How to Saddle a Horse

Three Parts:Preparing to Saddle a HorseUsing a Western SaddleUsing an English Saddle

Saddling a horse properly is essential to safe riding, but can be overwhelming and confusing at first. Even though it is always best to have an experienced horseman help you tack up the first few times, you can learn the basic steps to prepare your horse for saddling and then saddle your horse Western or English style.

Part 1
Preparing to Saddle a Horse

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    Tie your horse. Before you saddle your horse, you need to tie her so that she stays put. Check out this helpful wikiHow article to learn how to tie proper knots to keep a horse secured; cross-ties are preferred but not a must.
    • If you tie your horse with the lead rope, it's always a safe idea to use a quick-release (or “slip”) knot. Consider slipping the tail of the lead rope through the quick release knot’s loop if your horse is knowledgeable about untying knots.
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    Groom your horse. Horses can become very irritated and sore when ridden without being groomed properly; for both your safety and the horse’s you should never skip this step.
    • Brush your horse’s body. Use a curry comb to remove any caked mud and then a stiff brush to remove the dust and hair brought up by the curry comb. Finish with a soft brush. Pay special attention to the horse’s back, belly, and girth area. Dirt or burrs underneath tack can irritate your horse to the point of misbehaving and even bucking.
    • Remove tangles and burrs with a mane and tail comb. Be careful when brushing the tail; horses can and will kick.
    • Clean the horse's hooves and check for lodged stones. Be careful or you may be kicked; you should not do this alone unless you are experienced.
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    Check for any sores or wounds that may cause discomfort under the saddle area. Don't place a saddle over a wound.
    • Check the horse for lumps, bumps, swelling, sores, and heat that could mean your horse is unsound and unfit for riding.
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    Put on a saddle pad or blanket. Your horse needs this to protect its back and keep the saddle in place. Place the saddle pad or blanket on the horse’s back.
    • Put the pad a bit higher on the withers, then sliding it back into place just behind the mane. This ensures that the hair on the horse’s back lies flat beneath the pad and saddle. Make sure the blanket or pad is even on both sides.
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    Proceed to saddle the horse. At this point you will place a saddle depending on whether you ride Western or English style. This will likely be determined by your training or by what tack is available.
    • A Western style saddle is designed for utility, since it was designed for a cowboy or rancher to use on the job. It has a saddle horn and a high back, making it a more comfortable seat for long hours on horseback.[1]
    • An English style saddle is sleek and small with no saddle horn and a low back. It is best for formal riding and show riding.[2]

Part 2
Using a Western Saddle

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    Put the saddle in place. Stand on the left side of the horse, and flip the right-side cinches and stirrup over the seat of the saddle to keep them from getting caught beneath it. Then, swing the saddle over the horse. Rock the saddle back and forth into position and unfold the cinches and stirrup.
    • Don't do this if you're working a young or unknown horse; it hurts to be hit in the head by a heavy stirrup if the horse acts up.
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    Make sure the saddle is positioned properly. Line up the center line with the spine of the horse.
    • Check that the stirrups hang equally on both sides, make sure that the front of the saddle sits just behind the withers, and not on top of the shoulder blades
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    Make sure the saddle fits correctly. You should be able to slide two fingers under the gullet (the curve of the saddle just under the horn) without cramping, and have 3-4 fingers-width of space between the horse’s forearms and the cinch.
    • Don’t use a saddle if it doesn’t fit properly. An ill-fitting saddle can cause a horse to bolt or buck, and also can make a horse sore and cause bad habits.
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    Secure the front (main) cinch. This is a key step; you won’t be riding without a cinch! However, keep in mind that you should always cinch up a cinch gradually; you don’t want your horse to become cinch-sour.
    • Pull the cinch under the horse’s belly, towards you, and slip the latigo strap down through the cinch buckle. Pull it all the way through and make sure neither the cinch nor the latigo strap are twisted.
    • Lift the latigo and slip it through the saddle’s D-ring, from outside-in and leaving the ring angled towards the left. Make the cinch snug, but not overly so. Repeat the process once or twice more if you have a lot of length left in the latigo strap.
    • Straighten the secured part of the strap so each layer is on top of the one beneath it, then gradually pull down on the tail of the latigo to tighten the cinch. Don’t tighten it all the way; that’ll come later.
    • Move the tail of the latigo horizontally across the secured latigo and bringing it up through the saddle’s D-ring again, but from the right side. Now slip the tail down through the loop created and fasten the knot. This can be confusing; best to have an experienced saddler help you.
    • Walk the horse around for a minute or two. This will let the horse relax to the saddle and stop bloating (a strategy many tricky horses will use to keep you from putting the saddle on too tight).
    • Finish tightening the cinch. Do this pulling the top layer of latigo strap (not the tail) upwards. Keep the tightening a gradual process; don’t rush things.
    • Re-tighten the knot. Done!
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    Loosely secure the back (bucking) cinch. There should be two fingers-width of space between the horse’s belly and the bottom of the cinch.
    • This process is similar to that of securing the front cinch, but instead of ending the process with a knot you’ll use the buckle.
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    Lead the horse forward five steps. This ensures the skin under the cinch isn’t wrinkled, to keep the horse from being pinched while riding.
    • You can also gradually stretch each front leg forward for a few seconds; this also works to reduce tension in the horse's skin.
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    Attach the breast collar if you use one. Do this by latching it to the saddle’s cinch and front D-rings.
    • This will keep the saddle from slipping backwards and is especially helpful for on the trail
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    Mount up! With your saddle in place, you are ready to mount (from the left side, of course!).[3]

Part 3
Using an English Saddle

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    Run up the stirrup irons on the stirrup leathers. That's a fancy way to say you need to move the stirrup up higher and secure it in place so that it will not dangle down in your way; you do this by sliding the metal foot stirrup up and tucking it under the saddle.
    • This keeps the stirrups out of the way, so that they won’t hit the horse as you lift the saddle over the horse’s back
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    Detach the girth (or cinch) and set it aside. You will put it back on in a moment, but taking it off keeps it from dangling while you try to position the saddle.
    • Alternately, you can fold it over the top of the saddle, leaving it attached on the right-hand side.
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    Make sure the pad is lined up properly. If you are using a contoured pad (a common English style, which is shaped like the outline of a saddle), there should be about an inch of pad all the way around. For a square pad, be sure to leave at least one inch around the front edge of the saddle.
    • The saddle should not be so far forward that in makes the shoulder movement hard.
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    Place the saddle. Stand on the left-hand side of the horse, place the saddle on the pad on the horse's back with the pommel of the saddle just in front of the horse's withers.
    • The arch of the pommel should be directly over the highest point of the horse's withers. The saddle will nestle in behind the horse's shoulder-blades.
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    Replace the girth. Now that the saddle is in place, you need to replace the girth so that you can tighten the saddle and secure it in place. Attach the girth to the girth billets on the off side (the horse's right), then bring it up to the near side (the horse's left).
    • As a guideline, the girth should come under the horse just behind its front legs. If you can see a gap between the elbow and the girth, the saddle is too far back.
    • Fasten the girth securely. You should be able to get your hand between horse and girth, but it should be a snug fit.
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    Drop your stirrups before mounting. Now you're ready to mount!


  • Examine your horse after each riding session. Make note of any chaffing and make corrections in your tack. Make sure to let the area heal before saddling up again.
  • To put the bridle on, put your arm between the ears, and hold the top (where the ears go) in your hand. Put the bit into the horse's mouth by squeezing gently the sides of the horse's mouth. Pull the top strap behind the horses ears (but be gentle, the ears are very sensitive), and hook the neck strap (if needed).
  • When you have finished putting the saddle on, just hang the bridle and the reins on the horn.


  • Avoid sudden movements or actions that may startle the horse.
  • Have a friend hold the horse's bridle while you saddle the horse if the horse is not used to you.

Things You'll Need

  • Saddle
  • The girth - a strap running from one side of the saddle under the horse, and is tied onto a ring at the other side of the saddle
  • Saddle blankets - there are two saddle blankets; one is usually an actual blanket or towel used on the bottom, while the other is more of a pad that helps the saddle to keep from slipping off the horse
  • Bridle - usually leather straps going on the head of the horse, and usually has a bi
  • Halter - what the horse has on already, and is being used to tie to or held
  • Bit - a piece of metal on the bridle that will go in the horse's mouth; don't worry, none of this hurts the horse
  • Lead rope - a rope that is attached to the halter to make it easier to walk alongside the horse
  • Grooming supplies

Article Info

Categories: Tack (Saddles and Bridles)