Avoid Murphy's Law
I'm sure you are aware of Murphy's Law. You know, the one that states "Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong". Well, with horses never a truer word was spoken. You'll be protecting your safety and your horse's comfort by taking a few extra minutes and performing these simple safety checks before each ride.
Start with your saddle
- Before you put your saddle on your horse's back, check that the tree is in good shape. The way I do this is to put the saddle between my knees and, holding it on either side, close to the pommel at the very front of the saddle, squeeze the sides together firmly. There shouldn't be any movement. If there is, or if you hear a grinding, it indicates a weakness in the tree, or framework, of the saddle, that can seriously damage your horse's back if you continue to ride on it. No saddle with a broken tree should ever be used on a horse.
- If the tree passes muster, continue your check by looking at the bars of the saddle, where your stirrups attach. Make sure the bar on each side is secure and that no rivets are working loose. Get physical with it, wiggle it and pull firmly on the stirrup leathers.
- Next look under the flaps and check for weak stitching on the girth billets (those straps that your girth attaches to).This is probably one of the most important checks you can make as far as your own safety goes!
- Check the billets for dryness and wear -- do this by flexing and twisting the straps. If you notice cracks in the leather, it would be wise to replace that piece before it tears all the way through.
- Check the girth itself and the elastic ends too, if your girth has them. Check the pieces that hold the buckles in place for wear and also the buckles themselves, to make sure they are not bent or rusting through. If you notice any problems you should replace the girth before it fails. We have all seen those comedy films where the rider puts his foot in the stirrup to mount and both he and the saddle end up on the ground. However, it is far from a joke if something breaks as you are galloping full tilt toward an open ditch!
- Check your stirrup leathers for dryness and wear, especially at the points where the leather folds. Use the same flexing and twisting technique that you used to check the billets. Replace any stirrup leathers that are worn in these areas or that show cracks in the leather.
- Also be sure and check the stitching on the stirrup leathers and make sure that any stitching that is starting to unravel or wear is repaired or the stirrup leathers replaced.
On to the Bridle
- Check all the leather in the bridle, using the same flexing and twisting technique you used on the billets and stirrup leathers. Give extra attention to areas of strain, such as where the rein wraps around the bit. Any cracking or separation in that area is a danger signal telling you it's time to invest in a new set of reins.
- Check all the stitching, especially on the reins. If you have the tools (I purchased an awl at the local tack shop for this purpose and practised on old pieces of tack until I had perfected the technique) you may be able to make simple repairs yourself. When in doubt, consult your local saddler for repair work.
- Check the bit itself for rough edges that will damage your horse's delicate lips. Replace any bit that shows signs of roughness and wear immediately.
- As you go over your bridle, check the buckles to make sure they are not rusting through and that the tongues are not bent, allowing the buckle to work undone in use.
And Don't Forget the Rest
The same safety checks that you make on your saddle and bridle should be made on any other equipment you use - be it martingales, breastplates, or a complete harness for driving horses. Keeping the leather work clean and in good shape will lengthen its useful life span and will be more comfortable for your horse.