What is Horse Tack?

January 2017
What is Horse Tack

Horse tack is any equipment used to ride a horse, such as saddle, girths, cinches, and bridles. Tack may also refer to equipment like lead ropes, whips, long reins, wraps and other items used in handling and caring for horses.


While traditionally leather was used, today tack is made of many different materials. Synthetic tack can refer to the many types of synthetic materials, used to make almost every type of horse tack.


Putting items such as a saddle and bridle on your horse is referred to as tacking up. These items are usually stored in a room, which is usually near or in a stable, and is called a tack room. Shops that sell horse equipment are called tack shops.




A Saddle is simple, a seat for the rider. They’re fastened to the horse’s back by a girth, called a cinch in the Western US. A girth is a wide strap that wrap around the horse and is placed about four inches behind the forelegs. Some western saddles will also have a second strap known as a flank or back cinch that fastens at the rear of the saddle and goes around the widest part of the horse’s belly.


Having a comfortable saddle is really important for both the rider and the horse. An improperly fitted saddle may create pressure points on the horse’s back muscle and cause the horse pain. This can lead to the horse, rider, or both getting injured.


There are many types of saddle, each specially designed for its given task. Saddles are usually divided into two major categories: “English saddles” and “Western saddles” according to the riding discipline they are used in. Other types of saddles, such as racing saddles, Australian saddles, sidesaddles and endurance saddles do not necessarily fit neatly in either category.




Stirrups are supports for the rider’s feet and hang down on either side of the saddle. An invention of great historic significance in mounted combat, they give the rider secure foot support while on horseback. While they provide greater stability for the rider, there are some safety concerns. There is the potential for a rider’s feet to get stuck in them. For example, if a rider is thrown from a horse but has a foot caught in the stirrup, they could be dragged if the horse runs away.


A number of safety precautions are taken to minimize this risk. First, most riders wear riding boots with a heel and a smooth sole. Some saddles have safety bars that allow a stirrup leather to detach if pulled backwards by a falling rider. While Western saddles have wide stirrup treads that make it more difficult for the foot to become trapped.




A headcollar consists of a noseband and headstall that buckles around the horse’s head and allows the horse to be led or tied. The lead rope is a separate piece of horse tack.


Some horses, particularly stallions, may have a chain attached to the lead rope and placed over the nose or under the jaw to increase the control provided by a headcollar while being led. A headcollar does not have a bit.




Bridles usually have a bit attached to reins and are used for riding and driving horses. English Bridles have a cavesson style noseband and reins are buckled to one another. Western Bridles used in Western riding usually have no noseband, are made of thin bridle leather. They may have long, separated “Split” reins or shorter closed reins.


Double bridles are a type of English bridle that use two bits in the mouth at once, a snaffle and a curb. The two bits allow the rider to have very precise control of the horse. As a rule, only very advanced horses and riders use double bridles. Double bridles are usually seen in the top levels of dressage, but also are seen in certain types of show hack and Saddle seat competition.




A horse harness is used to attach a horse to a cart, carriage, or other load. There are two main styles of harnesses – breaststrap and collar and hames style. These differ in how the weight of the load is attached.


A breaststrap harness has a wide leather strap going horizontally across the horses’ breast, attached to the traces and then to the load. This is used only for lighter loads. A collar and hames harness has a collar around the horses’ neck with wood or metal hames in the collar. The traces attach from the hames to the load. This type of harness is needed for heavy draft work.


Both types will also have a bridle and reins. A harness that is used to support shafts, such as on a cart pulled by a single horse, will also have a saddle attached to the harness to help the horse support the shafts and breeching to brake the forward motion of the vehicle, especially when stopping or moving downhill. Horses guiding vehicles by means of a pole, such as two-horse teams pulling a wagon, a hay-mower, or a dray, will have pole-straps attached to the lower part of the horse collar.




Breastplates, breastcollars or breastgirths attach to the front of the saddle, cross the horse’s chest, and usually have a strap that runs between the horse’s front legs and attaches to the girth. They keep the saddle from sliding back or sideways. Used in demanding, fast-paced sports. They are crucial pieces of safety equipment for activities requiring jumping, such as eventing, show jumping, polo, and fox hunting. They are also seen in Western riding events, particularly in rodeo, reining and cutting, where it is particularly important to prevent a saddle from shifting.



Have we missed any items of tack? Leave us a comment below!