In the September 2004 issue of Horse & Rider magazine, I talked about some versatility ranch horse basics for you and your horse. Good working equipment is a must on the ranch, and it's important that you have the right equipment in the show pen as well.
First, you need a good, working saddle that's built to stand up to hard use. Silver on bridles and saddles isn't required--and in fact is discouraged--in the arena at versatility competition.
When shopping for saddles know yourself and know your horse. Be realistic about what you're going to be doing and know what your budget is. I've worked with Courts Saddlery Company to develop a ranch versatility saddle that combines features of several different saddle types--cutting, reining, and roping--specifically for the ranch versatility market. It has a semi-flat, narrow seat, and it's reinforced for roping with a stout saddle horn. Those are some features you'll want to consider.
I also like a smooth-seated saddle that allows me to move around, but personal preference plays a big part here. You may prefer a roughout seat to give you more security.
Remember that if you're competing in ranch horse versatility, your horse may be saddled for a long time. It's extremely important to have a saddle that fits properly. If you're unsure about fitting a saddle to your horse, ask for help from an experienced trainer or even a saddle maker.
Always buy saddles and equipment that are made by a reputable company that's been in business for a long time. Buy from reputable dealers who will stand behind what they sell. If you're looking for a ranch versatility saddle, check with trainers in your area to see what they recommend and visit several Western stores that have a good selection and a knowledgeable sales staff.
Pads and Cinches: Natural Preferences
When it comes to saddle pads and cinches I like natural fibers, such as wool and mohair, which absorb sweat and keep my horse comfortable. I lean away from neoprene-type saddle pads and cinches if my horse is going to be saddled for very long because they hold too much heat, and that can lead to soreness.
A good saddle pad will be comfortable and enhance the saddle's fit. Pads don't make up for ill-fitting saddles, but they enhance a properly fitting saddle. My personal preference is wool or felt. Synthetic wools can slip when they're new and don't last as long as natural wool.
Nylon off-billets and tie straps are getting to be more common, but I discourage those because they don't stretch and give. Leather will stretch slightly, making it more comfortable for your horse.
Headstalls and Halters
A plain nylon, plain leather or rope halter is used in the conformation section of the class.
When choosing a headstall, consider something traditional, such as a browband with a throatlatch. In the show arena, especially in fast-moving classes such as the cattle events, it's good to have something with a throatlatch for security. The first consideration with bits is whether it's legal in the association where you're showing. I don't even use anything at home that's not legal in the show pen because I'd just be setting myself up for failure. I strongly recommend a bit that's comfortable and mild such as a snaffle. Use the mildest bit you can get away with on your horse.
And finally, don't forget to protect your horse's legs with bell boots and splint boots or athletic boots. It's a quick, simple way to be sure you're doing everything you can to prevent injuries. This is an athletic event, and we're asking a lot of our horses. We need to do everything possible to make sure they're comfortable and protected.
Van Hargis got his first training job at the age of 12 when he was hired by the wife of saddle maker Billy Cook to ride a colt. He started his own training business in 1992, specializing in starting and evaluating performance prospects. Van now shows and trains in ranch versatility. Several times a year, he offers a ranch versatility clinic at National Ropers Supply Training Center in Decatur, Texas. Van and his wife, Karen, reside at their Rusty Star Ranch in Sulphur Springs, Texas.