The first thing you will need to do before you start riding your horse, or even putting the saddle on the horse, is grooming your horse. Grooming is important to keep the horse’s coat healthy and clean. Especially when it is really muddy outside or there is snow on the ground, which can make your horse very dirty. This dirt and mud needs to be brushed off either with a curry comb or hard brush, so it will not be irritating for the horse during the ride or cause your tack to get dirty as well. You will also want to pick out the horse's hooves of any rocks or mud that can cause harm if left in the hoof.
Once your horse is fully brushed and there is no more mud, grime, and the hooves are all clean, then you are ready to start tacking up your horse starting with the saddle pad. There are variations of pads that you can choose from depending on the style of riding you are doing. You want to make sure the pad is up over the withers a little bit, so the saddle doesn't pinch it or create uncomfortable pressure for the horse, which could cause sores. Pads for riding English are very similar, but they are usually thinner and smaller like the English saddle.
After you make sure the saddle pad is in place, you can lift the saddle onto the horse making sure it rests nicely with the pad and doesn’t move around and become uncomfortable. It should look level and not too far back, forward, or falling to either side. If the saddle is at all in a poor position, it could easily cause discomfort for the horse and result in sores, rubbing, pinching, the saddle sliding off, or the horse acting out by biting, kicking, or bucking. It is extremely important to make sure the saddle fits you and your horse. A way to make sure the saddle is not to tight is if you can put your hand flat underneath the pommel and shoulder area of the saddle and you should be able to move your hand along naturally when it resting on the horses back. If this is possible, then the saddle is a good fit for the horse. English saddles are the same way and you need to make sure it fits you and your horse well, so both of you will have a rice ride.
The next step you will need to do is tightening and fastening the girth or cinch, which is a band that is attached to the saddle that goes below the horse's body, right behind the front legs, and comes around to attach on the other side of the saddle. Once you grab the girth/cinch from the other side of the saddle and pulled it up from under the horse. If you are riding western, you will have a long leather strip that you must pull through the saddle and the cinch several times until you can put it through the top hole of the saddle when it is tight. An English saddle is similar, except it doesn’t have the long strap. Instead you just pull it tight and attach it like you would a belt.
Quite a few of the riders would just put on the bridle and get on the horse. While some others would lunge their horse for ten minutes to get the horse warn out. I learned from my trainer and from experience that this isn't always the safest way. I have been taught that you need to work on the ground before you get in the saddle. So, the next step is when you make it out to the arena or wherever you are going to be riding. You will still have the halter and lead rope on the horse and this is your chance to test of things out with your horse. You can see how it will act in the area, around other horses, and even see if it's attention will stay on you. When I take my horses out to play before I ride, I use the Parelli Natural Horsemanship games to make sure I am getting the responses and trust I need before I get on their back. Some of the things I do with my horse is some games and maneuvers that I will ask them to do when I'm in the saddle. These include backing up without too much pressure, moving the hindquarters away from me when I ask, and moving his neck along with his shoulder while keeping its hindquarters still. I also have my horse go out and do circles around me. I ask them to change speeds, directions, stop, and come to me. I will be asking the horse to do these things when I am riding, so I want to make sure they are comfortable and listening before I try and do anything in the saddle.
Once I feel they are listening and responding to my cues, then I will take my bridle and gently slip it on. When I have checked to see if the girth is still tight and my bridle is on correctly, then all I have left to do is put on my helmet and I am ready to ride. It's always best to test a few of the things you did on the ground in the saddle as well. For example, bending the neck, stopping, changing speeds, and moving different directions.
These steps are essential to do before riding your horse no matter where you are or how long it has been since your horse has been ridden or how trained it is. These are the best ways to keep you and your horse safe and have the best partnership and ride. I wish you the best and hope that this helps you know the steps you need to take for safety and have the best ride for you and your horse.