using the non dominant hand for the reins is so that the rider can use their dominant hand for roping cattle, etc. Even if you aren’t into roping cattle, there are many other events you can find pleasure in with Western riding! They include barrel racing, pleasure riding, roping, Gymkhana, and endurance riding.

Western saddles are heavier, and have a horn in front which is to assist with herding cattle. The saddle is also larger and deeper and can be more comfortable for a horse who has to spend long periods of time actively working. It is also comfortable for the rider, and distributes the weight more evenly on the horse’s back. The bottom of the stirrups should hit the rider’s ankle bone for proper fit.

The rider should be relaxed but sit straight with good posture, and move with the horse. Subtle cues with your hips and seat give steering signals to your horse. Your horse will rely on you to correctly shift your weight and carry your body correctly to interpret your commands.

In Western riding it is not unusual for the rider to use noise signals to change speeds. Some Western trained horses can speed up and slow down just by hearing their rider’s signals. Many riders use the “kiss and click method,” in which you click your tongue to ask for a jog and you smack your lips together to ask for a lope. A jog is the same as a trot, and a lope is the same as a canter in English riding. Some horses might recognize voice commands, it all depends on how your horse is trained. Most horses know the voice command “Whoa” to stop, as you sit deeply into your seat.

This just touches on the basics of Western riding, and in future articles I will go more in depth. If there are any topics that you would like me to cover relative to horses and riding, please comment below or feel free to contact me, and I would be happy to write about it! Until then, happy trails…