of my over fences class at the biggest horse show of the year. Is a story no one ever wants to be associated with. Can you imagine putting an entire season into qualifying for indoors or a regional championship only to have stirrup pad pop out of your iron and go sailing across the ring. Naturally it will be right in front of the judge, while you are NAILING the handy round. Perhaps jumpers are more your style and while riding in the 1.40 m. Welcome Grand Prix your rubber reins snap in the middle of the jump off. I’ve seen both happen, both riders overcame the issues but, these could easily have been avoided.
Seriously, our tack is one of the most vital pieces of equipment related to what we do. Sure we eyeball our helmet, boots and half chaps every time we use them. But when was the last time you checked the stitching on your girth, the rivets or stitching in your ‘no stretch’ stirrup leathers, or the coup de grâce – your partner’s bit for wear or chew marks?
That aside, most of us are thinking about the 2016 show season, I thought it would be the perfect time to check our tack before we get lost in the rush of the warmer months. Call it the “Pony Clubber” in me. 😀
Check your billets! I think most of us do this when we tack up anyway, but eyeball where the billets are stitched into the saddle. Make sure your billet holes are in good shape and the stitching doesn’t show wear. For those who do not use ‘Dee Savers’ for breastplate attachment, give your saddle dee’s a tug now and then. Most of them are nailed or screwed in and subject to wearing out if consistently pulled on.
Should be checked behind the buckle for stitching safety, if your stitching is worn consider asking a local cobbler to put in a rivet to maintain the integrity until you can get a new pair. If you happen to have the popular no bulk, riveted buckles check the buckle and the rivet for wear. Give it a good tug, does the leather give or move where it meets the buckle? If so, consider replacing them. The newer leathers are often leather wrapped in a nylon core to prevent stretch. This doesn’t mean they will never stretch, over time anything exposed to the elements is likely to deteriorate. If your stirrup holes have stretched, don’t wait until your in a lesson jumping that big oxer for your stirrup hole to give out. Plan ahead.
For anyone who experiences the flying stirrup pad problem, these are a cheap fix, just buy a new pair. If it is a chronic issue with your particular iron style think about switching to a cheese grater style stirrup pad, that can be bent around the foot bed with a pair of pliers. Once molded into place these treads won’t catch any sky miles while you are on course. I’m also a *huge* fan of the Super Comfort Stirrup Iron Pads that wrap around the iron foot bed and zip tie securely into place. But not every trainer is a fan of that look.
Should always be smooth to the touch with no jagged edges, most good quality stainless steel bits maintain their integrity through the years. Softer metal mouth bits like copper or aluminum should be checked often for sharp edges and wear marks. Soft mouth rubber and plastic style bits can be troublesome on mouthy horses. Plastic style bits have a seam from the mold that over time can develop a rough edge to it. Once this seam surfaces it can leave a nasty raw spot on the corners of your horses mouth. Mouthy horses sometimes chew a sharp notch into the surface of the bit, making for a very unfriendly mouth piece.
Yes, these bits can get expensive to replace, but riding with a chewed up plastic bit is akin to putting barbed wire in your horses mouth. At the very least, buy a box of Sealtex and recover the bit to get rid of the sharp edges while you budget for a new one or consider other bit options. (*most stainless steel tack can be washed in the top rack of your dishwasher – bits, spurs, irons w/o pads etc. Avoid the drying cycle!)
Bridles, reins & strap goods:
Should be checked at attachment points, leather should be soft and supple with no signs of cracking or dry rot. Hook studs or buckles should sit firmly in place and the stitching should be in good repair. *If you have raised laced or rubber reins take care to check the wear points between where the lacing or rubber ends, and the raised / leather part starts, often this area weakens over time and will show cracks and dry rot. This is often the first place to break.
Check your elastic if it’s starting to fray or has loose stitching where the elastic meets the girth, please end your love affair with this girth and get a new one for safety’s sake. Give that nylon tab by the buckle a tug. If it starts to pull out of the seams, at least it didn’t happen while you were on your horse. Leather girths are a little easier to see wear on, since all the stitching is exposed, make sure to check the leather under the buckles, this area often gets neglected for cleaning and yet bears the brunt of heat and sweat leading to dry rot. If you have a martingale D stitched into either style girth, check it every so often for wear. No horse likes to get whacked in the chin landing from a jump with the bottom of the martingale.
Now that you’ve given your tack a good once over, whatever your discipline, have a great ride and a super show season!
The disclaimer – I’m pretty sure I hit all the major safety points, however if you have any questions about the safety of your equipment, bring it in to your local tack shop. The tack professionals will be happy to assist you in determining if something needs to be repaired or replaced.