Horseman's Guide to Tack and Equipment Form, Fit And Function

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  • Edition: 1st
  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 2013-08-06
  • Publisher: Western Horseman
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Horse gear must fit well to best function with the horseís body and movement. Although Horsemanís Guide to Tack and Equipment details available options for individual pieces of equipment, the book isnít a buying guide for purchasing equipment, but a usage guide explaining how to attain the best riding results with various items of gear. Each chapter addresses a piece of equipment, such as a saddle, or family of items, such as ground-working equipment; provides an expert opinion on how best to adjust the equipment for a horseís build and range of motion; and provides, if applicable, event-specific considerations when using that equipment. Equipment care and common equipment-fitting mistakes are addressed in sidebars.

Author Biography

Cynthia McFarland spent her horse-crazy childhood in Tucson, Arizona, exploring desert and mountain trails with her sorrel Quarter Horse gelding, Yuma, who was small in stature but huge in heart. Today, McFarland lives in Fairfield, Florida, where she writes regularly for equine publications, including Western Horseman, Thoroughbred Times, Horse Illustrated, and PONY Magazine. Her writing has earned numerous awards, including a Steel Dust Award from the American Quarter Horse Association. When she isnít writing, she can be found trail riding on her Paint gelding, Ben, or enjoying her cats and cows and an amazing donkey named Butler.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents: 1. Halters, Leads and Longeing Tack 2. Saddle Construction 3. Different Types of Saddles 4. Saddle Fit 5. Cinches and Girths 6. Blankets and Pads 7. Headstalls 8. Snaffle Bits 9. Shanked Bits 10. Bosals, Side-Pulls and Hackamores 11. Reins and Mecates 12. Martingales and Tie-Downs 13. Breast Collars 14. Equine Leg Protection


[Chapter 3: Types of Saddles,  subhead excerpt]


If the Saddle Fits, Ride It

            Saddles are sold with a published seat size measured in half-inch increments, starting at 12 inches for a child’s saddle and ranging up to 18 inches. Seat size is the distance from the base of the horn to the top center position of the cantle. Anything larger than 18 inches typically is a special order since most saddle companies don’t keep extra-large sizes in stock.

            Finding a saddle that fits isn’t as simple as one-plus-one-equals-two. You can’t assume a small adult needs a 14-inch seat, while a large adult must have a 16 ½-inch seat.  There’s a lot of personal preference involved. Buying a saddle is a bit like shopping for boots; some people want them snug, while others prefer a roomier fit.

             “There’s no way to say a certain size person is going to fit a certain size saddle. Two people might weigh the same, but need different sizes, depending on their builds and what they’re using the saddle for,” notes Webb Fortenberry, quality control manager at Cactus Saddlery in Greenville, Texas.

            “If you have a 210-pound man who stands 6 feet, 4 inches, he’s probably going to be lanky, and might need a 14 ½-inch seat, whereas a 210-pound man who is only 5 feet, 7 inches will have bigger legs and probably needs a 15 ½-inch seat. Saddle fit has a lot to do with a person’s size and lower body build, in particular, the legs.”

            Of course, when it comes to fit, personal preference is most important. Not all team ropers want a snug seat, and not all trail riders want a low, rolled-back cantle. Here are some general rules of thumb regarding saddle fit:


·        There should be 4 inches from the front of your body to the horn.


·        For a snug seat fit, there should be at least one finger’s width between your thigh and the swell of the saddle.


·        There should be at least two fingers’ width between the thigh and the swell for a roomy fit.


·        Your behind should rest against the bottom of the cantle without pressing against it.


            Keep in mind: Seat size is just one aspect of how a saddle fits the rider. Other factors that affect fit are fork angle and style, cantle slope and “dish,” and seat slope and depth. Here are some things to consider.


·        A saddle with wide swells (originally known as “bucking rolls” because they were designed to help a cowboy maintain his seat on a bucking horse), or undercut swells, which angle back slightly, can help a rider stay in the saddle. However, the  “slick” A fork has virtually no swell and is basically made straight up, so there’s a smaller front end to the saddle.


·        A deep pocket with a fairly steep slope to the ground seat helps keep a rider in one position, while a shallow, flatter seat allows more movement.


·        A tall cantle with a steep, upright angle offers more security and back support than a low cantle that angles back. Although a barrel racer might want a tall, steep cantle, a roper or reiner typically wants a shorter cantle with a mild angle.


·        A cantle with significant “dish,” the recessed portion that is carved out of the lower face of the front of the cantle, offers more comfort and security than a cantle with little or no dish. The dish might be as deep as 1 ½ to 2 inches, or much less.


[Chapter 2: Saddle Construction, sidebar excerpt]


Expert Tip 


            Ken Tipton of Tip’s Saddlery in Winnemucca, Nev., shares valuable insights on what to look for when shopping, whether you’re buying new or hunting for a quality used saddle.


Check with other riders doing the same type of riding and ask what brands of saddle they use and how well the saddles are working for them.


Research the reputation of the brand and/or saddlemaker you’re considering.


When examining a saddle, look at the overall craftsmanship and the lines of the saddle. There should be a snug fit—no gaps—every place the points of the saddle meet. A word of caution: When visiting a custom shop, show respect to the saddlemaker by asking him or her to help you properly examine the saddle’s construction. The saddlemaker  has spent many hours making sure all the pieces lay neatly, so don’t just pull up the stirrup leather or pick up the seat jockey without asking first.


Examine the seat and sit in it to get an idea of how you’ll feel after spending a few hours in it. A well-made seat shouldn’t be just a straight line to the cantle. The seat should have some shape to it and a good, narrow pocket where you sit.


Have the stirrups been “turned” so they hang at a 90-degree angle to the fender? If not, they will hang parallel to the fender and you will want to turn them the stirrups if you buy this particular saddle. (See “Make it Work for You” on page __.)


Look underneath a used saddle and examine the lining. If the sheepskin is matted down and shows even wear, this usually is the sign of a good-fitting saddle. If the lining is excessively worn, you always can have it replaced, but proceed with caution if the lining shows uneven wear, as this might signify fit problems.


Compare apples to apples when looking at prices. Realize that although a custom saddle, in most cases, costs significantly more up front than a factory-made one, the custom saddle generally holds its value much longer. It’s not unusual for a good custom saddle from a known maker to hold or even increase in value after 10 or 15 years.


Beware ofa good-looking saddle with a cheap price tag. It usually is true that “you get what you pay for.” A high quality custom saddle usually has around $1,500 in materials alone and anywhere from 40 to 400 hours of labor, depending on the amount and style of tooling.


Don’t buy a saddle for just one specific horse. A well-made saddle is meant to last much longer than the horse you’re riding now, so ideally, you should buy a saddle you can use on multiple horses for years to come. The saddle industry has gotten better and better at building saddles that fit a variety of horses.

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