Karen Czarick – Guest Blogger gets down to tin tacks about the Tack you will need as an Eventer
Gear: Saddle and Saddle Fittings
Every aspect of eventing is expensive! Tack and equipment are no exceptions, so it makes most sense when considering horse gear for the sport to look at it in terms of truly essential equipment. The safety of both you and your horse is paramount, and something you should not put a price on. Therefore, you do not want to cut corners if it means you will be compromising safety. Beyond that, you do have some flexibility…if you can afford all the “bells and whistles,” and want them, go for it. Most of us, however, must prioritize when it comes to tack and equipment beyond the bare essentials. We’re all different, but here are some of my suggestions as to what I believe are the necessities and what you may want to splurge on if there happens to be any money left. The good news? You may already have most of what you need, at least for that first competition. This installment of the series will cover saddles and saddle fittings.
So, what do you need?
One saddle. Yep, to begin eventing I believe it is (though perhaps not ideal) only crucial that you have one saddle…a jump saddle. It is legal at any level of eventing competition to perform your dressage test in a jump saddle. Several eventers have been known to ride their dressage tests (even at the upper levels) in their jump saddles on occasion if their horses are going through a developmental phase where the balance, placement, and coverage of a dressage saddle may not be conducive to the best test. What about an all-purpose saddle? I believe they are truly “no purpose” saddles when it comes to eventing (and pretty much any other riding). The overall design, panel coverage, balance, and stirrup bar positioning of a good dressage saddle as opposed to the same features in a jump saddle are very different. A saddle that attempts to meet in the middle puts you in a balance not really suited for either. So, if you can only afford one, invest in a jump saddle, not a dressage, as it can be harmful to your horse to ask him to jump in one…and not as safe for you. As far as your dressage test, you may not be able to sit quite as deeply as you would be able to in a dressage saddle, and you probably won’t be able to ride with as long a stirrup, but neither of these should be substantial impediments to a good test. If you do not own one, do not borrow a dressage saddle for competition just to have one…if it does not fit you and your horse well, it isn’t worth it. If you already have a properly fitting jump saddle in safe working order, you’re set. If you need to purchase a saddle and money is an issue, opt for a good used saddle over a lower-end new saddle. But, I have actually found a saddler in the UK who makes fully custom saddles of outstanding quality with prices very competitive to those of good used saddles (and at least half off the price of the better quality “off-the-shelf” saddles on the market). Check out www.heritagebespokesaddle.com.uk . The style saddle you have is personal preference…some riders like a flatter, close-contact type, some like “sofas” with substantial knee and thigh blocks and deep seats. The saddle you feel balanced and secure in is best…and do consider that since you’ll be riding cross country, you’ll want one that you have a good secure balance in while in galloping position, not just when seated or posting. Granted, at the introductory levels, you may indeed not gallop at all, but you will be riding over uneven terrain that will at times necessitate you riding with a lighter seat or in two-point.
Stirrup leathers and irons, like saddles, are simply personal preferences for you and as long as they are in good working condition and order, clean and safe, and comfortable for you and your horse, whatever you prefer is fine. Some riders opt for flexible or angled/adjustable stirrup irons, or those with wider foot beds. Ideally, if you aren’t sure what will work best, borrow a variety of styles to try before you buy anything. Leathers should be made of leather or a leather-like material and will preferably match the color of your saddle, but do not have to.
If you have just one saddle, you technically only need one saddle pad. As with every item that allows you some “fashion” choice, I will always suggest first the most conservative, classic, timeless options. So, if you are limiting yourself to one pad, choose a square or contoured white or black pad, with square and white currently (and for the last few decades) being much more common in competition, at least in the US. This single pad will be correct for all three phases. Therapeutic or saddle-fit augmenting pads are permissible as your only pad or used in conjunction with a basic pad, but be aware that there are limits to what these pads can do with regards to improving saddle fit and horse comfort. A basic pad’s only real responsibilities are to absorb sweat and serve as a barrier between the underside of your saddle and the dirt and sweat from your horse’s back. Many quality pads are available that are not terribly expensive, so if you want to have a couple and would like one displaying your cross-country colors (for cross country only…please stick to plain white or black for stadium) feel free. And, especially for one-day events (or rainy weekends) when your pad may not have time to dry out before your next phase, it is nice to have an additional pad.
Your girth is simply a matter of preference as well. Ideally the color will match your saddle or be white or “natural” if it is a string girth or has natural fiber elements (fleece, wool, canvas, etc.). What’s most important is that all parts are in good condition and working order and that it is comfortable for your horse. As you increase your training, especially riding over uneven terrain and doing more sustained work at somewhat greater speeds, you will want to be sure that a girth (even one that has worked fine all along) does not begin to rub or chafe your horse.
Additionally, you may want to consider a breastplate or breast collar. A properly fitting saddle with the correct girth should “typically” not slip…some horses may be predisposed to saddles slipping back, but that issue should be addressed first and foremost by a saddle fitter. Most eventers, however, do opt for a breastplate at least for cross-country as simply an added measure to ensure saddle stability. Again, there are many choices with regards to style. Matching the color of your saddle is ideal, but not crucial. And, the use of a breastplate or breast collar is permissible (but not mandatory) in all three phases. The use of martingales, however, is regulated at sanctioned events; we will discuss them in the next installment of this series.
Finally, consider it a necessity, not a luxury, to have an extra girth and at least one extra stirrup leather with you at every event.
Article Part Five: Karen Czarick of Dancing Horse Farm who lead a team of four to the Chronicle of the Horse 2013 USEA Training Adult Riders Eastern US win