When tack hurts

As the horse moves, the sand or dirt creates friction and rubbing

When our horses start acting up when being ridden, our minds quickly think it’s some kind of internal pain or mental block that the horse is experiencing, resulting in out-of-the-norm behaviour. While it’s important not to ignore the possibility that that could very well be the case, we often overlook our horse’s tack. When tack hurts, it can easily impact the horse’s performance under saddle. A horse will struggle to work properly when he feels uncomfortable or if something is causing him pain, such as pinching. There are so many components that make up our horse’s tack, so good quality and properly fitting tack is not negotiable – no matter your horse’s level or your budget.

Surface irritation

Every piece of tack on our horses – be it the bridle, saddle or boots – rests on the horse’s coat and skin. Any tack that rubs the coat or skin can cause the horse irritation and, in worse cases, injury to the skin. Tack that is too firm, such as an unoiled bridle, or made from rough-textured material, can cause discomfort to the horse. Bad rubs often occur from badly fitting or manufactured bridles, martingales, breastplates or girths.

There’s a lot of variety on the market when it comes to tack at a budget that fits everyone’s pocket. Many bridles these days come pre-softened or are made from quality leather that is immediately comfortable on the horse’s face – but these of course come at a price. It’s usually worth it to spend that money so that you don’t have to fuss too much about maintenance from day one, and these tack pieces usually last longer and are of better quality. However, if you’re not willing to spend more than R800 or so on a bridle, you’ll end up with something of lesser quality, which is absolutely fine, but you will have to be very good about maintaining the leather. You will need to buy leather balms (which can also be costly) to soften and nourish the leather. Cheaper bridles are also more susceptible to damage from the sun, so care must be taken to maintain the ‘health’ of the bridle leather. The same goes for martingales, breastplates and girths.

Dirty tack

Tack needs to be maintained on a weekly basis, and this includes keeping it clean. Sand and dirt can easily get into small spaces, such as into the grooves of a girth or under boots. As the horse moves, the sand or dirt creates friction and rubbing – making the horse very uncomfortable. He might hollow out or resist going forward to compensate for the discomfort.

Tack should always be wiped down with a cloth after work, and extra effort should be made when a horse has sweated excessively. You would never put on sweaty socks the day after a workout, so don’t do the same to your horse! While sweat does dry, it can firstly leave behind grainy type particles, and secondly damage the leather. Ensure that you wipe off all the sweat and apply a thin coat of leather cleaner to get any residue off.

Brush or wipe your horse’s boots after work, especially if you’ve been through mud or a wet arena. It’s easy to give them a spray after hosing your horse and leaving them to dry overnight so that they’re good as new for the next day’s ride.

Too tight

A tightly fitting bridle is often the reason a horse rubs his face on his legs

A huge problem that affects a horse’s comfort tremendously is tightly fitting tack. There’s a lot of controversy among equestrians regarding the tightness of the noseband and flash, and many professionals have been caught out with photos with nosebands that are visibly too tight. As a rule of thumb, you should be able to fit one to two fingers (depending on if you have small or large fingers) in between the horse’s nose and the noseband and flash, all the way around your horse’s face. Lots of riders have a tendency to overtighten the flash noseband to shut the mouth. Not only is this bad horsemanship, but it can disrupt the horse’s airways. Tightly fitting nosebands can cause serious damage to the facial nerves and structure, create breathing difficulty for the horse, and press on the sensitive mandible teeth. A tightly fitting bridle is often the reason a horse rubs his face on his legs. Cheekpieces should also not be too tight, as this will cause the bit to be too highly positioned in the horse’s mouth and can cause pressure on the poll as well.

On the contrary, tack that is too loose, especially the girth, can cause slipping and rubbing, as well as be generally irritating for the horse.

The full article appears in the February issue (130) of HQ > Shop now