Talk the Tack: A Complete Guide To Horse Riding Terms & Slang

December 21, 2021 5 min read

Talk the Tack: A Complete Guide To Horse Riding Terms & Slang

No matter what level you are in with riding, whether you started riding two months or you’re off to your 20th horse show, people riding horses will always find the horse riding industry jargon confusing and hard to remember. After all, there’s so much of it to keep track of everything!

The thing is, much like riding, you remember the jargon through exposure, practice, and usage. When you’re around enough equestrians and go on rides as often as you possibly can, you will find yourself talking like a proper equestrian! When you constantly and consistently immerse yourself in the horse world, you will unwittingly pick it up and it will become a second language to you.

In this article, we will talk about:

  • What makes tack essential to horse riding and training
  • Why is it called “tack”, not just horse gear
  • A glossary of equine tack

The importance of tack

Tack is the general term used to describe all the gear your horse uses or needs to accomplish its activities. While each tack would be different based on your horse’s activity and conditions, plus your purpose in horseback riding, it goes without saying that having a tack is both beneficial for the equine and the equestrian. It creates not just a smooth ride or accomplishes certain tasks, but it keeps horse riding enjoyable, safe, and healthy for you and your riding partner.

Specific tack are used on your riding partners to cater to their purpose. Tack for an equine used in the fields, for example, will have a vastly different tack than a four-legged pal used for eventing. The same goes for a senior riding partner suffering from swayback, compared to a 5-year old horse in their prime. Each tack is tailor-fit according to the needs of the equine.

Why is horse gear called “tack”, anyway?

Hardly any equestrian has ever questioned the complicated vocabulary of the horse world. After all, why can’t everything be as straightforward as calling things hay or saddle pad?

The history as to why horse riding gear is called tack is said to come from the shortening of the word “tackle”, which makes sense because current horse gear is made to “tackle” or direct a domesticated horse to do what their riding partner wants them to do.

A handy glossary for tack terminology

Bit

Made from metal, a bit is inside the horse’s mouth, resting there and attached to the bridle or halter on the head of the equine partner. This is used to help you control your horse. Since metal in your riding pal’s mouth can be uncomfortable through time, agel bit guardcan be used. Made out of soft, non-toxic rubber with gel contours, it fits most bits perfectly, stays on, and lasts long. It keeps mouthpieces comfortable and straight, too.

Boots

A horse’s legs do a lot of work, and their boots are made to protect their lower legs and hooves. It comes in different forms—tendon boots, bell boots, to name a few—all serving different purposes. Bell boots, for example, protect their legs and keep your equine partner’s shoes on.Leg wraps also fall under this category, and serve the same purpose—to prevent damage or trauma to your equine partner’s legs.

Breastplate 

Keeping a saddle in place is highly important—it keeps you on your equine, after all! A breastplate works with the cinch or girth in keeping the saddle in place, preventing it from slipping backward. It is set up to pass under the chest of your riding pal.

Bridle (or Halter)

This is the harness that you see around an equine’s head and is fitted to be used as a guide or to tie up your riding partner using a lead rope. Sometimes, instead of the usual bit, a noseband called a hackamore is used. There are special bridles used for particular events, such as the snaffle bridle for cross country eventing.

Cinch (or Girth)

This is a strap that is wrapped onto the horse to keep the saddle in place, “cinching” the saddle around the horse. Keeping the saddle in place will keep you in place while riding, too!

Horseshoe 

Usually thought of as a symbol of good luck, a horseshoe is a piece of iron that is made into the letter U, and nailed to the hoof of your equine for protection.

Lead rope

Attached to your equine’s halter, a lead rope is usually made out of leather and is used when the horse is not being ridden or bridled, so it’s typically just to lead your riding partner from one point to another.

Martingale

If your equine partner has the habit of raising their head too high, then perhaps using a martingale would be good for your riding pal. A martingale is a strap that comes from the reins and ends to the girth, and using it will help you control the height of your riding partner’s head, moving it to a height that you want it to be.

Reins

Now that you are in the horse world, you will realize that a lot of sayings stem from horseback riding. “Hold the reins” makes it to the common conversation, and even in the dictionary, as a means to stay in control. And that’s exactly what reins do to your equine partner. These long straps are attached to your riding pal’s bridle and are used to control your horse or direct them to what you want them to do. These straps are usually made out of leather, nylon, or metal.

Saddle pads

Primarily used to keep your riding partner comfortable, a saddle pad also prevents the saddle from rubbing against your equine’s bare skin and absorbs your horse’s sweat and moisture. The saddle pad is placed right under the saddle, acting as a preventive measure from sweat and your riding partner’s hair from damaging saddles.

Saddle pads can be used on different kinds of horses, unlike a saddle that needs to be tailor-fit to each horse. Also, unlike saddles that change depending on whether you ride a western discipline or prefer an English discipline, saddle pads can be used for both disciplines, and are not dependent on the riding style or competition. Rather, it depends on the horse’s need or condition, such as something as simple as preventing chafing, to more difficult conditions, such as swayback.

Each pad is usually made from different types of materials, like fleece or rubber. There’s a saddle pad to fit what your equine partner needs. A breathable saddle pad, for example, helps manage the airflow going into your horse’s skin and helps them avoid overheating. From a gel half pad to western saddle pads, a saddle pad also properly distributes pressure and absorbs shock, so that your four-legged partner will feel comfortable and be pain-free.

Saddle

One of the most common tacks that even non-riders know, a saddle is made out of leather and is what you, the rider, use to sit comfortably on your equine. Take note that the saddle is not just made for the rider’s safety and comfort, it is also for the equine partner’s benefit. Always riding on your four-legged pal bareback, meaning without a saddle, may cause your horse to develop back problems in the long run.

Stirrups 

After the saddle, the stirrups are also a common horse tack term that is known to non-equestrians, so much so that it’s also used in the fashion industry. To put it simply, stirrups are footholds that are connected to your equine’s saddle, and you use them to help hoist yourself up to your riding partner. It would take a great deal of effort to get up with your four-legged pal without them!

Tack is as important to your horse as it is to you. Investing in good, quality tack will pay for itself in the long run. And the first step towards a great investment is knowing the right terms—and since you have read this glossary, you are well on your way!