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how to choose the best saddle, bridle, pad, training material?

I have spent a lot of time searching for information, good resources, tips and advice. I also spent a lot of time testing equipment, methods and ideas.

Of course, I do not have the pretension to know everything and to deliver the truth, simply to share my personal point of view.

My goal is to bring your attention to different topics, so you can eventually evaluate devices yourself, and make the decisions that will better fit your horse and yourself.

Less is best

Training Material

Horsemanship is not a matter of equipment, yet you should take some questions into consideration: Your horse’s needs and comfort, your plans with the horse, etc.

An important principle is to make sure you do not fall into the trap of anthropomorphism. What might be nice and helpful from your point of view may not be from the horse’s. Actually, you may buy a piece of equipment with the intent to help improving your horsemanship, and it might end to be quite the contrary.

So, as far as we deal with equipment: Less is best, and think like a horse.


First, I never use these nylon or leather halters as they are so comfortable for the horses that they may lean on.

You want to keep a certain amount of leverage power on your horse, which is not possible with these halters. Select a nice fleece band, and you set yourself for failure.


Equipment | Natural Horsemanship

Clinton Anderson’s rope halter is designed with extra knots.


I started to practice horsemanship with this kind of halter. They are made out of hard nylon rope and designed with a couple of extra knots right above the muzzle. The intent is to have an increased amount of pressure on the horse, which is right.

Yet, horses’ muzzles are quite fragile and these irritating halters may harm them. If you start a colt, you may need to put a lot of pressure and the halter will be harmful. If your horse is already broke and fairly educated, you will not need this extra amount of pressure.

I used to keep one of these Downunder Horsemanship halters for a time though. I noticed that it could be helpful with really spoiled and powerful horses. I had the case of a 17-year old stallion used to respect no one but itself. Once on his back, it was quite helpful to have this leverage possibility during the first two or three sessions.


Equipment | Natural Horsemanship

Double Diamond rope halter is a gentle design.


Later on, I started to use these more gentle rope halters. They are made out of soft nylon rope in a simple design. They are comfortable enough to make the horse feel good, yet the diameter of the rope make it very efficient once you start to put pressure.

When starting a horse, this halter will help to put the right amount of pressure, being unpleasant but not harmful. Once your horse is more educated, you can use the halter without even having to put pressure at all.

Halters made by Double Diamond Halter Co. are made out of a high quality rope and are pretty well designed: You can easily adapt the fiador knot to the size of your horse’s head. You can find this kind of simple-designed rope halters in horse specialized stores, and online. My personal favourite is a 6 to 8 mm diameter: Thinner and it might be a little harmful, larger and you may lose some amount of pressure.

Flag & Sticks

Here I will present you some tools I used, yet fortunately you do not have to spend all your money there.

Any stick equipped with a plastic bag is working fine. (Tested and approved.) I would not use a whip though as it is not rigid enough, and you may hurt your horse when approaching him too quickly.

Equipment | Natural Horsemanship

Clinton Anderson sells a long carbon stick with a string

Equipment | Natural Horsemanship

Pat Parelli chose the carrot stick to sell his own version of the same tool

Clinton Anderson, in his Downunder Horsemanship method, and Pat Parelli, in his Seven Games, use the same kind of stick. Parelli just chose a not-so-nice colour to build a reputation, and sell a “new” product. Typically, both handy-stick and carrot-stick are 4-feet (1.2 metre) long fibre glass sticks, prolonged with a 6-feet (1.8 metre) long string.

Anderson uses the stick only during Groundwork to put pressure on the horse, sometimes to hit it if the response is not good enough, and the string is used to desensitize the horse. Parelli uses the stick both from the ground and from the saddle, in particular to turn the horse left and right. I started with such a stick but quite quickly gave up because they are pretty heavy, and way too long on my mind.

The flag has been used for a while by Tom Dorrance, Ray Hunt, then Buck Brannaman, Peter Campbell, and many others. But that is not the reason why I think it is a must-have equipment. A flag is a 3-feet (90 cm) long rigid wire prolonged with a square-shaped piece of nylon. It is a lot lighter than sticks, and the shorter length makes it more practical to turn around the horse, to reach every part of his body for desensitizing, and much more.


Equipment | Natural Horsemanship

Ray Hunt, Buck Brannaman, and others use a flag

Lead rope

I started with a 14′ (4.2 metres) long lead rope from Downunder Horsemanship. It is very convenient for beginners as it is pretty heavy and thick, so you can control it correctly. Moreover, the length offers a good security distance to the horse, and let you lunge the horse at the canter pretty easily.

Yet, as you develop your skills, you may prefer a shorter rope: 10′ or 12′ (3 to 3.6 metres). The other big advantage being that it is a lot more affordable, and available in any good equine shop.

Tip: I always connect the rope directly to the halter’s fiador knot. These heavy snaps are quite handy, but can harm the horse during the groundwork sessions as it will bump in the horse’s chin.

Equipment | Natural Horsemanship
safety and confort

Riding tack and cloths

Before considering to buy any new piece of equipment, you really have to keep in mind that horsemanship should not depend on tack or gimmick.

Ultimately, you should be able to ride your horse bareback and bridleless _ which I do not recommend though as it does not make much sense.

My considerations about tack are limited to the necessary equipment to ride a horse safely and comfortably.

Saddle: Western, Australian, English saddles

Equipment | Natural Horsemanship

Saddle is a matter of personal preference


What is the best saddle?

There is no simple answer to such a question: For what? For whom?

It would make no sense to advise one saddle against another as a universal fit. It will depend on your practising western riding, jumping, trail riding, hunting, …

Horsemanship concerns ALL riding disciplines, all breeds, all riders.

I have already used western saddles, Australian stock saddles, Spanish and classic English saddles, Kyrgyz, and Russian saddles.

My personal favourite is an all-round western saddle as it fits most horses, and is comfortable and stable enough to start colts or fix spoiled older horses.

There is actually only one important advice to follow: Make sure the saddle fits your horse correctly.

Otherwise, it will be painful for your horse first, and eventually for you once you get bucked off.

Bridle: Snaffle bit, Mecate or McCarty

I am used to start horses in a halter combined to the lead rope tied as reins, that is for the first two or three sessions.

Yet, as soon as possible I switch to the snaffle bit, because the rope halter is very limited in term of pressure, and clearly not as accurate as a bit.

Whatever the solution you choose (rope halter, side-pull, snaffle bit, hackamore, shank bit), always keep in mind that you have the responsibility to remain light all the time.

A heavy hand on a rope halter will be harmful to a horse’s muzzle, when a light hand on a shank bit will be nice and comfortable for the horse.

My personal favourite is a thin and plain egg-butt snaffle bit: thin because I want to make sure my horse has enough space to put his tongue comfortably under the bit; plain because I do not want to spoil my horse’s mouth with squares and twists and who-knows-whats; egg-butt because I do not want my horse’s mouth corners to get pinched by the rings.


Equipment | Natural Horsemanship

Tom Balding egg-butt plain snaffle bit

“You don’t need a different bit, what you need is a bit more knowledge.”
Equipment | Natural Horsemanship
Smokie Brannaman
Equiknowlogy 101

Tip: You should never ever use any riding gimmick.

Every horse is capable of doing all the moves we are used to teach them: Martingales, draw reins, tie downs, and the whole lot should be avoided for the good of the horse.

Rider's Equipment

There is a very wide variety of choices, so a very short answer: Do as you like.

Unless you ride in a specific discipline that requires a uniform (western, jumping, etc.), you should just select what fits you best.

One advice yet: aesthetic is not much of importance once you are flying over your horse’s head, comfort and security are the priorities.

If you start riding or practising horsemanship, please make sure you wear a helmet. Later on, when you feel safe and confident on your horse, you can choose to take it off.

When time has come to get on the saddle and ride, efficiency and security should come first for both your horse and yourself. Priority goes to well-being rather than good-looking.

Equipment | Natural Horsemanship

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