I spent the weekend in Denver & was lucky enough to be invited to WESA (Western & English Sales Assocition) the wholesaler’s market for western & english apparel & tack, by Ginny from Whispering Cowgirl.com. I’m one of her gear testers. She has sent me some really nice stuff over the last year or so to use, and I’ve given her my honest opinions of what I thought & how it compared to other gear I’ve used. She also sent me one bridle that I gave her my honest opinion of, and she’s no longer carrying it 🙂
So let’s start this out with a little background. Tack applies to any horse-related product that you use to communicate with your horse(s). All pieces of tack are tools, some exaggerate your natural aids (spurs on your feet, crop or reins in your hand), some offer aid without your presence or ability (tie-down, hobbles, round pen), others are for rider’s comfort or benefit (saddle, mounting block), and still others are for the horse’s ‘comfort’ so that the rider can have their ‘comfort’ tools (saddle blankets, cinches) There are probably more, but for now this list will serve us.
With that said, it’s important to stress that there are NO tools (aka tack) better than your natural aids in a perfect situation (doesn’t everyone want to ride bareback & bridleless!?!?!?)
So why is it that tack shops & feed stores tend to carry the things that make our lives easier as riders & horse owners? ’cause that’s what we want silly! 🙂 BUT the issue here is that yes, we want to make our lives easier but not at the price of making life harder or more uncomfortable for our horses!! But sometimes that’s exactly what these tools do!
Saddles are a prime example. Ray Hunt designed his own wade tree (the Ray Hunt wade), and natural horsemanship trainers & clinicians have been riding wade trees for years! It used to be 5 to 10 years ago if you bought a wade saddle you knew you were getting quality. Now every made-in-China saddle line has a ‘wade’ style saddle, because everyone wants to look like they know what they’re doing (like our trainers & clinicians do!) The problem was that they forgot to ask Why? and How?
The wade saddle has been popular with Great Basin Buckaroo Cowboys for centuries, it’s popularity has spread with trainers like Buck Branaman & Parelli who studied with Ray Hunt. Traditional wade saddles have more narrow bars, which make for a more narrow twist in the seat for the rider, they have bucking rolls (often referred to as squaw tits) filled traditionally with horse hair because that was softer to jab your thigh into when a colt bucked than a leather covered piece of wood (the swell on association saddles), AND most importantly they were more comfortable for the horses & fit a wider variety of horses because they have more rock in the bars & a good fare in the front to allow for shoulder movement, but still seat the rider further forward. I apologize if I’ve lost you here with my technical mumbo-jumbo, but I hope you get the idea that these saddles are not built to look cool, they’re built because someone asked a lot of Why’s & How’s & finally came up with a saddle that answered those questions.
I found at the market that there is a growing demand for ‘natural-horsemanship’ tack, and with that demand companies have created cheaper versions of the tried & true buckaroo tools, and some of them are really worth-while! Other’s are NOT, and it can be really hard to tell what is inside that saddle (the tree’s actual shape) or inside that bosal (rubber core?).
I LOVE to save money. I buy lots of generic products & grocery store bands for my home, ibuprofen, crackers, etc. But I will not scrimp & save when it comes to my comfort. I recently fought a cold & reminded myself why I buy only Puffs with lotion for my little nose! I like my name-brand toilet paper too! These are areas where I’ve spent time & money testing & researching and have decided that there is no compromise for my comfort!! Tack is much the same. Every once in awhile I’ll find a less-expensive item that I love or at least can’t tell any difference other than price between it & it’s competition, other times after I’ve tried multiples & break-down & buy the one I wanted in the first place (typically more expensive, yes) I rarely ‘try’ anything else to replace it. If/when I need to replace it, I will with the identical product.
So that said, I’d also like to comment that if you & your horse are happy with what you’ve got there’s no reason to change. At the market I saw Tammy Pate (the original horsemanship & yoga guru! Who also has a daughter named Mesa!) do a demo. She had a really cool story that hit home for me. When she was 5 to 10 she had a been there done that horse from her father, she rode that horse everywhere, around the ranch, in shows & rodeos, brandings, etc. She rode that horse in a mechanical hackamore & they won prizes & did well. They were both happy! Then she went on to say that today she would never ride a horse in a mechanical hackamore, basically because the way it worked didn’t work with her current ‘natural horsemanship’ philosophy. Today, with her current knowledge base, she could easily ride that horse in a ‘tool’ that was more comfortable for her horse. I think that’s a really interesting theory…if it ain’t broke….right? And it really made me think, how some horses come to be ‘campaigners’ as Tammy called this horse, and how others are just more sensitive, or maybe reactive is a better word. Your horse can feel a fly land anywhere on his body, he’s sensitive no matter how reactive he is. People are that way too, some of us put up with really uncomfortable boots or high-heels for a day just to look good or maybe it’s more to make our significant other happy (that’s what our horse’s do isn’t it?), others of us won’t be caught dead for 5 minutes in uncomfortable ‘gear’ And even if you don’t mind wearing those uncomfortable boots, because the benefits of attention from your significant other outweighs your need for comfort, wouldn’t you still rather find a beautiful pair of boots that made your significant other happy AND were comfortable!?!?
that was deep right?
So back to the topic of the market, the main issue I ran into at this wholesale show is that the wholesale sellers who sell to your local retailers, could barely if at all answer my How & Why questions. So, how could I possibly expect your retailer to have more knowledge than the guy who sells to the retailers!?!?? BUT your horse & I NEED YOU to have this knowledge in order to choose the tools that make your life easier without restricting the happiness of your herd. And who has time for all this!?!? Not many of us that’s for sure, but you can ask How & Why and if the answer sounds far-fetched, fishy or just plain doesn’t make sense. Don’t buy the product! Another option you have is to find an awesome trainer, retailer, or friend who does have time to do the research for you! I’ll do my best to pass on info here, I’ll admit I have expensive taste though! And feel free to read my reviews of tack at WhisperingCowgirl.com Ginny offers the best products on the market (I was at the market, I saw, I am SURE of this!) And take a little time to wonder if your horse will appreciate what you’re buying….would it be just because you do?