Which tack is best for my horse?
The type of saddle depends on the particular needs of the rider. Jumping, eventing, dressage, showing, sidesaddle, and racing all have their own types of saddle, each with features specific to the type of riding. An all-purpose saddle is the best choice for a novice rider. Saddle size is measured from the pommel to the cantle and standard sizes are 15 to 17 inches. A good saddle should be well balanced; its weight should be evenly distributed with no extra pressure on the withers or back. The front arch must not be so narrow that it will pinch the withers, or so wide that it presses down on them. There should be no pressure on the spine and there should be a clear tunnel through the saddle when viewed from behind. The fit should be visually checked when someone is in the saddle.
There are four main types of girth: webbing, leather, string, and nylon. Within these types there are other features to be considered such as safety, ease of cleaning, and a comfortable fit. Webbing grips are rarely used today because they have a tendency to rot and are hard to keep clean. Leather girths are probably the best because they are strong and easy to clean with saddle soap, although they need oiling from time to time to keep them supple. Nylon is a good material for general-purpose girths and is easy to clean. String girths are also sufficient and less likely to cause galls than other types. A padded sleeve, often made of sheepskin, is sometimes put around the girth as an extra protection against chafing or girth galls.
Bridles and Bits
There are three types of bridle: single, double, and hackamore. The single bridle is used most often; the other types are used only by very experienced riders. The bridle enables the rider to control the horse by applying pressure and leverage to either side, or a combination of the corners of the mouth, the tongue, the bars of the mouth, the nose, and the poll; this all depends on the type of bridle and bit. Bits can be made of a variety of materials. Forged steel is the best, but is the most expensive. Plated steel may chip; nickel and other softer alloys may wear and cut the mouth, making them unsuitable. Rubber and vulcanite bits are also used, and are softer than steel.
As for bits, the snaffle is the most common. Unless very fine or firmer control is required, most horses are ridden with one form or another of the snaffle. There is a very wide variety of snaffle bits, the simplest being a jointed snaffle with rings which functions through leverage on the sides of the mouth. On some horses, the rings tend to pinch the corners of the mouth, in which case a hinged ring is fixed to the jointed mouthpiece as a way to overcome the problem. Snaffles can have straight bars or can be jointed; the severity of the bit depends on its composition material, the thickness, the shape, and the means of jointing the mouthpiece. For instance, a German snaffle has a broad mouthpiece and is considered a mild bit.
Double bridles give more precise control and are used in advanced equitation; they also allow greater control of head carriage and are used in showing and dressage. Double bridles should not be used on a horse or pony until the animals are fully accustomed to responding to a bit. The upper bit (the bridoon) is a thin snaffle and the lower bit (the curb) is H-shaped. The combination makes a variety of instructions possible by exerting pressure on the tongue, the bars of the mouth, the jaw, and the poll. There are also a number of other bits that can be used.
The Pelham bit is a variation of the curb bit that combines the effects of a curb and a snaffle in one bit. There are different types of the Pelham, which exert varying pressures on the bars of the mouth and on the chain groove. This bit can be used with two reins, but a leather loop between the bit rings, called a Pelham converter, is sometimes incorporated to allow the use of a single rein. This lessens the effects of the bit because it can’t act on both corners of the mouth and the chin groove at the same time. For this reason, the bit is sometimes used on ponies that are too strong for their riders. A Kimberwick bit works on the same principle, and is used for the same purpose, although it is quite severe and should be used with caution. A hackamore bridle has no bit in the mouth; it exerts pressure on the nose, chin groove and poll. It can be mild or severe, depending on the rider’s hands.
A cavesson or noseband is an almost universal addition to a bridle. It is used to help keep the mouth closed in the event that the horse should try to evade the bit by opening the mouth too far. It is also used in enhancing the appearance. Attaching additional equipment such as a standing martingale or a stronger noseband may help a horse to stop pulling. The most common noseband is a plain or French and is seen mostly in English disciplines. Some other common types of nosebands include a flash noseband, crank noseband and a figure-eight noseband.
Martingales come in several styles, but all styles are designed to control the head carriage in some way. The two most commonly used martingales are the running martingale and standing martingale. Some horses have a tendency of throwing their head so high that the rider has a chance of being hit in the face with the horse’s poll or upper neck. In this instance, a martingale should be used. Both are designed to put pressure on the horse’s head should it raise above the desired height. The running martingale allows more freedom for the horse than a standing martingale. Other types of martingales are the German martingale and Irish martingale. Please note that a martingale should never be used in place of a dental problem that needs to be addressed.