How To Saddle A Horse- Tips

Time to saddle up! Except, how to saddle a horse? How do you know what saddle to pick? What saddle pads to pick? Where do you put it? How tight should it be? All of these questions will be answered in this article!

There’s more to saddling a horse than putting a saddle on his back and calling it good.  Thought and decision-making go into saddle fit, saddle placement, saddle pad choice and more.  

There are tons of product choices when it comes to saddles, saddle pads, and girths, and all of those choices are unique to each horse and owner.

It’s easiest to think of saddling in steps.  What goes on the horse first, and what needs to be done last before you mount? In this article, I’ll be walking step by step through the process of saddling a horse.  First, picking the saddle pads, second, picking the saddle, third, placing the saddle properly, and fourth, tightening up the girth.

Picking the Right Saddle Pads

Okay, so let’s start with the first step: what do you put on a horse’s back first? Not the saddle, but the saddle pad, or pads! Realistically, saddles don’t need saddle pads.  A properly fitting saddle should be able to sit comfortably on a horse’s back without any saddle pads.  

But, there are reasons that saddle pads are important. Not every rider can afford to have custom made saddles for each and every one of their horses.  So, sometimes saddle pads can be used to correct a fit that may not be perfect.  Saddle pads also prevent the leather saddle from rubbing uncomfortably on the horse’s fur and skin.

In the English world, different types of saddle pads include baby pads, quilted pads, contoured pads, wither pads, risers, gel pads, non-slip pads, and many others.  Baby pads, quilted pads, and countered pads are the first pad you would typically put on. They are square or rectangular, and they sit on a horse’s withers.  

Next is the withers pad, which can be memory foam, wool, or gel.  Different withers pads serve different purposes.  They all give the horse extra cushioning right on its spine.  Sometimes they are used to take up extra space between a saddle and the horse’s back, sometimes they are used to give horses with back issues better support. It simply depends on the circumstance.

In the Western world, saddle pads are typically blanket-like material or a more padded memory foam.  They typically have to be bigger and thicker than English saddle pads because western saddles are heavier and bigger than English saddles.

Picking the Right Saddle

Many, many articles could be written about the importance and details of saddle fit! So, for the sake of this article, I’m just going to scratch the surface of the topic.  As I said earlier, not every horse is going to be able to have a custom fit saddle. But, there are a few important things you should consider when picking which saddle to use on a horse.

No saddle should touch a horse’s withers. You should be able to fit a few fingers, if not more, between the pommel (i.e.- front) of the saddle and the horse’s withers.  In my opinion, this is the most important thing when it comes to saddle fit. Everything else can be mostly supplemented with padding.

Man with Horse Saddle

Next, a saddle shouldn’t pinch a horse’s shoulders.  This one is a little bit harder to tell by the eye, and not by trial, but it is possible.  Make sure that there is a little bit of space between the horse’s shoulder and the saddle, or at least that the saddle isn’t tight against a horse’s shoulder.

Lastly, make sure the saddle also fits you.  You’re not going to be doing the horse any favors if your leg doesn’t reach down below the saddle enough, or if your legs are hanging off the back of the saddle.  While it may not be as important as withers clearance, it is still very important that the saddle fits you!

Where Should the Saddle Sit?

A saddle should sit on the back part of a horse’s withers. A common mistake is placing a saddle too far forward on a horse’s withers. The girth (or cinch) should fall just a few inches behind the horse’s “elbow,” but not right behind it.

There are several aids that can help hold a saddle in place.  Common in the English world is a non-slip pad.  These pads are often made of silicone or other sticky plastics and are placed between the horse’s back and the saddle pad. Non-slip pads keep the saddle from sliding back further than it is meant to.

Common in the Western world is a breastplate or breast collar.  This is a leather or canvas strap that attaches to the saddle and wraps around a horse’s chest, sometimes all connecting to the girth or cinch between a horse’s legs.  Its purpose is to put pressure on the horse’s chest as the saddle starts to slide back.

How Tight Should the Girth Be?

Okay, back to our step-by-step process: the last thing step in saddling your horse is tightening up the girth or cinch! The reasoning behind this one is obvious; you don’t want the saddle to slide from side to side while you’re riding. This could end badly for both you and your horse.

But, your girth can actually be too tight. If a girth is too tight, it can affect the horse’s mobility in its front legs and shoulders, and a horse’s overall comfort levels.  So, you want it to be tight, but not too tight.


And with that, you’re saddled up and ready to ride! Saddling a horse, and choosing how to saddle a horse can be a more involved process than you’d expect.  But, it’s important in order to have a happy comfortable horse and an enjoyable ride.

I hope this article helped you better understand how to saddle a horse and what goes into saddling a horse. If so, please share this article and share with us your experiences saddling horses!

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