It’s important to set aside some time at the end of each season to ensure your tack is in good shape. Your horse’s safety – and your own – depend on it!
The off-season is the perfect time to take stock of the gear in your tack room. During the height of competition season, waiting for repairs or orders can be frustrating, but a lot of that can be avoided by planning ahead. This fall, in preparation for next year, go over everything carefully, looking for needed repairs and replacements that might help prevent safety issues. All your tack should be checked, including your saddles, bridles, girths, breastplates, leathers, irons and pads.
Let’s start with the saddle. The most common issues occur with the billets and flocking. Flocking, whether wool or synthetic, can compress, becoming uneven and even losing its resiliency over time. If your saddle suddenly seems low in front or is shifting to one side, contact a saddle fitter to address the problem. A flocking adjustment or a complete strip flock might be in order.
Go over the stitching on all the billet straps on both sides. It’s easy to miss stitches that have worn to nothing; they should be resewn before a billet lets go. While you’re there, take a look at both sides of the billets and note if there is any stretching of the holes, and any cracks or splits in the leather. It’s not much fun when a billet lets go while riding! If they need to be replaced, it’s recommended that all be replaced, since the older ones will have stretched and the holes won’t line up properly.
Make sure the seams of the seat are still stitched properly. Older seats can tear but that tends to be more cosmetic than hazardous. (Riding in jeans is a common cause.) Other unsightly but not necessarily performance-affecting problems include stitching that’s loosening on the blocks and delaminating saddle flaps. Some options to enhance a saddle could include adding dee rings, dee savers for breastplates, and widening or narrowing trees if they allow for it.
Flex your saddle longitudinally and laterally, with some effort. If it has a lot of flex, you might want to have a saddle fitter or saddler check the integrity of the tree. The only way to truly check on the tree is to drop the panels of the saddle.
For those with saddles that have changeable gullet options, double check that you have the proper gullet plate. It’s not a bad idea to have an extra one for when your horse changes condition due to lighter riding or more intensive work.
Stirrup leathers need a onceover as well. Check for splitting, cracking and uneven stretching. Stitching can degrade, enabling the buckles to come loose. Stirrup irons should be solid without any structural damage and stirrup pads should have decent treads. The pad material should be intact and not falling apart.
As with your saddle, the stitching on your bridles and breastplates need to be looked at and the leather checked for cracks. Make note of stretched holes and frayed stitching.
Halters frequently break due to stressing of the leather, horse antics and the elements. Check the stitching and integrity of the leather and stitching, particularly near the buckles, rings and clasps.
Nylon halters can fray and tear so it’s important to go over them as well. Don’t forget your lead ropes. The rope or nylon often becomes unraveled or frayed to such an extent that the attachments fall off. Look at the connection where the rope attaches to the clip. A loose horse caused by a damaged lead rope is not the most pleasant experience to cope with.
Girths that have elastic on the ends or in the middle should be examined. The elastic can become stretched, shredded, uneven or detached from the leather, often literally hanging by a thread. The last thing you want is a girth letting go over a jump!
Many of these issues can be repaired by a good saddle fitter or saddler.
Tack room supplies
Lastly, take an inventory of your tack room. Do you have an adequate supply of tack cleaning supplies, including sponges, conditioner, cleaner, etc.? Are your brushes clean and in good order? Do you need to get your clippers sharpened? Do you have fly spray and first aid supplies? Go through your first aid kit and ensure it contains all the essentials in case an emergency occurs.
Are there show items that need to be replaced, such as studs, braiding kit pieces and parts? Are your pads in decent shape? If you need a correction pad, do you have the shims necessary? Does your helmet meet current standards and are your safety vests/air vests, if you use them, in good working order with the needed cartridges?
Once you’ve assessed your tack, go over it all one more time for good measure. Carefully check all stitching, look for cracks and stretching of leather, and have a fitter check your flocking. It might seem tedious at the time, but it will save you a lot of headaches later on. Make yourself a checklist and inventory your supplies while you have the time, so you’re prepared for next season.