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Signs Your Tack Isn’t Working Properly

by Wendy Sumner
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Horse owners spend a small fortune on tack and supplies for our equine partners. The options available are limitless. So how do we know which is the right choice? Read on to learn about signs you tack isn’t working properly. 

When it comes to your horse’s tack not working properly, there are physical as well as behavioral signs you need to watch for.

horse tack

Physical Signs that Your Tack Isn’t Working Properly

Every time you finish riding, you should look over your horse for telltale signs that your tack fits properly. 

  • Dry Spots on Either Side of the Withers and Shoulders.

Dry spots that are the size of your palm or smaller represent a pressure point caused by a saddle that is either too narrow or unbalanced. The pressure hinders the sweat glands from working correctly in that area. In addition, pressure points also cause deep muscle damage. This article has more on the Six Effects A Poorly Fitting Saddle Can Have On Your Horse.  

  • White Hairs on Either Side of the Withers or Shoulders

White hairs result from damage done to the hair follicles caused by pressure from an ill-fitting saddle. If your horse has white hairs, you need to be checking for deep muscle damage. 

  • Ruffled Hair Along the Back of the Saddle

An unbalanced saddle can cause ruffled hair along the back of the saddle. In this situation, the saddle is tipping forward, putting more pressure on the horse’s front end. The back of the saddle is “popping” up. An unbalanced saddle can cause pressure points on the withers and shoulders and painful rubs on the horse’s back.  

  • Ruffled Hair/ Swelling/ Raw Spots Along the Girth Area

The options of girths available on the market are numerous! They can be made of all-leather, neoprene, corded mohair, or other materials. A girth positioned directly behind the front legs can cause ruffled hair or raw spots from rubbing. It is important to have a hands width between the front legs and the girth. However, some horses will have allergic reactions to certain types of materials, especially manufactured ones. Horses with allergies will usually benefit from an all leather girth because leather is a natural material. 

  • Ruffled Hairs Under the Breast Collar

A breast collar is designed to help keep the saddle in place. You should be able to easily slide your hand between the horse’s chest and the collar. But the collar should not sag. When a breast collar is too tight, it can affect the horse’s forward movement, or in some cases, the horse may have difficulty breathing.

  • Corners of the Horse’s Mouth

It is crucial to check the corners of the horse’s mouth. A bit that is adjusted too tight or is too narrow can cause the mouth to be tender or even raw sores. If you take your fingers and pull back on either side of your mouth, you will get an idea of what a bit feels like to a horse. 

horse tack

Horse Behavior Signs That Your Tack Isn’t Working Properly

Tack that is not fitted correctly or is not working properly can cause the horse to be sore and not perform at their best. A horse wearing tack that is not working properly might not want to move forward, collect under saddle, or have balance problems. 

If the tack is causing pain, the horse may show signs of cold back. Our article on Causes of Cold Back in Horses and Ways to Help goes into details about this. There are also links to videos from professional saddle fitters on how to fit both an English saddle and a Western Saddle. 

Tack Isn’t Working Properly for the Rider

  • Stirrup Length

The stirrups need to be adjusted correctly for the rider, saddle type, and discipline. Stirrups that are not the proper length will affect the rider’s balance and communication to the horse. Read more about determining stirrup length in our article on The Proper Way to Sit on a Horse and Why it’s Important.  

  • Stirrup for a Particular Riding Discipline

Using stirrups that are not recommended for your particular discipline can result in tragedy. An example is a jumper that does not use breakaway irons or has a breakaway leather releases on their saddle. If the rider falls off when a horse refuses a jump, he can easily get hung up, and drug if his foot gets stuck in the stirrup iron. On a western saddle, the stirrup needs to be wide enough for the rider to get their foot in and out easily. My son does not like my western saddle because the stirrups are too narrow for his boots. The narrow stirrups also affect his ability to keep his feet in the proper heels down position.  

  • Using Too Harsh of a Bit

In the right hands, a bit can be a useful tool. In the wrong hands, a bit (even a snaffle) can be a weapon. When a horse misbehaves, it is important to evaluate the rider’s ability before moving on to a harsher bit.   

  • Using the Wrong Reins

Reins are the direct communication tool from the rider’s hand to the horse’s mouth. The correct reins will assist your horse in understanding the slightest cue. If the reins are too short, you will put too much pressure on the horse. If they are too long, it will be hard to cue the horse to stop in an emergency. Split reins work for trail riding and showing in different events. But continuous reins are necessary for disciplines such as barrel racing and jumping. 

signs your horse's tack isn't working properly

Final Thoughts

Tack that does not work properly can affect both the horse and the rider, therefore it’s essential to recognize the signs that your tack isn’t fitting properly. Regardless of what your riding discipline is, tack is expensive, and most of us cannot afford to buy tack over and over. We recommend learning how to properly fit a saddle or consulting a saddle fitter before buying one.    

 

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