Equipment should be thought of as a teaching tool, a stepping-stone to no equipment, or a back up to dependency on us.

Just as our dependency on God will free us from our not-so good-dependencies (I call them adult baby bottles), we need to have a goal of getting our horses more dependent on us rather than our tools and equipment. Equipment can either be a hindrance to growth for humans and horses or it can help accelerate their growth, depending on whether it is used as a hammock to lay in or a safety net to fall back on.
I started out with horses as a 14-year-old boy with only enough money saved from a paper route for a horse and a bridle. I rode bareback for about two months before I found a good deal on a saddle while saving for it at the same time. My lack of a saddle actually fast-forwarded me to a better seat on a horse earlier. It helped that I had an easy-going horse to start with also. Every horse person should spend some time riding bareback so that they will develop a better seat on a horse’s back.
Your bare essentials for equipment would be a good teaching halter and lead rope, and then a snaffle bridle with one rein to snap on both sides of the bit. I like a hand tied rope halter made out of ¼-inch thick rope so that it will make a horse more uncomfortable to lean on it. The lead rope should be about 12 feet long so it is versatile enough to do a ground work out, tie up or ride mecate style. The best rope to use is yacht braid rope (the type used on sailboats) that is ½-inch thick. Through time this rope can swell to 5/8 to 3/4 inches thick. The bridle can be a split ear type, but the snaffle bit should have a chinstrap to keep the bit from being pulled through the horse’s mouth. I like using one rein rather than split reins so I can drop the rein without it falling on the ground and practice guiding the horse with my seat and legs.

Mike Daniels

Mike Daniels

Saddles need to fit the horse as well as be comfortable to the rider. Western saddles are made to fit narrow, medium, or wide backed horses. The type of withers the horse has plays a big role in the type of saddle that is needed. High, narrow withers take a saddle with a narrow fork on the front of the saddle. Horses with low withers take a wider gullet on the front with a less steep angle. It is good to try a prospective saddle on a horse’s back without a blanket to see how well it fits. The bars of the saddle (underneath) should fit nicely on their back. The horse’s withers should not touch the bottom of the saddle fork. There should be no less than 3/4 inch or so buffer before they touch. If there is no buffer, a bad sore could develop on top of the withers. If there is too much distance here, the saddle will probably try to roll too much, and it will be hard to keep it on the horses back. A really over weight horse kind of has that problem anyway. From the riders’ standpoint, saddles have different seat sizes. Seats sized 15 to 16 inches are pretty common, yet they go smaller and bigger. It is better to have a saddle too big rather than too small if we get a less than perfect fit.

A round corral is about the best piece of equipment we can have to help wean us from being so dependent on equipment. This practice dance stage should be about 60 feet in diameter. This size is small enough to keep the horse from moving too fast while practicing, yet big enough for a horse to run comfortably also.

The simplest piece of equipment we can have to help a horse tune into body language for signals is a 3/8 in thick stick. I prefer fiberglass at 30- 48 inches long. I will go into more detail on use of this equipment next time.

Mike Daniels is a horsemanship trainer and barefoot trimming specialist from Raymondville. Email: