Before heading out on a trail ride, make sure your tack is in good working order to help ensure the safety and comfort of both you and your horse.
Tip: After you’ve saddled your horse, longe him for a few minutes to be sure everything stays in place. Then bridle him, check the cinch one more time, and mount up.
[ ] Leather. Go over your entire bridle. Bend the leather on the reins and headstall to verify its integrity. Look for cracks and signs of wear. Immediately replace any parts that show signs of weakness.
[ ] Keepers. Make sure the keepers are in place and in good condition. Keepers are one of the first items to break on an older bridle.
[ ] Bit. Inspect the bit. Remove any debris before you put it in your horse’s mouth. Check attachment points to the headstall, reins, and curb strap. Check fit, and make any necessary adjustments.
[ ] Curb strap. Securely buckle the curb strap, and make sure it’s adjusted for optimal effectiveness and comfort.
[ ] Reins. Check rein leather for wear. Check any buckles to ensure they’re in good working order.
[ ] Underside. Look over the underside of your saddle for excessive wear, paying particular attention to areas where leather and hardware connect. Check for cracks and loose connections.
[ ] Hardware. Jiggle the hardware to see if it’s securely attached, or if it has become worn or weak. Immediately replace any metal with excessive rust.
[ ] Cinch. Check the cinch (or girth) to make sure it’s free of burrs, wads of horsehair, or other debris that could irritate your horse. Also inspect it for signs of weakness at the points of attachment.
[ ] Stirrups. Examine the stirrup buckles to make sure they’re properly fastened and in good condition. If you have break-away stirrups, verify that they’re secure. After mounting, be sure the stirrups are at the correct length and can hold your weight when standing up in the saddle.
[ ] Breastcollar. Check the leather on your breastcollar for wear and weakness. Examine areas where the breastcollar attaches to the saddle and cinch to ensure integrity.
[ ] Crupper. Bend the leather on the crupper to make sure there are no weak areas. Check the points where the crupper attaches to the saddle to determine they’re secure.
[ ] Latigos. If you’ll be tying items onto your saddle using the latigos, check for thinning and weak areas. Immediately replace worn-out latigos — you don’t want to lose your slicker or other essential trail items.
[ ] Cleanliness. Inspect the saddle pad’s underside to make sure it’s clean. Use a stiff brush to remove any dirt, debris, and horsehair; these could irritate your horse’s skin.
[ ] Position. After tacking up, make sure you placed the pad high enough on your horse’s withers. There should be several inches in front of the pommel and behind the cantle to cushion your horse’s back. Allow some gap between your horse’s withers and the pad’s underside, so air can flow through. Make sure the pad is smooth and not bunched up under the saddle.
Audrey Pavia, an award-winning freelance writer based in Norco, California, is a competitive trail rider and member of the North American Trail Ride Conference. She's the author of Trail Riding: A Complete Guide (Howell Book House imprint of Wiley; www.howellbookhouse.com).