Horse Tack for Western Riding: The Basics

Western horse tack often has a pleasing, decorative appearance.

Horse tack for Western riding offers a distinct look. It’s often beautifully detailed, with showy conchos, interesting inlaid hair on hide embellishments, or even hand-painted designs. If you’re new to the world of Western riding, you might wonder exactly what to purchase. With the right horse tack, your Western riding ensemble will have a complete look, plus you’ll be safer in the saddle.

Basic Horse Tack for Western Riding

Basic horse tack for Western riding shares some similarities with English tack, however you’ll find some differences between the two when you take a close look. In this section, we’ll take a look at basic horse tack for riding Western style. When you shop, you’ll find some extras that aren’t covered here; discussing every single piece of western horse tack would require several pages!


A bridle is a general term for horse tack that’s actually made up of several pieces. You can purchase bridles complete, or you can buy various parts separately. The first part is the headstall. This surrounds the horse’s face, supporting the bit and allowing you to maintain control of your mount’s head. The bit is the portion of the bridle that goes into the horse’s mouth, enabling you to communicate gently. If you like, you can go with a bitless bridle or use a hackamore or bosal instead of a bit. The reins are the final piece, connecting the bit to your hands. Most western-style bridles have split reins, either plain or with decorative touches that may or may not match the headstall and breast collar.

Saddle Pad

Because western saddles tend to be bulky, the saddle pads needed to fit underneath them tend to be much thicker than their English counterparts. Be sure that you purchase a saddle pad that’s well-suited to the type of riding you’ll be doing as well as one that fits your horse’s back comfortably. See this handy guide for helpful details.


Also known as cinches, girths are attached to either side of the saddle, beneath the stirrups. There are many types of girths available, including neoprene and wool covered models that provide greater comfort during long rides and athletic events. Girths come in different lengths; be sure to measure your horse so that you know what size to choose!

You may or may not elect to outfit your saddle with a rear girth or back cinch. Western riders sometimes skip this piece of horse tack as it’s optional in many cases. Not sure whether to use a back cinch or not? This piece of equipment keeps your saddle secure during vigorous activity, preventing excess bouncing that can leave you and your horse feeling tired and sore.

Breast Collar

The breast collar is another piece of horse tack that western riders sometimes omit. This is an item that not only makes your horse look better under saddle but also provides some insurance against slipping. If you decide that you’d like to use a breast collar, consider picking up a matching set that includes most of the pieces you’ll need.