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Properly tightening the cinch on your saddle ensures your horse’s wellbeing is taken into consideration, you’re not putting yourself in a dangerous situation and you’re not causing behavioral problems in your horse.
While there’s no universal rule for how tight the cinch should be, it should be tightened in three stages. When I first saddle the horse, I do the cinch up snugly but I don’t cut the horse in half. I want to give him a chance to warm up and get comfortable before I really cinch him up. I’ll do groundwork for about five minutes or from the saddling bay to the arena, and then I’ll check the cinch and tighten it a little more.
I’ll do groundwork again for five to 10 more minutes, and then I’ll tighten the cinch for the third time. This time, I do it up tight. You may have heard me tell a joke about this at my tours. I often say that when I tighten a cinch up, I tighten it so tight the horse’s eyes roll back in his head! Even though that’s obviously a joke, I really do make it a point to do the cinch up snug.
When my horse is warmed up and mentally ready, I’m not afraid to cinch him up tight. The reality is most people don’t tighten the cinch up nearly enough. That isn’t just careless — it’s dangerous. When a saddle slips under a horse’s belly, whoever’s riding him is going to end up in a massive wreck.
If you ride your horse for longer than an hour, he’ll more than likely need to have his cinch tightened throughout the ride. Horse’s draw up after having been ridden a couple hours, so if you’re out trail riding you may need to readjust the cinch two or three times.
As a general rule, I’d rather have the cinch too tight than too loose. Some people worry that they’ll hurt their horse if they cinch them too tight. However, if you’ve warmed your horse up and given him time to get used to the saddle before really cinching him tight, you should be able to cinch him quite snugly without making him uncomfortable. If you do manage to cinch your horse too tight, you’ll know it. It will be obvious that the tightness of the girth is making him physically uncomfortable.