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For many land buyers, investments in rural properties represent the fulfillment of longtime ambitions to adopt rural, ranch-based lifestyles. That often includes the purchase of horse. For first-time horse owners – or those returning to an equestrian lifestyle after a long absence – getting fully equipped for day-to-day horse ownership can be overwhelming, even confusing.
For those new horse owners, here are some guidelines for setting up a tack room and ensuring it includes the essentials.
Don’t settle for an open area at the end of a barn breezeway; a tack room should have four walls, a ceiling, a locking door and – ideally – a cement floor that can be easily swept.
In constructing the tack room, strive to close all gaps in the walls. If you’ll store feed in the tack room, use containers that seal tightly.
Freestanding or wall-mounted saddle racks allow riders to easily stow saddles off the floor, and help keep the tack room orderly.
Nothing contributes to tack-room disorder quite like a tangled mess of bridles and reins. Bridle racks help keep headgear organized, and help bridles maintain their proper shapes.
Smart, versatile storage options make a tack room useful and keep it from becoming a cluttered space. Make an effort to plan your tack room with the future in mind; in the years to come, you might deal with more horses, and therefore more gear, or you might share that tack room with other riders.
Saddles and bits are prime targets for thieves who understand the dollar value of such items; even a modest collection of saddles, bits and spurs can easily be valued in five-figure territory. Lock and control access to your tack room. Some horsemen go so far as to install video-security systems in their barns, in part to help monitor the tack room.
A custom saddle will be of higher-quality than factory-made options, and can be an heirloom item that could potentially gain value. Custom saddles aren’t cheap, though; expect to pay several thousand dollars for a fairly basic saddle from a known maker. And, the best saddlemakers have waiting lists that can represent years of back orders. For most riders, a high-end, factory-made option will suffice. Always buy saddles from makers or from retailers who specialize in saddles (don’t buy a saddle at a feed store); or look at a secondhand purchase from an experienced horseman you trust.
Some riders operate on the theory that they need a wide collection of saddles to accommodate different horses. In reality, a well-made saddle should fit the vast majority of horses.
Building on the theme above, fine-tuning a saddle’s fit for a particular horse is often a matter of experimenting with different saddle pads. Building a collection of several saddle-pad options will help ensure that a single saddle can be used on a wide variety of mounts.
For the sake of simplicity, many riders will opt to use only a single, front cinch. A back cinch and breast collar will provide additional stability, keeping a saddle in place in a variety of riding conditions. This isn’t just a matter of comfort or convenience, but is also a safety issue.
For all-around, general riding, it’s tough to beat a good snaffle bit. There’s a certain prestige associated with spade bits – they represent an advanced level of horsemanship and the refinement of a bridle horse – but the reality is that very (very) few horses ever reach a level of training that would make a spade bit appropriate. Likewise, few riders understand how to safely use a spade bit. A snaffle, on the other hand, is a safe and simple option that’s appropriate for virtually all horses, from colts to seasoned cow horses.
Spurs are intended to offer a horse a clearer set of signals; they’re meant to be used gently, with the slight turn of a rider’s ankle touching a rowel to the horse’s side. Riders unaccustomed to spurs, or unfamiliar with their correct use, simply shouldn’t bother with them.
This should include a variety of halters and lead ropes; hoof picks; and brushes, curry combs and other grooming supplies.
Be skeptical of unfamiliar equipment and look to trusted horsemen for guidance on the tack that might or might not be the right fit for you and your horse. In general, it’s best to stick to simple, straightforward tools.