July 30, 2022 14 min read
With so much horse tack available on the market, it’s easy for tack shopping to become overwhelming. If you compete, it’s difficult to decipher what tack you need to stay within competition regulation. If you’re a more casual rider who just wants horse tack that’s comfortable for both horse and rider, how do you know what type of saddle you should get?
This blog covers nearly every scenario. Whether you’re buying your first tack set or your fifteenth, keep reading to make your life easier.
Click the link below to jump to the section that most applies to you:
If you just purchased your first horse, congratulations on becoming a brand new horse owner! Since this is your first horse, stick to the essentials when purchasing your first set of horse tack and focus on affordability, not looks.
Choose a saddle that is comfortable for both you and your horse. When deciding between Western and English saddles, go with the same style of saddle that you’ve been using in your riding lessons. You don’t want to switch to an entirely different saddle without riding in it extensively first.
The most important part of purchasing a saddle isn’t what it looks like, how much silver is on it, or even if it’s a dressage or jumping saddle. The key to purchasing a great saddle is to ensure that it fits and is comfortable for both you and the horse. Work with a knowledgeable saddle fitter, either in person or online, to get your saddle customized and fitted to you and your horse.
Not all saddle pads or blankets are the same. If you buy a Western saddle, you must buy a Western saddle pad. Otherwise, you’ll quickly discover that an English saddle pad simply won’t protect your horse’s back from the bulk of a Western saddle! Look for saddle pads that have good wither clearance and are anatomically shaped, like the TuffRider Basic All Purpose Pad.
Start off with a basic girth that’s easy to care for and fits your horse well. If you have an English saddle with short billets, the Horze Padded Elastic Girth would be a good choice thanks to its non-chafing nylon and reinforced elastic at one end with stainless steel roller buckles to add durability. But if you have a Western saddle, you’ll need a cinch, not a girth. The felt-lined Smart Cinch is a good option for Western riders as the Roll Snug Cinch Buckle allows for more leverage when tightening the girth.
Choose a bridle that matches your choice of saddle. If you’ve been riding Western, buy a Western headstall and vice versa. Ideally, the color of your bridle should match the color of your saddle, however this is only because it is aesthetically pleasing.
When shopping for a bit for your bridle, work with your trainer to choose one that is the right style for you and your horse. Some bits can be very harsh if they don’t fit the horse’s mouth properly or are used by an inexperienced rider. To avoid choosing the wrong bit, speak with your equine dentist or vet. A knowledgeable medical professional can help you evaluate the shape of your horse’s mouth.
Are you a casual rider? Maybe you enjoy going over the occasional jump, but really just enjoy taking riding lessons and spending time with your horse. If your only goal is for you and your horse to be safe and comfortable in your horse tack, this basic English tack set is for you.
To start with, look for an all purpose saddle. These saddles allow you to have the relaxed leg position of a dressage rider, but the seat isn’t so deep that it’s uncomfortable to jump. Thanks to the straighter flaps and low cantle, these saddles also tend to be very comfortable for trail riding and spending time with your horse.
For example, the HDR Advantage All Purpose Saddle has a moderately deep seat and a rounded cantle to provide enough support for an ultra-comfortable riding experience. Plus, the padded forward flap helps maintain a protective barrier between your legs and the horse's ribs.
Use a basic all purpose saddle pad with your saddle. Because your goal isn’t really to compete in this horse tack, you can have some fun with your saddle pad. Lettia has some really fun colors and patterns to choose from.
Since this horse tack set uses an all purpose saddle, you’ll need to purchase a long girth, not a dressage girth. The Lettia Fleece Girth is a great starter girth. The soft and flexible fleece helps to prevent rubs, while elastic on both ends makes it easy to get on and off.
Last but not least, you’ll need a bridle. When purchasing a bridle, choose one that matches the color of your saddle. The HDR Clincher bridle is a good option, thanks to its traditional feel and unique accents like metal keepers. The Clincher Bridle comes ready to ride with webbed reins for a confident feel included.
Purchasing horse tack gets a little more complicated when you start to compete. Different disciplines have their own requirements and sets of rules. Understanding these regulations can be the difference between winning a blue ribbon and being eliminated before you get the chance to ride. For example, if you showed up at a dressage competition with cross country horse tack and attire, you would not be able to compete.
When it comes to dressage, every detail is governed closely from the bit to the saddle pad, straight down to the color of the leather.
The type of bridle allowed varies with the level of competition. For tests ridden below Second Level, FEI tests for children, and FEI pony tests, a plain snaffle bridle must be worn, not only in the competition arena but in the warm up as well. Above Third Level, a double bridle is permitted to be worn instead of a snaffle. If you’re riding in an FEI International show, double bridles are required. No Western style bridles are allowed.
Choose the mouthpiece of your bit carefully. It must be smooth with no twisting, bumps, or uncovered wire or cable. Any joint that could trap or pinch any part of the horse’s mouth is strictly prohibited.
Bits can be made from rubber, nylon or other synthetic materials. Commonly used bits include loose ring, eggbutt, D-ring, upper cheek, full cheek, hanging cheek, and Fulmer cheek bits. The mouthpiece for a bit on a snaffle bridle can be single joint, double joint, barrel joint, ball joint, double ball joint, central piece with a roller or even an unjointed mouthpiece.
At most levels, you can choose between using a dressage-specific saddle or a jumping-style saddle. The rules on horse tack state that “an English type saddle, with or without a tree, with flaps and stirrups is compulsory for all tests and classes other than FEI tests.”
USEF also regulates the saddle pads used in a dressage test, which must be conservative in color. Contrast color and piping are permitted, but just say no to a striped or multi-colored pad, no matter how pretty it is. Instead, choose one like the TuffRider Basic Dressage Saddle Pad in white or black.
Fly bonnets that match the horse’s natural color are allowed, even the noise-reducing versions. But no ear plugs! The same goes for boots. If you ride into x with your horse wearing any form or boots or bandages, you will be automatically eliminated.
The hunter/jumper ring may have fewer explicit rules than dressage competition, but there is significantly more pressure to conform to a certain look. For example, most competitors use a brown close contact saddle. While black saddles are legal, you’ll likely stand out in a bad way. Most riders use sheepskin or fleece pads that conform to the shape of the saddle, with as little sticking out behind the saddle as possible.
Boots of any kind-- bell boots, tendon boots, dressage boots, brushing boots, etc-- are explicitly not allowed. If you enter the ring with your horse wearing boots or bandages, the chances are good that you will be eliminated before you’ve even started riding.
Most competitors ride in a plain snaffle bridle, with the most intense decoration being some decorative stitching. Stick to a simple snaffle bit or pelham.
The rules can become a little complicated when it comes to horse tack accessories. For example, martingales of any type are prohibited in the under saddle, hack, and tie-breaking classes. But you can use a standing or running martingale in all over fences or jumping classes. If you’re wondering if nasal strips, nose nets, belly bands, etc. are allowed– play it safe and choose not to use them.
The showjumping world has some of the least restrictive requirements when it comes to horse tack. These classes are based on the speed of the horse over fences and do not take into account the quality of the horse’s gait, appearance, or rider equitation. Because of this, saddles of all kinds are allowed, although nearly all riders choose to use jumping saddles to facilitate better performance. Saddle pads of all kinds and colors are also allowed, as well as any type of bridle the horse and rider prefer.
There are still some restrictions when it comes to bits. Any curb used with any style of leverage bit must be formed of loose links or joints and lie flat against the jaw of the horse. It must be free of twists, sharp objects, or anything designed to harm the horse. Wrapping the curb or using a cover is allowed for the comfort of the horse, but it cannot be used with any type of wire, metal, rawhide, or other substance.
Unlike any other division, show jumpers must be careful of the total weight of the equipment applied to their horse’s legs. Whether they’re using boots, bandages, or even bell boots, this equipment cannot be over 500 grams of weight per leg.
The cross country field places an emphasis on safety when it comes to horse tack, not looks. One of the most emphasized rules for cross country is that all tack must allow for an immediate and unrestricted separation of the rider from the horse in the event of a fall. For example, stirrup irons and leathers must hang outside the flap and be free from the bar of the saddle. Reins must be free of any loops or hand attachments and connect directly to the bridle.
An English-type saddle and any bridle are allowed on the course. Running martingales, Irish martingales, bit guards, boots, bandages, fly shields, nose covers, and even seat covers are also allowed for the comfort of both the horse and rider. You will rarely see an event horse leave the start box without protective horse tack like boots and bell boots.
Accessories such as balancing reins, blinkers, and other forms of martingales are strictly forbidden and may result in the disqualification of the horse and rider.
Endurance is a unique equestrian sport in terms of the horse tack needed to compete. Endurance events are all about speed and equine and rider fitness. So, purchasing tack for endurance events is less about looking a certain way, and more about choosing equipment that is lightweight and extremely durable. Because horse and rider will be spending long hours in the saddle, it’s also critical that all horse tack fits well and doesn’t rub.
The waterproof Mesace saddles are very popular for endurance riders. The Monarch saddle by Mesace has a revolutionary adjustable panel design that allows you to self-adjust your saddle panel according to your horse’s back. This is particularly beneficial for endurance riders, as they can truly customize the fit of the saddle to ensure comfort for their horse. It’s also 100 percent waterproof and made of synthetic PVC, nylon and stainless steel hardware, which is light, comfortable and proven to be resistant against wear over time.
An endurance rider’s choice of saddle pad is very important. The pad must be lightweight and breathable, but it also has to have shock-absorbing capabilities. The Professional’s Choice Square Ortho Pad combines the benefits of our breathable and shock-absorbent SMx Air Ride material with OrthoSport features. Together, these materials relieve pressure from the spine and kidney areas while allowing additional airflow along the horse’s back.
Synthetic bridles are also favored by endurance riders for their hardiness and convenience. Jacks Thoroughbred Bridle is made with beta materials and stainless steel hardware. This combination is extremely lightweight but also very rugged and capable of lasting a long time. Plus, synthetic materials are very easy to care for and don’t require any special tack cleaners.
Boots can be a controversial topic for endurance riders. On the one hand, a good pair of boots can protect your horse’s legs from damage. On the other hand, they can also cause chafing by holding water against the legs, cause overheating, and add extra weight. Whether or not you use boots on your horse is a personal decision and must be made on an individual basis. If you do decide to use boots on your endurance horse, opt for a pair that is breathable and won’t hold onto water, like the Pro Performance Elite XC Boots.
At the end of the day, the ultimate goal with endurance horse tack is to ensure that everything is lightweight and ultra-comfortable for horse and rider.
While both endurance and trail riding take place outside of an arena, there are some very important differences between the two activities. Endurance riders are focused on finishing a very long race (between 25 and 100 miles) over rough terrain. Trail riding is considered to be more about exploration and comfort than about the intense fitness required for endurance.
Do you often cross creeks, streams, and rivers while trail riding? Avoid issues with mold and fungi. Now there’s a solution– waterproof, fully synthetic saddles. The Mesace Water Warrior Saddle is designed with the trail rider in mind. This saddle is made of 100 percent waterproof Equileather and rust-free hardware. Its shock-absorbing super-cushion seat is perfect for long days in the saddle across rough terrain.
When purchasing a saddle pad for trail riding horse tack, don’t be afraid to have some fun with it. Choose bright patterns, your favorite color, whatever material you want. After all, there aren’t any judges in the woods!
Now that you have your saddle and saddle pad, you’ll need a girth to hold it all in place. The best girths for trail riding are comfortable for the horse and durable. The Fleece Ventech Cinch is anatomically shaped to allow for more freedom of movement in your horse’s shoulder and enhanced comfort. Even better, the fleece liner easily peels away for cleaning.
Last but not least, you’ll need a bridle that’s durable enough for the trail and comfortable for your horse. The halter/bridle combo offers the best of both worlds. A detachable bit allows your horse to easily and safely eat when you stop and take a break. Built on a halter base, the bit is attached to two cheek pieces which are easily clipped high up on the sides of the halter. The bit is buckled into the other end and can be slid into or out of the horse’s mouth without taking off the entire halter.
One accessory that is often overlooked by trail riders are hoof boots. While many horses perform excellently without horse shoes, some horses just aren’t able to cope with the rough terrain you might find on a trail ride. The EasyBoot Trail Horse Boot is designed to protect the soles of your horse’s feet while offering an aggressive tread for optimal traction.
Hoof boots can also protect your horse’s hooves in an emergency, like if your horse loses a shoe. In this scenario, without a hoof boot your horse would have to walk home on uneven footing and possibly with a sore hoof.
Whatever you choose for your trail riding horse tack, your goal should be a comfortable setup for both you and your horse.
If you’re looking for a basic, all-around Western horse tack setup, you’ll need a saddle that’s capable of doing more than just Western pleasure and barrel racing. Jackpot All Around Western Saddle is comfortable enough for long days riding in the sun and handy enough to work cattle and look good doing it. With full quarter horse bars and a rawhide-covered tree, this is one saddle that you’ll find useful for years to come.
Put a comfortable sweat-wicking wool saddle pad underneath to help evenly distribute the weight of the rider and the saddle, as well as prevent rubs. The Mayatex Firecracker Wool Saddle Blanket is made with natural, durable, breathable wool with a striking design that is sure to stand out in the show ring, as well as on the trail.
Put it all together with an affordable and comfortable Western cinch, like the EQ Fleece Cinch. Made from heavy-duty nylon webbing, stainless steel hardware, this cinch features a faux shearling liner for maximum comfort and low maintenance.
Finally, use a basic Western bridle like the rugged Tough-1 One Ear Headstall. Featuring premium cowhide with basket stamp detailing and tie bit ends, this headstall tapers narrow to wide over one ear. The stainless steel hardware ensures that the cheeks are fully adjustable.
If you love the thrill of going around barrels at high speeds, chasing down a cow, or performing intense gymnastic moves, Western riding competitions could be for you. Just like competing as an English rider, there are several different disciplines, each with their own regulations on tack and equipment.
Similar to traditional dressage, there are plenty of rules and regulations regarding what horse tack is allowed and what is prohibited in the Western dressage ring.
Bridles that fall into one of four main categories are allowed. This includes a Western cavesson, a Hackamore or Bosal, a Western Two Rein bridle, or a bitless bridle. Mechanical hackamores are prohibited, but bosals that are rounded in shape and constructed of a braided rawhide or leather are allowed.
There are some regulations on what types of bits can be used at what level. And, of course, any bit that may cause harm to the horse is absolutely not allowed. For example, a snaffle bit can be used at any level of competition and on a horse of any age. Mouthpieces that are solid or barrel-shaped are allowed, but any flat, sharp, slow twist, twisted, or pointed edges on the bit are explicitly prohibited.
Don’t make the mistake of signing up for a Western dressage class with an English-style dressage saddle. Instead, a standard American Western stock saddle or a working Western side saddle are required. None of the saddles can have thigh or knee rolls, but you can use a breastplate, crupper, or breeching with your saddle.
Splint boots, hock boots, and any type of boot for leg protection is not allowed. Instead, you can use polo-style leg wraps in a color that closely matches the natural color of your horse or in white.
In the world of Western riding, particularly Western show classes, bling is king. Some Western saddles are covered from horn to skirt with beautiful Western-inspired silver, like the McCoy Trail Saddle. Unfortunately these saddles can be extremely expensive. Don’t let the price of a glitzy saddle hold you back. According to the rules, stock saddles and side saddles are allowed and it explicitly states “silver equipment shall not count over a good working outfit.”
USEF doesn’t say much about bridle regulations for Western general. It does say that hackamores are permitted in any class, as long as the horse is under five years old. Standard Western bits are expected and the bars must be smooth or latex wrapped with no protrusions above or below the mouthpiece. Standard snaffle bits are also allowed but have to be used on a horse that is less than five years of age.
Not even polo-style leg wraps are permitted this time. All bandages and boots for leg protection are prohibited except in Working Cow Horse Classes.
Whether you’re dancing in an arena or racing around barrels, the right horse tack set can make or break your ride. To learn more about rules and regulations on Western horse tack, click here.
After setting your saddle on a stand or rack, get a soft tack sponge just slightly damp. Too much water will ruin the leather, so use caution. Use a small amount of saddle soap and go over the leather in circles. We recommend using Effax Leather-Combi as it will remove stubborn and dried dirt such as perspiration and dust residues, without fogging the leather. Note that you should always test any soap on a small hidden area to check for discoloration before starting.
After using a saddle cleaner, go right for the saddle conditioner. It’s best to condition your saddle while it is still damp from cleaning. Apply a light coat of conditioner all over the leather of your horse saddle. If the saddle sucks it up and there is no excess on the leather, apply another thin coat. If there is still leftover saddle conditioner sitting on the saddle after a minute or two, wipe it off with a soft cloth and call it quits.
Just like with your saddle cleaner, test out the saddle conditioner you’re using on a small hidden area to check for discoloration before covering the saddle.
With Breeches.com, you don’t have to search for a “tack store near me.” Our comprehensive website is always just a click away. We prioritize our customers' needs and are continuously updating our inventory. Whether you’re looking for competition horse tack, English horse tack, or Western horse tack, we’ve got a wide variety of products that are here waiting for you.
Comments will be approved before showing up.