Horse riding tack and equipment

Horse riding tack and equipment

The equipment worn by a horse or pony during the general course of their work with people is known as 'tack.'

Traditionally made of leather, nowadays tack made of hardwearing synthetic fabric is becoming increasingly popular for everyday usage.

As well as the saddle and bridle, there are various other pieces of equipment used for riding and controlling the horse or pony, which will be covered below.

The Bridle

The bridle is the piece of tack through which you guide and control the horse via its mouth. A British bridle consists of seven main component parts :

  • The reins are, as you probably already know, the part that connects your hands to the horses mouth in order to give you control when riding.
  • The 'bit' is what connects the reins, and you, to the horse. It is the metal (or sometimes plastic or other materials) bar placed in the horse's mouth, through with you control the horse.
  • The noseband is the strip of leather that encircles the nose. In combination with the bit, different types of noseband can be used to provide varying degrees of control over the horse.
  • The browband runs across the forehead of the horse, connecting both sides of the bridle and stopping it slipping back over the head.
  • Two cheekstraps run either side from the crown of the bridle to the bit; the cheekstraps hold the bit in place in the horse's mouth.
  • The headpiece runs over the horse's head, and is the main strap that holds the bridle together.
  • The throatlash makes sure the bridle remains securely in place if the horse should rub its head or if the bit is too low in the mouth.


Although it sounds like the name of a songbird, a martingale is an optional piece of tack fitted between the saddle and bridle, in order to control the carriage of a horse's head or to prevent the horse from throwing its head about inappropriately.

There are two types of martingales in common usage- the 'standing' martingale and the 'running' martingale.

The standing martingale is a single strap that passes from the lowest point of the girth (the strap around the horse's stomach which holds the saddle on) to the back of the noseband of the bridle. A standing martingale restricts the degree to which a horse can raise its head above usual carriage level, and is generally not used for show jumping for this reason.

The running martingale consists of a strap attaching the martingale to the girth, splitting into two sections and fastening to each rein via a small metal loop, which allows the straps to run up and down the reins with some leeway.

When the horse raises his head above a certain point, the attachment to the reins brings pressure onto the bit and encourages the horse to lower his head. A running martingale is less restrictive than a standing martingale, and more commonly used.

Running martingales are used in event riding, show jumping and other competitive disciplines over fences, due to the controllable flexibility they provide.

The Saddle

While bridles and most other tack come in three standard sizes (pony, cob and full) and are easily adjustable within reason, fitting a saddle is a much more exact science.

Measurements are taken for both the width and the length of the saddle, and the cut of the saddle has to be taken into account for the build of the horse and its intended usage. For hard to fit horses and mid to high level competition, bespoke saddles are often especially made to measure for a specific horse.

There is no one standard 'type' or style of saddle; even in common usage in the UK, there are different types of saddles for show jumping, dressage, eventing, general hacking and much more. That's before you even get into thinking about things like Western riding, side saddle and horse racing!

Common to more or less all saddles though, are the girth (the band around the horses stomach that holds the saddle in place) and the stirrups. Stirrups are made up of two parts- the stirrup leather and the stirrup iron. The leather connects the iron to the saddle, and is adjustable in order to ensure that the stirrups are the right length for the rider.

It should be easy to slide the stirrup leathers off the fitting to the saddle fairly easily- so that if the rider falls or is knocked off the horse, the stirrup will detach easily and not place the rider at risk of being dragged along behind a bolting horse.

Lead ropes, head collars and halters

Lead ropes, head collars and halters are all designed to offer control over the horse or pony from the ground, rather than while mounted.

A head collar, generally made of either leather or nylon, is like a very basically designed bit- less bridle. A lead rope or lead rein is then attached to a metal ring at the back of the noseband on the head collar, in order to lead and manoeuvre the horse from the ground.

Horses are often turned out to pasture wearing a head collar (without lead rein attached) in order to make them easier to catch and bring in from the field.

A halter is equivalent to a head collar and lead rope all in one, and made out of one piece of material (fabric, nylon or leather.) With a little skill, it is possible to make up a halter out of any suitable length of rope or cord.

The lead rope on a head collar or the loose rope end of a halter can also be used to tie up a horse or pony, either in the stable or outside.

Finally, when tethering a horse or pony for any reason, it is important to use a 'quick release knot' which can be pulled loose in one quick movement in the case of an emergency.

Also common practice is to tie the lead rope to a loop of string or fabric rather than an embedded ring or post, so that the horse will break free in the event of any incident or panic, rather than becoming trapped and injuring themselves.

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