Horse Tack Store Tips

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How can I tell if the leather in a saddle is high-quality?

Leather Quality

Don't just pick a saddle on a whim—there are many things to consider. Fit is obviously at the top of the list but quality is also essential. Buying a saddle made of top-quality leather will cost you a lot more than if you were to buy one made of poor-quality leather. The difference, however, is that a poor quality saddle will end up looking less than impressive. In addition, it is likely to fall apart quicker. On the other hand, a saddle made of high-quality leather will look great (if properly cared for) and last a long time. But, how can you pick out a quality product while perusing through equine tack stores? Here are some tips on spotting high-grade leather:

• Feel the texture. Quality leather will be supple and smooth and will not feel spongy to the touch. Bend the different parts of the saddle and look for tiny cracks in the grain—this indicates that the leather is too dry or there is dry rot.

• Test the strength of the leather. The hair follicles of the leather should be extremely close knit and there shouldn't be any sign of wrinkles. Wide spaces between hair follicles indicate that the leather has been taken from stomach of the animal, the weaker part—avoid purchasing these saddles.

• Examine the finish. There should be no sharp edges on the saddle; a quality saddle will have sealed edges that are coated.

What kind of riding gear do I need?

Get in Gear!

Riding is a great hobby but not one that you should dive into without careful preparation. Before you ride you will need to purchase the right gear to make your experience safe and enjoyable—equine tack stores are a great place purchase the essentials. Here is a guide to dressing for a horseback riding adventure:

• You will need to put on pants with straight legs that are not baggy or extremely tight (riding breeches, straight-legged jeans, or jodhpurs).

• If you are in a warmer climate, wear a light, breathable shirt (cotton is a great choice). If you are in a warmer climate think layers. Wear a long sleeved shirt and slip a sweatshirt or jacket over it.

• ALWAYS wear socks.

• ALWAYS wear a riding helmet.

• Riding gloves can be useful but they aren't necessary. If you do choose to wear them, however, prevent slippage by choosing some with leather palms.

How can I alleviate saddle soreness?

Pain-Free Riding

A healthy saddle soreness is the result of a long ride. If you haven't been on a long ride and you have discomfort or if anything other than your sit bones hurt, there is something wrong with the fit of your saddle. It's helpful to invest in a saddle that is more firm—one that localizes the bulk of the pressure in the sit bones. If you fit your saddle correctly, you shouldn't apply pressure to and irritate the soft tissue in the front.

If the soreness of your seat bones is really getting to you, there is also a solution. Investing in a saddle seat saver can ease this pain as well as provide protection for your back. Saddle seat savers fits over the saddle, considerably reduces stress on the seat bones, and allows for a lot more comfort. These covers are ideal for professional riders who spend hours on end in the saddle or distance riders.

How should I choose a saddle seat?

The Hot Seat

One of the most important aspects of a saddle is the seat. How are you supposed to get anything out of it if you can't sit on it, right? When shopping for a saddle, you want to select one that will allow you to sit the stop. The seat of the saddle should rest extremely close to the animal's back. You do not want space between your horse's back and the saddle—the closer the better. Keep in mind that anything more than a few inches above the back is far too high.

The middle of the saddle seat should be the lowest point on the saddle, also called the "pocket". If the pocket is back too far on the horse, the rider will be forced against the cantle. And, if it is too far forward the rider will slip up onto the swells.

Do not get a seat that is too small! You need adequate sliding room. An average man usually requires a seat that is 16 to 17 inches. And, the average woman generally needs a seat that is 16 to 16 ½ inches. Also, if you want more security when you ride, choose a seat that is built up in the front. And, for additional comfort, purchase a saddle seat cover for your new purchase.

What is the purpose of a saddle pad?

Saddle Up

Your horse's new saddle isn't fitting quite right. The best solution is to pick up or order a saddle pad from a horse riding supply store, right? WRONG! Contrary to popular belief, saddle pads are not designed to make a saddle fit better. The true function of a saddle pad is to protect both the saddle and the horse, not to alter either one. So what exactly does the saddle pad do? Here's a quick guide on its roles:

• It will dissipate heat and absorb moisture.

• It will help you maintain a dry, clean saddle while riding.

• It prevents the saddle from becoming soaked with sweat and sliding around on your horse's back.

• If the pad is of even thickness and is smooth to the touch, it will help the saddle to disperse pressure.

• A pad made by natural material like cotton or wool will serve as a moisture barrier without concentrating heat or pressure in one area.

How should tack be used and cared for?

Tack Etiquette

Until recently only leather was used to make horse equipment. However, nowadays almost every piece of horse equipment is available in a synthetic material (you can find these products at any horse tack store). Once you purchase tack you need to upkeep it if you want it to stay looking great. If you opt for synthetic tack, you can clean it by simply hosing it down or even tossing it in the washing machine. Leather, on the other hand, is a lot more high-maintenance. You should wash and oil your leather tack after every use.

When you are not using your tack you will need to store it in a safe place. It is a good idea to invest in a tack box that has specialized compartments for each and every piece of tack (inclusive of grooming pieces like hoof picks and combs). If you need to you can even store your tack on hooks or in a corner of the barn or stable. Be sure, however, that the equipment is readily accessible when you are tacking your animal.

*Keep in mind that it is commonly found in poor taste to use synthetic tack at a horse event or show.

How can I protect my horse from injuring himself on rocky terrain?

Go Easy on That Horse!

Trail riding is a hobby that many horse enthusiasts enjoy. The problem is, however, that some terrains can be dangerous for your horse. Riding over rough, rocky terrain or extremely hard surfaces can lead your horse to injury if you don't go onto it with caution. The best advice on how to protect your horse's legs from injuries inflicted by these types of environment is to stay away from them or ride them in moderation. And, when you do take your horse riding in these types of areas, don't push him too hard.

If trail riding on rocky terrain is something you feel the need to do, protect your horse. Stop by a local horse riding supply store or find a good one online and invest in some pads for under your horse's shoes. If you're unsure on what to buy, talk to a professional about what type of pads would best suit your horse.

What do I need before I go trail riding?

Hit the Trails

About to embark on some trail riding? Not so fast! There are safety precautions that should be addressed before hopping on that saddle. First, you need to examine your tack thoroughly and make any and all repairs, no matter how minor. Additionally, you should bring string, strips of leather, and a pocketknife on the trail with you so that you can make any temporary repairs to tack damage while on the trail.

You should never trail ride alone—especially long distances. If you are flying solo and you have an accident or become injured you could be in big trouble. Without assistance, even the most minor injuries could turn out to be life threatening. The buddy system is a good system!

You should wear quality hard-soled boots (make sure they have a small heal). You don't want boots that have deep arches or large treads—these make it easier for your feet to get tangled in the stirrups. Additionally, never hit the trails without protective headgear. We all know that helmets can work wonders in the event of a fall but they can also protect you from bumping your noggin on low branches. You can pick up all of this gear at any good horse tack store or on a number of good Internet sites.

How can I find the saddle that will best fit my horse?

Pick a Good Fit

If you're new to horseback riding, picking a saddle can be a difficult task. Assessing a saddle fit can be a little complicated for a beginner and a saddle that is fitted incorrectly can lead to big problems. If you're unsure on where to begin, talk to someone who is experienced in the area (a more experienced rider, a riding instructor, a worker at a horse tack store, etc.) to help you find the best fit.

When looking at a saddle, put it on your horse's back without a saddle pad underneath it and assess the fit. If you stand behind your horse, you should notice that the gullet (the valley that runs down the underside of the saddle) is not pressed against your horse's spine—there should be space there. If the gullet is against the spine or withering at the front, you will not be able to make it fit correctly—not even with padding. Instead of worrying about adjustments, find a good saddle that fits.

If you can't have your horse with you when trying out saddle's, describe to the salesperson the exact build of your horse. Is he stocky and broad, or tall and thin? Do his withers stand up high? A good sales person knows a lot about both horses and saddles and should be able to set you up with the type of saddle that will most likely fit your equine.

What are the different types of snaffle bits?

A Little Bit About Snaffle Bits

A snaffle bit is a useful piece of horse equipment that you can pick up at any number of tack stores. There are many varieties, however, and choosing one can be tricky. Here is a little guide to help you differentiate one type from another:

• The Eggbutt snaffle bit is the most gentle of all snaffle bits because it will not pinch the corners of the horse's mouth. It is called “snafflebutt” due to the fact that it has an egg-shaped connection between the mouthpiece and the bit-ring. It can be made out of a number of materials including copper and synthetic.

• The D-Ring snaffle bit pretty much needs no explanation. The bit ring is shaped like the letter "D".

• A Loose-Ring snaffle bit has a mouthpiece that is attached to a full-round ring. This way the mouthpiece can slide around and allow any horse to position it in a natural way.

• The Full Cheek snaffle bit offers extra protection. It has cheek pieces that avert the bit from being pulled out of the mouth.

How should I choose a Western saddle?

Western Saddle

Before buying a saddle you must settle on a riding style preference—all saddles aren't universal. Western saddles are a popular choice. Western (or stock) saddles are generally big and heavy. These saddles are near impossible for younger riders to work with, however, so don't put a child on one. On the other hand, this type of saddle will provide great security for an older beginning rider. The saddle is thick and there is quite a bit of leather under the leg, knee, and seat that separates the rider from the horse.

Western saddles tend to be a whole lot more versatile than most saddles. Additionally, they are more hardy and durable. There are so many prices and designs that just about anyone can find a Western saddle to suit them. Here are some pointers:

• Make sure the saddle fits tightly over your horse's withers, back, and shoulders—it should not dig in.

• Before the saddle is cinched down on the saddle pad, there shouldn't be any gaps around the skirt.

• When you slide your hand in between the saddle pad and horse you should be able to maneuver your fingers all the way around the saddle without forcing it.

• Make sure that the saddle doesn't hit your horse's withers.

• Keep in mind that fit ALWAYS comes before function.

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Guru Spotlight
Sherril Steele-Carlin