Do you ever stare in awe at the sleek shiny horses, the glistening brass, perfect braids, and dazzling white marks at a CCI trot up? Do you ever wonder how they get that way? (LOTS of hard work is the correct answer!) Each Sunday morning we will bring you a little insider info on how the big-time grooms manage an upper level event horse. Feel free to email or comment with specific grooming questions if you have a topic in mind!
What About Tack? (Part I)
So your horse looks beautiful: now make sure nothing detracts from that picture. Your tack should be spotlessly clean– the leather should glow and the metal should gleam. Often, less is more in the tack department: unless you have a specific need for added equipment, don’t use it! It’s just one more thing you have to clean at the end of the day. 😉
For trot-ups, a plain caveson noseband and simple snaffle bit is traditional attire. Some people prefer a newmarket shank instead of reins. Flash nosebands, while not as “classic,” are quite common…mostly because it’s already on the dressage bridle, and why buy a plain noseband purely for jogs unless you do a lot of FEI events? You see a few figure-8s in the jogs, but it’s generally less-preferred; it is not flattering to many horses’ heads, and it’s a more purpose-oriented tool (whereas the flash noseband has become almost “standard” for everyday riding). To be most correct, make sure your reins do not have rein stops– there’s no “rule” about it, but plain reins give a nice clean look. I have a set of “dressage reins” without stops, and “jumping reins” with stops. I use my dressage set for jogs.
Browbands. This is your opportunity for a little added style. Brass clinchers were all the rage in the late 90s through the 00’s…but plain browbands are starting to come back in popularity. Beads and rhinestones have set the dressage world ablaze, but thankfully (!!!) most eventers tend to pass on the sparklies. I personally love the classic look of a brass browband— traditional clinchers, or a moderate variation (wider, thinner, round, square, etc) to suit the horse. It is most appropriate for grays to wear silver-toned metal instead of brass. I’m not sure who came up with that “rule,” but I agree with it; something about yellow-toned brass and a white horse just doesn’t look as good. Whatever accessorized browband you choose, be sure that it is absolutely, positively, radiantly shiny. Nothing looks worse than a grungy, dull brass clincher. It just screams, “I don’t care about my appearance!” Get the metal polish and get to work; even the most hopelessly greenish brass can usually be restored to a bright finish.
This idea of gleaming metal also applies to every other buckle on your horse. Brass buckles on your bridle? Congrats, you have more polishing to do! Brass on the breastplate? Yup, that too! Of course, stainless steel should also be cleaned and buffed, but requires far less maintenance than its brass counterpart– keep this in mind when tack shopping. That brass-buckled bridle looks so pretty in the store…but not so much when it’s been sitting in the trailer and the buckles turned green. Brass IS beautiful, but it comes with the responsibility of keeping it polished! [As an aside: I was “raised” to believe that excessive brass usage on flashy horse faces is tacky. If your horse has a loud face, a big wide blaze and lots of white, he probably doesn’t need the added pizazz of brass buckles everywhere. He has enough to look at without artificial enhancement. True, it really doesn’t make a lick of difference…but that’s ye olde traditionalist in me.]
Ok, enough with metal. 90% of our tack is LEATHER, which requires its own dedicated care. I know all you good little Pony Clubbers clean your tack after EVERY RIDE (right guys?), as this is the best way to keep it in great condition. This is especially important in the summer time (“sweaty season”) and if you ride multiple horses a day. Hopefully, you clean your tack at least weekly, and give it a really throrough detailing before shows.
Take bridles completely apart; check buckles and bit attachments for signs of wear. Remove stirrup irons and leathers from saddles, check stitching for safety. When I was a working student/groom/manager for an Upper Level Rider, we cleaned tack and took it apart EVERY DAY. One Friday before a local event, I was exhausted– it had been a very long schooling day, and I *really* did not feel like taking everything apart to clean and put it back together…just as I had done the day before…but I did again it anyway. And THANK GOODNESS I DID: on one stirrup leather of her jumping saddle, the cross-bar of the buckle had cracked. The leathers were nearly new; stitching was perfect, leather was beefy; they were perfectly safe (except for the broken buckle!) which was so close to being missed. My rider was scheduled to go cross-country at 8am the next morning, and my diligence could have saved her life. [Of course it is the rider’s ultimate responsibility to check their tack…but often in the heat of the moment, rider trusts the grooms to have things in order, time is short you gotta get on and go. So, grooms of the world: THEIR SAFETY RIDES ON YOU, don’t forget that!!] In short: details matter!
I apologize for this column’s abrupt ending…I had spent the last hour writing an overview of how I clean tack daily and for the show ring, and the Blogging Editor just ate it. Apparently the “auto-save” feature was not working properly. So next week we will probably have more on tack cleaning and polishing methods.