The equestrian world has a countless amount of its own specific language, one of the most common confusing statements is “tacking up” and “untacking”. This phrase, common jargon of horse people and used across essentially all disciplines of riding, can be especially confusing.
People who work around horses often have a bad habit of using a lot of jargon that people who aren’t familiar with horses, or are just learning how to ride, handle, and care for horses probably don’t know.
Actually, it’s not so much that the sport has made up a lot of its own jargon, as much as it is that culturally many words have fallen out of use in the modern era that were common words through the centuries in which transportation by horse was the most common way to get around. It can be daunting to learn all the lingo used by those who care for and ride horses, but if you are willing to ask questions you can pick up the unique language of horse people very quickly.
So what does it mean to Tack Up?
One phrase that often brings quizzical looks to the face of individuals who are not familiar with horses and horseback riding, is the phrase “tack up”. In this phrase, tack refers to the saddlery and equipment that the horse needs to be ridden. Up refers to taking the “tack” from the “tack room” and placing the equipment on the horse properly.
tack up – to put saddle and bridle on horse (present tense: “tacking up,” and past tense: “tacked up,” are acceptable tenses)
untack – to remove saddle, bridal, and other equipment from the horse.
Tack room – a storage area for saddles, bridles, and other tack.
tack – saddles, bridles, saddle pads, and the miscellaneous gear that an individual horse needs to be ridden.
How Do I Tack Up a Horse?
You might find yourself wondering what this means after being asked to tack up or untack horse, or hearing someone refer to tacking up.
Tacking up a horse is not a simple process. Many seasoned horseback riders laugh when a character in the movie has never been around horses is able to put a saddle and bridle on a horse, as this is a task with many steps that require horse and rider cooperating. Additionally, tacking up properly is absolutely essential for safety while horseback riding. If a horse’s bridle was put on incorrectly, the rider may have no control via their reins, and if the saddle is put on improperly, it may slip under a rider causing them to fall, or cause pain to the horse, causing the horse to buck, bolt, or rear up.
An experienced horseman will never ask an inexperienced person to tack up a horse, if you are a new rider, your instructor will probably include learning how to tack up and untack your amount as part of your lesson.
Tacking up includes:
- grooming to remove dirt and debris that might cause irritation if left under the saddle
- placement of a saddle pad
- placement of a saddle over the pad
- carefully reaching under the horse to grasp the girth and fastening it (many horses will hold their breath to avoid the girth being too tight, so fastening the girth may take multiple steps)
- placing the halter around the horse’s neck to allow for bridling
- coaxing the horse into accepting the bit into the mouth
- slipping the bridle over the horse’s ears gently, being careful not to handle the ears aggressively or bump the eyes.
- fastening the throat latch of the bridle holding it in place
- adding any additional necessary equipment such as a breast collar, martingale, protective boots, etc.
- double-checking all equipment before mounting
Once you have learned how to do all of these things in the list above, you will know how to tack up a horse and will be able to tack up your horse for yourself whenever needed.