What Is A Horse Tack? (A Definitive Guide)

When referring to horse tack, you could be talking about any equipment used to ride a horse. The term ‘tack’ can also apply to gear or items used to handle and care for horses. Even driving harnesses are referred to as tack. Here’s a look at all the different types of equipment that fall under ‘horse tack.’

The term ‘horse tack’ is a puzzle to those unfamiliar with horses and horseback riding. It refers to accessories or equipment used on horses and other equines used as domesticated animals.

Different types of riding gear are often referred to as ‘tack’, including a horse’s girth, saddle, bridles, snaffle bits, halters, breastplates cinches, and martingales. Then there is other equipment like whips, long reins, lead rope, halters, and whips that are all forms of horse tack. Driving harness is also known as a tack, as are other items commonly used to care and handle horses. 

Why Is Horse Equipment Called ‘Tack?’

The word ‘tackle’ had been used since the early 1900s for several instances to mean gear or a piece of equipment – and not just for horses. In the 1920s, the term was shortened to ‘tack’ to clarify that it referred to a piece of equipment only for equestrian use. 

What Is ‘Tack-Up?’

The process of getting a horse ready for riding by equipping it with tack is referred to as ‘tack-up.’ You might hear other forms of the term used, such as ‘tacks up,’ ‘tacking up,’ and ‘tacked up.’

What Material Is Tack Made Of? 

Horse tack can be made of different types of material like rayon, neoprene, and rayon, but leather is the most common material used. Sometimes horses with sensitive or very thin skin wear girths that have been covered with sheepskin to protect the horse’s delicate skin.

What Is A Horse Tack

What Tack Does A Horse Need?

The variety of tack available in tack stores can intimidate the novice horse rider. A lot of this equipment is created to improve horse and rider performance. Not all the available equipment available in a horse tack store is needed by every rider; however, there are some essential pieces of tack that all riders require.  The necessary tack a rider requires will depend on several factors like:

  • The rider’s experience level
  • The horse’s level of training
  • The riding disciplines the rider wants to do with the horse.

The necessary tack equipment that every horse rider needs (notwithstanding discipline and horse-specific needs):

Saddle: It sits on the horse’s back, on top of the saddle pad.

Saddle pads: The soft padding that protects a horse from the saddle.

Girth: The equipment used to secure the saddle pad and saddle.

Bridle with reins: This goes on the horse’s head and is used to help the rider direct the horse in the right direction.

The Difference Between English And Western Tack

English tack includes an English saddle, saddle pad, and girth. Western riders use a Western version of the same equipment that is specially designed to meet Western riding disciplines. While in principle, both English and Western tacks are the same, Western tacks are shaped differently. 

A horse owner would either use English tack or Western tack. However, the two types cannot be mixed as they will not work together.

Check out our Western vs English riding guide to find out the key differences between each of the two riding styles.

How Do You Tack A Horse In English Riding? 

Step 1: Secure The Horse

Use cross ties or tie your horse to a hitching post to ensure it stays in place as you tack up. Some horses are not happy being tacked up and will walk away from you. Tying them up prevents this. Securing the horse also keeps you safe during the process.

Step 2: Groom The Horse

It’s best that the person tacking the horse brush it as well. Doing so makes horses comfortable with you and get used to your presence. 

Putting a saddle on a horse that has not been groomed can hurt the horse as the dirt and grit on the horse can rub underneath the saddle and cause sores. 

Also, clean the hooves and ensure none of the horseshoes are loose.

Ensure the horse’s hair sits flat against the direction of growth so that it does not get pulled or caught by the tack.

Step 3: Saddle Up

Place the saddle pad on the horse’s neck and then gently slide it back into position. Ensure the pad likes flat on its back. Smooth out any creases. Also, make sure the horse’s hair lies flat under the saddle.

Ensure the stirrups are on the straps so that they don’t hit against the horse’s sides. That will only cause your horse to spook.

Place the saddle lightly on top of the saddle pad. Again, check to make sure there are no creases or folds in the saddle pad beneath. Flatten out all creases with the palms of your hand.

Next, buckle up the girth on the right side of the horse.

Move slowly to the left side of the horse, reach underneath it, and pull the girth toward you. Gently pull the girth taut and buckle it. Slide the stirrups down slowly, without spooking the horse. The girth might loosen up a bit as the horse moves around, and you might need to tighten it further. Wait a few moments and check to ensure it is just tight enough.

If you are going to be using a martingale, now is the time to buckle that.

For a more detailed guide on how to saddle a horse we have created an easy step-by-step guide that can be read here.

Step 4: Put On The Bridle

First, untie the horse from the hitching post or the cross ties. Put the reins (from the bridle) over its neck. That gives you better control of your horse. Place your fingers firmly on either side of the bit and firmly, but gently, push the bridle bit into the horse’s mouth. Slowly slide the headpiece up and then over the horse’s ears. Buckle the throat latch loosely.

How Long Does It Take To Tack Up A Horse?

On average, it takes 20 minutes to tack a horse. That includes getting the tack out and ready, grooming the horse and cleaning its feet, spraying a fly spray if you are using one, and putting on the tack. 

The actual time a rider would take to tack up a horse would depend on factors like:

  • How dirty the horse is at the time – During the monsoons, it could take longer to get the mud off your horse. Some horses need a warm water sponge to get the caked dirt off.
  • How quick the rider is with tacking up – Some riders simply like to spend time with their horse before they tack up. That can go on for anywhere between 45 minutes to an hour – or more.
  • How far the horse is from the tack room.

What Side Do You Tack Up A Horse?

Typically, you must tack up your horse from the left side and move to the right side.


There is no simple answer to the question, “what is a horse tack?” Horse tack can be a variety of equipment, but it all comes down to specific horses and riders, and their requirements.

There is a method to follow when tacking up a horse to protect the horse and the rider. When you tack up, ensure the saddle pad and saddle sit comfortably and flat on your horse, so there is no skin or hair pulled awkwardly. That will simply cause discomfort to both the horse and you.

Finally, you don’t have to hurry through the tacking up process. Use this time to simply bond with your horse, love it, and get to know it better. 


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