If you are new to horseback riding and want to learn how to saddle a horse, you may find that Western tack is more comfortable. In addition, they make you feel more secure in the saddle. Western saddles are larger and more complicated than their English counterparts, but they also provide additional security that many beginning riders appreciated.
The most obvious difference between the Western and English saddle is that the Western saddle has a horn. And while that horn is not there to hold you in place, simply knowing that it is there can give you added confidence, especially during those first couple of rides.
One drawback of Western saddles is their relative complexity, however. Some new riders are baffled by the cinch and how it works, and it can take a few attempts to get it right. If you are a beginning rider, it is a good idea to ask a more experienced horseperson to check the cinch before you head off. But once you tack up your horse a few times, it should become second nature. Here is a basic primer on how to saddle a horse using a western saddle, so you can ride away with confidence.
Stirrup length is very important to riding safety, and it is important to adjust the stirrups properly before you ride. If you have your own Western saddle, you should only have to adjust the stirrups once, but if you share a saddle you will want to check the length before every ride.
The easiest way to check the stirrup length is while mounted. Let your feet hang down without putting them in the stirrups; if they are adjusted properly they should come approximately to your ankle. When you put your feet in the stirrups, your knee should be barely bent. A sharply bent knee means your stirrups are too short. If you have to reach for the stirrups, they are too long and should be shortened.
You can check the length of the stirrups from the ground by holding the stirrup and bringing it to your armpit. This is only an approximation, however, as everyone's arms are different. You may still need to adjust the stirrups before you are ready to ride.
Tightening the Cinch
No one is born knowing how to saddle a Western horse; this is a skill that must be learned. At first glance, that cinch strap and girth can seem intimidating, but after a few rides working with it will become much easier and more intuitive.
Western saddles are secured with a cinch strap, typically a long piece of leather (or sometimes nylon) and a girth made of sheepskin, neoprene or a similar material. The cinch strap hangs down from a ring on the left side of the Western saddle, while the girth is secured on the other side.
To secure the Western saddle, reach under the horse and grab the girth, making sure that it is straight and not twisted. Then run the end of the cinch strap through the girth, bringing it down through the ring on your side of the saddle. Once that is done, run the cinch back through the ring on the girth, then through the ring on your side once again. To secure the saddle and tighten the cinch, pull the end of the strap through the left hand side of the ring, then the right side and finally over the top to make a loose knot.
To tighten and secure the cinch, pull on the leather strap nearest you, then the end of the knot. Continue to do this until the cinch is secure. When you are done, you should be able to insert two or three fingers between the leather cinch strap and your horse's side.
Once you know how to saddle a horse using a western saddle, you can hit the trails with confidence. As you learn to ride more confidently, you may even want to compete in local horse shows or enroll in group lessons with your horse-loving friends.
Why You Need to Recheck
Tightening the cinch is important, but rechecking its tightness is even more critical to a safe and uneventful ride. Some horses anticipate the tacking up process, including the tightening of the cinch, by drawing excess air into their lungs. This results in a bloated abdomen, and when the horse exhales, a suddenly loose cinch.
To make sure you are ready to ride, tighten the cinch so it is secure for you and comfortable for your equine partner, then mount up and ride for a few minutes. Then reach down to check the tightness of the cinch; if it has loosened significantly, you will want to dismount and secure it again.
Riding Western is a lot of fun, especially if you still harbor dreams of being a cowboy. But before you can chase those calves or head down the trails, you need to make sure your Western saddle is secure. And now that you know how to tack up a Western horse, you will be able to ride with confidence.