When it comes to safety while riding, we depend on our skill as horsemen and the steady obedience of our horses. But just as critical is the equipment we use while working with our animals.
That’s why it’s so important to make sure your gear is in good working order and adjusted to fit your horse correctly. Clinician and trainer Richard Winters says conscientious inspection is a personal responsibility. Whenever possible, start with quality gear, and take care of it. “A saddle will last 100 years if it’s maintained, but the straps and things that hold it together are by design made to be replaced periodically, and inspected often,” Winters says. Here are a couple of points you should check regularly for proper fit and wear and tear, according to Winters.
One of the most frequently overlooked points of gear, the offside billet tends to see wear in the same spot ride after ride. This can lead to it breaking at the moment it is under the highest amount of stress, such as during a gallop, big stop or quick turn on a cow. “You’ve got to check out the offside billet because it will break one day—it will only last so long,” Winters says. “If you’re not checking it, there’s nobody else checking it for you. I’ve seen huge wrecks—even with expensive horses and expensive saddles—[because of] a worn-out offside billet.”
Back cinch and hobble.
At his clinics, Winters does a visual inspection of each rider’s gear. He says that the cinch hobble connecting the front and back cinches are often missing. “It’s kind of in a place where you’re not paying much attention, but you have got to have that on there, and it needs to be adjusted relatively short so that back cinch can’t move back and act like a flank strap [on a bucking horse],” Winters says. The back cinch needs to be tight enough to touch your horse’s body, advises Winters. As you ride, your saddle will settle onto your horse’s back, so a loose back cinch can end up so loose it’s a hazard. “If it’s hanging down there 6 inches, it’s just waiting to get snagged on a branch, or even a nice gentle horse just reaching up with a leg to scratch a fly and sticks his foot through it,” Winters says. “So if you have a back cinch, pull it up or take it off.”
These seemingly unimportant strips of leather that wrap around each of your fenders actually serve a purpose, explains Winters. “Without the stirrup hobbles, there’s nothing to keep the stirrup from rotating all the way around—it keeps the stirrup secure at the bottom of that fender,” says Winters. “That insignificant little strap is keeping everything in place, and keeping your Blevins buckles from bouncing around and coming undone. It’s pretty disconcerting to be trotting down the side of the road and all of a sudden having a stirrup fall off your saddle. If you’d had the stirrup hobble on there, if something does malfunction, it’ll hold things together and buy you some time.”
Reins can be attached to your bridle in several ways. If your reins use Chicago screws, know they are notorious for coming loose unless you take preventative measures. “You can apply [thread-locking adhesive] or even clear fingernail polish to tightened screws, and it’ll keep them from working back out,” Winters says.
Another common method of rein attachment is thin strips of leather. Winters says these are designed to break instead of the rein itself if your horse gets in a bind. Easy to replace, these straps need to be checked for wear on a regular basis. “You’ve just got to check these things—they’ll get rotted, and they can come untied,” warns Winters. Following is a collection of gear to help make your time with your horse safer, more enjoyable and comfortable.