Search This Blog

Follow by Email

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Tack Quality

Today I want to discuss tack quality.

Like many horse owners, I have owned a lot of saddles and tack in my life. I have also done a LOT of window shopping in various tack stores and online. Hey, who doesn't? Over the past few years, with the advent of shopping venues like eBay and Amazon, there has been an ever-increasing influx of low quality tack. There is absolutely nothing wrong with buying a piece of tack off of eBay, heck I have done it myself numerous times. The problem is, how do you know what quality it will be? I have had good and bad experiences, gotten things cheaply that were complete pieces of crap and also things that were of good quality for next to nothing.

There are several things to watch for. First and foremost, if you are looking at a piece of tack in person, feel the leather. Flex it, look at the underside, study the grain, stitching, dye, the holes, the tree and the rigging.

Does it feel nice and supple, or like cardboard?

Good leather will be flexible and feel smooth and supple. A lot of the tack available cheaply is made in India or Asia from cheap painted (pigmented) leather that is poorly tanned and will not accept the oil. As a result, the saddle leather gets much drier over time. As it dries out it tears fairly easily, creating a serious safety issue for the rider. The lowest grade Asian leather is easy to spot. It is chemical tanned with strong tanning agent and often smells of these agents.

Is the grain even and smooth?

You've probably heard the phrase 'fine grain leather'. Good quality has a fine grain--the pores are small--poorer leather has open coarse pores. The back of the work is often slightly rough, where the grain is damaged by the tan process. It is often heavily oiled with a greasy feel in order to disguise poor tanning.

If you tug on a strap or bend a piece of leather, does the finish crack, scratch or flake off?

Poor quality tack may also be covered in a finish that will easily crack, flake, or scratch off. In the very cheapest examples, the dye color is 'painted' on - and often 'bleeds' heavily onto clothes and hands if subjected to rain

Is the stitching neat and even?

In low quality tack, the stitching may be uneven or of poor quality.

Are the holes punched completely and evenly?

Often, the holes in straps are unevenly spaced, not completely punched, or seem too small for the buckle tongue.

Will the saddle fit the horse, is the tree even and straight and is it rigged correctly?

It is difficult to find one of these saddles that will fit correctly, the trees are often very narrow or very wide. They are also frequently uneven or slightly twisted. This can cause major issues not only for the rider, but mainly for the horse.
Many of these saddles are not rigged correctly, and are difficult if not almost impossible to tighten the girth enough to stop the saddle slipping on the horse.

So, all this being said, what if you are shopping online and cannot personally handle the saddle?

When buying online on a budget, it is far better in the long run to look for a used, good quality, name brand item than to buy a cheap imported item. Some things to watch for in these auctions are; lack of a name brand, no mention of where it was manufactured, a stock photo only, and a very low price. If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is. ALWAYS check the seller’s feedback. Often, people will report tack failures to the seller in an attempt to get a refund. The seller will often deny responsibility, another red flag, a good seller, with quality items will usually try to work with a buyer.

Let’s look at some photos from online auctions. Both of these saddles are available on eBay for $100 or so, with free shipping. Sound good? Well let’s look closer…

Here we have an All Purpose English saddle. Notice the stiff, shiny look to the leather. See how the dye looks kind of “opaque” for lack of a better word? Also notice how large the pores in the grain look. See the wrinkles in the knee roll? These are signs of a low quality saddle.

This is a Dressage saddle. Again, notice the stiff, shiny looking leather. Also notice the stirrup leathers. See how the holes are lighter on the inside? This means that the leather is not actually dyed, rather, it looks painted on. Also notice the numerous wrinkles in the knee rolls and near the seat. Also not a good choice.

Here is a Western saddle. Notice the stiff looking, shiny leather. See how the skirts are already curling? This saddle and accessories are under $200. Also the seller had probably 30 or 40 identical ones for sale at the same price. Another too good to be true deal. Can you imagine this saddle’s latigo strap just ripping apart while you are riding up a mountain? It has happened.

This is another Western saddle. Advertised as a show saddle, it has a bit of silver and some tooling to dress it up. But look past that. Notice the odd angle of the swells and horn? See the curling skirts and jockeys? Notice the stiff-looking tie strap? Also notice the attachment for the fenders to the stirrup leathers, you should not be able to see that.

I hope that this is helpful. I have tried to cover all the basics. Please, make sure that the tack you are purchasing is of good quality and strong. I want everyone to be safe on their horses and not have an accident caused by catastrophic failure of a piece of tack.


  1. Also if you do get a cheap saddle just to go trash in the hills with make sure to check the tree out REALLY good!! I had one that the wood was broke where the ring was that you put the cinch through and tightened down. Whoever made it knew about it because they got a strip of leather and nailed it over the break then made the saddle. It cost more to mail the saddle back to them for a replacement so I threw it in the dumpster.

  2. I don't see a single piece of equipment in this post that I would go riding up the side of any mountain in. Probably not even around the pasture. Yuck.

  3. I am so glad you are writing this blog, and this entry in particular.

    I had a stint of bad tack as a young teenager when I first discovered eBay. I first bought one of those horrendous Silver Fox saddle packages. I was leasing a horse at the time, and I needed a saddle for him as the owner didn't provide one. It was okay for awhile - I only used it for about a year, the length of the lease. But just before my lease was up, the horse lay down to roll with the saddle on (I was holding the reins but couldn't dissuade him from rolling) and he cracked the tree. I tossed it in the garage and now, years later, its on a haybale for kids to play on - which was all it was probably good for from the start.

    Having not learned from that, not long after buying the piece of crap English saddle, I bought another cheep-o off ebay. A synthetic western saddle. It never fit a single horse I tried it on. It was very narrow in the fork and super wide through the bars. I had only ridden in it about twice before I put it on a horse I was supposed to ride for someone else. When I went to lope, the horse got tense from the crappy fit and threw in a buck. But when I pressed down into my stirrups, the plastic bar across the top of one stirrup broke and poked the horse in the side. She bolted and in spite of my best attempts at an emergency stop, I wasn't able to get her to stop, and we were going too fast to safely bail. So I ended up having to basically run her into a fence to get her to stop, sending me over her head and into the fence. It was a horrible wreck though my helmet prevented me from being seriously injured, and I never did get the confidence to get back on that horse again.

    So given my experiences I now know better and only ride in quality saddles and like you, I'm an advocate not just for good saddle fit and quality for the horse, but for the rider as well.

  4. I purchased a used saddle when I was "newbie" to the horse world and found out it was mexican made. This explained why the tree was so narrow it didn't fit any horse that I tried it on. My next saddle was an 'older' circle Y that was hardly used that I bought on consignment at a tack store. Still have it, still love it, still in good shape and I clean and oil it regularly.

  5. could I have the link to the dressage saddle ad? Or do you know the brand? It looks really familiar to me

  6. I will never forget the first time I dragged my very non-horsey husband to a tack shop (just to look). He gradually gravitated to the high ticket western show saddles......When I heard him gasp, I asked him what was wrong.
    Him: *Did you look at this saddle???*
    Me: *Yup.*
    Him: *Did you see the price????*
    Me: *Yup*
    Him: *It's almost $3000!!!!*
    Me: *Yup.*
    Him: *But....but....the stitching is all crooked on the back end!!!*
    Me: *Yup.*

    My main saddle is a 1960 Bona Allen. My Dad paid $85 for it back then (probably 1/2 our milk check). When I took it to my local tack guy in the late 90s, he told me to replace it with the same quality would be well over $2K. It still has the original sheepskin on the underside.

    Quality lasts.

  7. Walkie, no I don't remember, it was a random search and click thing. I do remember that it was advertised as new and had no brand name on the ad.

  8. One of the snobby girls at my barn was so proud of having bought her own saddle that she couldn't wait to ride in it. It took her twenty minutes to find a girth that fit, and when she finally did mount, a resounding crack filled the barn as the tree broke. The horse took off and she tried to bail, but her foot got caught in the stirrup. So with all her weight in this one stirrup in the broken tree, it was digging into her gelding's back, freaking him out even more. He dragged her around the (thankfully the indoor, where there weren't any jumps) ring for a lap and a half before I could stop him and loosen the girth to free both horse and rider from the saddle. She was okay, just really shaken. After making sure they both were alright, I inspected the saddle. Sure enough, it was from India, and the dye was rubbing off on my hands already. I asked her how much she paid for it, and she said she payed $150. I gave her (and her parents) a lecture on poor quality tack and suggested several brands they should look at.

    And at acowboyphoto:
    I'm willing to bet you know enough about horses to fit on the head of a pin.

  9. Hmmmm..... acowboyphoto, I don't think I'd EVER ride a horse in a "bike" helmet & spandex. A RIDING helmet, yes, and a nice microfiber/cotton blend, probly. Get a clue. P.S. Cheapass tack is DANGEROUS.

    Before I EVER got a horse, I pored over catalogs, magazines & books, and asked silly questions - and learned that with tack, you get what you pay for.

    I have an early 80s Blue Ribbon All-Purpose saddle that I'll be riding in tomorrow, in fact, and it's still in great shape. Too bad they aren't around anymore (not the same as the Blue Ribbon western saddle co.) because they are just nice, solid saddles. All the ones I've seen have a little metal plate under the skirt that proudly proclaims "Hand crafted by _______"

    I watched an episode of Dirty Jobs once that showed how Moroccan leather is tanned: in bird shit soup. I'm assuming that Indian leather is similarly processed.

    A GOOD saddle will last for generations.

    P.S. Blue Ribbon Saddle Oil is the best stuff EVER to help break in a new saddle. I see it's still around if you google it.

  10. I learned some new stuff about tack today! Thanks for the info on the pores. As far as the lighter holes in the English stirrup leathers, I have also noticed that if the leather is dyed but you still have lighter holes, it means the quality of the leather isn't good.

    I learned about correct fitting tack when I had a SSH mare who was 3/4 TWH, 1/4 QH. I bought a pretty Aussie saddle off of eBay really cheap. Suddenly, when I rode her in it, she was a lot smoother and wasn't trying to bolt. HUH! Imagine that! It was then that I realized how important saddle fit is. I was lucky--that saddle lasted me for the entire time I owned the mare. But most people aren't that lucky.

    I don't want to pay $2000 for a new saddle, but I find that if I learn how a saddle is supposed to fit a horse and I do a lot of research, and then call the saddlemakers themselves and discuss, then I can find a well-made, good fitting saddle for a reasonable price. I have a good relationship with Crest Ridge Saddlery because of it. I've owned several of their saddles and they have always fit the horses I've had at the time.

    Now I have found THE SADDLE that is perfect for me. It's a Wintec 500 Dressage Saddle with the Cair system and the changable gullet. I paid about $700 for the saddle, leathers, irons, cinch, and saddle cover. I paid an additional $100 for a Wintec Warmblood size bridle (my mare has a BIG head and none of my bridles fit her!), a breastcollar and a new saddle pad. It is so comfortable, easy to clean, and I can fit it to just about any horse. I am so happy with it--it's the best $700 I've ever spent!

  11. You can find some nice, reasonably priced tack from India, but it takes some looking.

    Case in point, I have a ~15 year old Collegiate close contact saddle, that I bought used for around $400. It looks like this one.

    But in general, you get what you pay for when it comes to tack.

  12. Don't forget the western show tack made from Hermann Oak's the finest that can be had for a show saddle and equipment....again, you can bling it up or down. As much or as little silver as you choose.


    Hermann Oak leather story

  14. Roanhorse, is there a site with the saddles listed on it? I couldn't find it from the page you linked to. Maybe I just missed it. I am always on the lookout for good quality tack to showcase.

  15. For the folks concerned about 'dung tanned' leather, by and large, this is not done. Although why we get hung up about it, when there are chemicals that come in neat barrels in most of our manufactured products that are equally repugnant, I'm not sure. After hearing about this I emailed the head of the tanners association in India, and he assured me that this was an antiquated process that is no longer used. The quality of Indian leather is not a reflection of the tanning process, but of the quality of the hides available. (Consider the India's relationship with the cow.)

    But this is a great post. I've linked to it on the About Horses blog.

  16. Has anyone every tried a Barefoot brand saddle from Germany? They look really comfortable and have a lot of excellent response comments.

  17. I think that the dressage saddle looks fine besides the leathers. Many flaps on dressage saddles have wrinkles because the leather is so soft. I agree that the leathers look very cheap but they are replaceable.

  18. Dear Sir,

    We are pleased to introduce ourselves as the leading manufacturer and exporter of

    Equestrian products
    We have launched our new website and also have added some other equestrian related products in our production.
    For further information, please visit our website. For log in our website you need password.
    Password: (admin)

    The samples can be sent on your demand.

    We are already exporting our products to GERMANY and many other countries in the world. Our products are well appreciated in the international market by their fine workmanship.

    Your prompt and positive reply will be highly appreciated.

    With profound regards,

    Sincerely yours,
    Yaseen Asgher


    Web site.
    Office No: +92-52-4569501
    Fax: +92-52-4569503

    psw : admin

  20. Manufacturer of Equestrian products:
    psw : admin