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Chapter 20 Equitation.

Equitation is horsemanship, or the art of riding and managing horses. In a sense this whole book is about equitation. This chapter, however, is limited to some necessary skills and information for riding horses in two common ways--English and Western. Methods of mounting, sitting in the saddle, and dismounting differ slightly but are still basically the same. A rider who gains proficiency in English riding can easily master Western riding, and vice versa. Selecting the proper saddle, safety, hauling, haltering, and tying are other important components of general equitation.

While this chapter ignores many of the other areas of equitation such as harness, gaited horses, showing horses, hunters, and so on, there are numerous books and videos available on these areas of equitation.


After completing this chapter, you should be able to:

* Name three styles of saddles and describe their uses

* Indicate the four criteria for selecting a saddle

* Describe the anatomical points on a horse that must be checked when considering a saddle

* Discuss the results of a poorly fitted saddle

* Discuss the effect the rider's being forward or sitting back in the saddle has on the performance of the horse

* Describe the process of saddling and bridling a horse

* Identify guidelines for proper dress around horses, especially for Western riding

* List the steps for proper mounting of a horse

* Give the rules of safe riding

* Describe how to load and haul a horse and how to check the safety of a trailer

* Name three types of halter material

* Describe the process of haltering and adjusting a halter

* Indicate three safe ways of tying a horse


breast collar



curb chain



quick-release knot



trailer sour



A saddle is one of the first pieces of equipment most people buy after they acquire a horse. It is a major investment; selection and purchase require deliberation and knowledge. The life span of most saddles is several times that of a horse. The selected saddle should fit the needs of the rider and the type of horse. Personal preference should be supplemented with knowledge of the advantages and disadvantages of the many different styles and types of saddles.

Styles of Saddles

The style of riding determines the type of saddle. But a great deal of variation among the saddles within one riding style still exists. Tradition, experience, and exposure to other riders must then be considered. It is also crucial to a rider's success and a horse's physical condition and performance to fit a saddle to both horse and rider. Table 20-1 summarizes the styles of saddles based on the type of riding.

Western or stock saddles tend to be large and heavy. They are nearly impossible for youngsters to handle. However, they offer a great deal of security for a beginner. The thickness of the saddle and the amount of leather under the leg, knee, and seat isolate the horse from the rider, which can limit communication. Western saddles are probably more versatile, rugged, and durable than other styles. They are available in a wide range of designs and prices. Western saddles can also be purchased in child size. It is important, however, to check the fit on a horse.

Hunt-jump saddles are usually rather light and easily handled. A wide variety of designs and prices are available. In most cases, this type of saddle allows the rider to sit closer to the horse, to feel the horse, and to communicate more readily with seat and legs. As a rule, these saddles require more training of the rider in developing a sure seat than stock saddles do. But this usually leads to much better equitation form (Figure 20-1). Saddles used to ride and exhibit gaited or park horses, such as the Lane Fox saddle, are rather limited in use. They retain many of the advantages of the hunt-jump saddles. They are lightweight and allow ease of communication. This style of saddle provides minimum security for the rider. As with any style of saddle, proper equitation requires proper training.

Dressage saddles were originally designed for accommodating women's ankle-length skirts. Now they are designed to give the rider maximum ease of communication with the horse and help the rider maintain perfect balance and form, whether the horse is highly collected or mildly extended.


Many saddles are designed for very specific purposes. These include side-saddles, trick saddles, and special show or display saddles. Using these saddles for anything other than their intended purpose should be discouraged. Safety, comfort of the rider, and ability to maintain soundness of the horse must be considered before beauty or the desire for a unique design.

The selection of a saddle must meet these four basic criteria:

1. It must fit the horse. 2. It should not interfere with the performance or the ability of the horse to perform. 3. It must fit the job or the activities desired. 4. It should fit the rider physically.

Fitting a Saddle to a Horse

Not every saddle fits every horse, just as one size or shape of boot does not fit every person. Some points of the horse's anatomy that must be checked when considering a saddle include:

* Size and shape of the withers

* Length of back

* Slope of shoulder

* Spring of rib

* Muscling, especially of the shoulder

To some extent, the rider needs to consider the overall size of the horse, especially with smaller horses and ponies.

Most saddle fitting problems occur at the withers. Ample clearance at the withers is needed to prevent injury, yet not to leave so much space that security is lost. Pressures should not be concentrated on small areas of the back and withers. In a stock saddle with rider mounted, there should be about 2 inches of clearance between the withers and the gullet (underneath front) of the saddle. Insufficient clearance, even with a heavy saddle blanket, means the fork of the saddle is too wide, or the withers of the horse are too high and narrow, or both. Adding a heavy pad or a second or third blanket may help. A narrower saddle is a better solution.

Injury to the withers is usually the result of a poorly fitted saddle. In addition to being painful to the horse, it frequently results in bad habits such as bucking and head slinging, and it may cause the horse to resist saddling. Ill-fitting saddles are sometimes a result of the rider's inconsideration, but more often they result from a lack of knowledge and attention to the welfare of the horse.

Horses with flat, "mutton" withers often wear saddles that are too narrow. This causes the saddle to sit much too high in front. Additional blankets will help prevent a sore back, but little else can be done to alleviate the problem. To avoid the pain and fatigue that result from this situation, the saddle or the horse needs to be changed. No roping should ever be attempted using an excessively narrow saddle on such a horse.

To fit your horse properly, measure the width of the withers. Width taken at a point 2 inches below the top of the withers should correspond to the fork width of the saddle. Since blankets and pads will compensate for some misfitting, some variation can be tolerated. Width of the fork of stock saddles varies from 5 1/2 inches to 7 inches. Average saddles are between 6 and 6 3/4 inches wide. This width accommodates most horses with use of a good blanket or pad. Every secondhand or used saddle should be measured despite claims of size as some spreading occurs with use.

The width of an English saddle tree is just as critical as the fork width of a stock saddle; however, it is more difficult to determine as a result of saddle design. A "cut-back" pommel may be necessary to prevent damage to the withers. The cut-back can range from very slight to over 4 inches. One major advantage of a cut-back pommel is that the saddle can fit a wide variety of horses. The tree of hunt-jump saddles, especially less expensive brands, can spread a great deal without breaking, which can drastically change the fit. When considering a used saddle of this type, owners should regularly check the width between the points of the tree. This is true especially if the saddle is to be used in shows. Very little can be done to improve the fit of a wide-fronted hunt-jump saddle except to find a horse with an appropriate anatomy.

A stock saddle should lie directly over the upper end of the horse's shoulder blades. This allows maximum area of contact between horse and saddle, distributing the load and pressures to minimize sore backs.

If the horse is straight-shouldered or if the saddle tends to slip back because of poor riding habits, the sides of the saddle place great pressure on the back edge of the shoulder blades. Even blankets cannot completely eliminate this concentration of pressure. For this condition, a breast collar is needed to keep the saddle well forward over the shoulder blades.

Length of a stock saddle should also be considered. A long saddle on a very short-backed horse can cause too much pressure over the loin and kidney area of the horse's back, resulting in injury and soreness. The square-cut skirts on some stock saddles may also irritate the flanks of short-backed horses.

Using a Saddle

Performance of any horse can be hindered if the rider does not remain over the horse's center of balance. Since the center of balance changes with different speeds and kinds of activity, a saddle must be selected that provides comfort for both horse and rider so the rider can maintain balance during a specific type of performance. This aids not only in achieving maximum performance but also in giving comfort and security to both horse and rider. The center of balance of a horse standing or walking freely lies directly over a point a few inches behind the withers.

As the horse moves forward at speed, the point of balance moves forward. Jockeys are a good example of keeping weight well forward yet centered over their legs with the ankle, knee, and hip joint acting as shock absorbers so they can balance and move freely with their mounts, permitting full potential performance of the horse. Pleasure riders find that "getting into a half seat" not only is comfortable for themselves but also seems to allow freer movement of the horse (Figure 20-2).


A horse jumping is another rather extreme example of shifting the center of balance. The center of balance shifts as the horse approaches the jump; then the weight drops back, levels, and comes forward. A rider must be in time with his or her horse and follow the shifting of balance. Stock seat riders who have attempted to jump in stock saddles can appreciate what the expression "being behind one's horse" means. Not only is this hard on the rider's back and neck, it is also uncomfortable for the horse and usually causes it to refuse a jump.

The more collected a horse is, the farther to the rear the center of balance is displaced. Therefore, the rider of a gaited horse needs to be well back from the withers to free the forehand legs and put his or her weight more over the horse's hindquarters.

Cutting horses work primarily off the hindquarters and are very light on the forehand legs. Saddles traditionally used have been designed to keep the rider well back from the withers.

The basic design of a saddle usually allows some latitude in placement. The hunt-jump saddle positions the rider through the center of the seat. A rider can use various billet strap combinations, however, to change the position by as much as 3 to 4 inches. This permits the saddle to be placed properly for different activities or to accommodate a variety of conformation differences. Placement of stock saddles is governed by position of the rigging. Rigging can be anywhere from full rigging (directly below the horn) to the center-fire rigging (halfway between the horn and the top of the cantle). The average pleasure rider who does not use a rope will probably find seven-eighths rigging most comfortable and readily available (Figure 20-1).

The full-rigged saddle was designed especially for roping. It places the horn rigging and cinch in a straight line directly over the withers. This permits maximum strength of construction and correctly places the stress from the rope at the withers. Such a design also places the average pleasure rider well behind the center of balance, especially when the horse moves at speed. It does, however, permit the rider to be in balance when the horse is working off its quarters.

Shape of the seat of a saddle is important to both pleasure and equitation riders. Steep seats force the rider to the rear and may offer security, but experienced riders usually find them uncomfortable. This is especially true of pleasure riders with uncollected mounts. Equitation riders must be able to stay in balance with the horse.

Tradition often dictates what type of saddle should be used. Tradition, however, must not replace common sense. It is important to select a saddle designed to permit a specific type of performance.

The stick-forked, flat-seated, low-cantled stock saddle frequently advertised as a roping saddle is not designed for pleasure riding. It is excellent for roping. A roping saddle offers little security in front and little or no support for the hips. Rigging placement also detracts from its usefulness as a pleasure saddle.

The forward seat jumping saddle was designed specifically for jumping. The rider must use relatively short stirrups and ride in the half seat or two-point--that is, the seat is out of the saddle and the rider has two points of contact, the calves. Most saddle makers advertise their saddles using such expressions as roper, cutter, or equitation. Keep in mind that these are advertising claims, to be viewed in the same light as the claims for headache remedies, razor blades, or automobiles.

Fitting a Saddle to a Rider

The saddle should also fit the rider. Saddle size is more critical with English saddles, especially hunt-jump saddles, than with stock saddles. The rider's safety, comfort, and show-ring success all depend on proper saddle size. Length of a hunt-jump saddle is measured from the pommel to the center of the top of the cantle. Standard lengths are 16, 17, and 18 inches when the saddle is constructed on a straight-head tree. Lengths on a slope-head tree usually are 1 to 11/2 inches less. Probably the most critical test for hunter-seat riders is the position of the knees in the knee pockets. Regardless of length of seat, unless the knees fit into the knee pockets with proper length of stirrup, the saddle does not fit. Although measurements can be made, it is usually advisable to try a hunt-jump saddle for size as it rests on a horse before purchasing it.

Saddle Construction

The tree is the foundation of every saddle. One of the first steps in evaluating a saddle is to check the tree. Until recently, all quality stock saddles were made on a wooden, rawhide-covered tree. Some cheap saddles are made with canvas-covered trees; others are made with the tree only partially covered with rawhide. A relatively recent innovation in saddle-making is the extruded plastic tree. These plastic trees seem to be strong, durable, and free from warping. They reduce weight and cost because they eliminate a great deal of the hand labor of building up a ground seat.

English saddles are usually built on a rigid tree with a straight head or on a spring tree, usually with a sloped head. Slope-head spring trees are relatively new with only a few manufacturers using them, but they seem to be increasing in popularity. Another innovation is the recessed stirrup bar. The combination of slope head and recessed stirrup bar nearly eliminates the hump under the thigh on old models.

Ornate finishes on stock saddles are not always simply decorative. The designs serve to hide scratches and to increase the rider's grip. Hand-carved saddles are usually quite expensive. Carving creates a cleaning problem. Embossed saddles are far more common than carved saddles. The high quality of most embossing plates may make it difficult to distinguish between carving and embossing without careful inspection or looking at the underside of the leather. Poor-quality embossing is especially noticeable on the swells, where it tends to fade out.

Stirrup adjustments vary considerably. The ease with which adjustments can be made is important if several people use the saddle. The patented Blevins buckle is usually found only on better-quality saddles. It is one of the best and easiest to use. Double-tongued and sometimes single-tongued buckles are normally used on less-expensive saddles with narrow stirrup leathers. Such buckles are satisfactory for adjusting stirrups, yet the overall quality of the saddle may not be acceptable. The quick-change buckle is one of the most common. It usually works well, but it may jam if it is not kept aligned and free of rust. Stirrup pins replace leather laces, which were traditional until recent years.

After final deliberation and selection, the real work of the saddle begins. Remember that the saddle is a device to help the rider maintain a proper and secure seat. In other words, the saddle was meant to be used, not kept on display as a trophy.


When saddling a horse for any form of equitation, the following rules are crucial:

1. Groom the horse thoroughly to be sure there are no sores on its back or in the cinch area, as this could cause more injury to the horse or cause the horse to wring its tail or buck. If there are saddle sores, consider using extra padding or a girth pad, or give the horse time off until the sores heal. Blankets need to be checked for foreign objects or dirt buildup, and they need to be dry.

2. The blanket or saddle pad should have no wrinkles and offer adequate padding for the horse. Some horses require more padding than others, and some may require extra padding at their withers to prevent binding the shoulders. The saddle cinch (Western) or girth (English) must be clean because dirty cinches or girths can cause saddle sores.

3. Raise the saddle as high as you can and set it down gently on the horse's back. This helps prevent back soreness and helps assure the horse that the saddling experience is nothing to fear. Throwing the saddle onto the horse's back can cause bruising and may aggravate any existing back problems.

4. Place the saddle properly. This may vary from horse to horse. Do not place the saddle too far forward, which restricts shoulder movement and causes discomfort, or too far back, which can cause kidney damage and sore backs. Until you are proficient at saddling, always have an experienced rider or trainer check your saddle placement before riding (Figure 20-3).

5. For a Western saddle, let the cinch and stirrup down, making sure they do not slam down on the horse's side. For English saddles, hook the girth on one side. Never release the cinch and stirrup by pushing them over the saddle from the left side. This could hurt or startle the horse.

6. Reach under the horse and grasp the cinch or girth with your left hand, facing the rear of the horse. If using a martingale or breast collar, you may need to thread the cinch or girth through the end of the martingale or breast collar before fastening.

In Western riding, if you use a rear cinch, tighten the front one first. Put the cinch strap through the cinch ring and the rigging ring twice. Then you can either tie a cinch knot to secure the cinch, or you can buckle it if the cinch has holes for it (Figure 20-4).

7. In Western riding, with the left hand under the buckle to prevent pinching, tighten the cinch slowly, 1 or 2 inches at a time. In English, slowly buckle the girth but not too tight. Tightening it too quickly can cause your horse to be "cinchy," or irritable, during saddling. Some horses may even begin biting or rearing when you tighten the cinch if they anticipate discomfort. Tighten the cinch until it is snug enough to hold the saddle on the horse. You can tighten it more before mounting.

If you have a rear cinch, fasten it so that your hand can fit flat between cinch and horse when the rider is mounted. It should not be excessively tight when the horse is first saddled, nor should it be so loose that a back foot could get caught in it. Rear cinches should have a strap connected to the front cinch to prevent them from getting into the flank area.

8. After walking the horse to the mounting area, recheck the cinch or girth. You probably will be able to take it up another hole or two without getting it too tight. For riding, the cinch should be snug under the heart girth, but not too tight. You should be able to fit two fingers under the buckle without much difficulty. Check the cinch again after mounting since some horses will "blow out" their lungs during saddling--only to relax after you mount, suddenly making the cinch too loose.

9. To unsaddle, simply reverse the process just described.

10. If you have had a hard ride, loosen the cinch gradually before removing the saddle. This allows the blood to flow back under the saddle slowly.




Untie your horse before bridling. Working on the horse's left side again, drop the nosepiece of the halter off the nose and refasten the crown strap around the neck. Avoid placing your face too close to the horse's head during bridling, and use caution when handling the ears. This helps ensure that you do not get hit in the face should the horse toss its head (Figure 20-5).

If you have romal reins, or closed reins, place them over the horse's head and neck. If you have split reins, place them over your right shoulder, making sure they do not droop where you or the horse could step on them. Throughout this process, be particularly careful not to wrap any piece of equipment attached to the horse around your hand or arm, as it could cause serious injury.

Spread the crown of the bridle with the right hand and hold the bit in the left. Place your right arm over the horse's head between its ears and approach the horse's mouth with the bit. Be sure to keep the cheekpieces out of its eyes and avoid banging its teeth with the bit.

With the bit pushed lightly against the horse's lips, insert the left thumb in the corner of the mouth. There are no teeth here, so if necessary you can put pressure on the bar of the mouth with your thumb to encourage the horse to open its mouth. Many horses will open their mouths readily as you approach with the bit.

Lift the bridle upward with the right hand as you gently feed the bit over the teeth. Never jerk the bridle, and move with the horse if it moves its head. Place the crown of the bridle over one ear and then the other, bending the ears forward gently as you pull the bridle over them. Rough handling of the ears can cause horses to be head shy and difficult to bridle. Be careful not to drag the cheekpieces over the horse's eyes. Straighten out the forelock to avoid irritation. Then fasten the throatlatch, allowing enough room for you to insert your hand sideways throughout the jaw area (Figure 20-6).


The bridle should be properly adjusted before you ride. Be sure the brow band does not hang down in the horse's eyes and that the bit is neither too high nor too low. The bit should rest on the bars of the mouth. It should be high enough that it creates a small wrinkle at the corners of the mouth. For a snaffle bit, there should be two wrinkles; however, for some other bits it is only one. Be sure you know what is correct for your bit. If the bit hangs so that it comes in contact with the incisor teeth, it is too low.

Also in Western riding, check the curb chain, or curb strap. You should be able to fit three fingers sideways between the horse's chin and the chain, but the chain should be tight enough that it places pressure on the chin when you pull back on the reins. This ensures that you have enough control of your horse.


The horse and rider need to be suitable for each other. Beginners should ride only calm, dependable horses--preferably older horses--until they are proficient enough to handle more difficult ones.

Equipment must be adequate for the situation and in good repair. Riders should check the rigging, cinches, latigo straps, and billets of their saddle to be sure they are strong and not in danger of breaking. Also, riders need to check bridles and reins, especially at stress points, making sure the leather is strong and supple. Leather that is dry and cracked can break easily.

Proper Dress

Wear hard-toed boots with a heel at all times when handling or riding horses. The heel will help prevent your foot from sliding through the stirrup, and the hard boot will protect your toes should the horse step on them (Figure 20-7).



Always wear long jeans, which protect your legs from saddle sores and from hazards on the trail. Avoid shorts and any type of pant made from slick material, such as nylon.

You may want to wear gloves for hand protection, particularly in the winter when they will be exposed to harsh weather. Gloves also may help in the summer because your hands may sweat and make the reins slippery. If you longe your horse before riding, always wear gloves in case your horse tries to pull away, pulling the line through your hand in the process. Chaps are another option as well. They protect your legs and clothing, and they help to keep you warm in winter.

Avoid dangling jewelry that could get caught on the horse. Loose shirts are a hazard because they can catch on the saddle horn when you dismount. Long hair should be pulled back so your vision is not restricted.

All riders should wear an approved riding helmet to protect their heads in case of a fall.

Wear spurs only when necessary, and be sure you have a well-developed leg before attempting to use them. Riders who do not have control of their legs can accidentally gouge or startle their horse. Have an experienced rider or trainer show you how to use spurs properly, as incorrect use can injure the horse and cause it to buck or run away.


Mount your horse in an area away from buildings, trees, fences, and objects on the ground. Pick a spot with good footing, and be sure your boots are clean on the bottom. Otherwise, your foot may slip out of the stirrup as you are mounting.

Avoid using deep stirrups or oxbow stirrups for pleasure riding. These are meant for roping and cutting horse riders, and it is difficult to keep the foot in the proper position for pleasure riding using these types of stirrups. The depth of a deep stirrup makes it easy for a small foot to go through and get caught.

Before mounting, check the cinch again to make sure it is neither too loose nor too tight. Take one more look at your equipment to be sure everything is adjusted properly. It is proper to mount from the left side, but horses should be trained to allow mounting and dismounting from both sides in case you ever need to use the far side in an emergency. Handling the horse from both sides also helps prevent you and the horse from becoming "one-sided."

Hold the reins in your left hand, positioning your fingers on the reins just as you would when mounted. Take up the slack so that you have light contact with the horse's mouth. Facing the rear of the horse, twist the stirrup to receive your left foot. Make sure your horse stands still during this process. If it tries to walk away, tell it to whoa and pull back on the reins until it stops.

Keep your left hand at the base of the horse's neck and place the right hand on the fork of the saddle on the opposite side. Balance your left hand on the neck to be sure you do not bump the horse's mouth while mounting. If necessary, grab the mane or hold on to the bony part of the withers.

Take one or two hops on the right foot and swing yourself up into the saddle, making sure your leg swings clear of the horse's rump. Bumping the horse could startle it, cause it to anticipate discomfort, or prompt it to move off before you are seated. Restrain the horse if it wants to walk off. Be sure your left toe is not pushing into its side.

Sit down softly in the saddle. Flopping down in the saddle could cause a horse to show anxiety or even buck. Even the calmest horse may learn to dislike mounting if you do not show it respect throughout the process. Cold-backed horses usually can be spotted by their tendency to have a "hump" in their backs before riding. The back of the saddle may raise up slightly, and the horse may exhibit a stiff walk. Consider longeing such horses before riding to prevent a bucking episode.

If the horse tries to buck, lift your hands and sit deep in the saddle to keep its head up and your body secure, keeping the horse moving forward. The tendency for beginning riders is to lean forward, but this only makes it easier for the horse to buck you off. It is harder for the horse to buck with its head up, and you must sit up straight to keep the head up.

Horses should learn to stand after mounting, and they should not walk away until asked. Stand quietly for several seconds before moving off, so your horse learns that it must be patient and wait for you.

Basic Safe Riding

Start out by riding in an area that is familiar to both horse and rider. Make sure you have the kinks out before riding on the trail or in new surroundings. The horse should be quiet and should listen to your cues. Ride with your reins at a comfortable length to encourage the horse to relax and move forward.

When riding on a road, ride facing oncoming traffic. Riding on roads where there is highspeed traffic can be extremely hazardous and should be avoided. Beginners should never ride on the road unless accompanied by an experienced rider.

Be extremely careful when crossing pavement or other hard road surfaces, especially if those surfaces are wet or have oil spots. Ride in these areas at a walk to prevent slipping and to preserve your horse's legs. Give yourself adequate time to cross between cars without hurrying.

Be aware that horses see differently than humans and may spook at strange objects. Keep this in mind as you approach unfamiliar territory so your horse does not jump out into traffic.

If your horse does spook at something new, do not increase its fear by punishing it. Simply keep it moving forward, possibly in a circle, moving back and forth past the object of its fear. Circling in this manner will give the horse an opportunity to see and smell without exaggerating the importance of the object, which will probably reinforce the horse's fear. Allowing the horse to stop and look at the object teaches it that spooking is a way to get out of work. Speak quietly to your horse and give it reassuring pats when it responds properly. Be sure that you remain calm.

When riding with friends, keep a safe distance between horses, whether riding side by side or in a line. When riding single file, keep at least a horse's length between horses. If you tailgate or ride up on the rear of another horse, you may be kicked or your horse may step on the other horse's heels.

When riding side by side, know that some horses do not like this and will try to kick the other horse. Be on the lookout for warning signs, such as pinned ears and one horse swinging its hind end toward the other horse.

If you ride in a group, remember that horses are herd animals and do not like to be left behind. For example, if one rider is left behind to close a gate, the horse may become anxious and want to catch up. This makes mounting difficult and creates a dangerous situation for the rider. It is best to wait until the entire group is ready before moving away. Young horses may become particularly anxious when left behind, and some may even panic.

Avoid riding up quickly behind other riders, as it is the horse's nature to join in when other horses start to run. For example, do not lope past another horse at the walk; this may catch the other rider unaware and cause that horse to take off running with you. If they are not allowed to join in with others horses that are galloping by, young, green horses will often panic and buck.

Riding double is not as safe as riding alone. Not all horses will tolerate two riders, so if you ride double, be sure your mount is suitable. The person riding behind should be a balanced, experienced rider, because if the horse gets nervous, the beginner's tendency is to squeeze with the legs or clench onto the front rider, which will only worsen the situation. Horses are particularly sensitive in the flank area. If the second rider is not careful, he or she can easily clench the horse in this area, causing the horse to buck or try to run away.

Allow your horse plenty of time and plenty of rein when crossing obstacles on the trail. Horses see differently than humans do, and they need enough rein to raise and lower their heads to judge height and distance. This also allows them to balance themselves properly. Do not hurry your horse over rough ground. Give the horse time to pick its footing properly.

Always walk back to the barn. If you allow your horse to run home, it will become barn sour and may become anxious or start trying to take off with you every time you turn toward the barn. A barn-sour horse also may begin misbehaving upon leaving the barn. For this reason, it is a good idea to walk the last quarter mile of your ride, which also allows the horse to cool down.

Clowning and showing off will increase the likelihood of an accident. Good riders do not need to exhibit their horsemanship skills in these ways. The calmest, safest horse can panic in unusual situations, so always keep this in mind.
Therapeutic Horseback Riding

Besides being used for transportation, work,
sport, recreational activities, and as a
companion, the horse has become recognized
as an integral partner in working with people
in therapy and education. In equine-facilitated
therapy (therapeutic horseback riding) and therapeutic
driving activities, the horse is viewed as a
tool in therapy, sport, and education for people
who are physically or mentally challenged.

For someone who cannot walk or has
difficulty walking, the horse provides input to
the rider, very similar to the motion required in
human movement. The three-dimensional
movement of the horse at a walk (side to side,
up and down, and front and back) is transmitted
to the rider. The rider is not only receiving the
physical benefits of the horse but also having fun
and experiencing mental stimulation.

Recognizing the number of skills and the
amount of mental preparation required by a
rider suggests this activity is also useful to
someone who has difficulty in learning. The
value of equine-facilitated therapy includes:

* Exposure to a nontraditional
environment. For someone who has a
disability, a trip to the farm or horse barn
may be quite an excursion and a break
from their normal routine. Many people
are not accustomed to being around
animals--especially an animal as big as
a horse.

* Visual experiences. Many scenes
associated with animals are new and
exciting when seen for the first time.

* Auditory experiences. Describing the
sounds associated with horses and life
around the barn is difficult to do without
the experience.

* Olfactory experiences. The smells of
new hay, mixed sweet feed, a new foal, or
just the horse itself stimulate the senses.

* Tactile experiences. Physically touching
the horse can teach the meaning of coarse,
soft, or hard; the feel of a mane or tail, a
short, smooth summer coat, or the feel of
a heavy winter coat; the textures of hay
and grain, the feel of leather, and the feel
of saddle pads.

* Physical involvement. The rider's use
and strengthening of muscle groups,
reactions, balance, and coordination
that occur during equine-related
activities may be different than at any
other time. Also, being mounted on
a horse requires the development of
spatial awareness skills.

* Psychological experience. The horse
presents many challenges that, when
mastered by the rider, enhance a
psychological profile. Many people benefit
by just being able to lead a horse where
they want it to go.

* Expanded vocabulary and
identification skills. The words
and terms used when referring to the
horse and its surroundings are different
and new.

* Risk factor. The ability to work and move
around horses with ease takes skill and
courage. People learn that they need a
certain amount of risk and knowledge in
their lives to be healthy and to develop
other skills.

* Eye-hand coordination. The experienced
"horseperson" uses an incredible
amount of dexterity and skill to accomplish
seemingly simple tasks--locating
the horse, catching it, haltering, tying,
and grooming.

Therapeutic riding instructors incorporate
educational goals into the riding process. They
place numbers, letters, shapes, and associated
pictures around the arena to use in the lesson.
Riders learn all equine management and riding
skills to the best of their ability. The horse is
a great therapy and teaching tool for people
who are physically or mentally challenged,
or both.


A correct seat in the saddle is basic to all successful activities with horses. It not only indicates sophistication in horse riding, but affords balance to the rider and aids performance of the horse by correct weight distribution. Accomplished riders do everything possible to divert attention from rider and mount in performance classes; they reduce fatigue of the horse on trail and pleasure rides by sitting balanced in the saddle.

Preparing to Lead

Stand at the left shoulder of the horse with the reins in your right hand and the excess, or bight, of reins in your left hand. Lead from this position--not from in front of the horse. Remember, the reins should be over the horse's head and not in riding position.


Hold reins with the bight on the right side and your left hand on the horse's withers, while your right hand positions the stirrup over your left foot. If the horse tends to move toward you, keep the right (off) snaffle rein tighter than the left (near) snaffle during mounting, thus reducing the chance of getting stepped on. Whenever possible, use a mounting block.

With your left hand firmly on the withers, grasp the off side of the cantle with your right hand. Take one or two hops on the right foot to attain momentum to mount. Whenever mounting from the ground, it is best to have a rider stand on the right side and put weight in the right stirrup to prevent unnecessary torque on the horse's back. Swing your right leg clear of the horse's hips.

Position your right foot in the stirrup before easing your body weight into the seat of the saddle. Avoid dropping heavily into the saddle of strange or cold-backed horses (Figure 20-8).


Hand Position

Hands should be held in an easy position, neither perpendicular nor horizontal to the saddle, and should show sympathy, adaptability, and control. Height of the rider's hands above the horse's withers is determined by how and where the horse carries its head. Elbows should be held at the sides in a natural position, neither in too tight nor out too far.

Basic Position in the Saddle

Much of the success of good riders can be attributed to their mastery of this position. To take a basic position, the rider should sit comfortably in the center of the saddle with the feet and legs hanging under the body in a relaxed, natural position. Properly adjusted stirrups will rest between the ankles and insteps of the feet, depending on the rider's build. The irons should then be placed under the balls of the feet with even pressure on the entire width of the soles. The position of the feet should be natural (neither extremely in nor out). The ankles and insteps should be flexible, with heels positioned lower than toes.

When a whip or crop is carried, it should be held in the left hand, butt upward, in mounting (and dismounting). Then it should be transferred quietly to the right hand and held in the same position with its body resting along the rider's right leg.

When the crop is carried as an aid in warm-ups or practice, it may be necessary to change it from hand to hand to support the rider's leg when necessary. Unnecessary motion or use of a crop upsets the horse and may result in poor performance. Use of the crop as an aid is supported by some trainers; others do not promote its use.

Preparing to Dismount

Dismounting generally is the reverse of mounting. With your left hand on the withers holding the reins, right hand on the pommel, support yourself in the stirrups in preparation to dismount.

Swing your leg over the horse's back and place your right hand on the cantle of the saddle in preparation for stepping to the ground with your right foot. It is correct either to step down or slide down from this position, depending on the size of the horse and/or the rider.

Proper Dress

An approved safety helmet must be worn at all times. As in Western riding, a good riding boot should be worn. If a riding boot is not worn, a good leather shoe with a reinforced toe and heel is the next best choice (see Figure 20-7).


Horse owners will sometimes find it necessary to trailer their horses. Hauling may be necessary at the time of purchase or for horse shows, trail riding, or medical emergencies. Being prepared and maintaining the trailer in roadworthy condition prevents needless delays when it is time to haul.

Make sure that the trailer is securely and properly hitched to the towing vehicle before loading your horse. Unhitched trailers can easily tip up under the weight of a moving horse. Loading and unloading must be practiced in advance of any scheduled events. Horses not familiar with being hauled can create an unpleasant beginning to a day's journey. When working with young horses in trailers with partitions, you can boost their confidence if you enter first on the opposite side of the partition. Never go into the same stall you want the horse to go into unless there is an open escape door.

Promptly fasten the bar or chain behind the horse after it loads to prevent it from backing out before you are able to tie its head. When tying its head, use a quick-release knot or a tie with a panic/safety snap. Make sure the horse has enough rope length to permit head movement for balance, but not enough to get its head too low or over to the horse traveling alongside.

Once the horse is loaded and the gate is closed, check the latches to be sure they are tight and that they cannot bounce up and come loose. There are many types of latches, so be sure that the type you are using cannot come unfastened.

When on the road, stay back from the vehicle in front of you to allow for adequate room to stop. The extra weight of the trailer will increase the distance normally required to stop your vehicle. Avoid hard stops; as they tend to throw horses down. Even if the animals are not injured, they may become fearful and trailer sour, which causes difficulty in future hauling.

When you arrive at your destination, be careful where you unload. Leave enough room behind for unloading, and unload on ground that will give the horse good footing. Be sure you have untied the horse before releasing the tail chain or gate. Horses that get unloaded partway and find their heads caught may panic and injure themselves.

Trailer Safety Checklist

Before the horse is loaded, the safety of the trailer should be checked.

1. Hitch--Be sure that the hitch is secure and your trailer is properly fastened. Use heavy safety chains to secure the trailer to the towing vehicle.

2. Tires--Follow the manufacturer's recommended inflation pressures. A good rule of thumb for safe tire tread is a minimum of 1/4 inch tread depth. Inspect tires for signs of dry rot. A tire with dry rot is not dependable. Don't forget to have a spare tire that is well maintained.

3. Brakes--Replace worn components, and test brake operation before beginning the haul.

4. Lights--Check for correct and full operation of brake, turning, and marker lights. Interior lights are handy when loading and unloading at night.

5. Jacks and safety triangles--Have these available and in good working order in case of roadside breakdowns.

6. Floorboards--Horses apply a great deal of pressure on the small area under their hooves. Floorboards should not be in a rotted or weak condition. Rubber mats on the floor and tailgate provide traction and cushion during loading, unloading, and travel.

7. Wheel bearings--These need to be repacked with grease and checked at least every year.


Halters are designed to help catch, hold, lead, and tie horses and ponies. They are nothing else. Every horse should have its own halter, correctly sized and adjusted to fit.

Types of Halters

Some horses are delivered to the new owner in shipping halters. Shipping halters are made of jute fiber (burlap), are light, and usually have a string throatlatch. A shipping halter is inexpensive and adequate for temporary use but is completely unsatisfactory for use as a permanent halter. It cannot be adjusted well (only the throatlatch can be changed), and the fiber lacks strength and durability. This type of halter is not only difficult to keep in place on the horse's head, but it is almost impossible to keep clean.

Rope halters made of braided cotton are very popular. They are strong, relatively inexpensive, and readily adjustable. They are also available in various sizes. The chief disadvantages of rope halters are that they are difficult to keep clean, have a tendency to rot and mildew if not kept dry, and lack the durability found in top-quality leather halters.

Another problem with rope halters is that they shrink. Rain, heavy dew, or even high humidity will cause cotton rope halters to shrink. Unless care is taken to frequently readjust rope halters, the shrinking can cause severe pain and even choke the horse.

To eliminate shrinking, a new rope halter should be soaked in water for a few hours or overnight and then thoroughly dried. Clothes dryers, ovens, and other sources of high heat should not be used because they tend to overshrink the halter; heat can also damage the fiber, thus weakening the halter. The type of rope halters used with cattle should not be used with horses. Pulling on the lead rope draws down under the jaw and over the top of the head, much as a lariat rope would. Use these halters only in an emergency. Tie a knot at the point where the lead rope passes through the eye of the halter, and the lead rope becomes a halter shank.

Nylon halters have all the advantages of cotton rope halters and more. They are easily cleaned, not usually affected by dampness, not subject to rotting and mildew, and come in a variety of colors. Nylon does not shrink; instead, it tends to stretch. In some cases, nylon halters tend to slip at the adjustment points, especially at the crown and under the chin. Therefore, it is necessary to occasionally readjust nylon halters. Nylon halters are more expensive than cotton.

Nylon halters can also be obtained in a flat web design. They look like and are designed like leather halters. They are cheaper than leather, last longer, and require less care. However, nylon web halters are difficult to adjust and repair, and they do not break. Because of this, they can also be dangerous. When using a nylon halter, it is best to have a "breakaway" leather crown piece. It is better to have a halter break than to have a horse in a crisis situation. Like nylon rope, nylon webbing stretches easily. The ends of some pieces of a nylon halter that have been cut with a hot device have a sharp, abrasive edge. These may be removed by cutting with a knife or scissors.

Leather halters are available in a variety of types and an even wider variety of prices. Some are adjustable only at the crown piece. These usually must be buckled and unbuckled to be put on and taken off. Some halters have an adjustable chin strap to accommodate various muzzle sizes, as well as adjustments in the crown piece to fit various head lengths. This type of halter is especially well adapted for use on young growing horses or when one halter is used on a number of horses.

Some halters have snaps at the cheek, so unbuckling is not needed when putting on or removing the halter. Leather halters require a great deal of care and attention to keep them in good condition. They must be cleaned regularly and inspected frequently for wear or damage. They are most easily repaired, easiest to individualize with nameplates, and look dressier than other types of halters. In general, they are also more expensive.

Halters of all types may be purchased in various sizes. Most manufacturers list sizes according to breed, age, type, or weight. Care should be taken when buying halters to save the sales slip and insist on the right of return or exchange if the size selected is incorrect.


Putting a halter on a horse is easy if the horse has good manners and has been properly trained.

To halter a horse in a corral, paddock, or pasture, the horse first must be caught. The horse should be trained to let you approach from either side.

Carry the halter, unbuckled or unsnapped, in your left hand. The right hand can then grasp the mane at the top of the neck and behind the ears. Or the right arm may be placed under the neck with the fingers extended palm upward, palm toward the neck to grasp the mane from the horse's right side. The left hand can then slip the noseband of the halter over the nose.

At this point the right hand can grasp the crown piece and pull it in place, either pulling it back over the ears or by lifting the crown piece strap over the neck behind the ears. Buckling or snapping completes the job. In the case of halters with snaps at the cheek, it may be easier to use the left hand to push the halter back over the ears and use the right to fold the ears forward under the crown piece. A lead shank can also be used to catch the horse. This is accomplished by placing the lead around the neck and holding both ends as a noose, while the left hand puts the halter in place. This procedure is especially recommended on horses or ponies that resist being haltered.

Haltering Rules

Halters should not be left on horses that will not be watched or inspected at least daily. Young horses especially should not be turned out wearing halters.

Halters can catch on fences, tree branches, or brush. The young horse, unable to free itself, panics--usually with serious consequences. This is why breakaway halters (Figure 20-9) are used when it is necessary to have a halter on a horse that is turned out. A horse should not be turned out wearing a loose-fitting halter. Horses use their rear feet to scratch their heads, and loose-fitting halters are an open invitation for a back foot to be caught, or hung-up.


The only rules for tying a horse are those dictated by safety and common sense. Tying is only a matter of keeping a horse in one place. Most horses learn to "tie" simply because they find it easier to stand quietly than to fight. All horses should be taught to stand tied and should not be considered fully trained until they do so.

The first requirement in correctly tying a horse is using a knot that can be untied quickly, will not slip, and can be untied even though the horse may be pulling back on the tie rope. The recommended knot for tying a halter rope to a fixed object is a quick-release knot.

Take special care to prevent a horse from breaking loose when tied. Once a horse breaks loose, either from improperly tied knots or by breaking equipment, it is apt to try harder to break loose the next time it is tied. Halters, tie ropes, and the objects to which they are to be tied should be strong and sound to minimize any chance of the horse breaking free. However, breakaway snaps can be used for emergency situations where you need to unhook a horse quickly.


Horses should be tied far enough apart so they cannot kick or bite each other. They should be separated by ropes, rails, or distance. A recommended distance between strange horses when tied to a fence or along a picket line is 20 feet. At no time should they be tied closer than 10 feet apart.

Any horse that is tied, even in a stall, should not be left unobserved for long periods of time. This is particularly important with young horses. When possible, tie horses where they can watch activities around them. When tied this way, they become less bored and less easily frightened. Horses should never be tied fast with bridle reins. Bridles were not designed to act as halters. Neither were reins intended to be used as tie ropes. A quick pull on a bridle can also cause the bit to injure and damage a horse's mouth.

Problem Horses

Some horses dislike being tied and are known as halter pullers. To help prevent halter pulling or to get around this problem, a lariat rope may be placed around the girth of a horse with the standing part of the rope extending forward to the halter ring from between the front legs of the horse. The end of the lariat is then tied to a fixed object. As the horse backs up, the lariat loop tightens around the horse's middle and the rope through the halter rings pulls the head down, without injuring the neck at the atlas joint. After only a few short sessions, the horse learns to stand quietly.

Another method of tying a halter puller is to use a 3/4-inch or 1-inch soft cotton or soft nylon rope. This is tied around the neck. The other end of the rope is threaded through the halter ring and fastened to something solid with a quick-release knot. Although very hard pulling can injure the horse, the size of the rope will usually prevent this. This method may not stop a horse from pulling back, but it is a very effective means of keeping it tied. This technique should be used only by a qualified trainer in a unique or controlled situation.

Tying to a Post

To tie a horse to a post, stake, or smooth vertical pole or tree trunk, use a knot to prevent the rope from dropping down the pole and from slipping. A much better arrangement, and one that can be untied easily, is to wrap the lead around the post two or three times used then tie a quick-release knot and draw out all the slack. This will be apt to slip down the post if not tied tightly, but it is much safer than a hitch, quick-release combination.

The knots should be tied about 3 1/2 to 4 feet above the ground, with 2 or 3 feet of tie rope between the knot and the halter. It is important to keep the horse from dropping its head down and stepping over the rope. It must, however, be able to get its head up to its normal height.

Tying a horse to a smooth horizontal pole or to a picket line can be safely done in a manner very similar to the procedure used for a vertical pole. In this case, an additional wrap should be made in the hitch, followed by the quick-release knot, to keep everything in place. Just as with the vertical post, the hitch knot may be difficult to untie when the horse pulls back too hard. Therefore, the procedures outlined earlier should be used.

Ground Ties

When there are no suitable objects to which a horse can be tied, it may be possible to use a ground tie. This can be useful on trail rides, when stopping in an open park or pasture. The first step is to dig a small hole about 1 foot deep. Then tie a long rope such as a lariat to an object such as a large stone, a branch, or even a hammer. Draw the rope tight and place the object in the hole. Carefully pack the dirt into the hole. The other end of the rope is then attached to the halter ring, with a quick-release knot, or it may be placed around the horse's neck and secured with a bowline knot. Unless the horse is especially unruly, there should be no problem.

Before using the ground-tie method, or staking a horse out where the rope will lie in similar fashion along the ground, the horse must be trained not to become entangled in the rope. The horse should allow the rope to rub against both the outside and inside of all four legs and should stand quietly if he does become entangled.


Cross-tying restricts movement of the horse more than tying it with a single rope. Two ropes are used to cross-tie a horse. Cross-tying not only requires special equipment, it requires special training. Most horses object at first to having their heads held with limited movement. To start training, allow lots of slack in both ties. Gradually shorten the ties until the desired control is obtained. The ropes are usually anchored 6 to 8 feet off the ground, and they are long enough to allow the horse to stand with its head level.


After acquiring a horse, saddles are the first piece of tack an owner purchases. The style of saddle depends on the type of riding a person intends to do. Saddle styles include the Western or stock, hunt-jump, gaited, dressage, and specialty saddles. Saddles need to be selected to fit the horse and the rider. Saddles range in quality and cost depending on their style and construction.

Saddling a horse is the first step in preparing to ride. This requires time and practice to ensure the comfort of the horse and the safety of the rider. After the horse is saddled, it is bridled and led to a safe place for mounting. Proper dress is important for a safe ride, and it is important to the type of riding.

In all areas of equitation, safety needs prime consideration. Rules and guidelines of safe riding must always be followed. Loading and hauling of horses presents a safety hazard for the handler and the horse. Tying a horse can be another hazard if not done properly. Halters are designed to help catch, hold, lead, and tie horses. Reins were never intended to be used as tie ropes.


Success in any career requires knowledge. Test your knowledge of this chapter by answering these questions or solving these problems.

True or False

1. Every saddle fits any horse.

2. Every horse should have its own halter, correctly sized and adjusted to fit.

3. A recommended distance between strange horses when tied to a fence or along a picket line is 5 feet.

4. In all areas of equitation, safety needs prime consideration.

5. Any horse will take two riders easily. Short Answer

6. What are the four basic criteria for selecting a saddle?

7. List the five points of a horse's anatomy that should be checked when fitting a saddle.

8. Identify two main differences between Western and English saddles.

9. List five checkpoints for trailers before loading a horse.

10. What are the two main purposes of a saddle?

Critical Thinking/Discussion

11. Discuss haltering rules and how to halter a horse.

12. Explain ground-tying, tying to a post, and cross-tying.

13. Discuss why proper clothing is needed while riding a horse.

14. Discuss precautions for safe riding.

15. Briefly describe how to saddle a horse.


1. Make price comparisons of different saddles, from low end to high end. Determine their ornateness and what features are included. Find out what kind of materials are used in making the saddles. Present this information in a table.

2. Using a software presentation program, develop a presentation covering safety guidelines when riding, loading and hauling, or tying horses. Or, compare differences between Western and English saddles.

3. Develop a report that compares the differences between English and Western riding. Include a comparison of the tack used by each.

4. Halter and saddle a horse; longe a horse; lead a horse; mount a horse; and tie a horse.

5. Watch videos on Western riders and jumpers, and note differences in their positions.

6. Make measurements on several horses to see differences in their anatomy and note how important that is when selecting a saddle. Try to use horses of different sizes.



American Youth Horse Council. (1989). Basic horse safety manual. Lexington, KY: Author.

Cavendish, W., & Steinkraus, W. C. (2000). General system of horsemanship. North Pomfret, VT: Trafalgar Square.

Dawson, J. (2003). Teaching safe horsemanship: A guide to English and Western instruction. North Adams, MA: Storey Publishing.

Hassler-Scoop, J. K., & Kelly, K. (2002). Equestrian education: Professional development for instructors. Goals Unlimited Press <>.

Hassler-Scoop, J. K., & Kelly, K. (2000). Equestrian instruction: An integrated approach to teaching and learning. Goals Unlimited Press <>.

Hill, C., & Klimesh, R. (1999). 101 horsemanship & equitation patterns: A Western & English ringside guide for practice & show. North Adams, MA: Storey Publishing.

MacKenzie, S. (1998). Equine safety. Clifton Park, NY: Thomson Delmar Learning.

Pate, C. (2004). Ranch horsemanship: How to ride like the cowboys do. Colorado

Springs, CO: Western Horseman Books.

Sizemore, D. M. (1986). Horsemanship. Irving, TX: Boy Scouts of America.

Wallace, J. (2002). Teaching children to ride: A handbook for instructors. Boonsboro, MD: Half Halt Press.

Xenophon & Morgan, M. H. (2006). The art of horsemanship. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications.


Certified Horsemanship Association (CHA): <>

Certified Professional Rider Instructor: < instructor.html>

Dressage Certified Riding Instructor: < riding/riding_instructor_certification.htm>

John Lyons Certified Horse Trainers: <>

North American Riding for the Handicapped Association, Inc. (NARHA) Certification: <>

United States Eventing Association (USEA) Certified Trainer: < education.php?section_instructor&id_127>


Internet sites represent a vast resource of information, but remember that the URLs (uniform resource locator) for World Wide Web sites can change without notice. Using one of the search engines on the Internet such as Yahoo! Google, or, find more information by searching for these words or phrases:

bridling a horse

English equitation


haltering a horse

hauling a horse

horse trailering

loading a horse

saddle fitting

saddles or types of


Western equitation

Table A-18 in the appendix also provides a listing of some useful Internet sites that can serve as a starting point for further exploration.
TABLE 20-1 Styles of Saddles

Style                        Use

Stock                        Roping, cutting, general purpose, and

Hunt-jumping                 Forward seat, balance seat, and polo

Gaited                       Lane Fox

Dressage and miscellaneous   Racing, sidesaddle, track, and parade
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Article Details
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Author:Parker, Rick
Publication:Equine Science, 3rd ed.
Date:Jan 1, 2008
Previous Article:Chapter 19 Horse behavior and training.
Next Article:Chapter 21 Business aspects.

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