Protecting Your Horse: Learn how to properly fit your tack!
If you love horses, it is very important to be mindful of the aches and pains they endure if not properly trained, nourished, and fitted with the right gear when you ride them. Every fan of equestrianism and owner of horses should learn about fitting tacks if they want to protect themselves and their galloping friends. Tack is a piece of equipment or accessory equipped onto horses. This includes bridles, halters, reins, bits, harnesses, and saddles. Correctly fitting tack onto your horse is vital for the safety and longevity of your horse’s health.
Understanding the warning signs your horse may send you due to discomfort from ill-fitting tack is very important to all riders. If you begin to experience behavioral issues with your equine friend while riding or being tacked, you must ensure that you fitted the equipment correctly. The horse could be trying to tell you that it’s in pain. Here are a few common behavioral changes to watch for due to improper fitting tack:
- Hunching of the back
- Hesitant or outright refusal to move
Not all horses are the same. Some horses have more tolerance than others and won’t show any physical signs of discomfort, even if they were not fitted properly. It’s your job as the rider to pay close attention to your steed. There may be subtle signs telling you that you’re improperly tacking your horse. Here are a few signsyou should watch for:
- Ruffled hair
- Hair turning white
Ultimately, you want to avoid causing any discomfort to your swift-footed companion.Here are 9 safety tips on how to properly tack your horse.
1) The Breast Collar
What You Should Know:A properly fitted breast collar should allow you to easily slide your hand between the horse’s chest and the collar itself. It’s imperative that you correctly place and adjust this vital piece of tack. If not, it can hinder your horse’s ability to walk, as it may add weight to the shoulder. Even worse, your horse may have difficulty breathing if the breast collar presses down on the windpipe. Placing this piece of tack correctly is essential.
Tips: To ensure freedom of motion for the horse’s shoulder, a rider should find the forward point of the shoulder and raise the straps of the breast collar. To avoid accidentally asphyxiating your horse while it’s working, you should ensure the center of the breast collar is resting below the soft tissue of the throat. The breast collar may be the most dangerous piece of tact that you can fit onto your horse. Take care to pay extra careful attention while fitting and adjusting it onto your horse.
1) The Saddle
What You Should Know:The saddle is the largest piece of tack that you can place on your horse. It’s also the most important if you want your horse to perform at its top ability. A poorly fitted saddle does much more than cause your horse pain and discomfort; it can also affect its attitude about performing. A healthy horse is much more willing to put in more effort when riding as opposed to one with a sore back.
Tips: The saddle’s tree, the core of the saddle that keeps it sturdy and structurally sound, must fit the curvature of the horse’s back. This will allow it to move about freely. You must also remember the build of your steed. Watch for sweat patterns while your horse is saddled. If you notice even sweat patterns, then it’s likely that your saddle fits just right. If the sweat patterns are uneven, that’s a warning sign that your horse may be experiencing problems.
Don’t forget:In your haste to protect your horse’s health and well-being, you cannot forget to take yourself, the rider, into consideration. Keep in mind that the saddle should fit the rider just as well as it fits the horse. If not, you both may feel discomfort. The size of the saddle should take into account the rider’s body type. If a saddle is not the right size (such as being too small), the rider may have to lean forward for balancing purposes forcing the horse to compensate. This compensation can cause soreness for the horse.
3) The Stirrup
What You Should Know:First and foremost, if stirrups aren’t adjusted properly, it may cause potential hazards for the rider, such as twisting of the knee and lower leg while riding. When adjusting the stirrups on your horse, you want to ensure that the rider’s knee is even with the rim of the saddle. In the same instance, you want your leg to curve comfortably. This will avoid possible injuries while riding.
Tips: Use a crooked or angled stirrup with a leather wrapped base. This will help to stabilize the rider and will aidin keeping their feet parallel to the body of the horse. As you ride, you’ll find that if you’re capable of striking the perfect balance between horse and rider, you’ll both perform more efficiently. Due to the different types of riding styles out there, you’ll want to experiment with different sized stirrups until you find one that offers the best balance.
What You Should Know:The spur is a device with a small spike or spiked wheel that is worn on a rider’s heel to urge a horse forward. One must always be cautious when wearing spurs, but barrel racers must be the most cautious of all. This is because accidental contact with the side of your horse while racing can cause it to run timidly.
Tips: It’s recommended that barrel racers wear shorter spurs that measure an inch or less in length. Bumper spurs are preferred. This will lessen the chance of accidentally contacting the side of your horse during a race. Interestingly enough, a large number of horse riders wear spurs though most rarely use them. It’s recommended that spurs only be worn while training. Spurs should not be worn during a competition.
5) The Bit
What You Should Know:A bit is a piece of tack that you place within a horse’s mouth that assists the rider to communicate with the animal. Bits are typically made of real or synthetic metal. If you’re in the market for a new bit, the choices may be on the overwhelming side initially. When you find a bit that your horse is comfortable with, you should be happy with its responsiveness and behavior. However, if the horse is unhappy with its bit, don’t be surprised if it begins to exhibit behavioral issues.
Tips: When choosing the correct bit, you need to take into consideration the shape of your horse’s mouth. Examples of what you should be looking for: does your horse have a large tongue, small mouth or fat lips? Knowing the exact size of your horse’s mouth should be the number one determining factor when choosing a bit, as it greatly influences the amount of comfort your horse will experience while riding.
5) The Bridle
What You Should Know:It may seem like a simple task to adjust a bridle onto a horse, but it’s more complicated than it seems. You have to be mindful that the bridle was designed to connect to multiple pressure points on a horse’s skull, those being the mouth, jaw, and head.
Tips: Your choice of bridle should strike a good balance between comfortability and responsiveness. Tack designers have a very specific interest when making bridles. These include the curb, bars, lip, tongue, nose, softer tendon lower on the nose, brow, and poll. You have to be mindful of these points when buying a bridle. If you buy the wrong sized bridle, you can cause your horse extreme discomfort. The right sized bridle will allow your horse to be the most comfortable while allowing you to maintain the greatest amount of control.
7) The Martingale
What You Should Know:A martingale is a strap or set of straps that attaches to the noseband of a horse. The martingale is primarily used to inhibit the horse from raising its head too high when being ridden. If placed properly, you should be able to place your hand between the horse’s neck and the strap. Never allow the martingale to hang too low or it may get caught between the horse’s legs causing possible injury.
Tips: There are two distinctive types of martingales. There are running martingales, where the rings should reach to the horse’s withers if stretched taut, and standing martingales, where the loop should reach to the horse’s chin. When using martingales, you should use rein stops to avoid the rings getting tangled with the bit. The only time that martingales should come into play is if the horse throws its head too high. Ensure that you fit the martingale correctly. If it’s too tight or too short, it’ll restrict movement of the horse’s head.
8) The Girth
What You Should Know:A girth is an essential piece of tack that is used to secure the saddle. There are many different kinds of girths available for you to choose from. They come in different shapes, colors, styles, disciplines, and saddles. Essentially, a girth can be tailored specifically to not only the horse but also the rider.
Tips: It’s vital that you correctly fasten a girth so as not to aggravate the horse. A girth that has been fitted correctly should allow you to place your hand between the horse’s elbow and the girth itself with ease. If you need to adjust the girth, do so gradually.
9) Numnahs and Saddle Pads
What You Should Know:Numnahs and saddle pads are used to keep the bottom portion of the saddle clean. It also provides the horse extra comfort. It’s important that you clean your numnahs and saddle pads on a regular basis. Due to its location on the bottom on the horse, sweat and dirt can build up quite easily. When placing this particular piece of tack, ensure that it lies flush against the saddle to prevent causing the horse any undue discomfort.
Tips: The numnah or saddle pad should be fitted into the gullet of the saddle. This is done to avoid putting pressure on the horse’s spine. As you place the pad, ensure that it’s not pressing onto the withers (the ridge between the shoulder blades). Secure the numnah or saddle pad with straps so that it doesn’t accidentally slip. Finally, you want to place the pad so that it sits in a central location and that it’s lying flat with no creases.
Ill-fitting tack can compromise the health and safety of your horse. Try putting yourself in the shoes of your horse.If you want your clothes to fit comfortably, why wouldn’t your horse want properly fitted tack and gear? Always be conscious of how to fit tack correctly. Make sure that you check the clearance of any tack you have equipped onto your horse. If you find that you’ve fitted tack incorrectly, simply make minor tweaks until you’ve fixed the problem. Happy riding!