Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Cowboy Wisdom -- Trail Tack Repairs

Will Rogers once said, "Good judgment comes from experience, and a lotta that comes from bad judgment."  That's especially true when it comes to keeping your horse tack in good repair.  Before riding your horse always check your saddle and bridle for loose, damaged or rotted parts.

Most of the important things I know about horse tack -- I've learned from mistakes made over my sixty year riding career.

Here's a few examples of things gone wrong:

Broken Off-Billet  (The off billet anchors the cinch to the rigging rings on the “off” (or right) side. While another latigo can also be used here, it is more common to use an off billet.) 

While galloping up a fairly steep grade my off billet snapped in half.  The saddle then made a 90 degree roll on my horses back, and gravity took over from there.  Somehow after the dust had settled my horse was standing uphill staring down at me with a questioning look as if to say, "how'd you get down there?"  Fortunately I was able to cut off a piece of my latigo and fashion a temporary off billet, so I could ride home.

Broken Mechanical Hackamore (A mechanical hackamore is a type of bitless headgear for horses where the reins connect to shanks placed between a noseband and a curb chain.)

We were headed home after a two hour ride when my rein suddenly fell away giving me no means to stop or turn my horse.  Fortunately we were walking at the time, and I was riding a pretty quiet horse.  The rivet that holds the shank to the nose band had failed and the shank simply fell off.  I suppose I could have tied the two pieces together, but since I was on a tired horse I opted for putting on the rope halter I always carry, and rode home with the lead rope tied to make a pair of reins.

Broken Bridle (A bridle is a piece of equipment used to direct a horse. The "bridle" includes both the headstall that holds a bit that goes in the mouth of a horse, and the reins that are attached to the bit.)

This has happened more than once and will likely happen again.  Bridle parts are usually held together with bits of leather wang or chicago screws, and both are are likely to fail on occasion.  Twice I've had a seemingly secure chicago screw fall apart allowing the bridle to separate from the bit which in turn allows the bit to fall out of the horses mouth yielding it useless.  In both cases I was lucky enough to get the horse stopped and make a temporary repair with a piece of leather wang.  Always remember that even with one rein you can double the horse (pulling the head back so he must turn a tight circle).

Broken Reins (Reins are used to direct a horse for riding or driving. They are usually made of leather, rawhide or nylon, and attached to a bridle at the bit.)

For trail riding I like heavy 3/4 inch wide reins with either water straps or swivels that attach to the bit.  Both systems can and have failed on a trail rides.  That last time I was in a fast gallop when the rein dropped off on-side.  I cajoled my horse to slow down, doubled him, got off and made the repair with a piece of leather wang while holding him with the one good rein.

Broken Stirrup Leather (On a western saddle, stirrup leathers are heavy, three to four inch wide straps under the saddle fender (which also protects the rider's legs from the sweat of the horse). Stirrup Leathers the stirrup.

I was riding an old 1930s Visalia saddle that used leather wang ties to the hold the stirrup leathers together (modern saddles usually have metal hardware -- such as Blevins adjustable buckles).  The wang had rotted, so the on-side stirrup fell apart on an uphill gallop.  Lucky again on a quiet horse, so I dismounted -- Indian style  (on the off-side) and made my repair with a piece of leather wang I always carry with me.

You need to be better prepared on Wilderness Rides

If I was on a wilderness trail ride I'd carry a lot more gear, but for local -- one three hour rides -- I reply on a few necessary items I always keep in a cantle bag on my saddle (photo below).

My Cantle Bag

I carry a nylon rope halter and lead rope, nail cutters, an easy-boot (that fits my horse), a few pieces of leather wang, extra Chicago screws (a dime for a screwdriver), and a simple first aid kit for my horse.

Will Rogers also said, "Most of the stuff people worry about never happens."  But, over the years I've discovered it's Murphy and not Rogers that's more often right.  You remember Murphy… he's the fellow that said, "If it can go wrong -- it will go wrong."  In addition to the above mentioned mishaps I've had horses lose shoes, pickup a nail in their hoof, and even cut themselves while passing a fallen tree, so even on an hour long local ride I carry a few essentials that might help us return home safely. 

On longer wilderness trail rides I carry an additional pair of saddle bags with the same survival items I carry on my canoe trips, see:

Solo canoe camping -- equipment checklist

Canoe fishing essentials -- make life easy

Don't forget to always carry a good horseman's knife, see:


Finally Will Rogers said, "Life is not about how fast you run, or how high you climb, but how well you bounce."  But, Roy Rogers once said, "When you get old you don't bounce -- you just splatter."

Happy Trails

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