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How to Spot Tack Trouble

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signs of damaged leather

Hopefully you are well on your way to spring cleaning your barn and horses with the help of Manna Pro's Big Barn Cleanup spring cleaning guide.

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This week, we're all about the leather...making sure your saddle and tack are in top condition for all of your upcoming rides.  Most of us aren't buying all new tack this season, which means we need to spend some time inspecting our equipment to make sure it's safe for us and our horses.

There's a difference between tack that is simply worn and tack that is actually damaged and should not be used for comfort or safety reasons. Here are a few tips on what to look for to see if you have damaged tack:

  • Look for any damage to the underside of the saddle, where it comes inchecking leather for damage contact with your horse.  This damage can cause discomfort to the horse, which could in turn lead to sores, bruising, and possibly even undesirable behaviors (bucking, etc) as the horse tries to adjust or get out from under the damaged leather.
  • Similarly, if the seat of your saddle is split or cracked, this could cause discomfort and bruising for the rider.  Make sure you inspect your saddle carefully on both sides and make any necessary repairs before you hit the trail. As a preventative measure, make sure you are cleaning and conditioning your saddle thoroughly throughout the season for maximum leather life.  Our Leather Care Guide has everything you need to know about caring for your leather saddle.
  • While inspecting your saddle, look to see if it is saggy, lumpy, or bumpy.  It may be time to have it repaired.
  • Most experts recommend that you check the tree of the saddle by squeezing the sides of the saddle together. A saddle in good condition will not have much (if any) movement, whereas a damaged saddle in need of repair or replacement will move, squeak, and creak.  An out-of-shape saddle can cause damage to the horse's back.
  • Check girth straps under the saddle flap to make sure that the straps and stitching are secure.  A snapped girth strap can have disastrous results depending upon the type and intensity of the riding you're doing when it goes.
  • Inspect the stirrups, with special attention on where the stirrup sits on the leather.  Make sure the leather is soft and supple, and that the stirrups aren't corroded.
  • For any tack with buckles, inspect both buckles and buckle holes in the leather to make sure the holes are still intact and that the prongs haven't rusted, gotten bent out of shape, or snapped.
  • Give all your stitching a once-over to make sure it hasn't become rotted; if you see snapped or loose stitches, this is an indication that you have some rotting.
  • Check your reins for weakness, specifically in places where they are typically folded or bent over or come in contact with the bit ring, all prime candidates for wear and cracking.
  • Your bit should be free from dirt and rough edges, as both can cause discomfort and damage to your horse's mouth.
  • The nose knows.  Smell your saddle and tack, and if you detect any mustiness or a bitter/acidic smell, it has probably sustained some damage and deserves a trip to the tack shop for repair or (depending on the piece and its cost) a replacement. Leather in good condition should have a pleasant smell.

Leather Care GuideIf you know you have damaged tack, or you aren't sure if it's safe to use, your local tack shop is usually your best bet for an expert opinion.  Many of the issues described in our list can be repaired at your tack shop less expensively than buying new.  Of course, sometimes a piece of tack has outlived its use and has to be replaced. Be sure to protect your investment in leather by learning how to properly clean, condition, and store your saddle and tack all year, so you don't have any unwelcome (and expensive) surprises next Spring!



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