After considerable research we determined that the smartest way to save money on a repair is to pay a professional tack person.
Because tack is safety equipment — at the most basic level, it’s what keeps us on our horses — it’s too important to be trusted in amateur hands, no matter how crafty or willing. You can also do a lot of damage to your tack by applying temporary fixes, like baling twine or duct tape, tricks that have been used on more than one occasion.
Frankly, it’s too expensive to stock up with the leather-repair equipment you’ll need to do a job correctly, let alone find the time to learn to use it properly. Your saddler has a wide range of tools and the experience to do that leather job right.
Joel Forrest, of Circle JF Saddlery, in Coopersville, Mich., says he’s seen quite a few at-home repairs go wrong. People use glue-on things that should be stitched or riveted, or use duct tape, which dry rots leather.He’s also seen people buy synthetic wool (actually made for stuffing dolls) at craft stores, and rip open their saddles to try to restuff them.
Steve Stefely, who owns Bison Saddlery in Helena, Mont., says that most repairs done by owners seem to fall into the “this will have to do until we can get it to the repair shop” category and involve duct tape or baling twine. The “repair” often leads to destroyed tack or damaged leather.
But, while it’s still best to use a professional for your tack repairs — even if that means shipping your tack away — there are a few things that you can do at home.
The most basic tack “repair” involves punching holes. Buying and using a leather punch is easy, but we suggest you spend a few bucks and get a good one. Our favorite is the Herm Sprenger Hole Punch (about $45), which is available at most tack retailers. It makes punching through leather a breeze.
Many of us frequently need to add holes to a bridle, halter, stirrup leathers or even some girths, especially if more than one rider or horse is using the equipment. But be smart. Don’t add holes between holes. Punch evenly and only as absolutely necessary. Every time you perforate the leather, you make it weaker and more likely to tear.
You can also apply your own nameplates. Those for the cantles of saddles need to be attached with small wood screws and those for tack (halters, bridles, etc.) are normally attached with rivets. We like the use of speedy or jiffy rivets that consist of two simple parts, a post and a cap.
To use these, locate the position of the hole for the rivet, punch the correct size hole, insert the post half through the holes in the leather and plate. Next, set the cap onto the tip of the post and hammer it down securely and tightly.
This process leaves a smooth finish on both sides, unlike the more typical pop or split rivets, which can irritate skin since they leave a rough surface. Most repair shops carry the speedy or jiffy rivets and are usually willing to sell just a few (rather than requiring the do-it-yourselfer to buy a whole box).
For general nameplate work, you can use a strong adhesive and brass or stainless-steel rivets rather than nickel-plated ones, which rust.
Joel Forrest cautioned that he’s seen people ruin saddles by attaching nameplates to Western saddles when they drilled through the Cheyenne roll on the back, and punctured the seat material or the back of the cantle.
Rivets might also safely be used for simple repairs on non-vital equipment, like re-attaching a saddle string.
Leather-stitching kits can be used for nonessential work. These usually come with a leather awl, and thread and repair needles. The Speedy Stitcher (www.speedystitcher.com, 845-452-2433), for example, comes with thread, sewing awl, and two needles for around $10. The Awl for All (www.awlforall.com 847-593-1651) is simply an awl, which sells for about $9 at tack and feed stores.
These tools can be handy in a pinch. If one is careful and has the correct-size needle for the contraption, a sewing awl can be used to restitch a piece of tack that has had the stitches worn away but is in otherwise decent condition.
Follow the original stitch holes (lining them up carefully) and stitch along with the awl. It won’t do as neat a job as hand stitching, but it’s easier and will reconnect the pieces. Stick to repairs that use the same original holes, as you’re just replacing dry-rotted or lost thread. If you try to use a stitching awl to sew something new onto your saddle, you may do more harm than good.
You can add your own saddle strings to your Western saddle. As long as they aren’t compromising your saddle’s integrity, you can affix them yourself with a needle and thread from a leather kit. You can use saddle strings to carry a water bottle, for example, or fasten down a bedroll for an overnight camping trip.
You can also add decorative conchos or other items of bling to your gear. Conchos typically come with screwback fixtures and require only a hole punch.
Saddles Aren’t Shoes
Be wary of asking even the most-talented shoe-repair person to fix your tack. Although he or she may be well versed in leather, tack has specific needs. For instance, stitching should go through the old holes with traditional waxed linen thread. Machine stitching with nylon thread, which may be all right for some leather goods like jackets or loafers, can weaken quality tack.
The leather-repair machine will add holes to already compromised material. Also, nylon machine thread tends to cut leather. (One exception: Velcro fasteners that have come off galloping boots can be replaced by machine.)
Admit if your tack is beyond repair. Items likely better replaced than repaired include billets that have begun to tear from hole to hole, any leather piece that is cracking or stretching, and stirrup leathers that have stretched to the point of being two different lengths. Be careful when considering repairs on bridles by yourself.
It’s usually easiest, and not always costlier, to take your tack to be repaired. However, if you want to perform your own work, stick to nonessential minor adjustments, such as punching holes, adding decorative touches, and attaching saddle strings.
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