Tack is the equipment used for riding a horse. There are many possible variations and additions, but basic tack can be divided into the saddle and tack that goes on the horse’s head. In this post, we describe the major pieces of tack that you’re likely to come across if you come for a ride.
The Western saddle is the largest and most recognizable piece of riding equipment. It’s what you sit on when riding a horse. All of its parts have their own names, but the ones most relevant to beginner riders are the horn, the seat, the cantle, and the stirrups.
The horn is the distinctive projection at the front of a Western saddle. It was traditionally used for holding one end of a lasso, but, these days, riders mostly use it for support, including while mounting and dismounting.
The seat is the part that you sit on and is located on top of the saddle tree, which is the saddle’s frame. The cantle is the raised edge at the back of the seat, while the stirrups are the dangling loops that hold the rider’s feet.
The saddle sits on a saddle pad, which provides cushioning, absorbs the horse’s sweat, and can help improve the saddle’s fit. The saddle is held in place with a cinch, a band that runs under the horse’s belly and attaches to the latigo on the horse’s left side and the off-side billet on its right. A saddle may have a back cinch that connects to the front one with a strap.
A headstall is a set of straps that goes around the horse’s head. It can be part of either a halter, which is used for leading the horse from the ground and tying it up, or a bridle, which is used for riding.
A bridle can have different components, including a noseband, a browband or ear loops, and a curb strap, which goes under the horse’s chin. The rider uses the bridle to communicate with the horse by applying pressure on different parts of its face. In most cases, a bridle includes a bit - a piece of metal that goes inside the horse’s mouth and helps the rider give commands.
There are several types of bits, but 2 of the most common are snaffle bits and curb bits. Snaffle bits pull directly on the horse’s mouth, while curb bits use metal shanks that hang outside the horse’s mouth. Instead of using a bit, some bridles use a bosal - a thick band that presses down on the horse’s nose.
The reins are the straps used for directing a horse and attach to the bit, if one is used. A Western rider might use split reins, which have 2 separate straps; a roping rein, which consists of 1 short loop; or romal reins, which have a string attached on the end. A bosal is often combined with mecate reins, which were traditionally made of horsehair and include both a long rein and a lead rope.
Did you learn something new about Western tack? Let us know in the comments!
It’s not only humans that need to exercise regularly and do warm-ups, stretching, and cool-downs. In this post, we explain horses’ exercise requirements and different ways to help them meet their exercise needs.
Benefits of Exercise for Horses
Exercise can increase a horse’s stamina and endurance and improve its muscle tone and the functioning of its heart and lungs. It promotes mental alertness, disease resistance, bone and hoof development, and healthy blood circulation. With each step, a horse’s hoof pushes fluid up its leg.
Exercise also helps prevent common issues among horses that spend most of their time in a stall, like boredom, leg swelling, and constipation.
Horse Exercise Requirements
A horse’s exercise needs vary depending on factors like its age, breed, housing situation, health, and fitness level, as well as the climate. A racehorse will require more-intense workouts than a senior horse, for example.
Horses that are free to move around in a pasture should receive an additional 15 to 20 minutes of exercise daily. Stabled horses benefit from at least 30 minutes of exercise per day. Super-fit horses need about 2 hours of exercise daily.
Horses with a low fitness level benefit from a gradual increase in exercise quantity and intensity. Regardless of the horse, consistency is key. Irregular exercise can lead to issues like muscle damage or incorrect feeding.
Warm-Up, Stretching, and Cool-Down for Horses
Just like you wouldn’t start running a marathon without warming up first, horses require a warm-up before exercising. Warm-up activities decrease the risk of injury, help the horse’s limbs move more freely, and increase the oxygen going to its muscles. Options include walking or trotting the horse at an easy pace for 10 to 15 minutes or lunging it (having it move in a circle at the end of a lunge line).
Stretching a horse increases its flexibility, improves its circulation, and helps relieve pain and inflammation. Stretch a horse’s legs by picking them up one at a time and gently extending them in each direction. Other possible exercises are having the horse turn in circles or stretch its neck forward and down.
For the cool-down, keep the horse moving at a relaxed pace for 10 to 15 minutes to allow its body temperature and heart rate to return to normal. Depending on the weather, the cool-down could include spraying or sponging the horse with cool water, drying it off with a towel, or applying a horse blanket. The animal can take little sips of water but should not eat until its body temperature has returned to normal to reduce the risk of colic.
Types of Exercise for Horses
Riding - whether at a walk, jog, lope, or gallop - is a classic way for both the horse and the rider to get exercise. Variations include riding the horse over ground poles, taking it over jumps, riding it up and down a hill, and ponying another horse behind it. Other ways to exercise a horse are putting it on a treadmill, taking it for a swim, having it do lunging or driving (pulling a cart), and taking it for a walk on a lead rope.
Being out in a pasture is its own form of exercise since groups of horses move around as they graze. Encourage physical activity by giving horse toys like giant balls or putting the hay and water at opposite ends of the field.
What would be your favourite way to exercise a horse? Let us know in the comments!
There are several horses from ancient and recent history whose names come up again and again. In this post, we share the stories of 6 famous horses so you can know who people are talking about when they say names like Secretariat and Seabiscuit!
This tall, black horse was the beloved steed of Alexander the Great. Born in approximately 355 BCE, Bucephalus was presented as a gift to Alexander’s father, Philip II of Macedon. Philip wanted to send the horse away due to its wild behaviour, but the 12-year-old Alexander managed to tame the animal.
Alexander rode Bucephalus in many battles and promised destruction when Bucephalus was kidnapped (the kidnappers returned the horse). After Bucephalus died in 326 BCE, Alexander founded a city called Bucephala in his memory.
The Godolphin Arabian is considered one of the 3 founding sires of the modern Thoroughbred. He was born in approximately 1724, likely in Tunisia, and was given as a gift to the King of France. This small, bay-coloured Arabian horse was imported to England in 1729.
His name refers to one of his owners, the Earl of Godolphin. This horse was the father of approximately 90 foals, several of whom went on to racing success. The Godolphin Arabian died in 1753.
Man o’ War
This chestnut Thoroughbred, nicknamed Big Red, was born in 1917 in Kentucky. He won 20 out of 21 races in his 2-year racing career, only coming in second place in 1919 to a horse named Upset. By his fourth race, he was carrying 130 pounds (59 kg) as a handicap.
After retiring from racing, Man o’ War moved to a stud farm, where he received hundreds of thousands of visitors. He sired 379 foals and died of a heart attack in 1947.
This small, scrawny horse with his knees turned inward was an unlikely champion. Indeed, Seabiscuit proved difficult to train and did not win any races until his eighteenth attempt. With the switch to a new trainer, Tom Smith, Seabiscuit’s luck started to turn.
This bay horse was born in 1933, and his eventual success provided hope during the Great Depression. His main rider was Red Pollard, a Canadian jockey who was blind in one eye. After an 89-race career, Seabiscuit retired to a ranch in California, where he received over 50,000 visitors and died in 1947.
This small, stocky, dark bay horse was born in 1961 in Ontario. He was the first Canadian-born and -bred horse to win the Kentucky Derby. Northern Dancer won 14 out of 18 races but is most famous for the success of his offspring.
This spectacular stallion moved to a stud farm in Maryland, siring, among others, 147 horses that won stakes races. The fee for a mare to breed with Northern Dancer rose all the way to $500,000. He died in 1990 of colic, and his body was transported back to his home farm in Ontario.
This cocky chestnut horse, nicknamed Big Red just like Man o’ War, was born in Virginia in 1970. In 1973, he was the first horse in 25 years to win the American Triple Crown, which means that he won the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes.
Secretariat won the Belmont Stakes by an astounding 31 horse lengths. He went on to have over 600 offspring and was put down in 1989. After Secretariat’s death, his heart was estimated to weigh a hefty 21 to 22 pounds (9.5 to 10 kg).
Do you know any other famous horses? Let us know in the comments!
- Time is the determining factor in barrel racing.
- If you knock over a barrel, add 5 seconds to your time.
Barrel racing is a rodeo event in which a horse and rider attempt to complete a cloverleaf pattern around preset barrels in the fastest time.
There are 2 penalties in barrel racing: knocking over a barrel and breaking the pattern. If a horse knocks over a barrel, it adds 5 seconds to the time. However, if you’re skilled enough to catch the barrel to prevent it from hitting the ground, you’re in the clear! A broken pattern disqualifies the run completely.
Barrel racing is racing your horse around 3 barrels as fast as you can. The barrels are set up in a triangle pattern in an arena – the first and second barrels are 60 feet from the starting point and the third barrel is 105 feet from the starting point. However, this even calls for much more control of your horse than you think as both horse and rider must work together to have a fast run.
Barrel racing takes a lot of time, discipline, and control. Once you begin training correctly, you will notice that it’s not just about running around barrels. A good rule of thumb for a beginner barrel racer is to perfect the pattern first and the speed will follow. The best way to learn to barrel race is with an instructor, whether it be a seasoned barrel racer or an actual instructor. However, it’s not impossible to teach yourself.
A pocket is a buffer between the horse and the barrel, about 3 to 5 feet in distance. Every barrel horse must learn how to respect and learn the pockets of the barrel as this is what teaches them to give themselves some space when turning the barrel, so they don’t knock it over.
The rate is about 10 feet from the barrel. In the beginning, stop your horse at the point so they know when to slow down and start setting up for the pocket and turning the barrel.
The best way to mark these important points out in the pattern is with soccer cones. However, just like in jumping, you should be looking past your jump and not at it. In barrel racing, you need to train yourself not to look at the barrel in front of you. Instead, look past it then as soon as you round the barrel look past your next barrel.
Start at a walk as you start training. Ensure that you have control of your horse and that you’re stopping at each point. Make sure you are leaning the pockets – going into the barrel a little wide and coming closer as you start for the next barrel. As you start teaching your horse to know where to slow down and set up for the following barrel, train yourself as well; know where to look, where to place your hands, and where to add more leg.
Sound like fun? Let us know in the comments!
If you’re a beginner rider, you may be wondering what to wear for a riding lesson or trail ride. Appropriate attire varies depending on the riding discipline and weather. In this post, we outline what to wear from head to toe while horseback riding.
To protect your brain, wear a helmet designed specifically for horseback riding every time you get in the saddle (we provide them at Shelby Ranch). The helmet should fit well and be certified by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) and Safety Equipment Institute (SEI).
Torso and Arms
The type of shirt that you wear while riding does not matter hugely - a t-shirt or long-sleeved shirt is fine. Your clothing should not be too loose, to avoid getting it caught in the saddle, but also should not restrict your movement. Avoid wearing a tank top since they do not protect your arms from the sun or branches.
When going on a trail ride, in particular, wear layers to let you adapt to the weather conditions. You could wear a sweater, vest, jacket, raincoat, or scarf or some combination. In the summer, try a cooling neck wrap.
Riding gloves prevent the reins from rubbing your hands or slipping. Try crochet-backed gloves in the summer and lined gloves in the winter.
Some riders choose to wear a padded safety vest that protects their chest, organs, ribs, and spine in case of a fall. If you’re riding at night, wear reflective, light-coloured clothing, such as a vest.
Those doing English riding tend to wear fitted breeches or jodhpurs, or the more-comfortable riding tights. Riding pants do not have a seam along the inside leg. They often have patches of textured material on the inside of the knees and sometimes around the seat to achieve better grip.
Western riders often wear jeans. Ordinary jeans are fine if you’re only riding occasionally, or there are special riding jeans available with flat inside seams. Western riders sometimes also wear chaps, which are protective leather coverings that go on top of pants.
Whatever pants you choose, they should be fairly tight-fitting to avoid getting fabric caught in the saddle. Shorts, capris, and cropped pants are not recommended since the saddle and stirrups rub against any bare skin.
Boots with a 1-inch (2.54 cm) heel are the safest footwear for horseback riding to keep your feet from slipping out of the stirrup. Hiking boots or rain boots with a proper heel can work, although rain boots are not ideal. They’re not as durable as riding boots, tend to be loose at the top, and do not have the best grip.
English riders tend to wear either paddock boots, which are ankle height, or dress boots, which are knee height. They may slip half chaps on top of paddock boots to protect the lower legs from rubbing. Western riders wear various boot styles but often select cowboy boots.
In any case, the boots or shoes that you wear for riding should be sturdy and closed-toed to protect your feet from horse hooves. That means no sandals or flip-flops.
What would your dream riding outfit be? Let us know in the comments!
Have you ever watched people riding and wondered how they get the horse to do what they want? Or maybe you’ve ridden a few times but want to deepen your understanding about this topic. In this post, we explain the major riding commands and how they’re used to make a horse start moving, change speeds, switch direction, and stop.
Riders use a combination of different cues to signal to the horse what they’d like it to do. They use their hands, legs, seat or weight, and voice. Horses pick up on the slightest movement, so it’s important to be intentional with cues.
Most riding commands are based on the idea of pressure and release. The rider applies pressure, such as a squeeze with the leg, then releases that pressure when the horse performs the desired action. Start with the lightest pressure possible, then only increase the pressure if necessary.
Getting a Horse to Start Moving
Apply light pressure to the horse’s mouth with the reins to get its attention. Squeeze gently with your calves. If the horse does not start moving, you may need to squeeze more sharply. You also want to shift your weight slightly forward.
Riders often make a clicking sound or say a short word like “Walk” or “Go.” Use a quiet but firm voice when addressing a horse. Once the horse has started walking, release the leg pressure and some of the pressure on the horse’s mouth.
To make a horse move more quickly, squeeze with your calves with slightly more pressure than for getting the horse to start walking. Sit taller in the saddle to lighten the weight on the horse. Move your hips back and forth, following the horse’s rhythm or even moving faster than the horse to encourage it to speed up.
To get a horse to slow down, tighten your stomach muscles, which creates resistance. Maintain leg contact, but do not squeeze the horse. Consider using a voice command like “Whoa” or “Easy.”
When horseback riding, you might use direct reins or neck reins. When making a left turn using direct reins, you would pull with your left hand. When making the same turn with neck reins, you would pull the reins across the horse’s neck toward the left.
If you want a horse to turn, there are also other possible cues. Look where you want to go, turning your head, shoulders, and hips in that direction. Shift your weight slightly in the desired direction so that the horse moves to correct its centre of gravity.
Squeeze just behind the horse’s girth with your outside leg (if you’re turning left, the outside leg is the right leg). With your inside leg (in this case, the left leg), apply pressure directly to the horse’s girth. Once the horse has turned, return to your normal riding position.
To get a horse to back up, shift your weight backward. Try saying “Back.” If the horse is stopped, you can also pull on the reins.
To warn a horse that you’ll want to stop soon, tighten your stomach muscles, lean back in the saddle, and sink your weight into your seat bones. When you’re ready to halt, pull back on the reins. If necessary, use a voice command like “Whoa.”
Do you feel ready to ride a horse? Let us know in the comments!
In a previous post, we explained the differences between Western and English riding. Both types of riding have their own disciplines, or activities, commonly associated with them. In this post, we give you a crash course in several of those disciplines so that you’ll know what people are talking about if you ever hear them mention cutting or hunt seat.
Barrel Racing - The horse must turn around 3 barrels at high speed without knocking them over. The fastest horse and rider win!
Cowboy Mounted Shooting - This relatively recent sport involves riding a horse while shooting blank guns at balloons in a set pattern. Participants are judged based on their speed and accuracy.
Cutting - The horse and rider enter a herd of cattle and separate one animal from the group. They must prevent it from rejoining the herd for a certain amount of time.
Reining - The horse moves in various patterns, including circles and slides. It’s judged based on its obedience and accuracy.
Rodeo - This event combines several typical cowboy activities, including roping and barrel racing. Participants also try to remain seated on a bronco - an untrained horse - or bull, for 8 seconds.
Roping - In this speed contest, the rider throws a lasso at a steer, or young neutered male cattle. The rope is attached to the horse’s saddle horn. The rider then dismounts and ropes the steer’s legs.
Dressage - In this competition, the horse must move in set patterns and movements, such as circles. The horse is judged based on its accuracy, obedience, and presence. In a variation known as quadrille, 2 or more pairs of horses move to music.
Eventing - This competition with military roots combines dressage, cross-country jumping, and standard jumping.
Hunt Seat - A person riding hunt seat sits farther forward in the saddle, both for jumping (hunter over fences) and on-the-ground riding (hunter under saddle). The horse is evaluated on its style. Due to the discipline’s origins in fox hunting, the jumps are often painted natural colours with plants around their base to mimic a natural hunting setting.
The opposite of hunt seat is saddle seat, in which the rider sits far back in the saddle, and the horse moves with a high-stepping gait.
Jumper - This discipline tests horses purely on their ability to negotiate jumps cleanly - the judges do not take the horse’s style into account.
Mounted Games - The pony and rider participate in a variety of tests of their speed and accuracy, such as picking up objects. The event takes place at a gallop and involves getting on and off the pony repeatedly. If the rider makes a mistake, they must stop and correct it.
Polo - This sport played on a grassy field involves 2 teams of 4 riders. They use mallets to knock a wooden ball between goal posts.
Who knew there were so many activities you can do on horseback! Do any of them sound like fun? Let us know in the comments!
At Shelby Ranch, we offer Western riding lessons and trail rides, but what does that mean, and how does this type of riding differ from English style? The divergence stems from Western riding’s origins in cattle ranching. In this post, we’ll outline the major differences between Western and English riding.
Tack and Clothing
One of the most obvious differences if you look at a person riding Western versus English is the gear that they use. The larger, heavier Western saddle distributes the rider’s weight over a greater area for safety and comfort even during a long ride. A Western saddle also has a horn traditionally used for attaching cattle.
A Western saddle tends to contain strings for attaching equipment. The stirrups - the rings where a rider rests her feet - also tend to be larger to make it easier to mount and dismount.
By contrast, an English saddle is smaller and lighter, allowing for closer contact with the horse’s back and more freedom of movement for the horse. Both Western and English saddles come in a range of designs to suit different sports and disciplines.
Western riders often wear a more casual get-up, such as a cowboy hat, a long-sleeved shirt, jeans, and Western-style boots. An English rider, meanwhile, may wear a hunt cap or helmet, a dark-coloured fitted jacket, pale breeches, and tall boots with a low heel.
Horses and Riding Style
Although most horses can perform either Western or English riding, some animals are more suited for one style over the other. The horses used for Western riding tend to be compact and able to travel at a steady pace over long distances, with the occasional burst of speed. Horses for English riding are often taller and able to move at various speeds.
Western riders hold both reins in one hand, leaving the other hand free for lassoing and other actions. An English rider, meanwhile, holds one rein in each hand.
In general, Western horses move more smoothly and consistently, while English horses are expected to have more variety in their gaits. Western horses often move at a jog, which is a smooth gait slightly faster than walking. During bouncier English trotting, the rider often posts, or rises up and down to match the rhythm of the horse.
When it comes to cantering, Western horses often stick to the lope, which is a slower canter. English horses, however, often need to perform various speeds of canter.
Western and English riding also have different disciplines associated with them, such as barrel racing and roping for Western and dressage and jumping for English. They’re too numerous to explore in detail now, but keep an eye out for a future post!
Is the distinction between Western and English riding clearer for you now? Let us know in the comments!
You might associate horses most with riding, but humans have used them for a wide variety of activities over the past several thousand years. Horses have been used in war and agriculture, for the transportation of people and goods, and even as a source of meat and milk. In this post, we’ll walk you through some of the most important developments in humans’ relationship with horses.
The history of the horse begins long before their domestication. In North America, over 50 million years ago, there lived a funny little creature called Hyracotherium or Eohippus. This leaf-eating horse ancestor was about the size of a small dog.
Eohippus’s several toes worked fine when it was living in swamps or the tropical rainforest, but, as North America dried out, a change was necessary. The toes transitioned into 1 toe then into a hoof. Horses’ ancestors also gradually became larger and developed more powerful legs that enabled them to run through the prairies.
During this period, some of these early horses were crossing the Bering Land Bridge to Asia and onward to Europe. For reasons that are not entirely clear, all horse ancestors disappeared from the Americas 10,000 years ago.
The Domestication of the Horse
Humans’ first interactions with horses probably involved raising them for meat and milk. It’s difficult to determine an exact timeline for horses’ domestication, but experts locate it between 4000 and 3000 BCE in the steppes north of the Black Sea. Humans likely used horses to pull plows and chariots before they tried to mount them.
Fossils of horse teeth dating back to about 3000 BCE reveal that humans had started using riding bits. The earliest available records of horse training are from about 1350 BCE by a member of the Mitanni people, who lived around ancient Mesopotamia. What’s certain is that, by the final centuries before the Common Era, horseback riding had become well established.
The Chinese developed the first good harness around 200 BCE. They also dreamt up the stirrup not long afterward. The stirrup meant that warriors had their hands free to use weapons like spears and bows and arrows.
The Return of the Horse to North America
Spanish settlers brought horses to New Mexico in the late 17th century. Indigenous groups living on the plains could use horses to hunt buffalo and to travel much farther and faster than they had previously. These beautiful animals quickly became status symbols and an important component of Indigenous trading.
During the 1680 Santa Fe Rebellion, hundreds of horses were captured or escaped. They would go on to form a mustang population of several million animals roaming around the Great Plains.
Today, in many parts of the world, people use horses more for leisure than for work. It’s interesting to think, however, about all of the essential roles that they have held over the years.
Did you learn something new about the history of riding? Let us know in the comments!
Hello, My name is Shelby Gatti, and I am the owner of Shelby Ranch. I love being able to share my passion for animals with you and your family. At Shelby Ranch you can expect a ton of family adventure from horseback riding to mechanical bull riding & axe throwing.