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New To Western, Silly Question

This is a silly question, but I have a stoic horse and he would make the best of it even if he were uncomfortable.

How do you tell if the cinch is too tight? What is the safe, comfortable medium for the horse? Not too loose, not too tight?

Only once have I seen someone make a cinch too tight. I tighten mine as much as I can, then again after 10 min in the saddle. The chance of a saddle slipping from a loose cinch and the result, to me, is much greater and worse than the consequence of making a cinch too tight --I personally think it would be nearly impossible to compress a horse with a cinch to the point of injury.

The single exception occurred when I was a college student working at the local stable. A football player came for riding lessons. The staff member said to make the cinch as tight as possible. Mistake. The horse lay down in his stall --couldn’t catch his breath, I guess.

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Good to know! I am a weenie when it comes to the idea of the saddle slipping.

If the saddle fits well and you’re a balanced rider the cinch shouldn’t have to be so tight it cuts the horse in two. When I first saddle up before a ride the cinch is pretty snug because I know it will loosen a little as the saddle settles in. I tighten it in stages, the last time just before I put the headstall on. I don’t tighten it again unless I have to dismount and the saddle is so loose it slides when I get off. The cinch is always about an inch looser after a ride, but the saddle doesn’t slip. As a general rule of thumb, if the saddle is slipping while you’re riding the cinch needs to be tightened.

Western or English, it doesn’t matter, too tight is too tight. You can absolutely injure a horse with a too-tight cinch/girth. You can bruise muscles, you can even cause tears in those muscles.

If you can’t slip your hand under the girth, it’s too tight.


No matter saddle type, to echo JB, too tight is too tight.

If your saddle has been fitted properly, you don’t even need a cinch to mount up.

I got out of the habit of judging the feel of my girths and cinches on the side near the billets or anywhere else but the bottom dead center of the horse’s heart girth. Slab sided horses will often feel loose up near the billets but splitting them in half tight on the pectorals.

Are you tying or buckling? Are you using leather or nylon off billets/latigos? These things change the way things fit. I only use leather, no nylon, as leather is far more forgiving than nylon. I always buckle but grew up tying. Using the buckle takes the bulk of the latigo out from under your leg, and honestly, it shouldn’t go anywhere if it breaks. I’ve never seen a buckle break, just latigos.

Cinch up in stages. When you first saddle up, just tight enough to keep it there. Go do something else for a second then tighten a little again. Always walk your horse for a minute or two before tightening for a ride.

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I’ll just add that a lot of this has to do with how able - training, physical strength, flexibility, etc - a rider is to mount without putting enough pressure on a stirrup to tip the saddle.

Good point on the horse’s conformation and where you put your hand!


Politely disagree with @JB @OzarksRider @OzarksRider: perhaps it is the kind of riding I do --and the kind of horse —I ride cutting/sorting QH --they can, and do, move quickly left and right, and can turn on a dime (spin). When I am shooting (mounted archery) I am leaning all over the place in the saddle --weight in left stirrup, right stirrup, both, neither. I don’t cut cows, but I have put my gelding to “cutting” the neighbor’s pony when it crawled under the fence into my pasture and I wanted it out of the field and back to its own pasture --and we’ve cut a few stray dogs who wandered in --my horse is lightening quick, down low in the fore, and moving so fast left and right and forward that it can snap my neck!

I keep my girth as tight as I can pull it --a saddle that slipped would be grave injury or death for me.

Do I have poor balance? Am I a poor rider? I don’t think so --I am old: 71 --as for mounting without the saddle being girthed? I probably could mount the smaller QH 15 hh and 14.3 from the ground, but I also have a dressage horse that is 17.3 —I need a tall mounting block to get on him WITH a saddle that is girthed tightly --and honestly, I’d like to see a video of someone mounting a horse that size w/o a mounting block or a tight girth.


“as tight as I can pull it” doesn’t tell anything about how tight it actually is.

It’s one thing to want to pull a girth so tight that the saddle doesn’t budge when you’re hanging off the side (and I get it), it’s another to imply that doesn’t cause damage to the horse over time.

I would HOPE you’re not cranking on it every single ride, as that would mean you’re doing all that discipline-specific stuff every single day. If you ARE cranking it down as if you needed it, then it’s causing damage. It can’t not.

There are LOTS of people who are agile enough, and of the right build, to mount tall horses with little to no weight in the stirrupe. They aren’t most riders, for a lot of reasons.


To quote one of the old cowboys I’ve ridden with, you’re not strapping down a load on a truck. Snug is good enough (can fit a hand between the cinch and the horse’s side) unless you have issues with saddle slipping due to horse shape. Then it is time to play around with cinch material, saddle fit, breastcollars, etc. For pleasure riding and most (not all) arena work, as long as the saddle fits you shouldn’t need to really crank down on the cinch ever.

It’s really a feel thing you get used to as you go. If I am just riding around I’ll snug it up, it definitely is not loose but there is room to go up. If I have to rope something bigger than a baby calf or drag something into a trailer, anything that involves taking load on the saddle beyond just me, then I make it tight for that time and loosen when the work is done. That is a safety thing for me, the horse, and the people I work with. Also FYI, same applies for a back cinch unless you’re just riding on the flat. It’s there for a reason, and that reason is extra stability!

And to be very, very clear when I say “tight cinch” I don’t mean “crank until I can’t no more”. Just…a few holes tighter than what I would normally ride with.


Adding to this discussion, is the use of a breatcollar when riding. They can prevent saddle slipping “too far” if you get off balance. Saddle cannot slide underneath the horse, just only about halfway down his side. That should enable rider to kick upper foot loose of their stirrup to drop foot/feet to the ground and get off the horse.

People NEED to learn an emergency dismount!! Practice it standing, walking, trotting, running your legs in the air to land on, so your muscles and feet know how!! One of the best skills we learned in Pony Club. Being in ontrol of your body MUCH reduces fear of falling, helps you direct the horse after landing. A very helpful skill to have!

Breatcollar in the Y shape seems to work best on most horses. Only takes an extra 60 SECONDS to get it fastened on horse, adding more security for the rider.

I always use a breastcollar, so it can help me if things happen unexpectedly. Over a lot of years it has proven the value in using it, preventing much worse from happening. Girth will loosen during rides, it just happens! Even cinched up tight, girth will loosen as time goes along. A spook or trip can throw rider sideways, getting saddle started slipping, breastcollar helps prevent rider and saddle going “too far.”

I sure don’t want to cut my horse in half with a tight girth. They get sore, or even “cinchy”, throwing themselves around as girth touches their belly!! Pretty dangerous to try saddling. An avoidable problem.

Girthing snugly, recheck in in 15 minutes, check again in another 15 minutes, should let you girth snugly for riding a couple hours with no slipping. By then horse probably needs a break to pee, so get off, walk a few steps, check girth again. I bet it could need taking up again, still without cutting horse in half.

Getting on a horse without stirrups is a cool trick! Never was able to do it with a saddle. Could do it bareback though!


What goodhors said. Use a breastcollar. I was taught to slide your flat hand between the horse and the cinch reaching in from between their front legs, it should feel comfortable like you would wear the belt on your pants.

I would say there are a lot of riders who needlessly over tighten the cinch . It should keep your saddle stable but allow the horse to be comfortable as well.

English or western saddle makes no difference.


My English coach is always telling me to tighten my girth, and the instructor I take western lessons with has told me to not go so tight :rofl: :woman_shrugging:
Different horses, but on my own horse I am confident his English saddle won’t slip but his western saddle, which is fitted for him, feels like it sits on top of him and might slide if he does something unexpected.

I agree with some others - it depends what you’re doing.

We usually do both cinches snuggly but not overly tight to lope and/or warm up.
If we’re at an event (cutters, cow horses, team ropings, or w the pickup horses) we dismount and tighten both cinches tight before going into the arena. There is far too much pulling, rapid movement, etc. for a loose cinch. I’ve watched saddles that weren’t properly tightened come over horses heads and off the side while working cows.

Unfortunately, there is no magic hole or number that is right for everyone. Just use your best judgement. However, if you’re just riding for fun, it doesn’t have to be socked in em’.

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It used to be extra credit in the University of Findlay western barn! I still see people do it on occasion. :slight_smile:


Thank you all for your answers. I have an idea now of where I should be at.


As already discussed, the number one component is that your saddle fits well and that you are using an appropriate pad/blanket for said saddle. You don’t need to “cut 'em in two” if your saddle fits well. However, the other component depends what you are doing.

When I am at a barrel race, shortly before it’s my turn, I get off and tighten that saddle TIGHT one more time. I don’t need a disaster on my hands when I am going around the barrel full blast.

But my regular riding? Of course, I don’t make it that tight. I cinch them up, and then before I get on, I check it one more time. Rarely do I need to tighten it again while I am riding.