A rider in the recent show jumping competition at the Olympics can attest to the importance of keeping your tack in good shape.
In the second round of the Nation's Cup competition, a rider from West Germany safely bailed out of the saddle when he found himself holding a broken hackamore (a type of bridle). With no more connection with his horse's steering mechanism, the rider thought it the better part of wisdom to part company with his mount.
This unfortunate incident could have had far worse consequences. Last year, a friend of mine jumped a fence just as one of her stirrup leathers shredded apart. She ended up on her back with a broken hip.
Each piece of our tack is a lifeline. Tack needs to be inspected regularly -- ideally before and after every ride.
Don't fool around with damaged tack that needs repair hoping it will last one more ride. Get it fixed or replaced immediately.
Good tack is expensive, but a rider's investment in good leather tack and equipment will be repaid many times over if the leather is properly cared for.
Leather's greatest enemies are moisture, heat, dirt and the salt from sweat. You should store your leather tack at room temperature and out of direct sunlight.
Humidity should be moderate in the storage area and the area should be well-ventilated and as dirt-free as possible. Having a dehumidifier is ideal, but if this is not possible you can control mold and mildew by wiping your tack periodically with a mildly acidic solution, such as white vinegar mixed with water.
If mildew persists -- or if you have a great deal of it to cope with -- try washing your tack with thick suds from a germicidal or fungicidal soap. Air dry the tack and try to give it some time in the sun, but not so much that you dry out the leather.
For routine care of your leather items, follow these steps: clean, feed and seal. Warm water and Turkish toweling may be all that is necessary to remove dirt, sweat and previous applications of saddle soap and oil.
Neglected tack will require the use of a cleaning agent. Try using a naturally made, oil-based soap such as Kirkwood's or Murphy's. Rinse your tack well and wipe it dry with a clean, soft cloth.
Leather loses some of its fat content every day, and the fat content must be replaced to keep the leather supple. Routine light oiling each time you clean your tack is far preferable to a one-time saturation. Damp leather absorbs oil more readily, so -- apply a light coat of oil before the tack is quite dry from being cleaned.
The oil needs to be sealed after it has had time to penetrate the leather. Sealing will keep the oil off the rider's clothes and will lengthen the time necessary between oilings.
There are two methods for sealing oil into tack. For articles such as bridles that don't get too dirty and that need to remain supple, apply soft saddle soap directly from the can and use a small piece of sheepskin or very thick toweling to work the saddle soap into the leather. Then let the tack dry thoroughly before you use it.
The second method is to work up a lather with a glycerin saddle soap bar and a little bit of water. The use a piece of sheepskin or thick toweling to apply the foam liberally to areas which especially need protection from sweat and mud. Also apply to any areas that come into contact with your clothes.
Let the foam dry for 30 minutes or so, then buff and polish the leather with a chamois cloth. Ideally this entire process of clean, feed and seal should be done to each piece of equipment after every ride. But, practically speaking, it won't be.
There are some horsemen who are meticulous about cleaning each piece of everything after each use. I'm sure they will all go to heaven and ride in clean tack for eternity.
As for the rest of us, it is important to remember that some very important pieces of tack at least need to be inspected and wiped clean after each use.
These pieces include your girth strap and billet straps, stirrup leathers and reins. You really should at least give your whole saddle a wipe.
Your saddle pad and your horse's bit need attention after every ride, too. Horses' backs can get very sore from dirty pads, and just imagine how disgusting it must be to have to work with a grungy bit in your mouth.
* UPCOMING SCHEDULE
Aug. 29: Trail Work Day at Gillis Falls equestrian center site. 833-4593
* Sept. 5-6: Maryland Million Horse Country Farm Tour, including Carroll stops at Green Willow Farm, Shamrock Farm, Dedication Farm and Valhalla Miniature Horse Farm. 857-2983
* Sept. 8: Carroll County Equestrian Council general meeting; 7:30 p.m. at East Middle School in Westminster. 833-4593
* Sept. 19: Deer Hill Farm Horse Trails in Westminster. 848-5015
* Sept. 20: Carroll County Western Circuit Show at Spring Valley in Glen Rock, Pa. 239-7885.
* Oct. 6: Carroll County Equestrian Council general meeting; 7:30 p.m. at East Middle School in Westminster. 833-4593
* Oct. 10: Trail ride at Union Mills Reservoir site. 346-7060