Whether you ride an English or Western saddle, the basics of saddling up are the same. The goal is safety and comfort for the horse and rider. These instructions feature an English saddle in the images, but they apply for both styles of saddle. You might notice a slight difference between the two saddle types when strapping on the saddle.
Brush Your Horse
Brush your horse’s back and girth area. Be careful to remove any dirt or grit that may cause chaffing under the saddle or girth. Brush so all the hair lies flat. Check the girth area as well, and brush or sponge away any dirt or mud. If you leave grit on your horse's back or girth/cinch area, this can lead to painful galls or irritations that can make your horse misbehave.
It is traditional to saddle from the near side (left side), but you should be able to saddle from the right (offside) if necessary.
Position the Blanket or Pad
If you are using a Western saddle blanket, it is generally folded in half. The fold should go to the front when the blanket is on the horse. Or, you may use a Western saddle pad, which does not require folding.
An English saddle pad may be shaped to fit neatly under the saddle and may have ties or hook and loop fastener tabs attached to a D-ring on the saddle. It helps keep it in place while riding. These tabs or ties go on the top side, not against the horse.
Place the saddle pad or blanket on the horse’s back, positioning it forward over the withers and sliding it back into place. This positioning ensures that the hair on the horse’s back lies flat beneath the pad and saddle. Make sure the blanket or pad is even on both sides. Check both sides to ensure that the pad or blanket is not folded, wrinkled, or curling.
Lift the Saddle On
The stirrups on an English saddle should be run up the leathers, and the offside stirrup of a Western saddle should be hooked over the horn or folded over the seat. These precautions prevent the hard stirrup from hitting you or the horse as you lift the saddle. The girth buckle or cinch (if you have them) should be folded back over the saddle seat. Some people take their English girth off the saddle completely each time they finish riding. Removing these items helps prevent the billet straps from being twisted when the saddle is stored. If you remove the girth after each ride, you will have to buckle up both sides when you saddle up.
Lift the saddle high enough, so it doesn’t hit the horse or knock the pad out of position. The saddle should be placed slightly forward and settled back. Place the saddle gently on the horse’s back. If you let a saddle fall heavily onto your horse’s back, it may spook the horse or cause the horse to resent being saddled or "cold backed."
Check Both Sides of the Saddle
Move to the offside to take the stirrup down on a Western saddle and check the pad or blanket, so there are no wrinkles beneath the saddle on both sides. If the girth or cinch is not already attached to the offside, buckle or tie it. Check again that the blanket or pad is flat and that the horse's hair beneath the pad stays smooth and lies in the natural direction it grows. Wrinkles in a blanket or pad can cause galls or cause discomfort that could make your horse irritable.
Get Ready to Buckle or Cinch
Move to the near side, reach beneath the horse, and pick up the free end of the girth or cinch.
Connect the Girth Buckles or Cinch Straps
Either buckle the girth or tie the cinch up loosely. Tighten the girth or cinch gently in small increments. If you girth up a horse suddenly and tightly, it can cause a horse to kick or bite. The horse may begin to resent being girthed up and can become "girthy." Some horses may bloat themselves in anticipation of discomfort. Ask the horse to step forward, wait a moment for it to exhale, and tighten the girth gently again.
Only tighten the girth enough to hold the saddle firmly in place. Some riders feel the tighter the girth, the more secure they will be. You should not need to make the link sausage out of your horse by over-tightening the girth—this can lead to injury and may compromise your horse’s breathing. You should be able to slide your fingers between the girth or cinch and the horse's body.
If there are tabs at the front of your saddle pad, loop them through the D-rings at the front of the saddle and tie or fasten them.
Remove Wrinkles and Help the Saddle Settle
Check that there are no wrinkles in the skin under the girth. Stand at your horse’s head facing back. Pick up one front leg by holding the pastern or low on the canon and stretch it forward. Do this for both front legs.
As a horse works, you may find the girth becomes looser. Always check its girth before mounting and again after a few minutes of riding.