How To Saddle A Horse- Tips

Last Updated on November 27, 2021

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!


Can a saddle hurt a horse?

Yes, saddle pain in horses is a very common problem. A saddle that does not fit properly can cause a great deal of pain for the horse and the rider.
The main causes of saddle related problems in horses are saddle slipping, saddle sores and saddle fit.
1) Saddle slip
- A saddle that does not stay in place will cause the horse to be uncomfortable when trotting or cantering. This is because it shifts around, forming pressure points on the muscles under the saddle which then leads to saddle sores (see below).
2) Saddle sores
- saddle sores are caused by pressure on the muscles of the horse's back. This can lead to saddle galls, where skin is rubbed off, and saddle rubs where hairs are pulled out.
3) Saddle fit
- a saddle that does not fit will either sit too high or too low. This can again cause saddle sores and saddle slipping, as well as back pain in the horse which may lead to muscle damage and chronic lameness in some cases.

Is riding a horse bad for its back?

No - with the correct precautions taken. However it can lead to saddle sores (see above). These can be avoided by ensuring the horse's saddle fits correctly.
Take care not to ride a horse for too long , as this can lead to muscle damage. Always warm the horse up first and make sure it has cooled down properly after riding or exercising. The horse's saddle should also always be kept clean and dry as wet saddles will damage the horse's skin.
Lastly, riding should not be the only form of horse exercise, as this can put too much pressure on the horse's back muscles and spine. It is recommended that horses are given other forms of exercise such as walking, as these will help to keep the horse's muscles fit and flexible.

How do you ride a horse without a saddle or bridle?

It depends on the horse and you as a rider. Some people believe that the horse's balance will be disrupted if not used to riding without a saddle or bridle but this can actually make horse riding easier for both, horse and rider.
If you decide to go bareback (riding without a saddle), remember:
- The horse will feel the its weight differently on its back, so be prepared that it may feel more sensitive and harder to control initially.
- The horse's balance and posture will change when riding bareback so it is essential to know how your horse moves when ridden in this way - having another horse in front of you can help.
- The horse will not be able to carry the weight in the same way as when ridden with a saddle, so always make sure to have correct balance and posture in order to avoid falling off a horseback.

What is posting?

Posting is a technique which involves bouncing up and down on horse's back in rhythm with horse's walk. Posting is known to have been used by horse riders before saddles were invented. Nowadays it's mostly used in riding competitions.
Posting helps horse to keep its back muscles fit and flexible, provides great cardio workout, and also helps with riding balance. It is also known to increase blood circulation in horse's body, which can lead into faster recovery after exercising or riding. On your part though, posting can lead to riding fatigue and stiff legs. This technique is not appropriate for the beginners as the rider needs to know how to maintain the correct posture and balance otherwise he/she could easily fall off the horse's back.