(1) SADDLERY. - ITS FIT AND CARE.
Fit of the Bridle and Martingale. The size of the bridle should be such that the cheek straps hold the bit up into the corners of the horse's mouth without wrinkling the lips. If the cheek straps are too long the horse will probably hold the bit up in the corners of his mouth because that is where it is comfortable.
However, it may drop down and so bruise his gums. The gelding has four more teeth than the mare and these are called tushes and are situated between the front teeth (incisors) and the back teeth (molars). The bit should rest above the tushes to prevent it from bruising the gums at the base of these teeth.
If the bridle is too long and there are no more holes to shorten it, holes can be added if it is a double cheek strapped bridle. If it is a single cheek strapped bridle with long cheek straps, it may not be possible to alter it. It is then necessary to alter the length of the cheek strap by taking off the buckle at the top and stitching it on again shorter. It may be necessary to send the bridle away to the saddler to have this done but do not neglect it, as it is important for the comfort of your horse.
The brow band should be long enough not to pull against the back of the ears and the throat lash should be done up loosely to allow the horse to expand his throat when working. It he rubs his bridle off when tied up, tighten the throat lash but remember to loosen it again before riding. The dropped noseband must be very carefully fitted so that the front is well above the nostrils, otherwise it will interfere with his breathing. It should be adjusted so that two fingers can be inserted under the chinstrap when done up.
If a running martingale is used and the reins are attached to the bit by buckles, small pieces of leather called buckle stops must be used on the reins. This prevents the rings of the martingale from sliding down and catching on the buckles thus tying the horse’s head down. Most horses will play up if this happens or it may even cause him to fall over a jump.
Fit of the Saddle. Saddles other than soft pony pads are built on a solid frame made of wood and steel or plastic. This is called the 'tree' and is made the same shape as the horse's back with a space in the middle for his backbone. The leather and padding of the saddle are fixed to the tree so that it keeps its original shape.
When fitting a saddle on a horse, the most important thing to watch is that no weight presses on his backbone.
The hollow down the middle of the saddle called the gullet, is made to allow the backbone to fit up into it and so avoid pressure. The gullet should clear the backbone right from the front to the back when the rider's weight is in the saddle.
Why is this important? The saddle should rest along the top of the ribs where there are strong muscles and no important nerves. The horse's backbone is very near the skin and is thus sensitive like our skin. Also, through it pass nerves, which carry all messages from the brain to the back parts of the body. So pressure on the backbone may cause great pain and prevent the horse from working properly and may even cause behavioural problems. If you find that your saddle presses on your horse's backbone a commercial riser pad may be used as an interim measure until the saddle can be restuffed.
If your saddle has a crupper ring, be very sure that it is clear of your horse's back or your whole weight will press on it, causing your horse great pain. Remember to check the fit of the saddle occasionally as it continually sinks with work. This is also necessary because if the horse loses condition his backbone becomes more prominent and this could cause the saddle to press on the backbone.
Care of the Saddle. If the leather is kept clean and soft with a suitable dressing it is usable for years. If, on the other hand, it is neglected it becomes very hard, dries out and cracks. It is then difficult to handle, is uncomfortable for the horse and is dangerous as it breaks easily. Gear is cleaned to preserve it.
To give the harness a thorough clean, collect a plastic bucket of fairly hot water, two smaller pails or basins, two household 'Wettex' sponges or soft towels (about 20 cm square), two soft towels and some 'Velvet' soap.
You need a firm place to put the saddle. A saddle rack which is built to keep the saddle steady is best. A rail is no good but a bag of chaff on its side does quite well. You will also need several cup hooks in the wall - as high as you can comfortably reach. Have warm water in your basin, it must never be hot, with a 'Wettex' in each basin. Take the leathers off the saddle and remove the irons. Hang each leather from a hook by the buckle.
With the soap, lather one 'Wettex' and firmly wash the leather, rubbing quite hard and not using too much water. Rinse off the soap with the other 'Wettex', then dry first with one towel, then the other. Wash the other leather and the girth, if it is leather, in a similar way.
In the case of the saddle, do not use too wet a 'Wettex' and try to keep the same degree of wetness all over the surface. Water running down or drips failing on the saddle may leave marks. These will go away in time but can be avoided by taking care. If it is cloth-lined, be very careful to keep wet hands or rags off the lining. Take a towel in your hand to move the saddle. If the girth is string or webbing, it can be washed in warm water
Take the bridle apart and then treat all the leather as you did the stirrup leathers. Wash the bit and stirrup irons in hotter water, then dry. Put everything to dry in the sun unless it is very hot, when shade is better. Never put leather near a fire or radiator. In damp weather leather can be left in a warm room to dry but must not be exposed to direct heat. Once leather is overheated it dries out, goes hard and nothing can ever restore its softness and usefulness. Be very careful with the temperatures of your water.
When the saddle is dry, take a suitable dressing and rub it well into all leather. Saddle soap is not sufficient, although it is often recommended. Neatsfoot oil is good and is a natural dressing for leather, but it is dirty and helps to rot the stitching. Any colourless commercial dressing is suitable. Rub it in evenly but quite liberally. Allow this to be absorbed into the leather by leaving it in a warm place. Finally polish with a piece of sheepskin or soft rag that does not shed fluff. Re-assemble everything correctly. Next ride you will appreciate the smart appearance and comfortable feel of your harness.
Gear should be cleaned about once a month or when it is very dirty or has been wet. It is a good plan to have a piece of sheepskin handy with a little dressing on it. When the ride is finished it will take you only three minutes to wipe over all your gear. Nothing more is needed unless there is mud, which should be wiped off first with a damp rag. A quick rub over like this will keep everything looking neat until the next spring clean.
The bit must always be washed as soon as the bridle is taken off. If left to dry, pieces of food harden and are difficult to clean off. If the bit is not cleaned at all it may rub the horse's mouth.
Particular attention should be paid to the stitching, as the life of the thread is short compared with that of the leather. Stirrup leathers should occasionally be shortened from the buckle end so as to bring wear into fresh holes. A check must also be kept that bits do not become worn and rough.
Should it become necessary to store saddlery for any length of time, it is best to cover it with a thin coating of vaseline as this does not dry or decompose on exposure to air. When the saddle and bridle are removed from the horse they should be hung up or put in a place of safety, allowing for air to get to the saddle lining. A saddle carelessly thrown down may result in a broken tree.