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Some general information

Saddles:- A saddle is a supportive structure for a rider or other load, fastened to an animal's back. The most common type is the equestrian saddle designed for a horse, but specialised saddles have been created for camels and other creatures. The earliest saddles were simple pads attached with a surcingle, with the saddle tree coming into use circa 200 BC, and paired stirrups by 322 AD. Saddles in the styles seen today date back to the 18th and 19th centuries. Today's modern saddle comes in a wide variety of styles, each designed for a specific equestrian discipline, requiring careful fitting to both rider and horse.

Saddles come in a range of sizes from 16½" to 21 inches (in increments of ½") or in metric sizes from 42 to 53 centimetres, and are sometimes even smaller for ponies. It is not a quick process to find a saddle that fits your horse properly, but the hunt is worth it as a saddle that does not fit will bruise the horse's back and damage the muscles, sometimes irretrievably. Synthetic or second- hand saddles will be cheaper than new leather ones. Second-hand saddles have the advantage that they are already worn in, and the straps supple. It's sometimes best not to set your heart on a particular saddle, as you may find it will not fit your horse.

There will be a saddle out there somewhere that will both suit your horse and your style of riding. To get the perfect fit for you both, spending extra on this item of tack is definitely worth it, and will pay dividends in the end.

As good and innovative as any design of saddle can be, one still has to correctly fit the saddle to a horse for a successful marriage of the two. A lot is asked from horses and it is your responsibility to use your best efforts seeing that you are not inflicting pain and suffering through badly fitting saddles. You can help to do this by making sure that every effort is made in obtaining the correct fit when purchasing a new saddle. There is so much written today about saddle fitting, nearly every magazine features an expert extolling the latest technology from computers to "gizmos" of every description. No wonder people are confused.

Correct position of the saddle:- It is important when taking the measurement of the horse's withers for fitting the saddle that it's taken in the correct position. Have the horse standing on a level surface. Place your present saddle over the horse's withers and press down gently. Slide it back a little until it comes to rest in a natural position just behind the shoulder blades. What you are trying to achieve is taking your measurement from about one to one and a half inches behind the front of the pommel. If you lift the outer saddle flap you will see the points of the saddle tree. These are made of wood reinforced with steel. You have to take your measurement directly under these "points".

What is the correct fit?:- What you are looking for is a saddle that sits level, with the rider in balance and not injuring the horse by being too narrow or too wide. Most injuries happen with saddles that are too narrow. The saddle needs to sit clear of the withers, idealy having a clearance of two to three fingers. If this is correct, you should be able to draw an imaginary level line from the top of the pommel through the middle of the cantle. The deepest part of the seat should be directly behind the "twist" of the saddle. Thus the rider is in the correct balanced position. If the saddle is level, this is naturally where the deepest part occurs. This is with the rider seated and the saddle girthed up correctly. The points of the saddle should lie down the flanks of the horse and not dig into the shoulders. The panels should be in contact the whole length of the horse's back so there is no bridging.

Too narrow?:- A too narrow saddle means the pommel will be too high at the front, throwing the rider's weight to the rear, putting weight and pressure through the loin area of the horse. The rider will also be unbalanced tipping forward in consequence. This in turn distributes the rider's weight only at the front and back of the saddle creating harmful pressure points in both of these areas.

Too wide?:- A saddle that is too wide is not so common an occurrence but nevertheless is to be avoided. If the pommel sits down lower than two fingers height from the withers, the saddle will more than likely be tipped forward out of balance. A saddle that is too low at the pommel will probably create damage to the horse's withers. More than likely you'll find there is a gap between the panels and the horse's back under the seat, so your weight is not distributed through the full length of the panels on to the horse's back.

Girths are a vital piece of tack, attaching the saddle to the horse and helping maintain its position. They are available in many shapes, types and sizes to suit a range of different saddles. Essentially, a girth should be broad and smooth, fitting comfortably around the horse’s breast. Even though there are three billet straps on most english saddles, this is in case one billet strap breaks in the field or your horse is not comfortable with the girth where it naturally sits.

The English girth is designed only to attach to two of them, and it is correct to attach the girth to the first and third of these on each side. Some horses, and some saddles, require that the girth be buckled to the front two billet straps, or the back two, but for the vast majority of horses, the girth should be buckled to the outer billets, as this provides the most stability for the saddle. If your horse is prone to girth galls or sores, experiment with attaching the girth to the front two billets, or the back two billet straps.

The Girth (English)/Cinches (Western):- There are four main types of girths that can be used, most all still being used to the present day: • webbing   • string    • leather    • nylon (See Here)

Like wearing a belt with braces two webbing girths used to be used as a safety measure in case one broke, but since webbing girths tend to rot and are hard to keep clean, you don't see them often today.

Nylon is a good general-purpose girth and is easily cleaned.

String girths also work pretty well and are most useful on a unclipped horse.

Leather girths of course are much preferred since they are strong. They are easy to clean with saddle soap, but do need oiling from time to time.

Many riders use a sheepskin or padded sleeve around the girth as extra protection against chafing or "girth galls".

The Bridle:- The entire headpiece, the headstall, bit, chin strap, and reins, is called the bridle.

The bridle enables a rider to control the horse by applying pressure to the corners of the mouth, the gum in front of the teeth (called the bars), or the front of the nose.

showing the internal structure of the horse head showing the external structure of the horse head

There are three main types of bridles:

  • single
  • double
  • hackamore

A hackamore bridle has no bit in the mouth, and just puts pressure on the nose, chin groove, and poll. It is used only by expert riders on problem horses, and is not intended for everyday riding.  The hackamore is a combination of a rope halter, a lead rope and reins.

Parts of a hackamore:- As hackamores come from Spanish culture, the name probably was derived from the Spanish as the word "hackamore" is an Anglicized version of the Spanish word "jaquima" — which, in turn, was derived from the Moorish word al-hakma. The major parts are:

Bosal (bo-sal). This part around the horse's nose is most commonly made of braided rawhide, but it can be made of leather, horsehair or rope. Diameter of the bosal can vary from pencil size to broom handle size, and the bosal may vary in length and rigidity. A bosal may have a cable or rawhide core, but rawhide is preferred to make it pliable and fit closely to the horse's nose. Parts of the bosal are the nose button and cheek buttons, cheeks or shanks, and the heel knot.

Mecate (meh-kah-teh). This is a continuous horsehair rope that is wrapped around the cheeks of the bosal in a manner to provide both reins and lead line. Other types of rope are frequently substituted for the mecate but are used in the same manner.

Fiador (fee-ah-door). A fiador is a rope throat latch that usually consists of a doubled rope that is passed around the neck just behind the ears and is attached to the bosal at the heel knot. It helps keep the bosal at right angles to the face of the horse.

Reins. These are necessary when a mecate is not used. They may be made from various kinds of rope or leather. Most rope reins are braided and made from soft rope to assure a good grip by the rider.

Headstall and browband. These complete the hackamore and usually are made of leather, however, small ropes or cords are also used. The headstall should be adjusted to raise or lower the bosal on the horse's nose. Browbands are added to prevent the headstall from slipping back on the neck.

A horse cannot breathe through its mouth so careful use of gentle giving hands is a necessity with a hackamore. 

How to measure your horse for a halter/hackamore:- Using a soft tape, measure from the line between the lips to the poll, passing between the eyes and ears. Then measure with the same tape around the nose where the band which holds the reins and lead rope is. One more measurement, all the way around from the poll under the throat latch and back to the poll. Along with these three measurements, include the height of your horse in hands or centimetres/inches (at the withers). These four lengths will help provide you with a well fitting halter. If your horse is mature and 16 hands (165 cm) or under, a standard halter will probably fit fine.


The illustration below, on the left, shows the parts of the snaffle bridle. The snaffle bridle is a basic bridle which is good for all types of riding. It is also the most appropriate one for horses in the early stages of training. The noseband is not essential. By changing the bit, or the noseband, the action of this bridle can be altered, so that you have more control over the horse and the way he carries his head.

The illustration below, on the right, indicates the parts of the double bridle. It is basically the same design as the snaffle bridle, although the addition of the bridoon sliphead means that two bits can be used along with two sets of reins. This bridle should only be fitted with one noseband, the basic cavesson, so that the action of the curb bit isn't interfered with.

showing the parts of the snaffle bridle

typical cavesson

showing the parts of the double bridle

The cavesson is the simplest design available. It's the only type of noseband to use with a double bridle. It can also be used with a standing martingale with little or no action, when fitted correctly, on the horse's head.

Only experienced riders should use a double bridle, which are used in showing and dressage, and can give a rider more precise control. They should not be used on a horse or pony until the animal is used to a bit and snaffle.

horse wearing snaffle bridle horse wearing double bridle

There are numerous varieties of Western bridles, and many very stylish ones. A Western bridle has the same parts except for a noseband and its reins are not attached.

How put a bridle on a horse (see photos 1-6 below)
Horses need bridles, so that when you ride them, you can control them efficiently.
1. Stand on the near side of the horse, holding the crownpiece in your right hand. Place your other hand, holding the bit, under its muzzle.
2. Press your thumb against the bars of the horse's mouth to encourage him to open it.
3. Guide the bit into the horse's mouth. Draw the bridle up with the right hand using the left hand to guide the crownpiece over his ears.
4. Separate the mane from the headpiece and bring the forelock over the browband.
5. Fasten the throatlatch. It should be loose enough to flatly fit four fingers between it and the cheeks.
6. Fasten the noseband. It should be loose enough to allow you to flatly place two fingers underneath it.

holding the crownpiece pressing thumb against bars of horse's mouth guiding the bit into horse's mouth, drawing the bridle up and guiding crownpiece over the ears separate mane from headpiece and bring forelock over browband fasten the throatlatch fasten the noseband







The Bit:- The bit should fit snugly into the corners of the lips, normally making one wrinkle, but do check how it lies inside the horse’s mouth. If you pull down lightly on the bit cheeks, then, between the mouthpiece and the corners of the lips, there should not be more than a ¹/8" gap. If the cheek pieces bow out, this is a sign that the bit is too low.

Check the width, ensuring the bit is both level and central in the horse’s mouth, showing between ¹/8" and ¼" gap between the bit ring and the horse’s lip on each side. (You may have to straighten the mouthpiece with a jointed bit by pulling the cheeks gently outwards to assess this properly.)

If the bit is too wide, it will slide from side to side in the mouth giving uneven pressure when engaged by the rider. An overly-wide jointed bit could hang too low in the mouth and interfere with the horse’s incisors.

If the bit is too narrow, the cheeks will squash against the sides of the horse’s face and lips, with subsequent rubbing or pinching.

Using a piece of smooth round wood, e.g. a wooden spoon handle or piece of dowling rod, and two rein stops (rubber bands can be used but are slightly less accurate) put it into your horse's mouth, so that it just lifts the corners of his lips into no more than 2 wrinkles, and push the rein stops up to touch his lips on either side. Now remove the wood, and measure the gap from the outside of the rein stops. This gives the correct bit size, including the right amount of clearance, for the bit. If you are between sizes (e.g. 5 ¼"), choose the smaller of the two bits (e.g. 5")

Although forged steel is usually used bits can be made out of many different materials such as plated steel or nickel. Plated steel may chip, and the softer metals, such as nickel, seem to wear quickly and can cut the mouth. Rubber or vulcanite bits are softer than steel.

The snaffle is the most common type of bit and there are many varieties. Unless very fine control is needed most horses are ridden with a type of snaffle bit.

The usual snaffle is jointed with rings that exert leverage on the sides of the mouth. A egg-butt snaffle, with a hinged-ring fixed to the joint, is used to overcome the problem of pinching the corners of the mouth.

Some snaffles have straight bars, instead of joints, and can have many different thicknesses and shapes.



picture of horse


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