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How To Saddle A Horse

Your saddling technique will go a long ways towards determining your horse's attitude about being saddled and ridden. If you want a willing partner, approach your horse with gentleness and good technique.

Following are detailed, step-by-step instructions with photos for saddling your horse in a manner that won't have him heading in the opposite direction when he sees you coming his way.

Which Side?
Traditionally, horses have been handled from the near (left) side. Today, you'll see most folks leading, saddling, and mounting their horses from the near side. Why? This tradition dates back to the earliest mounted warriors wearing long swords into battle. With the sword most often worn on the left side by right-handed riders, mounting from the left side was the only practical approach. Thousands of years later, the tradition persists. As a result, most horses today are extremely "left-sided." They may become confused or afraid when handled from the off (right) side. But, with the proper training, both horse and rider can (and should) become quite ambidextrous.

How To Saddle A Horse

1. Groom your horse. While it's best to give your horse a full grooming before every ride, at the minimum, it's essential to groom the area where the saddle will sit. Make sure there's no mud or other debris in the saddle area, and check for sores.

Photo 1

2. Check your saddle, pad and cinches. Make sure there aren't any burs, dirt, straw, or anything else on the underside of your pad, saddle and cinches that might cause an irritation or saddle sores.

3. Place the saddle pad. Gently place the saddle pad on the horse's back, forward of the withers. The pad and the saddle will be initially placed forward of the final position and will then be slid backward into place.(Step 6) This will keep the hairs lying in the right direction. [Photo 1]

Photo 2

4. Prepare your saddle. A western saddle has a number of straps that can get in the way of saddling. Prior to placing a saddle on a horse, make sure that all of the straps are secured. While some folks simply throw the straps over the seat, we recommend securing each strap as described below. Make this a routine each time you unsaddle and your rig will stay nice and tidy and you'll be all ready for the next ride.

  • Latigo – Tie off the latigo in a neat knot. We prefer using a typical cinch knot. [Photo 2]
Photo 3
  • Cinches – Hang your flank cinch buckle on the buckle tongue of your front cinch buckle as shown in Photo 3. Thread the saddle keeper under the cinch buckle and hook it on the buckle tongue as shown in Photo 4 and 5. The cinches will now hang securely and neatly.
Photo 4
Photo 5
  • Stirrups - Some folks will hook their off-side stirrup over the horn or, if it is supple and long enough, over the seat. We don't think this is necessary and can even cause trouble if the stirrup falls down during saddling. Our saddling method, as explained in Step 5, leaves the off stirrup down.

  • Breast Collar - Lay the breast collar over the seat of the saddle. Another method is to clip the snap of the near side end of the breast collar around the off-side stirrup.
    Photo 6
5. Place the saddle. There are a number of techniques for getting a saddle up on a horse. If you're tall and strong, this is less of an issue. For the shorter and weaker folks, however, saddling a western saddle, especially a heavy leather one, can be a real challenge. We're going to provide you with a technique that makes it maneageable for even the shortest and weakest among us. [Photos 6, 7, 8]
Photo 7
  • Stand next to the horse's shoulder. Hold the saddle on your right hip with your right hand on the off side of the cantle and your left hand on the near side at the base of the fork.

    Place your feet shoulder width apart with your left foot forward near the horse's front hoof and your right foot slightly behind your left foot.
Photo 8
  • Rock your body back and to the right three times, gathering a bit of momentum. As you come back on the third rock, pivot so that your belly button faces the horse and swing the saddle up over his back with your right arm over the horse's back. Think of it as giving the horse a hug. (For the truly short and weak, aim for just getting the off-side stirrup over the spine and then push the rest of the saddle over.)
    Photo 9

6. Adjust the saddle and pad. Slide both the saddle and pad backwards into place by holding on the horn and jiggling the saddle from side to side and back. It should settle into the correct spot. As a rule of thumb, the correct spot will leave a space between the horse's elbow and the front cinch of no more than three finger widths.

Once the saddle is in place, hold the horn with your right hand and lift the pad up into the gullet with your left. [Photo 9] This will prevent the pad from getting bunched and putting pressure on the withers. The saddle should be centered on the pad with the same amount showing on both sides. There should be at least an inch showing in front of the saddle.

Make sure none of the saddle strings are caught underneath the saddle.

Photo 10

7. Connect the cinches. Walk around to the off-side and gently let down your cinches. You can let down your breast collar if you have one.[Photo 10]

Walk back around to the near side and let down your latigo strap. Reach under the horse's belly with your left hand and grab the front cinch. (Using your left hand rather than your right puts you in a safer position should the horse kick or move suddenly.) [Photo 11 & 12]

You should have previously check to make sure that you have the right size cinch for your horse.

Photo 11
Photo 12

Connect the front cinch as explained in How To Tie A Western Cinch. When the front cinch is connected, you can than connect the flank cinch if you have one. Reach under the horse's belly again with your left hand and grab the flank cinch. Buckle the flank cinch so that it is snug but not tight. You should just be able to slip your hand in between the horse's belly and the cinch. Tighten the front cinch in stages as described in How To Tie A Western Cinch.

8. Connect the breast collar. From the near side, reach around to the breast collar that was let down in the earlier step. Connect the near side rig (or tug) strap to the dee ring on the front of the skirts or the front rigging rings. It should go without saying that you must connect the rig straps to the same rings on each side. Next, feed the center tie-down strap through the horse's legs and connect it to the front dee ring on the center strip of the cinch.

When you're riding with a breast collar, it's very important that the center strip of the cinch fall in the center of the horse's belly. If it's off center, the breast collar won't be as effective and the breast collar tie-down strap can rub on the inside of the horse's leg.

9. Stretch out the horse's front legs. Hold each leg (one at a time) above the knee. Raise up the leg to the front and bend the knee. This will stretch out the horse's belly and pull out any skin folds that may have gotten trapped under the cinch. This is a great practice for preventing cinch sores, also known as galls.

Now you're ready to ride!

Use this technique to saddle your horse the same way every time. Establishing a routine will ensure that you don't miss a step and it will create a positive partnership with your horse. He'll know what to expect and he'll know it will be a positive experience.

Check out the other Western Saddle How To's:



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