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Equestrian Tack

From Beginner to Pro: A Guide to Understanding Equestrian Tack

When you're new to horseback riding, shopping for tack can be confusing. There are so many pieces of equipment available, with varying purposes and preferences, that it can be challenging to determine which ones you need.

In this article, we discuss different types of tack and their purposes to help get you up to speed and empower you to make an informed decision.

What Is Equestrian Tack, and What Is Tack For?

“Tack" refers to all the equipment or accessories used to handle, care for and ride a horse. Meanwhile, "equestrian tack" means equipment used specifically to support specific riding activities.

For instance, dressage saddles are made to improve balance and control, while show jumping saddles are designed to be lightweight and comfortable for the horse. Additionally, equestrian equipment is often customized according to the individual rider and their horse.

Common Types of Equestrian and Horse Tack

There are many kinds of tack used in horseback riding, and which ones you need depends on many factors. These include your riding discipline. For instance, if you are a Western rider, you will need tack that is specifically designed for Western riding. Meanwhile, if you practice the English riding discipline, you will need English tack.

Most types of tack come in both English and Western styles. The following are just a few examples of the most common kinds of tack.


A saddle is an essential piece of equipment for riders. It supports their weight and distributes it evenly across the horse's back.

Saddles come in various styles, sizes and materials, designed for different riding disciplines and horse breeds. When you purchase a saddle, you also need to factor in your shape and size, your horse's body, the type of riding you'll be doing and your padding preferences.

The following are some of the most popular types of English saddles:

  • All-Purpose/General Purpose/Eventing
  • Jumping/Close Contact
  • Dressage
  • English Showing
  • Endurance
  • Saddle Seat
  • Sidesaddle
  • Racing Saddle

Meanwhile, the following are some saddles used in Western riding disciplines:

  • Ranch
  • Trail/Pleasure
  • Flexible Tree
  • Cutting
  • Roping
  • Reining
  • Show
  • Barrel Racing
  • Show
  • Endurance
  • Pony
  • Youth


A bridle is an essential piece of tack used to control the horse's head and, in effect, the horse's direction and speed. It is composed of three main parts: 

  • Headstall: Also called the headpiece, this part of the bridle goes around the horse's head and attaches to the bit. It is used to lead and tie a horse.
  • Bit: This is the part of the bridle that goes into the horse's mouth. It is used to communicate with the horse and direct its movements. 
  • Reins: These are long, flexible straps attached to the bit. They are used to control the horse by applying pressure to the bit. 

Western bridles are similar to English ones, but they do have some differences. The most noticeable is that Western ones don't have a noseband, while English bridles do. 

Western bridles are usually made of leather and often have simple designs. They are made to be functional, lightweight and comfortable for the horse. Meanwhile, English bridles are typically made of leather or nylon and are more ornately designed. 


A bit is a piece of equipment composed of several parts. It contacts and controls the horse's mouth, controlling its movement and speed. Contrary to popular belief, the bit doesn't just refer to the mouthpiece but also to the following: 

  • Rings: The part of the bit the reins attach to. These come in several variations, such as full cheekpieces, loose rings and curb chains.  
  • Shanks: Also called side pieces or cheek pieces, these extend from the mouthpiece to the rings. 
  • Joint: This is where the mouthpiece and shanks meet. 
  • Port: This is a raised section in the middle of the mouthpiece that looks like an inverted "U." It allows room for the horse's tongue and, for this reason, is sometimes called a "tongue relief." Not all bits have this.

There are two main types of bits in equestrian tack: 

Snaffle Horse Bits

The snaffle bit is the most common type of bit. It has a straight or joined mouthpiece. It applies direct rein pressure from the rider's hand to the corners of a horse's mouth. 

The snaffle bit is gentler on the horse's mouth than the curb bit and is designed to be used with two hands. It can be used in both English and Western riding disciplines, depending on the type of mouthpiece. 

There are several kinds of snaffle bits, including: 

  • D-ring
  • Eggbutt
  • Loose ring 
  • Full cheek 
  • Half-cheek 

Curb Horse Bits 

Curb bits are leverage bits, which means they can amplify the pressure from the reins many times over, depending on the length of the shank. For instance, if you apply five pounds of pressure on the reins, the horse might feel 10 or more pounds of force. 

Additionally, while the snaffle bit only affects the corners of the horse's mouth, the snaffle bit puts pressure on the mouth, chin and poll. Depending on the type of mouthpiece used, there may also be some pressure on the roof of the mouth and tongue. 

A wide variety of curb bits are available, categorized according to Western and English riding disciplines. Western curb bits often have gentle ports, while English curb bits have shorter shanks than Western ones. 

Popular English curb bits include the following: 

  • Pelham 
  • Weymouth 
  • Kimberwick 


These long straps attach to the bit or headstall and are held by the rider. They are used to direct the horse using "rein aids." Reins can be made of various materials, such as leather, synthetic leather, nylon webbing, braided cotton, paracord and rubber. 

Similar to other kinds of tack, reins can be categorized as English or Western.

Some types of reins found in English riding are:

  • Plain reins
  • Rubber reins 
  • Rubber-lined reins
  • Laced reins
  • Web reins
  • Double reins
  • Draw reins 
  • Side reins

Meanwhile, Western rein types include the following: 

  • Split 
  • Romal
  • Roping 
  • Mecate

Cinches and Girths

Girths and cinches are pieces of equestrian tack used to secure saddles to horses by preventing them from slipping. Girths are used on English saddles such as dressage, all-purpose and jumping, while cinches are used on Western saddles. 

While they are similar in function, girths and saddles have crucial differences. 

Girths usually have two buckles, one on either side. On the other hand, cinches have a buckle on one end and a long, thin strap called a latigo on the other. 

Additionally, girths help distribute the rider's weight more evenly across the horse's back, helping prevent saddle sores. 


These are u-shaped rings or frames that hold and support the feet of the rider. They help make it easier to mount a horse. Additionally, they provide stability and comfort while riding.

Stirrups come in a wide range of materials and styles. Metal stirrups are the most common, but plastic/polymer ones are also popular due to their lightness and durability. 

English stirrups are generally shorter and narrower than Western ones. Additionally, while English stirrups are designed to provide support and stability, Western stirrups offer greater freedom of movement. 

Saddle Pads

Not to be confused with saddle blankets, saddle pads are thick pieces of fabric that are inserted underneath the saddle. Unlike blankets primarily used with Western saddles, saddle pads can be used with both English and Western saddles

Saddle pads have multiple uses. They help:

  • Keep the saddle from slipping
  • Wick sweat away and keep the horse's back cool  
  • Prevent chafing 
  • Keep the underside of the saddle clean 

Saddle pads come in various sizes and natural materials, like wool, fleece and cotton, or synthetic. Some have interiors made of foam and gel for added cushioning and shock absorption. 

However, remember that these features add thickness to the saddle pad and will change how your saddle sits on your horse. Some riders have their horses fitted for saddles while they have pads on to get around this problem.

Blankets and Sheets

Both horse blankets and sheets are coverings that protect horses from the elements. The main differences between them are the thickness of their material and the amount of insulation they have. 

Blankets are typically made of thicker material, such as wool or fleece, and are used when it's essential to keep horses warm, such as during cold weather or when they're being exercised. 

Meanwhile, sheets are made of lighter materials, like cotton and nylon, and protect from the elements without adding too much weight. They are often used in warm weather and help horses' coats clean and tangle-free. 

The following are popular types of horse blankets:

  • Turnout blankets
  • Stable blankets
  • Therapeutic blankets

Some common types of horse sheets are: 

  • Fly sheets
  • Rain sheets
  • Stable sheets

Halters and Leads

Halters are equestrian equipment meant to help restrain, lead and catch horses.

A halter comprises the following: 

  • A headpiece
  • A noseband
  • A throatlatch

Halters are typically made of nylon, leather or rope. They are used for various purposes, such as transporting, grooming and restraining horses. 

Meanwhile, leads or lead ropes are long pieces of rope typically made of nylon or leather. They are used to lead horses, hence the name, and attach to the halter via a clip.

Shop Online for High-Quality Horse and Equestrian Tack 

AJ Tack is a family-owned and -operated company offering a wide selection of equestrian and horse tack as well as stylish Western wear. Shop our collection, and place your order today!

For questions and phone orders, please feel free to get in touch. We look forward to being of service!

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