Monday, August 12, 2013

Tacking Up. What We Ride In.

I have been asked what I ride with, meaning what kind of tack I use. I think my set up is kind of original, but I think anyone who has a multi-use horse would say the same. Merlin rides English, western, trail, jumping, dressage and drives. But what I love more than anything is just tacking him up and going for a mountain trail ride and picnic. Our trail rides are fast-paced most of the time. It's a combination of trot and canter, a lot of elevation changes. For this I ride in western tack. I have an old barrel racing saddle and like the style a lot. It feels less like a seat and more like one of those contraptions you get strapped into when you sit on a roller coaster. It's horn and cantle are high, so you feel hugged front and back. I think barrel racing saddlers are made to keep the riders in, and since it is a traditionally women's rodeo sport they seem to fit my body better than the trail saddlers I have tried out. I always, always, always use a breast collar. It keeps the saddle from slipping, and on a draft pony that is a big deal. They are round critters even when they are in peak shape and a slipping saddle feels like you have no control. At least it does for me.

Merlin uses a hand-me-down wool saddle pad in tan plaid. Wendy gave it to me at last summer's fiddle camp and I use it nearly every day. It is thick, wicks sweat, and gives an amazing cushion for Merlin. I have used plain old blankets, thinner synthetic pads, and such but nothing seems to work as well as a real wool pad.

I use a western black leather bridle, 6" snaffle "mule" bit, and a ten foot long pair of black cotton reins. The black cotton is so comfortable for trail riding, thick and beefy to hold. It takes me out of the dressage ring or english lesson mindset, too. Last night I wanted to get back into the lighter English saddle I have and I did, but I still used the big reins and western bridle. Merlin seems to like less pressure on his mouth (I imagine most horses do!) and I give him control of his head while we amble along.

On long outings Merlin has canvas saddlebags and I roll a blanket over his rump behind the cantle. I can pack drinks, hoof pick, fly spray, halter and lead, first aid gear, rain gear, a pocket knife, weather alert radio and whatever book I am reading. Sometimes there is a cold hard cider in a small lunch cooler with an icepack, sometimes there is just ice water. Other times (after a rough day) I just stick a flask of whiskey in my sporran and that's the end of that. I do not suggest anyone ride while drinking but a sip of good bourbon on top of a horse on a mountaintop view never hurt anyone, by god.

So that is Merlin's gear. I always ride in the same thing: cowboy shirt, straw hat, kilt, full-seat breach bloomers, paddock boots and half chaps. I'll get a picture of us together in our updated highlander gear eventually. But I wanted to share what we use here in words (even if the picture is older, showing a plain blanket and our old lesson bridle). If you have any questions or suggestions for good trail stuff, let me know!