What do I need to look for when inspecting tack?
Grooms spend a great portion of their job handling tack. We tack up, we untack, we clean tack, we condition tack, we oil tack, we even pack and unpack tack. For the most part, you can get a pretty good idea of your tack’s condition as you clean. Let’s go a little deeper and really examine our tack - just in case!
Saddles and bridles both need to have their leather inspected for safety. The easiest way to do this is by using both hands to fold, twist, and bend the leather. Chances are your tack that’s cleaned daily after use will be very supple and in wonderful condition. However, how often do we check the folds in the stirrup leathers? Or how often do we unbuckle the bridle buckles to see how the leather is doing under there? What about the leather that wraps around the cinch, halter, or martingale rings? The folded and hidden areas are the ones most likely to break - so check them out! Twist and bend, look for cracks, check all the stitching. Repair or replace before you use!
This is an old stirrup leather, I have opened the fold that holds the stirrup. Time to go shopping!
Saddles specifically also have a few areas to check out. You want to make sure the tree is not damaged before you use it. You can test it out by squeezing the tree from the sides, up front near the pommel. Squeaks, movement, and cracking can indicate a damaged tree - no using that one until it’s repaired! You can learn more about squeaky saddles here, and what to do about it!
You can see that this billet has stretched a bit, the holes are more oval now! This strap still has plenty of life.
This piece of leather has started to get narrow as it stretches... perhaps it's telling you to replace it!
You also want to check the stirrup bars under the skirt of the saddle. These are the metal attachments for the stirrup leathers. Some of them have grommets, hinges, or other metal rivets that can wear and break. You will also need to check with your riders if they prefer the hinge to be in the up position or not. (Read more here!) The up position locks the stirrup in place, which some folks like. Other riders prefer the hinge to be open, so that the stirrup leather can slide off and free itself in certain emergencies. Some saddles don't give you an option, the stirrup bars are only one setting - open.
The stirrup bar is open on this saddle!
Bridles must also have their bits inspected for rough edges. It’s not enough to just use your cleaning cloth or rag, use your fingers to make sure!
Some other pieces of tack wisdom to remember:
- Tack that is rarely used is more likely to be damaged and potentially dangerous. If you store it away, spend some time on a regular basis to maintain it before you use it again.
- Keep some spare bridle and halter parts handy in case you need to do some “borrowing” of parts. I think most of us have a pretty good stash!
- Don’t forget about the non-leather parts of your tack - metals in buckles and rings can fatigue, bend and snap. Nylons and other fabrics can also start to fray, so eyes peeled there also.
- Work with your local saddle fitter for help if you think your saddle has a tree, bar, or stitching issue.