Welcome back to another post about getting ready to show your horse! Yesterday we talked about rider turnout, and I think it is a good idea now to talk about the tack you will be using for the horse show.
And contrary to what you may be thinking, I am not going to tell you to go and buy a super fancy brand new saddle. Nope, nu -uh, you won’t be hearing that from me! I mean I am the Budget Equestrian after all right? And if you have been following me for any length of time, you probably know that I love to find me some deals, especially when it comes to horsey things.
What Is Really Important
And the biggest takeaway I want you to get from reading this is, it is more important to have clean, well fitting tack than it is to have brand new expensive tack to outfit your horse for a show. I am sure you have heard that before. But I don’t think as many people pay attention to this – but they should!
For example, about a month ago, I went to my riding clubs first pleasure show of the year. It was awesome. I had so much fun being the show photographer! I got LOTS of good photos, many which you have probably seen throughout my blog posts.
But another thing that I saw a lot of was dirty tack.
And I get it that horses slobber on their bits, and dust gets kicked up at a show. But what I saw was not typical slobber or dust.
I saw dirty saddle pads, and saddles that had a lot of built up dust on them. Conchos were not shining, and bridles were pieced together to make a bridle for a class. Which isn’t really a bad thing – but there were black and brown leather parts on the bridle.
Bits had rust spots on them, I don’t know how else to describe that, but that’s what it looked like headstalls and nosebands had their ends flailing around, not in the keepers.
Going To Your First Horse Show – Your Tack
And while the riders looked good for the most part, I think the neglected their tack because they were focusing on the way they looked, rather than the overall look they were presenting for the judge.
And this is the most important thing – you are presenting everything about you and your horse to the judge! It’s not just you, its not just your horse, IT IS EVERYTHING! Your bridle, your saddle pad, your saddle, your boots, your horse’s bit, your horse……EVERYTHING! So do everything that you can to make a good impression. And like I said earlier, it isn’t difficult, you just have to do it!
Clean Your Tack
Let me say that again….clean your tack! If you want your tack to last, you should be doing this routinely anyways. And if you are keeping your tack clean on a regular basis, it will be much easier to get it ready for the show ring!
And I find the more I oil and clean my tack, the better it looks. So I try and routinely do the regular cleaning after every few rides, and then deep clean once or twice a month, depending on how much riding I am doing.
Going To Your First Horse Show – Your Tack
I do rinse my bits though after every ride. I find this keeps them looking shiny, and easier to polish.
And yes, we all have our favorites for cleaning and oiling tack, and since I have you as a captive audience right now, I am going to share my favorites with you.
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I have a few favorites. My go to cleaner that I use on a regular basis in Leder-Combi by Effax. It works great, and is fast. You simply put some on a towel or soft cloth, and then clean your leather. Easy Peasy lemon squeezy! It also lasts a really long time.
And I do switch things up a little and when I am doing extra deep cleaning, I really like Stubben’s Leather Cleaner. It smells really nice, and it seems to get my leather tack extra clean. It could be that I am just doing something different, but I really like the look of my tack after I have deep cleaned it with the Stubben cleaner.
This cleaner is a liquid. I squeeze some out onto a damp track sponge and then really work it into the leather. Then I use a soft cloth to wipe away any excess cleaner.
And another one that I have recently started using because the reviews were so good. It is Smart Pak’s Leather Cleaner and Conditioner in one. It smells really good, and it cleans as it conditions, so this is definitely a time saver. The cleaner seems to work really well too.
From all of the leather cleaners I have tried, here are my top favorites:
- Effax Leder-Combi
- Voltaire Hercules Saddle Soap
- Stubben Leather Cleaner
- Smart Pak Leather Cleaner and Conditioner in One
Just a quick word on the Voltaire Hercules glycerin saddle soap, this stuff is wonderful! It is more expensive when it comes to saddle soaps, but in my opinion, it’s worth it. It cleans very well and a little bit goes a long way.
Again, there are lots of different products to choose from to condition your leather. And really, it is personal preference of what you use. The important thing to remember is to condition your leather tack to help keep it supple, and crack free.
When I get a new piece of tack, I like to use the Hydrophane Leather Dressing. It works really well to soften leather, and help keep it pliable. There is just something oh-so-nice about buttery tack. Whether it’s a halter, lead rope, girt or stirrup leathers, buttery soft tack is the best in my opinion. And by conditioning your tack regularly, even the stiffest of stiff tack can get nice and soft.
Leder Balsam has been my favorite for YEARS. I love the smell of this stuff! It also makes my hands soft as I am rubbing in the balm on my leather products. But there are some other really good balms I have tried as well. Here are my top favorite leather conditioners:
- Voltaire Hercules Leather Balsam
- Effax Leder-Balsam
- Hydrophane Leather Dressing
- Antares Leather Conditioner
The Antares Leather conditioner is awesome for bridle leather. It leaves them with a soft shine, not too glossy. And the leather is soooo pretty with this conditioner! It can be very difficult to find though. I bought mine several years ago when SmartPak was getting into selling Antares tack. I have also found it on Antares website. But I was very happy to find that the Antares booth at the horse shows I have been attending had it too.
It smells incredible, and works really well.
And while I adore Effax Leder Balsam, I recently bought Voltaire Leder Balsam for my Voltaire saddle. And this stuff is incredible. I used it on all of my leather tack, and the results are just spectacular, in my opinion. But I did find the less expensive piece of tack I had did not absorb it as well. I’m not sure why, but it didn’t. I actually had to wipe of the excess leather balm. But on my saddle, and stirrup leathers – it worked very well.
Ok, I think that is a pretty complete explanation of cleaning your leather tack in preparation for a show. And I think you get the idea that I am trying to put out there that clean tack is so important for the show ring. I think it is also important to remember to clean any of the buckles or clips on your tack, and including your stirrups too if you are showing English – or the silver pieces or conchos of your western tack too. Having clean tack is a definite must for the show ring.
Speaking of Saddles
In order to be in the show ring does not mean you need to have “the best of the best with honors sir” tack. As long as everything is in good repair, looks neat and tidy on your horse, and fits both of you correctly – that is what counts.
But also knowing what is standard for the classes you are competing in is something you need to research before you go into the show ring.
For example, if you are showing in English classes, you want to make sure you are using English tack. Like an English style saddle, with an English bridle – including an English type bit. The same holds true if you are showing in western classes.
For English classes, you want either a close contact or all-purpose saddle. Unless you are showing dressage, then you would want a dressage saddle. Let’s dive a little bit deeper into the other equipment you will need for the show ring.
In a perfect world, your bridle should match your saddle, typically either black or brown. And English bridle will have a noseband as well. And the bit will need to be an English bit. Typically these are ring bits, such as an O ring, or D ring, and if your horse uses a shank style curb bit then it will be something like a Pelham bit. The long shanks of some western bits are not appropriate in an English class.
The reins are one piece. Well, technically they are 2 pieces joined by a buckle. But no split reins are used in English classes.
It has been my experience that simple is better when it comes to show bridles. If it looks nice, and complements your horse’s face, this is the way to go.
The girth for your saddle can be leather, or synthetic. Some have fleece around them while others do not – this is up to you what you (and your horse) prefers.
If you are showing in hunter, or pleasure or equitation classes, you want to be as traditional as possible with your tack. Save the ear bonnets and flashy saddle pads for the jumper ring. A nicely fitted fleece saddle pad in white is the best choice for these types of classes. And again, it doesn’t need to be fancy, or expensive, just well fitted and CLEAN.
If your horse needs a martingale, you can show with one. But if you are just wanting it to show, and your horse doesn’t need one – it is better to not have it. Less is more.
Stirrups and Stirrup Leathers
The stirrups of an English saddle are separate from the stirrup leathers. And just like all of the other pieces of tack, you have a lot to choose from for your show tack. Again in the show ring, it is probably best to go with traditional pieces of equipment. Polished silver stirrups look classy, and traditional at the same time. There are many styles of stirrups to choose from, but the most important aspect to consider is safety.
And just like everything else horse related, stirrups (and leathers for that matter) can be very expensive. But sometimes quality does cost more. For example, I have several pairs of stirrups. I keep finding new stirrups to add to my collection!
For my every day riding, I have used the Jin style stirrups for several years. They were very affordable – I think Corro even sells them now. And they are great for schooling. But as I have progressed in my riding, I found the really wide foot bed makes it more difficult for me to keep me heels down. And they are kind of big and bulky looking, a little too big for the show ring.
Then one day while I was at a horse show, I saw these stirrups:
These were much more refined looking, and I just really liked the style. So I started doing some research on them, and liked what I was learning. I liked the information so much that I decided to buy a pair. And I am so happy that I did. They are beautiful.
These stirrups are made by American Equus. And not only are they beautiful, and lightweight with a traditional yet refined appearance, they are incredibly safe too. And they seem to help me to keep my heel down while feeling balanced in my stirrups.
For the stirrup leathers, they should be in good condition and all of the stitching tight. You can opt for traditional leather leathers, or if you want a little more stability to your lower leg you can use a wider stirrup leather. Total Saddle Fit makes a very nice wide stirrup leather that doesn’t stretch.
Now western is not my area of expertise, but I have shown western before, and I have watched many western classes with my local riding club.
And even though it has been many years since I have ‘shown’ western myself, I can give you some advice, which is the same if you are showing in English classes. Clean and condition your tack. Polish any silver, and buckles. Saddle pads should be clean, and well fitted.
Again, you do not need to have the fanciest, most expensive bridle, or saddle with the most silver. In fact I have seen riders win classes with simple tack, and no silver. It’s their overall presentation that impresses the judge.
Where To Find Show Tack Deals
You can find some really great deals on show tack, or even show clothes online. I always search on eBay for show clothes, and tack. And sometimes, I can find some great deals. Also, check online retailers. Places like Riding Warehouse, and Jeffers always seem to have some sort of a deal. And the clearance section is my favorite place to look for bargains.
Believe it or not, but I actually found a gorgeous show halter on Amazon for $65.00. And don’t forget to check your local tack stores for deals too. Or you can check on Craigslist too. Sometimes places advertise tack sales.
Finding the perfect show tack may take you a little while to create. But if you are patient, and wait for the deals – you can usually find them. So just keep searching! For myself personally, the hunt is half the fun. And the other half is when I get a sweet deal on the perfect new piece of equipment for my show worthy tack.
Going To Your First Horse Show – Your Tack
I hope you found this information helpful for you in planning for your first, or next horse show. And be sure to come back for my next post because we are going to talk all about your horse’s turnout for the show. It’s all about grooming, and you know I LOVE talking all things grooming! So be sure to come back for the next installment of going to your first horse show! And if you want to read the first post where I tlked about what to wear to a horse show, you can check out that blog post here!