Many of us take for granted that our tack is in working condition each and every time we ride. Safety is always the first priority for our tack, but taking time to inspect, condition, and repair it will also prolong its life.
"If people take proper care of leather, it will last a lifetime," says Pino Blangiforti, creator and owner of Leather Therapy Washes. He reminds us, however, that leather is affected by neglect, the elements, dryness, moisture, mold, and mildew.
A regular inspection of your equipment will help you spot leather weaknesses or cracks before they become dangerous.
"Tack repair is always about safety first," declares Anne Fordyce, Marketing Media Manager with Circle Y & Tucker Saddles. "Any piece that attaches to the saddle itself, or is designed to hold the saddle in place, should be checked for cracking, stretching, or unraveling," she explains.
When you use your own equipment, you know how often the leather is inspected, maintained, or repaired. However, if you're using borrowed equipment or purchasing used tack, closely check each of the pieces described above before using or buying them.
"Used saddles must be inspected carefully," Blangiforti says. "Look for spots that may have dry rot or show cracking. Look at the key straps and pieces. Your trainer or local tack shop can help you spot problems."
Cinch straps, billet straps, and ties play an important role in keeping you safe in the saddle. These pieces are the most frequently used and come in direct contact with dirt, sweat, and horsehair. "Some pieces of equipment are going to wear out just like the tires on your car wear out from use," Fordyce says.
How will you know these pieces need to be replaced? The most obvious defect is a complete tear through the width of the leather. But any leather that's cracked, frayed, or stretched has been weakened and could snap completely through at any time.
In most cases, you can make these types of repairs yourself. Your local tack shop can provide replacement cinch straps, billet straps, ties, and other small items. Expect to spend $20 to $50 or more for cinch and billet straps, depending on the strap's brand, quality, and length. The same is true for basic repairs of broken throatlatches or curb straps on a bridle.
What other parts are likely to wear on your equipment?
"This depends on the type of riding being done. Performance riding like showing, jumping, roping, etc., is where I see lots of small repairs being needed," says John Dennehy, leather artist and owner of The Wild Irish Rose.
Small repairs can include the stitching on any leather product. Saddles may need decorative stitching repaired or the functional stitching around the horn, seat, or cantle replaced. "Saddles usually need a horn cap fixed or replaced or saddle strings restitched," Dennehy adds.
Another common repair includes the stirrups and stirrup fenders. "Over the years, the stirrup leathers may become worn, disproportionate, or stretched out," Fordyce says. "This is especially true if the saddle is used or stored in wet conditions."
Replacement of the stirrup leathers and fenders can be a relatively easy fix. For a Western saddle, large strips of leather are cut. Then holes are punched for the adjustment slots, and rivets and buckles are added.
Leather workers and saddle makers have the resources to locate materials for replacement stirrup leathers and fenders. Contact the saddle manufacturer to order the parts you need.
"Depending on the style of the fender and how much tooling there is, riders can purchase brand-new stirrup leathers and fenders for approximately $175 to $250, not including stirrups," Fordyce notes.
Once you locate the leather pieces, you'll likely be able to replace the fenders yourself, explains Fordyce. The stirrup leathers slide over a bar that's located underneath the saddle skirt up near the tree.