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  • Mary Kate McCaughey

Tack Topics #1

Now that we have gotten more acquainted with horseback riding, let's learn anatomy and basic tack knowledge. Tack is any equipment you use to either handle or ride a horse. It can also be used as a verb such as: I need you to tack up Waldo for me. Handsome Waldo is pictured below, tacked up, illustrating the points of the horse, also known as horse anatomy. Fun fact: horses are measured in hands. A hand is 4 inches. This was adopted to make it easy for measuring quickly and out in the field simply by stacking hands. Horses are measured to the highest point of their withers. For example, Waldo is 18.3 hands - or 18 hands and 3 inches - or 75 inches tall at his withers. He's a big boy!

And there is tack that fits him! Tack comes in many different options depending on riding discipline (Western vs. English; Hunter/Jumper vs. Dressage), personal style, sizing, and practical use. Below is a picture of a saddle with the parts of the saddle listed.

However, there are different types of English saddles. The most common kinds are Close Contact, All Purpose, and Dressage. Close Contact is used for jumping or flat-work, and is the saddle you would traditionally see in the hunter ring. It does not have knee rolls. An all purpose saddle is used for jumping or flat-work, like a close contact; however, it is not traditionally seen in hunter classes. All purpose saddles have a deeper seat with a knee roll. Lastly, a dressage saddle is used only for flat-work. It has a deep seat and long flap. It is designed to sit you firmly in the saddle in order to communicate more effectively by leg aids.

As mentioned above, there is different tack for each discipline. In English riding, there are three main disciplines: Hunter, Show Jumping, and Dressage. Another discipline, cross - country has three displinces show: horse and rider are judged in show jumping, dressage, and cross-country for an overall combined score.

The type of tack used is often rooted in tradition and practicality. Hunter classes are an American tradition and are judged based on the horse's movements in flat or jumping classes. Equitation, on the other hand, are classes that are judged based on the rider's performance. In both, the judge is basing their scores on smoothness, style, and impression.

Show jumping is based on jumping a course within a certain amount of time, and then jumping a "clear round" for the shortest time among the other competitors.

Lastly, dressage is judged by the higher level movements that the horse and rider perform in the arena. As a barn, we often cross-train and incorporate dressage movements in our lessons in order to increase balance, coordination, and muscle tone in our horses.

Besides the type of saddle used, there are varying accessories used. Saddle pads are what goes under the saddle to protect the horse from rubbing and can give support. Different pads are used for different saddles or disciplines. For instance, traditional hunter/equitation classes use a pad that is the same shape of the saddle and is smaller than the average pad. In part, this is used to better see the horse and rider since it covers less area. Similarly, different girths may be used.The girth is the belt. Dressage saddles have much longer straps to connect the girth to the saddle. They are much shorter for that reason.

Mentioned earlier, the fit of the saddle to the horse is crucial. If you turned a saddle upside down, you would notice a channel running down the middle. This is to keep the saddle of the horse's withers and spine - to distribute the weight of the rider evenly. The channel must be the appropriate width and depth for an individual horse since all horses have different proportions. There are special risers that may be used to help customize a fit. These go between the saddle and the saddle pad to give more cushion and to better position the saddle on the horse. For an example, scroll back up to the picture of Waldo and look for the black pad directly underneath the saddle.

Staring at Waldo's photos, you will notice a wide strap around his chest that connects to the saddle. Another post will go more in depth when discussing bridles; however, they are connected to the saddle so they are worth mentioning now. Breast plates and martingales are important tack. Breast plates are used to help keep the saddle properly placed and there are different types. Martingales are used to help communicate with horse. Either by helping keep their head down or to gain more control in a "need for speed" style horse that wants to go,go,go against better judgement.

As you can observe after reading this, there is a lot of thought and tradition that go into tack. Horse riding is deeply rooted in tradition. We still mount horses on the left due to most people being right handed - their swords would be resting on their left side. This would be make mounting on the right next to impossible. Clearly, horse tack is an immense topic and can be as nuanced, depending on what level of knowledge is demanded.

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