tacked up horse being led across the yard by a handler
Tack & Equipment

What is horse tack, what do you do with it and what all is defined as tack?

If you’re new to horse riding, you may not have heard the term ‘tack’ yet.

Tack is short for ‘tackle’ which is a term that comes to the equestrian world from shipping. Its most likely root is in the old German word takel meaning the rigging and cranes on a ship used to load and unload cargo.

Later the word also extended to all the equipment used with horses that allows us to harness them for working.

When you outfit your horse for riding, driving or other work, it’s called ‘tacking up’.

Tack refers to a range of equipment rather than a particular item. This is why horse equipment shops are commonly referred to as tack shops.

Grooming supplies aren’t generally included in horse tack, though they may be stored together with your horse’s tack.

What is a tack room?

A tack room is where all the horse tack is stored.

This is where you’ll go whenever you’re looking to get your horse ready for a ride, and where you’ll come to place the items back into storage once you’re done with them.

Whenever you need to find a piece of riding or handling equipment, from lead ropes to saddles, check the tack room.

If you’re looking for tack that isn’t stored in the tack room, check the area immediately in front of your horse’s stall, like on the door or the wall of the stall.

Usually, at least one halter and lead rope should be immediately available in case of emergency.

If you’re looking for additional tack that isn’t in the tack room, check for a storage area directly in front of your horse’s stall. Stable hands often use these areas to store smaller tack, or tack that it outfitted to individual horses.  

Because tack is expensive (especially when you start adding up the total cost of it all), the tack room will most often be locked to prevent thieves from getting into the tack room.

Leather tack should always be stored in a dry room that will protect the leather from dust and moisture (and light to some extent) and a separate room in the stable helps with this.

If you’re boarding your horse, you may even have your own secure locker to fit all your horse’s tack.

Or you may share the tack room with all the other boarders but have a designated spot for your tack.

A good tack room (whether shared or private) is well organised so that it’s easy to find what you’re looking for and the equipment stored in a manner that protects it and lets it air out and dry while in storage.

At larger stables with more horses, you’ll most often see saddles stored on the wall to save space.

Most of the tack for horses is made of genuine leather, which means the tack is highly susceptible to both temperature and humidity.

How to store a saddle the right way.

As it’s one of the most expensive pieces of equipment you’ll own for riding, it’s important to take the time to properly store your saddle every time.

When you care for and store your saddle correctly, it’ll retain its beauty for years, even generations (though that doesn’t mean it’ll fit your horse for as long so make sure you have a professional check the fit of your saddle regularly!).

Your saddle is mostly made out of leather (or plastic if it’s synthetic leather) but what makes the saddle fit your horse is the saddle tree that’s on the inside like a skeleton.

Stacking your saddles one on top of another is a quick way to ruin them.

Each saddle should have its own place where it can rest without having anything pressing down on it. You’ll also want enough space around it for airflow to dry it out between uses.

English saddles have leather panels and bottom padding which can be wool, synthetic filling or foam.

It’s important to spread out the weight of the saddle evenly because over time the panels with padding will become squished where the saddle meets the saddle rack. If they wear down unevenly the saddle will start to become uncomfortable for your horse and will cause saddle sores.

Make it a habit to check your saddle’s condition all over before and after riding so that you can catch any maintenance and repairs early on before they cause discomfort for your horse.

On the other hand, Western saddles tend to have a fleece lining.

After a long ride, this lining can be wet with sweat. For a Western saddle, it’s important to have a rack that allows the fleece to dry out completely to prevent mould.

A Western saddle carries most of its weight in the centre of the gullet and the skirts need support because they help retain the shape of the tree.

Make sure that the rack your saddle rests on is the right shape and size for the saddle because it can stretch out the saddle and lead to a misshapen tree.

Don’t store your saddle pad on top of your saddle.

I know it feels convenient to just plop the saddle pad on top of your saddle when you’re storing your tack, but the saddle pad is the sweatiest, dirtiest item among your tack and should be cleaned and dried after every ride.

A separate rack for saddle pads is the best option so that they can get sufficient airflow (it kind of looks like one of those towel racks in the bathroom).

Before storing I like to give my saddle pads a good shake and a brushing if needed. Shaking it off once it has dried (such as before saddling) is also a good idea because the hair and debris that was wet after use may shake loose more easily when dry.

The most important thing to remember is that your saddle pad should be free of any debris that may rub against your horse’s back.

Having several saddle pads is a good idea in case the one you used before hasn’t had enough time to dry by the time you want to ride again.

Common pieces of tack.

These are things you’ll find most often:

  • Saddle. A padded and leather-covered seat for the rider.
  • Saddle blanket. A padded cloth that’s placed underneath the saddle to help spread the weight and increase the comfort of your horse.
  • Girth. Also called a cinch, this is a broad strap of material that fits around the barrel of the horse and keeps the saddle in place.
  • Stirrups. Foot holds connected to the saddle by straps.
  • Bridle. A smller harness that fits the horses head and is most often attached to the reins.
  • Reins. Long leather or fabric straps that attach to the bridle/bit and used to direct the horse.
  • Bit. A metal or rubber piece that rests in the horses mouth.
  • Breast strap. Also called a breastplate or breast collar, this is a harness that is used to keep the saddle in place with straps that extend around the horses sternum and forelegs.
  • Breeching. A strap around the haunches of a draft, pack or riding animal. Used both under saddle and in harness, breeching engages when an animal slows down or travels downhill and is used to brake or stabilize a load.
  • Halter. A headcollar used to lead and tie up the horse.
  • Lead rope. A length of rope that snaps onto the halter for leading a horse.
  • Hackamore. A bitless bridle that has a special type of noseband that works on the pressure points in the face.
  • Martingale. A strap or set of straps running from the noseband or reins to the girth of a horse, used to prevent the horse from raising its head too high.
  • Hoof boots. Boots to put on your (most often barefoot) horse to protect the hooves.
  • Boots & bandages. Used to wrap around your horses legs. There are many types of boots and bandages, such as to protect the tendons, travel boots and medical boots.
  • Blankets. Blankets are used to cover up horses for different reasons, such as for warmth, for cooling down and for protection from bugs.
  • Nosebag. Also called a feedbag is a bag with food that is attached to the headcollar of a horse so it can eat.
  • Fly mask. A mask made out of fabric and netting to keep bugs out of the eyes.
  • Mosquero. A decorative fringe attached to the browband of the birdle to help shoo away flies.
  • Blinkers. A pair of small leather screens attached to a horse’s bridle to prevent it seeing sideways and behind and being startled.
  • Harness. A device that connects a horse to a vehicle or another type of load.
  • Ear covers. Also known as ear bonnets, fly-bonnets or, earmuffs are worn on top of a horse’s head and over the ears to muffle sound.

Some tack is used in every ride, others occasionally or for special occasions.

Tack is made out of many different materials, leather being the traditional material and most common.

Synthetic tack can refer to many types of synthetic material, which can be used to make just about every type of horse tack there is.

Why is there a saddle stand in the tack room?

Depending on how big your stable is, you’ll find one or more saddle stands in the tack room.

The saddle stand is where you place your saddle while you’re doing maintenance on it, but isn’t commonly used for storing a saddle when many people share the use of it.

Since a saddle sees a lot of use, the leather requires regular cleaning and maintenance.

Periodically you’ll need to clean the saddle with some saddle soap, most often wiping it clean will be enough. This is a great way to get a closer look at your saddle to see if all the straps are still in good condition, clean out any dirt that’s gotten stuck in any crevasses and condition the leather when it needs it.

If you look up you’ll most likely also see a hook with several prongs hanging from the ceiling.

This is for hanging up your bridle for cleaning and maintenance.

When you ride with a bit you’ll want to wash out just the bit after every ride because it will be covered in saliva. Wiping down the entire bridle before you hang it up for storage is also a good way to make sure you’re not storing it dirty.

Periodically you’ll want to take the whole bridle apart and clean and condition each strap separately to keep it in good condition.

Tack cleaning might sound like a lot of work when you’re starting out, but soon it’ll be second nature and you won’t even think about it anymore!


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