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Western Fashion: Head to Toe

Chapter 11
Tack Coordination


Show folks spend thousands of dollars on western show tack, but rarely consider the role their tack can play in pulling the look of horse and rider together. We tend to buy what’s trendy or new, rather than what looks best on our horse or what compliments our show clothing and caballo. A little attention to tack, though, can add a great deal to the impression you create in the show ring.

Show tack should be beautiful, should harmonize with the horse’s coat, and should compliment the overall impression created by horse and rider. Consider these scenarios:

- A delicate filly with a small non-pro rider would be dwarfed by a large saddle with huge, deep skirts and a headstall with wide teardrop cheeks, where the same tack would look terrific on a stout reining stallion.

- A youth rider trying to excel in horsemanship classes wearing black chaps on a gray horse, riding a pale leather saddle, will appear to have more leg movement than the same rider on a medium oiled saddle that blends with, rather than contrasts against, the rider’s leg.

- The head of a bay horse wearing a pale leather halter will appear larger and less attractive than if the horse wore a darker halter that blended into his face color.

- A lady pleasure horse rider with delicate pastel shaded leather chaps and vest, adorned with feminine floral embroidery and rhinestones, would seem out of place riding a saddle with bronze stars and barbed wire silver accents.

-A cutting horse wearing a saddle with silver cantle, swells, corner plates, bell-bottom stirrups, and enormous conchos would appear very overdressed, while the same silver-encrusted saddle would be considered perfectly tasteful in the pleasure pen.

Think about your tack and saddle blankets as part of your show wardrobe. Clothing, tack, and blankets should create and reinforce a subtle theme that you always strive to enhance. If you’re a small show girl, don’t seek tack with masculine southwestern-styled silver unless you are in love with tapestry vests and earth-toned clothes. Likewise, a man’s tack can be bolder, perhaps with horsehair, oxidized iron, or other heavier accents. Basket weave saddle tooling creates an impression of sturdiness and reliability, while fine floral tooling feels feminine, intricate, and detailed. Capture your own personality in your show tack, because that beautiful tack should be something you are proud to use for years to come.

Not only should tack flatter the horse and rider, but it should be appropriate for the event it’s being used in- there’s probably no such thing as an ‘all-around’ saddle any more. Before investing in any tack, study show win photos in breed journals and training magazines to see what nuances of color, design, and trim you see on winners in your favorite classes then don’t stray too far from their look in your own presentation. The trick in the show ring, as in life, is to look like you fit in yet look just a little better than your competition.

Color and silhouette play a role in tack selection, as they do in show apparel. The silhouette, or shape, of a headstall or halter buckle, as well as the shape of a saddle’s skirts, can create an impression of femininity or of masculine strength. The color of tack—while fairly limited—creates different effects too, for instance either highlighting silver or hiding it, and either blending with the horse’s coat or creating a sometimes harsh contrast.

Let’s consider a current tack trend in depth. For almost a decade, light-colored western tack has been popular, but ponder whether light tack is really the best look for every horse loping around the show pen:

- light tack blends with and flatters sorrel, chestnut, and palomino horses

- light tack contrasts sharply with black and dark bay horses

- light tack tends to turn pink or pale brown over time

- light tack is easily soiled by abrasion, silver cleaner, and sweat

- light tack provides poor background contrast to silver accents

So, think twice before you stack a pale pink saddle, dripping with silver, on a dark bay horse. Consider getting more bang for your silver buck by using a light or medium oil headstall and saddle, with even minimal silver, on that same horse. A modest amount of silver will look like much more on a soft tan or light brown saddle, but the look is really only effective on a darker horse- those pale sorrels still look terrific in light leather saddles. Remember too that all tack will eventually darken, but the fashion police will never pull you over if your saddle is a few shades darker than the next rider’s...in fact, they just may stop to admire your pretty silver, because they can actually see it.

As with show apparel, invest in the very best show tack you can find, even if it means second-hand. It’s better to search for and find a quality hand-made saddle with terrific leather, sterling overlay silver, and genuine sheepskin padding made on a real rawhide tree that will fit you and many horses in the years ahead than to jump up and buy a flashier, cheaper saddle that’s all glitz and no guts. Just like new cars, saddles depreciate quickly when they ‘leave the lot’ so if you budget calls for caution, consider carefully chosen used tack as a better investment than squeaky new equipment with inferior construction and materials.

Next: Chapter 12 - Care and Feeding of Your Show Wardrobe