Tack-Fit Issues

Tack fit is critical to your horse’s health and wellbeing. Learn key checkpoints for his saddle, bridle, bit, cinch, and other core gear.

Proper tack fit and adjustment assures your horse’s comfort and wellbeing, plus promotes a pleasurable ride for the both of you. JGalione/istockphoto.com

An irritated horse is not a happy horse. Poor tack fit can lead to a host of physical and behavioral issues, so be sure your horse’s gear fits and is well adjusted.

Saddle, Pad, Cinch

Signs of poor saddle fit include tender areas you can identify when grooming; unexplained dry spots under the pad at unsaddling; resistance during saddling or riding; or actual rubs, sores, or white hairs at pressure points.

A too-narrow saddle tree will pinch your horse’s back; a too-wide tree will allow pressure on his vertebrae. Assessing saddle fit requires experience; if need be, seek guidance from an expert (saddle retailers may offer fitting services).

Good saddle pads and blankets can increase your horse’s comfort during riding, but they can’t compensate for a poorly fitting saddle.

Your cinch should be long enough to allow the end on each side to be positioned about halfway between your horse’s elbow and the saddle rigging; this helps avoid girth-galling.

Bridle, Bit

Adjust your horse’s headstall so the bit’s mouthpiece fits snugly in the corners of his mouth without stretching his lips. If your bridle has a throatlatch strap (useful for horses that attempt to rub the bridle off and with snaffle bits), adjust it to allow three fingers between the throat and the strap to accommodate breathing during strenuous work.

If your bridle has a browband, make sure it’s not too short or it’ll draw the headstall too close to your horse’s ears, causing rubbing. If you use a noseband, adjust it so it rests on the bony bridge of your horse’s nose and no lower, where it might restrict nasal passages. Allow at least a finger’s width of space between the noseband and your horse’s face.

Bits are a universe unto themselves; never use one whose purpose and action aren’t completely clear to you. (For the latest how-to videos on bits, featuring trainers Al Dunning and Brad Barkemeyer, search “bits” at Horse

In general, check that the bit’s mouthpiece is wide enough to fit comfortably in your horse’s mouth without pinching, and that it’s smooth and free of chips or cracks. If the bit’s shanks swivel at the corners of the mouth, make sure there’s no pinching. Also check for pinching between the shanks and the curb strap.

Adjust the tightness of the curb strap so the bit’s shanks can move back at least 2 inches before the strap engages with your horse’s chin groove. 

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