Western Tack Tips

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What is Western riding?

Western Style Riding

Western style riding is inclusive of trail riding, competitions (rodeo, barrel racing, pole bending) and show classes like reining and pleasure. Western riding is often thought of as a less formal style of riding than English riding.

Western horse moves can differ greatly from those taught to English style trained horses. For example, a competitive Western horse will be taught to do a roll-back. Additionally, there's a good chance a Western horse will be taught to do reining where he slides to a stop—an English style horse will not be trained to do these things. A Western horse will additionally be taught to neck rein (moving in whichever direction the rider indicates by applying rein pressure to the neck).

And, as you can imagine, Western apparel differs greatly from English apparel—you wouldn't wear the same thing in an English jumping competition as you would in a rodeo!

How can I determine my horse's cinch size?

Cinch Size

The cinch in the front is a crucial piece of Western tack. This piece helps to lock the saddle into place on the horse. Keep in mind that because this piece sits so close to the animals skin it is often exposed to sweat that causes it to rot. In other words: it needs to be replaced quite often.

If you are in the market for a new cinch, not just any one will do—it must be a good fit for your horse. If the cinch is too small, it will chafe the horse's sides and if it is too large you won't be able to tighten it enough to secure the saddle. Are you confused about how to figure out the appropriate cinch size for your horse? Here's a good guide to follow:

Stand your horse on level ground. Stand to the left of the horse and put one end of a lead rope behind the withers. Then, pull the rope down the right side, around the barrel, and up up the left side to just beneath his elbow (where the cinch would usually be). Pull the rope tight, but not so tight that it is cutting into the horse. Finally, hold the rope at the spot where it unites with the end—you'll use this to make your first measurement.

Hold tight to the spot on the rope and remove the rope from the horse. Next, pull the rope straight and measure the distance from the end to the point that you are holding with your finger using measuring tape.

Use the following formula: Divide the initial measurement by 2. Next, subtract 3 from the answer (round up if you need to). This number you reach will be the cinch size of your horse. Here is an example based on a 75'' measurement:

75/2 = 37.5


How can I stop my light-colored show saddle from squeaking?

Stop the Squeak

Is your light-colored show saddle squeaking like a door on rusty hinge? There's nothing tackier than squeaky Western tack! Light-colored show saddles lack oil and are prone to be squeaky. The culprit is usually the stirrup fender, right where the leather strap falls over the saddletree. As soon as you apply weight to the stirrup, you put pressure on this area, which causes the squeaking. Have no fear, however, there is a solution.

Baby powder is the miracle cure—it will lessen the friction between the tree and your fenders. To apply baby powder, place your saddle on a soft surface, upside down. Then move the stirrups and fenders and expose the area that is underneath the jockey. Sprinkle a generous amount of baby powder in the area between the fenders and jockeys, and apply some to the skirts as well. Dust off any excess baby powder with a towel. Then, saddle your horse, and wipe off any residue. You should now be squeak-free!

What kind of hat should I wear in a Western show?

The Finishing Touch

So the big show day is fast approaching and you've put the finishing touches on your Western saddle and tack. But have you put the finishing touches on yourself? Every good Western rider needs a great Western hat so you better find yourself one! One rule of thumb is to stay away from black hats. While it's true that a black hat will look gorgeous with your black chaps, it is likely to cast an unflattering shadow across your beautiful face. Instead, go for a neutral-colored hat that will lighten your face in a flattering manner. Neutral hats are available in a variety of colors from tan to platinum and look fabulous with brightly colored attire. Stay away from brightly colored chaps.

No matter how great that hat looks at first it will end up quite lackluster if you don't take care of it. When you put a hat on your head, do not grab it by the brim—the brim is delicate! And, when you're finished wearing it, clean it with a curved handle soft hat brush and put it in a case that will preserve it. And, don't ever leave your hat in extreme heat or it will warp.

What kind of Western saddle and tack do I need for ranch horse versatility?

Ranch Horse Versatility Saddle and Tack

If you are competing in ranch horse versatility, proper Western saddle and tack is essential. Keep in mind that your horse will be saddled for an extended period of time therefore, the saddle should fit properly and be comfortable for the animal. If you're unsure, here are a few tips to get you on the right track:

As far as saddle pads and cinches are concerned, go with natural fibers (mohair, wool, etc.) that will readily absorb sweat and keep your animal comfortable. It's smart to avoid neoprene-type saddle pads and cinches because they retain so much heat—if your horse is saddled for an extended period of time he could become hot and sore.

A saddle with fit the form of the horse better, and provide additional comfort for the animal, with a good saddle pad. A pad will not, however, make a poor-fitting saddle fit right. You should not buy a saddle that does not fit properly on your horse in the hopes that you will be able to make it fit correctly with a saddle pad.

*It's smart to select a real wool or felt pad as synthetic wools can slip and generally aren't as durable as natural wool.

What should I wear to a Western show?

Keep up with Western Fashion!

Proper Western apparel is a must when show time arrives. It's in your best interest to go for a refined, up-to-date turnout that will put you in the spotlight and boost your self-esteem. A good rule of thumb is to go easy on the wardrobe embellishments. We all know that a little sparkle is an eye-catcher but you don't want to blind the judges by shining brighter than the North Star! Keep your rhinestones, silver beading, and plastic gems in moderation.

Also, thinks in terms of comfort. While it is important to look good, it's also important to feel good. No matter how snazzy the outfit, the grimace on your face from those too-tight pants or scratchy shirt will take away from the look. Think soft, breathable fabrics. Make sure that the fabric is stretchy and that it fits well.

Like all fashion, Western show fashion changes over time. Before choosing an outfit for your show, scope out the hottest trends. Check out what riders in current shows are wearing and read up in Western magazines. Don't show up wearing last season's line!

How should I pick out ladies' Western show pants?

Western Show Pants for Ladies

Ladies, when it comes to Western apparel for a show, you'll want to look your best from head to toe. If you've ever been to show you've probably seen the wide variety of pants worn as if there are no rules. The truth is however, that certain types of pants work better under chaps. The best pants for wearing under chaps are plain (no pockets or yokes), fitted polyester pants with a little element of stretchiness to them. Want to know a little secret, ladies? Your booty will always look tinier when you wear pants that are the same hue as your chaps.

When looking for pants, search for sturdy stretch fabric and have the pants created with a zipper on the side (this will make them rest flat across the stomach). When you find fabric that you love it's smart to buy extra—this great fabric might only come around once in a lifetime.

Can I use any Western saddle for any Western event?

Choosing a Western Saddle

If you've established that your style of riding is Western, you can't just pick up any Western saddle and start riding. Different saddles are made for specific purposes and are designed to meet certain needs. There are a plethora Western saddles available. If you want a Western saddle for general riding, there are some multi-functional general-purpose models out there. Do not, however, attempt to use these saddles for specific events that they may not be equipped for.

There are various Western horse sports such a reining, roping, cutting, and show and there are specific saddles designed to accommodate a rider who wishes to be involved in any of these events.

The general consensus is that a Western saddle is much more comfortable than an English one. Of course, when you think about the origin of this riding type it's not hard to believe. These saddles were designed for cowboys who used them as working tools.

How should I choose a Western show boot?

Give Expensive Boots the Boot!

Boots are one of the most important elements of western apparel. Keep in mind, however, that only the toe of your boots will be exposed when you are riding so go for sensible over elaborate.

Selecting simple show boots can save you a pretty penny. Keep in mind how your boot will appear when it peeks out from underneath your chaps, through the wide stirrup, and next to your animal's shoulder. For appearance purposes, this is the only part of the boot you need to think about.

A straightforward roper style boot with a low top, semi-rounded toe, and leather soles is the best showing boot out there. They are safe in the stirrups, they look nice under the chaps, and they don't have a big price tag. And, since these boots are so popular, they come in countless colors, leathers, and prices. Don't spend to much of your time and money indulging in fancy-schmancy show boots because they barely get seen. Just make sure that toe looks good!

How should I clean my shanks?

Cleaning Your Shanks

When it comes to Western tack maintenance, don't forget about cleaning your shanks! In order to clean the shanks of an all-stainless-steel bit, rub off all dirt with a 3M cloth (you can generally find these at any large grocery store). If your shanks are engraved, however, use a terrycloth towel to preserve the natural wear of the shanks. If your sterling silver shank is new, light will refract from the angles on any freshly engraved cuts. As the silver gets old, however, the cuts will fill with murky blackness; this will accentuate the cuts in such a way that they will have a rich, beautiful three-dimensional appearance. If you use a silver polish you will eradicate the blackness. Silver polish is also likely to strip away the dyed-blue background that will develop on some engraved shanks. If this happens to your bit you can save it. Try spraying the bit with WD-40, this will turn the metal a gorgeous deep brown color.

*There are many good silver polish sprays available at tack stores. You can spray down your shanks with one of these and polish them with a terrycloth rag. These products work quickly and won't stain the leather on your Western bridles.

WHat is the difference between a Western saddle and an English saddle?

Western Saddles Vs. English Saddles

Think a saddle is a saddle? You're wrong. You'll need a saddle that is right for your specific riding style (Western saddles and English saddles differ greatly from one another). Unlike an English saddle, a Western saddle has no padding. The area of the saddle that bears the most weight is typically layered with soft sheepskin, but it should be additionally padded with some type of saddle blanket or it will not be comfortable for the horse.

Another difference between Western and English saddles are the stirrups. Western saddle stirrups aren't made to separate from the saddle in the event of an emergency—they are tough and roomy—the heels of a Western rider's cowboy boots will prevent his feet from coming loose or sliding out of the stirrups. Additionally, instead of buckling on (like the English girth does), the Western girth (cinch) is attached with a piece of leather.

*Unlike the English saddle, a Western saddle also has a horn (or pummel) in the front that can hold a rope or place the rope when lassoing in livestock.

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