To have an enjoyable ride for both rider and horse, the horse has to be saddled properly. It does not matter if you ride western or English; it has to be done properly.
It is not only for comfort but also for safety.
How To Saddle a Horse Properly
This guide applies to an English or western saddle. Two of the differences are that a Western Saddle has a deep seat for more comfort and security and a tall saddle horn. Traditionally you saddle from the near side, which is the left side but you should be able to saddle from the right, or offside, if necessary.
1. Brush Your Horse
The reason that you need to brush your horse’s girth and back area is to remove any grit or dirt that could cause chafing under the girth or saddle. You want to brush your horse so that all the hair lies flat. You may have to sponge away some of the mud or dirt. If you leave any grit, it could lead to painful irritations or galls that could make your horse misbehave
2. Position The Pad Or Blanket
- Western saddle blanket—this is generally folded in half with the fold going to the front when it is on the horse. You can also use a western saddle pad that does not require folding
- English saddle pad—this pad can be shaped to fit neatly under the saddle or it may have hook or ties with a loop fastener tabs that attach to the D-ring on the saddle. It will help keep it in place while riding. They would go on the top side, not against your horse.
Place the pad or blanket on the back of the horse, positioning it forward over the withers, sliding it back in place. You do this to make sure that the hair on your horse’s back is lying flat under the pad and saddle. Make sure that it is even on both sides. You also need to check both sides to make sure it is not wrinkled, rolled, or folded anywhere.
3. Lift The Saddle On
- English saddle—the stirrups should be run up the leathers
- Western saddle—the offside stirrup should be folded over the seat or hooked over the horn.
It is done this way so that the hard stirrup does not hit the horse or you as you lift the saddle. If the cinch or girth is attached, they should be folded back over the saddle seat. If you have an English saddle, some will take the girth off the saddle completely each time they are done with their ride.
Make sure that when you lift the saddle that it is high enough that it does not knock the blanket or pad out of position or hit the horse. You should place the saddle slightly forward and settled back. Make sure that you are putting it on the horse gently. If you let it fall heavily it could cause the horse to resent being saddled or to spook.
3. Check Both Sides Of The Saddle
With a Western saddle, move to the offside to take down the stirrup. Check the blanket or pad to make sure there are no wrinkles on either side. Make sure that the hair stays smooth and laying in the natural direction it grows. There should be about two inches of pad or blanket in front of the saddle. Make sure that the saddle pad or blanket is up and under the saddle horn to give airflow under the saddle. This will prevent pressure points on the withers of your horse.
4. Do Up The Cinch Straps Or Girth Buckles
Move to the near side, reach underneath, and pick up the free end of the cinch or girth. Either tie up the cinch or buckle the girth loosely. Tighten them gently in small increments. If you do it suddenly and too tight, the horse may bite or kick, causing the horse to resent being cinched or girthed. Some horses will bloat themselves in anticipation of discomfort. Ask the horse to step forward, wait for it to exhale, and gently tighten the girth again.
You only want to tighten the girth or cinch enough to hold the saddle firmly in place. Do not overtighten or you could cause an injury to your horse or compromise their breathing. You should be able to slide your fingers between your horse and the cinch or girth. If you have tabs at the front of your saddle pad, loop them through the D-rings at the front of your saddle and fasten or tie them.
5. Help The Saddle Settle And Remove Wrinkles
Before you take off on your ride, you need to make sure there are no wrinkles in the skin under the girth. Stand at the head facing back and pick up one front leg by holding low on the canon and stretch it forward. Do it for both legs.
- As your horse moves, the girth becomes looser so if you get off the horse, check the girth or cinch before you get back on to see if you need to tighten it.
- Always make sure that your horse is clean and dry before trying to saddle them.
- When you put the saddle gently on your horse, you are reminding them that being saddled is a comfortable, routine activity and will help to encourage them to stand quietly while being saddled.
- If it is fly season, consider spraying your horse with a fly spray first. If the horse is fighting flies you could be hit by the horse’s head or the swishing tail.
- Always snug up the front cinch or girth first and when unsaddling a horse do that cinch or girth last.
- Wither clearance should be the width of two to three fingers for normal withers.
- Make sure that the loin and shoulder areas do not carry any of the weight of the saddle and rider. The weight of the rider should be on the saddle-support area only.