How to Tighten Your Horse's Western Girth

Three Methods:Preparing to Cinch the GirthAttaching and Cinching the GirthTightening During a Ride

In Western-style riding, the "cinch" is the leather belt that must be tightened below the horse's chest to keep the saddle securely in place. The cinch in Western-style riding is comparable to the English-style "girth," and it is what keeps the saddle snugly in place for a safe ride. Tying the cinch on your horse's saddle correctly is vital to safe riding, but if you are new to riding or transitioning from English- to Western-style riding, learning to tie the cinch can be confusing and complicated. Western riding is easy and fun once you learn the tricks of tacking your horse.

Method 1
Preparing to Cinch the Girth

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    Put a saddle blanket or pad on your horse's back. The saddle blanket protects the horse's body from friction from the leather saddle, and is vital for a safe ride. It also keeps the saddle clean from the horse's body which will sweat and froth with the exertion of a ride.[1] If you don’t have a blanket, you need one to properly tack your horse.
    • You can get a saddle blanket at any farming supply or agriculture store. You can choose a traditional woven blanket which is folded in half for use, or you can buy a felt or cotton pad which is less likely to bunch under the saddle or catch burrs if you ride in a field.[2]
    • Be sure you brush the horse and ensure there are no burrs in its coat or any injuries to its skin.[3]
    • Position the blanket slightly over the horse's withers (the ridge between its shoulder blades). First put the blanket down a bit too far toward the neck, then pull it back toward the horse's tail until it's in the correct position. This method smooths the hair under the blanket so that it lies flat and doesn't itch or bother the animal.
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    Position the saddle on the blanket. This process might seem cumbersome and can take some practice before it becomes easy, especially if you're used to the English saddle which has less straps and other things dangling down.
    • Stand next to the horse's left shoulder and keep your feet shoulder-width apart. Hook the right stirrup up over the saddle horn so that it won't get caught under the saddle as you lift it, then swing the saddle up and over the horse's back so that your right arm is across the horse's back.[4] Be sure to practice good lifting techniques to avoid injury to your back or leg muscles; saddles can weigh from 10-35 pounds and swinging it without proper posture could injure your muscles or joints.
    • As you put the saddle over the blanket, be sure that you grab the stirrups (the leather loops for the rider's feet), cinches, and straps (any leather hanging down) and hold them out of the way so that they don't get stuck under the saddle.[5]
    • The process of getting the saddle and blanket in the right place might cause them both to slide too far back; in that case, start over with the blanket first.
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    Position the stirrup, cinches, and straps on the left side of the horse. This is the side you have been standing on to put the blanket and saddle on.
    • You can keep the left stirrup up over the saddle horn (the knob on top of the saddle for the rider to hold) for better access, but bring the tie down to the horse's side.

Method 2
Attaching and Cinching the Girth

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    Attach the girth. Most saddles have a removable leather strap called a girth or latigo that attaches with buckles to the tie on the horse's right side (some have a girth attached to the tie, in which case you can skip this step).[6]
    • Buckle the girth securely to the tie that hangs down by the horse's front leg on the right side of the horse.
    • Walk in front of the horse back to its left side, and then reach under the horse's body and pass the girth underneath the horse's chest.
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    Cinch the ties. The girth should be pulled up to the buckle on the left side of the horse's saddle, where it should be fastened much like the other side using a buckle.
    • Cinch it tightly but gently (don't force it to go tighter than feels snug and secure). You should wait until the horse exhales to cinch it, because if you tighten it while the horse has its lungs full of air it will be too loose when the horse exhales to be safe.[7]
    • Some horses intentionally take a deep breath right before you tighten the girth. When they do that they get bigger around, so when they breathe out the girth is too loose - just the way they like it! This is called bloating, and some horses do it because a girth doesn't fit them or their skin is being pinched under the girth. If your horse does this, you might want to check that the girth itself is long enough for your horse and not causing irritation or pain.[8]
    • You can secure the additional length of the tie by passing it through the D-ring at the top of the tie, wrapping it around the tie and pulling it through at the top (like a men's necktie). This will keep it up and out of the way of the horse's legs even if the horse runs.
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    Put the finishing touches on. Before you mount up, be sure you didn't forget anything.
    • Be sure the stirrups are down on either side.
    • Double-check that everything is tight because if it's loose and you get on you'll slide right off!
    • Be sure that the bridle is on correctly.
    • Now mount up and ride! Don’t forget to mount from the left side.[9]

Method 3
Tightening During a Ride

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    Watch out for a shifting saddle. If you feel that you are having to lean to one side to keep your balance or keep upright, it's probably because the saddle was either placed on incorrectly or has shifted because it is loose. You can know for sure by looking at the pommel (the horn that you hold with one hand while riding). If the horn (or pommel, the knob that sticks up on the saddle for the rider to hold) is not in perfect alignment with the horse's mane, the saddle has shifted off-center.[10]
    • The saddle may have shifted because it was too loose, or it may have shifted because you are putting too much weight on one stirrup and not evenly distributing your weight (this happens all the time, especially to new riders, and especially if you're riding the horse in circles). You can try to shift the saddle back by putting your weight on the opposite side stirrup, but if the saddle moves too easily it is probably too loose.[11] Dismount and adjust it.
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    Notice if your saddle seems to bounce up and down. While you might do a lot of bouncing out of the saddle if your horse is trotting or cantering, the saddle itself should never leave the horse's back. If it's moving up and down as the horse moves, it will injure the horse's back.[12]
    • If the saddle itself seems to leave the horse's body as you trot, you must immediately dismount and tighten the girth.
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    Dismount and inspect the cinch. If you're not sure if the saddle is on properly, don't keep riding, even if you're worried that others will think you don't know what you're doing. Every rider has to adjust the saddle sometimes, and no one will think less of you for putting your horse's comfort and your own safety first.
    • If someone is with you, they can inspect the cinch for you. This is more reliable than doing it yourself since your weight in the saddle will cause more "give" to the girth and make it looser. Have the person check to see if they can pull the girth itself an inch or more away from the horse's body while you are in the saddle. If they can, it's too loose.[13]
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    Tighten the cinch before mounting. You most likely will not have to repeat all the steps again, but you will need to loosen the tie and unbuckle the girth from the horse's left side to re-tighten.
    • Make a note of what position the buckle is in before you remove it, and then ensure that you tighten it to the next notch (or two, if the saddle was very loose) as you re-cinch it.


  • Make sure you double-check to make sure the girth is tight enough! Even if you follow these steps, it takes some practice to get it right.

Things You'll Need

  • Saddle Blanket
  • Saddle
  • Girth & Tie
  • Horse

Article Info

Categories: Tack (Saddles and Bridles)