Friday, July 22, 2011

Tack or Tact?

The History of Tack is one that is well documented but, still lacks definitive proof of exact inventions and usage. The first "saddles" (and I'm using that term loosely) appeared about 4000 years ago. They were nothing more than hide or some other type of cloth to help make riding more comfortable for both the rider and the horse. I imagine they weren't too particular with the name of the saddle maker or if Western Pleasure Penelope down at the arena had the same make and model. Of course, as the use of these cloths became more widespread, different groups of peoples were able to make improvements and the evolution of the saddle began. 

I was intrigued to find out that a "frozen Scythian tomb from the 5th Century B.C. uncovered a saddle cover intricately decorated with animal motifs made from leather, felt, hair and gold. As expert horsemen, the Scythians used cushioned saddles and girths and may have had leather stirrups".  (Dressage Today Magazine, January 1996)

The Asians are accredited with the first "saddle" mounted on a wooden frame.  In 200 B.C., "This primitive saddle tree kept a rider's weight off the horse's tender, sensitive vertebrae, preserving the animal's well-being and prolonging his usefulness." (DTM, 01/96)  

Photo of a Saddle on display at the Inner Mongolian Museum

There's more to the history, but you get the point--that saddles evolved over time.  

Ok, so why the history lesson?  The original purpose of having a saddle and using tack was comfort.  Quality tack is comfortable.  The leather is soft and pliable.  The padding is thick and luxurious.  The fittings and hardware are smooth and hold up to usage.  And it's built to last. 

Some tack is cheaply made. Worse yet, it fits your horse poorly and can often lead to physical problems such as pressure marks, saddle sores, and lameness.  Not to mention, it's hard to ride in!  But, not all inexpensive tack is horrible.  Which brings me to the purpose of this article.  

The key is finding the best quality tack you can afford and choose the tack that fits your and your horse properly.  Used is a perfectly acceptable option.  

Equally annoying to me is tack that is touted as simply the best.  Kudos for the saddle maker or the manufacturer for building such great brand recognition but, shame on the rider that will criticize another rider for not having a "name brand" saddle or "name brand" piece of tack.  Name brand provide some peace of mind as far as quality control goes; however, there are literally hundreds of independent saddleries in the US and abroad that produce far better quality tack that just doesn't have name recognition.  You'll see this if a saddle maker is new to the business, or just doesn't have the marketing know-how.  And the tack is usually VERY pricey but, there's more than one reason why. 

Don Leson Saddle

For the most part, people don't get into saddle making to make a fortune.  It's a labor of love--handcrafting the leather.  When an independent saddle maker is putting his or her name on that saddle, they are doing it with pride.  Often times, these handmade independent saddle makers will charge more and rightfully so.  Don Leson is a saddle maker whose name is synonymous with quality. However, it's not a mainstream saddle. Not many would recognize that brand; the base price for one is about $8000 with no bells and whistles. 

Remember an individual saddle maker is paying top dollar for the tree, the leather, etc. because they aren't buying it in bulk and because they're looking for certain qualities in the components that large companies sometimes dismiss.  They're manufacturing the saddle by hand without automated processes and have to literally complete every step of the saddle making process the old fashioned way.  The attention to detail and quality control is superior to most of your recognized brands. And at the end of the day, the comfort is really there.  Like I stated before, they are usually more expensive but, it's an heirloom piece that will last several generations if it's cared for properly. 

So, shop around.  A good tack shop will discuss your needs, conduct saddle fitting, discuss your budget and help you find a saddle that will work for you and your horse.  And for the rider who feels compelled to brag about their $800 headstall and breast collar or criticize you for your unknown brand name saddle or headstall, ask them if they know the difference between tack and tact? Tell them you do and you're comfortable with that. :) 

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Justin Bieber's Hair Does Kinda Look Like a Mane

David Cassidy was my Justin Bieber.  I also vaguely remember wanting to marry Leif Garrett.  Thankfully, that never became a reality.  After seeing him on Celebrity Rehab, I'm quite certain I lucked out. Gah. I also remember that I would trade any Donny Osmond, Leif Garrett, David and Shaun Cassidy marriage proposal for a horse.  My bedroom walls were adorned with those great extra large Teen Beat Centerfolds.  By all appearances, I was normal.  Only my parents knew I was a crazy horse lady in the making. For hidden in my top dresser draw was a notebook filled with hundreds of my drawings and poems about horses.  I even owned all of Barbie's Horses.  Truth be told, I cared little for Barbie, but, her horses spent their days living on my night stand. I think I was around 14 when I started wondering why none of my friends wanted to play Barbie is a Horse Ranch Heiress anymore.

Book reports in school were also quite predictable.  If it wasn't about horses, it wasn't on my list of books to read.  I think I know more about Chincoteague Ponies that most historians.

When that day finally came and I could own a horse or two or eight horses (who's counting?), I was instantly transformed into a 10 year old girl.  I was so excited, I came close to passing out.  I'm wondering now if that raw emotion is what today's tweens feel for Justin Bieber?  Maybe they just don't know about horses?  No, that's just can't be it.  Perhaps we're now growing up much more quickly than we did in the 70's? Urban sprawl decreasing available pasture land? A vast and elaborate conspiracy by video game companies? Ok, I'm searching for answers.

This month, Northern Tack is running a contest that I'm sure will put my mind at ease about today's youth.  Entrants just have to tell us in 350 words or less why they love horses more than Justin Bieber.  They can go to our site CONTEST PAGE and fill in the submission form. The winner will make me feel like I'm 10 all over again.  And we'll give them a free Mountain Rope Halter ($21.99 Value) and 40% off of any purchase less than $50.00.  Wait.  Who's the winner here?  First, I didn't have a messy divorce from Leif Garret and now this.  Life is Good.

Valhoma Mountain Rope Halter ($21.99 Value)

Friday, July 8, 2011

My Horse Ain't No Einstein, Ma'am.

Remember math class as a youngster?  Everyday's lesson built on the lesson before.  Teachers (good teachers) know that incremental learning helps to build skills that are solid.  Skills that can be expanded and explored.  Teachers do this so students can progress and move onto subjects like algebra and--oh, I don't know--quantum physics.

We see it in every profession, not just in the schools.  The "it" I am referring to are the fundamentals.  Homes are built on good foundations.  Great musicians have a deep and vast understanding of all types of music--another great example of fundamental understanding.  Similarly, responsiveness in horses is also achieved through the same fundamentals.

Foundation building takes time, repetition and patience.  Seems simple, right? Wrong.  As a society, we tend to rush into everything.  From new trends to quick fixes.  This line of thinking can sometimes lead to holes in training.  Rather than go back and review the basics, we look for quick fixes to remedy the quagmire we've gotten ourselves into.  We say go back to square one.  Find out what day you and your horse played hooky on and do some make up work.

Consider this, horses are not that different from people when it comes to focus.  They rush.  Every horseman's who's ever had a horse can tell you that a barn sour horse is one that's in a serious rush to get home.  They fight the bit, they have high head carriage and they aren't  balanced...all negative movements that result from poor choices either by the horse, or by the rider or by both. Schooling your horse in the basics with the mildest bit you can, over time, results in a more responsive and consistent horse later on.  Schooling not only teaches your horse new skills that can be built upon later, but it also prevents problems later on as well.  Hopefully, at this stage of the game, the rider has also resolved the importance of their own education.

Plain O-Ring Snaffle Bit from as low as $7.49 from
As  tack store owners, we hear a litany of reasons why Joe Rider is looking for a bit with more bite for old Bucky.  We're frank.  Bucky may need a new bit, but it just might be a plain o-ring snaffle and more training.  If you horse doesn't "whoa" on a lunge line, why would he "whoa" in an arena with the distractions of loud music, the noise of the crowd, and all the new smells he is going to encounter? You've heard the old adage about horses being afraid of two things, things that move and things that don't.  Truer words...

The same argument can be made with respect to collection.  A collected horse (read more about collection here) is a horse that is accepting and responsive to the rider's cues.  If your horse is hollowed out, throwing his head, and heavy on the front end, he's not responsive and/or the rider isn't giving the proper cues.  Achieving collection isn't going to happen by escalating from bit to bit.  It is achieved through proper training for both the horse and the rider.  I've seen plenty of horses ride with perfect collection in nothing more than a rope halter.  It can be done. Watch Stacy Westfall's famous 2006 Championship run on youtube.  No bit.  Beautifully executed routine.

If either one of these horses sound like your own, instead of buying a new bit with more "bite", why not consider schooling again?  Go back to the basics.  Go back to the arena with a trainer who might be able to pinpoint when and where things went awry for you and offer suggestions to correct it.  Many times, negative habits can be turned around with just several positive sessions and a good snaffle bit.  Other times, maybe a different bit is more appropriate or preferred by your horse.  You both have to be comfortable.

Northern Tack has a great selection of bits.  More importantly, we're committed to helping you pick out one that will work for you and your horse by discussing your needs.  You can call us toll-free at 855-667-8225 and we can discuss bitting options for you along with some suggestions that will have your horse doing arithmetic in no time.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Northern Lights--Real Maine Bling

It's always been somewhat of a mystery to me why some people who live near the beach rarely enjoy it.  It's so peaceful and beautiful.  And despite all it's beauty, we groan and moan at the tedious nature of cleaning out sand in the backseat or hanging up wet beach towels.  Perhaps it the hustle and bustle of everyday life or perhaps the fact that it's just accessible and that accessibility is the perfect incubator for procrastination.  Truth is we overlook so much of nature's beauty on a daily basis.  It's a shame.  Thankfully, in Maine something so magnificent, so enormous gets our attention that we just can't look away.  Northern Lights.

(Photo Copyrighted Rob Diadone)

They're called Aurora Borealis. The Northern Lights are caused when the sun emits electrically charged particles form solar flares.  The Earth's magnetic poles acts like (you guess it) a magnet and draws those particles to the polar regions.  When the particles engage the atmosphere, the different atoms react uniquely depending on their composition giving off beautifully vibrant colors like purple, blue, red and green. You can read more about the Northern Lights in Maine here.

The Northern Lights always get attention.  And they should.  That's why we named one of our more affordable tack sets after them. Most everyone has bling on in the ring.  There are some super talented crafters making really beautiful headstalls and breastcollars these days.  But, like the beach, they just get overlooked or more times than not, they just aren't affordable.  Tack sets with genuine Austrian Swarovski Crystals can reach up to $800 or more online--not that they aren't worth every penny--they are.  Each piece is a one-of-a-kind work of art and, rest assured, some serious time went into production.  But, let's face it, $800 buys a whole heck of alot of hay in the winter in Maine.  We make choices.

The Northern Lights Set has both the cowgirl bling factor you need to stay competitive in the ring without the hefty price tag associated with it.  And it's beautiful.

The stones have the same purple, blue, red, and green hues you see in the real Northern Lights.  People will stop and take notice and appreciate its beauty.  And maybe you'll find the time to go to the beach.