What is horse tack?

January 2017
What is Horse Tack

You’ve likely heard the term horse tack in your journey of learning to care for your animal. But you might not know quite what tack is. Don’t worry, we’ve all been there and that’s why we written this article.


In short, horse tack is any equipment used to ride a horse, such as saddle, girths, cinches, and bridles. It can also refer to equipment such as lead ropes, whips, long reins, and wraps. We use the term to cover items used in handling and caring for horses.


Traditionally, tack was made from leather. Since then we’ve evolved to using many different materials. Synthetic tack can refer to the many types of synthetic materials that make almost every type of horse tack.


We call the process of putting items such as a saddle and bridle on your horse as tacking up. These items are usually stored in a room, usually near or in a stable, called the tack room. We also call shops that sell horse equipment, tack shops.




Let’s start with the most obvious piece of kit, the saddle. It’s simply a seat for the rider. They’re fastened to the horse’s back by a girth or called a cinch in the Western US. A girth is a wide strap that wraps around the horse. Typically, it’s placed about four inches behind the forelegs.


Some western saddles will also have a second strap known as a flank or back cinch. It fastens at the rear of the saddle and goes around the widest part of the horse’s belly.


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


Several types of saddle are available. Each is useful for a specific task. There are two major categories of saddles: “English saddles” and “Western saddles”. How you would use them depends on the riding discipline.


Other types of saddles exist but don’t neatly fit into either category. These include racing saddles, Australian saddles, sidesaddles, and endurance saddles.




Dating back to the days of mounted combat, stirrups support the rider’s feet. They hang down on either side of the saddle and give the rider secure foot support while on horseback.


While providing greater stability for the rider, there are some safety concerns. There is the potential for a rider’s feet to get stuck.


For example, if a rider is thrown from a horse but has a foot caught in the stirrup, the horse might drag the rider as it runs away.


Thankfully, we can take several safety precautions to minimise 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.


If you look closely at Western saddles, you’ll notice they have wide stirrup treads. These make it more difficult for the foot to become trapped and so protect the rider.




Consisting of a noseband and headstall, a headcollar buckle 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. The chain is placed over the nose or under the jaw to increase the control provided by a headcollar while being led. Typically, a headcollar does not have a bit.




Bridles usually have a bit attached to reins. You use them 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 and 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. However, they sometimes are used in certain types of show hack and Saddle seat competition.




To attach a horse to a cart, carriage, or another load, you need a horse harness. There are two main styles of harnesses – breaststrap, and collar and hames style. These differ depending on how you’ll attach the weight of the load.


A breaststrap harness has a wide leather strap that runs horizontally across the horses’ breast. It attaches to the traces and to the load. Usually, 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. For heavy draft work, this type of harness is ideal.


Both types will also have a bridle and reins. A harness with 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. It also helps to brake the forward motion of the vehicle, especially when stopping or moving downhill.


Horses guiding vehicles using 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 and cross the horse’s chest. Usually, they 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.


You’ll also see them in Western riding events, particularly in rodeo, and reining and cutting. In these events, it’s particularly important to prevent a saddle from shifting.



And, before you go…

That’s a short introduction to horse tack. Have we missed any items of tack? Leave us a comment below!