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Safety in the Saddle

One of the most important safety factors of riding is that which concerns good quality saddlery, which is carefully selected, fits the horse well and is subsequently maintained to a high standard.  Accidents occur when equipment fails as a result of neglect or misuse, or when the components and the process of manufacture is below an acceptable standard.  An obvious safeguard is to purchase from established saddlers, many of whom are members of the Society of Master Saddlers and are committed to maintaining high standards in respect of materials and workmanship.  Nonetheless, the responsibility for safety belongs as much to the consumer as it does to the manufacturer and/or retailer.

THE SADDLE
The saddle and its mountings - the leathers, stirrup irons and girth - are items of equipment which, if cared for, will last almost a lifetime.  But there are points of potential failure which need to be checked regularly.  On the saddle itself the most vulnerable area is concerned with the girth straps and their attachment.  The stitching securing the girth straps to the webs passing round or over the tree will wear or perish in time and will need to be replaced.  Girth straps, however good the quality of the leather, are also subject to wear.  When the holes stretch - and the leather is in danger of splitting between the holes - new straps should be fitted. (The girth straps on cheap saddles, are frequently of poor quality and their attachment to the tree (sometimes only by tacks) may be so insecure as to be unsafe.

The so-called "safety" catch on stirrup bars should at all times be kept in the open position.  A closed catch can prevent the leather being freed in the event of a fall and may result in the rider being dragged.

BUCKLES

"A Stitch in Time" is a good maxim to observe when it comes to girths, leathers and bridles too, but when purchasing any of those items the buckles, and in the case of the bridle the hook stud fastenings, deserve particular scrutiny.

Avoid the buckle which is obviously poorly finished with the edges left sharp and the tongues loose and perhaps bent. The former cut into the leather and the latter are likely to prove unreliable. Replace bent or loose hook studs immediately.

STIRRUP LEATHERS

Stirrup leathers receive the most wear at the point where they turn through the eye of the stirrup iron.  It is for this reason that stirrup leathers are made with the tougher "grain" side (the outside) facing inwards, since the dressing etc. makes it more resistant to friction.  A wise precaution is to have leathers shortened every so often so as to move the point of contact with the iron.  A better insurance is to replace leathers regularly with best quality new ones.

STIRRUP IRONS

Buy stirrup irons made from stainless steel, nickel ones are cheaper but are liable to bend or break.  If using a conventional pattern iron choose a heavy one big enough to slip off the foot in an emergency but not so big as to allow the whole foot to pass through and become trapped.  Always wear boots or heavy shoes rather than flat-soled footwear.

Regular cleaning with a glycerine-based soap and reliable "leather food" preparation is essential if equipment is to be kept soft, supple and serviceable.

(Tack Cleaning and Care)

When leather is neglected or is subjected to constant immersion in water (particularly hot water) or dried over heat, it becomes brittle and will snap in use.


FIT FOR SAFETY

The fitting of saddlery is as important an aspect of safety as its proper maintenance. Saddles (and bridles, also) which for any reason cause the horse discomfort and inhibit his movement can create an unnecessary stress situation which inevitably leads to a lowering of the safety threshold.  To ride safely it is always best to have a new saddle fitted by a reputable saddler and to consult him about any subsequent adjustments to the fitting.

(Find a Saddle Fitter)