The saddle is built upon a frame known as the tree. Traditionally, the tree was made of beech wood. Many trees are made of laminated wood which is bonded under pressure and formed in a mould. Fibre-glass is often used for making racing saddles.

The spring tree has two pieces of light steel set so as to link the front and rear portions of the tree on their undersides. The springs allow the tree to ‘give’ with body pressure, which is an important factor if the saddle is to be used for jumping. A ridged saddle without springs is found on ‘show’ saddles, and children’s saddles. A spring saddle is undoubtedly the best choice if the main consideration is a comfortable ride.

Figure 1: The Saddle

The tree is the most vulnerable part of the saddle, and may break if the saddle is dropped and, more probably, if the horse rolls while wearing a saddle.

A broken tree is liable to injure the horse’s back while it is rolling; or, if it is ridden under a saddle with a broken tree, pieces of wood and steel, piercing the leather, may wound the horse.

Stirrup bars are fitted to the tree and should be forged. Cast stirrup bars are the sign of a cheap saddle and should be avoided. The metal may be identified by the words ‘Forged’ or ‘Cast’ stamped on the bars. Forged bars should be used because they are stronger than cast ones. The stirrup bars are usually hinged at the end with a safety catch. The catch should be down when riding so that should the rider fall and a foot be caught in the stirrup, the stirrup leather will disengage from the stirrup bar.

Figure 2: The Saddle (underneath)

A saddle may have a full panel, or it may be cut with a half-panel. (The design shown in the diagram). The half-panel design has a sweat flap that reaches almost to the bottom of the saddle flaps.

The lining is usually made of leather which is long lasting and can be kept clean.

Figure 3: Saddle and Labels


·         The show saddle

This has straight cut flaps, so that the horse’s shoulders may be shown off, and tends to keep the rider’s legs straight.

·         The dressage saddle

This is similar to the showing saddle. The flap is not as straight as that of the showing saddle. There is no knee roll, and it has a half-flap so that the rider’s legs may be in contact with the horse’s sides. It has long girth straps and is usually fitted with a shorter than usual girth.

·         The jumping saddle

This has a deeper seat than the saddles we have considered above. Knee rolls are fitted, and the flaps are cut forward so that the rider can easily maintain the forward seat for jumping. The inference is that a rider who is jumping will usually have slightly shorter stirrups than would be the case for hacking.

·         Racing saddle

This is very light. Even the panel is reduced in size to keep it light. It is used with a surcingle that lies over the saddle when the horse is being raced.

·         General purpose saddle

This saddle has features that mark a compromise between the jumping saddle and the show saddle. It is obviously designed to offer the rider a saddle suitable for jumping or for every day riding.

·         Side saddle

This is designed to allow the rider to sit safely with both legs on the same side of the horse. It has a flat seat, one stirrup and two horns or pommels. The upper one or fixed head is used to support the right leg, while the lower pommel or leaping head is used as an emergency grip.

Figure 4: Side Saddles

This is the cheapest kind of saddle and is rarely available in this country. It is very comfortable to ride but is unsuitable for competition work, for polo or racing. The saddle may be used for hacking and is popular for children’s ponies.


Great care must be taken to ensure that the saddle fits properly since a badly fitting saddle will hurt

the horse’s back and may cause irreparable harm. Whenever a saddle is bought, it must be tried on the horse before the deal is finalised.

A correctly fitted saddle will impose no weight on the horse’s loins, and will exert no pressure on the horse’s spine. The pommel will stand well above the horse’s withers, so that you can get your hand between the front of the saddle and the horse’s withers. The rider’s weight will be evenly distributed on the horse’s back muscles, and the shoulder muscles and shoulder blades should not be hampered by the saddle. The saddle must also fit the rider. A saddle that is too small will result in the rider seeming to overflow the cantle, while a saddle that is too big will cause the rider to float about. It must be noted that the saddle must be of the correct weight for the horse or pony.



These are made of various materials  and  fit  under  the  saddle.  Numnahs  are  fitted  when  a saddle is less than a perfect fit, to protect the horse’s back from harm (being  galled),  and  to improve the appearance of the horse when it has been tacked up. Numnahs may be made of sheepskin, foam rubber, nylon and felt.


These must be strong and comfortable, thus accommodating  the need  for the  rider’s safety  and the well-being of the horse. A weak girth might break and  endanger  the  rider,  usually  at  a moment of stress and a rubbing or abrasive girth will gall the horse.

The following types are common:

  • Webbing: When webbing girths are used, they  should  be  used  in  pairs  so  that  should one break, the other will hold until the snapped one can be replaced;
  • Leather: These are expensive but strong.They are comfortable so long  as they  are kept clean and supple, but this entails a certain amount of hard work;
  • String: This is the most common kind. It is easy to keep clean, and is strong, giving warning of when replacement is required. It needs to be used carefully since it can pinch the horse if it is carelessly placed;
  • Mohair: This is very soft and is ideal for ahorse that is prone to galling  or is touchy  about the middle.
  • Cottage Craft: These are padded girths  made  of  material,  and  are  easy  to  keep  clean and comfortable for the horse.


Stirrups should be made of stainless steel. They should fit the rider’s foot so that about 1cm (1/2 inch) clearance is left on each side of the foot and the sides of the stirrup. There are various kinds of safety stirrups that may be used should a quicker release be required by the particular rider. Diagrams show typical patterns:

Figure 5: Stirrups

The safety stirrup most commonly used is made of metal with one side being linked by lengths of rubber. The rubber side is used so that the metal is nearest the horse, and the rubber toward the outside. The obvious disadvantage is that the irons do not hang properly being heavier on one side than the other. These could break, and might be difficult to use if, during a ride, the rubber on the outside broke.


Remove the girth, the stirrup leathers and irons and the girth buckle guards. Clean the leather using a large sponge, squeezing the excess water out and applying saddle soap. Take care not to get the leather too wet. The black accumulations of grease, known as jockeys, must be removed, by using, preferably, small pads of horse hair, gathered when the mane or tail are pulled.

All leather work should be soaped (again, keep the leather as dry as possible) working over the panels, girth tabs, sweat flaps, saddle flaps, skirts and seat. Lines of stitching should be generously soaped in order to preserve them. Never soap over dirt – if necessary, the back of leatherwork (the rough side) may be gently scraped with the back of a knife.

Stirrup irons should be washed and dried before being given a rub with metal polish. Stirrup leathers and leather girths will be treated in the same way as the leather parts of the saddle.


There are two main kinds of bridle: the double bridle and snaffle bridle. Various kinds of bit can be fitted to the snaffle bridle to suit the temperament of the horse (and the hands of the rider)

The Snaffle Bridle

Various kinds of nose-band may be fitted to a horse using a snaffle bridle. The type shown in the diagram is called a cavesson noseband. It has no effect in controlling the horse and is used solely to make the horse look ‘dressed’. It may provide a convenient place to which a standing martingale can be attached (martingales are dealt with below).

The noseband may be made of plain leather or of thin leather with stitching that might be used for showing. The noseband may be covered in sheepskin, at one time commonly seen in the show jumping ring and in flat racing.

The dropped noseband is the most commonly used type being used to keep the horse’s mouth closed so that it cannot evade the bit by opening the mouth, crossing the jaws or getting the tongue over the bit. The dropped noseband may also alter the action of the snaffle bit so that it produces more flexion of the lower jaw, thus giving the rider a greater degree of control.

A flash noseband is used when the horse needs a dropped noseband and an attachment for the standing martingale.

The grakle noseband is useful for a hard pulling horse because it exerts pressure at one point on the nose where the parts of the nose cross. This is used for horses that cross their jaws.

The Kineton noseband is a specialised piece of tack used on horses that are hard pullers. Its action is severe. It does not control the opening of the horse’s mouth as do other nosebands, but works in conjunction with the bit to give the rider more control.

Figure 6: Various Nosebands

The Reins

There are various types of reins depending partly upon the purpose for which the horse is used.

Dressage and Showing Reins

These are plain leather reins which may be plaited or laced to give a better grip than plain reins.

Plaited Reins

These are split and then plaited. Lace is inserted into the plaited reins passing over and through them, making v-shapes down the length.

Figure 7: Various Plaited Reins

Rubber Covered Reins

These are sometimes used for hunting, racing and show-jumping. They provide a good grip for the hands, especially if the horse tends to sweat a great deal.

There are also reins that are not made entirely of leather. These are made of tubular webbing with leather finger-slots at 100 – 120cm (4 – 5inches) intervals where the hands take the reins. These are sometimes called continental reins and are used for show-jumping. Nylon plaited reins are cheaper than the kinds mentioned above, but tend to cut the fingers.

Figure 8: Other Types of Reins


The double bridle consists of additions to the snaffle bridle. The additions are a curb bit, a curb chain which has a special link in the middle through which the lip strap is passed, and two D rings on the cheek of the bit to which the lip strap is attached. It has two sets of reins made of leather, a broad one called the bradoon or snaffle rein, and another called the curb rein, which is thinner than the bradoon. Lastly, there is the slip head and bradoon cheek piece for the bradoon bit.

Fitting the Bridle:

  • The throat latch should be so loose that the width of a hand can pass between it and the horse’s throat/jaw bone;
  • The brow band should not interfere with the hang of the head-piece;
  • The cavesson noseband should be half-way between the projecting cheek bone and the corners of the mouth, and it should be loose enough for two fingers to pass between it and the nose;
  • A dropped noseband should be 50 – 75 cm (2 – 3 inches) above the nostrils and should fit in the chin-groove. It should be just tight enough to prevent the horse from crossing its jaw. It should, however, not be so tight that the horse cannot flex its jaw;
  • The bradoon and bit should just wrinkle the corners of the horse’s mouth, and not so low that it touches the teeth;
  • The adjustment of the curb chain should be made so that the chain comes into action when the curb cheek has been drawn back to an angle of about 45˚. The curb chain is fitted by attaching one side of the chain to the off-side hook, and twisting it until it lies flat, whereupon it is attached to the other hook; and
  • The lip strap should not be too tight since its purpose is to hold the curb chain should it become unhooked.
  • Check that all keepers are secure.

Cleaning the Bridle

Take the bridle apart, wash and dry the bits separately. The leather parts of the bridle may be cleaned in the manner described for cleaning the saddle. Polish and clean buckles and bits in the same way as stirrup irons are cleaned. Soap all leatherwork, giving special attention to the under parts of the leather, those which lie against the horse’s skin and get very dirty.

Put the bridle together again, replacing all the buckles in their correct holes, and putting all strap ends into their keepers. The bridle may then be hung up, folding the reins through the throat latch.

The Principles of Bitting

The chief principle in bitting is the application of pressure on the horse’s mouth in order to cause the jaw to relax, which is immediately discernible by the rider through the hands. The bit enables the rider to position the horse’s head insisting on control over speed and direction. Head position, of course, stems from early training. Motive force is derived from the rider’s legs, the seat, and through the rider’s hands. The bit becomes an extension of these forces.

The bit operates on one or more of seven parts of the horse’s head, upon which pressure may be brought to bear:

  • The corners of the mouth;
  • The bars of the mouth;
  • The tongue;
  • The poll;
  • The curb groove;
  • The nose; and
  • The roof of the mouth.

There are many different kinds of bit, and care should be taken to find which is ideal for each horse. Martingales and noseband are auxiliaries to the bit since they alter or intensify its action.


The Snaffle

The snaffle consists of a single mouthpiece, either jointed or straight bar, which works  on the corners of the mouth, on the tongue, and on the bars  of  the  mouth. It  teaches  the  horse  to accept the bit with a still, correct head carriage and supple  jaws. The  jointed  snaffle  is  more  severe than the straight bar type, producing a kind of nutcracker movement on the mouth.

The dropped noseband used with a snaffle alters the direction of the pressure exerted from bearing upon the corners and bars of the mouth to a more downward and inward force as opposed to the usual upward pull that comes from pressure on the corners of the mouth.

Weymouth or Double Bridle

There are two bits, one the bradoon which may be straight or jointed, and  the other,  the curb, which is a straight bar with  a  bend  or  port  in  it  in  the  middle of  the  bar. It  should  be noted that the double bridle is a complicated  method  of  bitting,  and should  be used  only  by  people who know what they are about. It is understood that only horses that have been trained to go forward freely with a relaxed jaw in a snaffle should be put into a double bridle.

The bradoon of the double bridle  acts  in  the  same way as the jointed  snaffle.  The curb  acts  at  the same time as the bradoon to  offer  a more  refined  aid,  and to help maintain  a relaxed  jaw. The curb presses on the bars of the mouth and the tongue, the long cheeks of the curb offering leverage to increase  the  pressure  on  these parts.  The  degree  of  extra  pressure  is  determined by the size and shape of the port (the bend) in the bit.

The Pelham

The Pelham is a combination snaffle and double bridle in one. The bridle may be used with one rein or two. The bit may be a straight bar or a bar with a port. It may be made of metal or vulcanite.  When two reins are used, the snaffle rein is connected to the snaffle rings, and the curb rein is connected to points at the bottom end of the cheeks. A curb chain is attached in much the same way as on the double bridle.

The action of the bit exerts pressure on the corners of the mouth from the snaffle rein, and on the poll and curb groove from the curb rein. When a mullen (straight) bit is used, the action is more on the tongue, which means that the bit is kinder to the horse than one with a port. The pelham is not as efficient as a double bridle, but it is useful in children’s ponies.


The gag is an exaggerated snaffle, used with a standing martingale for checking a strong horse when jumping. It prevents the head carriage from dropping. The rings of the bit have holes set in them at the top and bottom. Round leather is passed through these and attached to the rein. The action of this bit is severe, working on the mouth with a slightly upward pressure and exerting a slightly downward pressure on the poll. The gag teaches the horse to raise its head. This bit is best used with two reins so that the more severe action of the gag is brought into play only when the horse lowers his head.

Bitless Bridle – The Hackamore

The action of this bridle is on the nose and air passages above the nostrils. It works in conjunction with a curb-chain. It is used with horses that have damaged mouths and has become popular in showing work.


·         Straight Bar Snaffle:

The action is on the corners of the  mouth  and  is  used  with  young  horses  or  horses whose mouths have remained soft and responsive;

·         Egg-butt Snaffle:

This has a nutcracker action, exerting pressure on the corners of the mouth and upon the bars of the mouth. It has fixed rings so that it will not slide through the mouth or pinch the corners of the mouth;

·         Dee-Ring Snaffle:

The action of this is similar to that of the egg-butt snaffle. It is used frequently in racing;

·         Fulmer Snaffle:

The action of this is similar to that of the egg-butt, with a rather more severe action, since it is jointed at the rings as well as in the middle. Cheeks prevent the bit being pulled through the mouth;

·         German Hollow Loose-Ring Snaffle:

The action of this snaffle is made more gentle by the loose rings which give more play in the mouth than the fixed ring allows. The hollowness of the middle of the bit makes it kinder in the mouth. It is used on horses with soft mouths;

·         Dick Christian and the French Bradoon Snaffle:

These are very similar having a link in the middle to lessen the severity of the nutcracker action. These may be used on young horses – the tongue is unlikely to be pinched;

·         Fillis Snaffle:

This bit is suspended in the horse’s mouth with extra room for the tongue which tends to reduce the squeezing action of the bit. It is used for horses that put their tongues over the normal bit;

·         Twisted Snaffle:

This snaffle has a twist, making it considerably more severe than a plain snaffle;

·         Roller Snaffle:

This is not as severe in action as the twisted snaffle, but is more severe than simple. The rollers encourage the horse to mouth the bit while preventing it from taking  the  bit between its teeth;

·         Magenis Snaffle:

In this snaffle, rollers are set in the mouthpiece which gives it a severe action. It is used to prevent the horse from crossing his jaw against the bit; and

·         Scorrier Snaffle:

This has a most severe action, using four rings instead of the usual two. This gives the bit a harder squeezing action on the sides of the jaw since the reins have a more direct effect.  This bit is used only if all else has failed, as it could ruin a horse’s mouth.


·         Vulcanite Pelham:

The top rein exerts pressure on the corners of the mouth. The poll and curb groove are affected when the bottom rein is applied. This is the milder group of pelhams;

·         Scamperdown Pelham:

The mouthpiece curves backwards so as to take the cheek piece further back. This allows more room in the horse’s mouth;

·         Hartwell Pelham:

This has a ported metal mouthpiece that gives room for the tongue. By exerting more pressure on the tongue, the bit is more severe than those described above; and

·         Kimblewick

This is a combination snaffle and curb. The squared eye presses downwards bringing pressure on the poll to lower the head. Given a low position of the hands, the rein slips down the cheek to bring pressure on the poll, curb pressure and a downward action on the bars.


The Martingale:

The purpose of a martingale is to lower the horse’s head, thus giving the rider more control. They are used in energetic activities like polo, jumping and racing.

The Standing Martingale:

This is the simplest form of martingale and consists of a leather body having a loop at the end. One end is fastened to the cavesson noseband and the other attaches to the girth (the girth threads through the martingale loop). It is used in conjunction with a neck strap that keeps it in position. It is used chiefly in polo and has been banned in some show jumping circles. If it is adjusted too tightly, it prevents the horse from stretching its head while jumping.

The Running Martingale:

This is attached at the girth in the same way as the standing martingale, but the bridle end is split  and ends in two rings, one of which is passed through one rein and the second ring through the other. The running martingale increases pressure on the horse’s mouth when it raises its head. Again, great care should be taken to adjust this piece of tack correctly, for, should it be too tight, it will cause discomfort to the horse. To test correctness of fit, when the two rings are pulled up over the horse’s shoulder, they should touch the withers.

Irish Rings:

These are a pair of metal rings linked by a leather strap of about 10 –  15cm  (4 to  6 inches)  in  length. The reins are run through the rings below the horse’s neck  and  linked by the  strap. It  is used in racing to keep the reins in place and prevent them from going over the horse’s head.


This is used to stop the saddle from slipping backwards,  which may  happen  if  the horse has  a  weak conformation or it may be used in cross-country work where  perhaps, ground  conditions make the use of the breastplate necessary.

There are two different types of breastplate. The hunting type has two straps which attach to the D- rings on the saddle, are joined across the breast, and pass between the legs to be secured at the girth. The Aintree, or racing type of breastplate, has webbing or elastic strap which attaches to the girth straps with a neck strap to hold it in place.


The crupper is a leather strap that is attached to the back D’s of the saddle and runs along the back and passes below the tail. The purpose of this piece of tack is to keep the saddle from slipping forward. It is used on horses that have a very poor conformation – for example, very flat withers and very high loins.

Use the correct tack to do the required job. Use well-made properly fitted tack.
Make sure that tack is always properly adjusted.