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Western Fashion: Head to Toe

Chapter 12
TACK COORDINATION FOR THE SHOW RING

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Think about your tack and saddle blankets as part of your show wardrobe. All the pieces of your attire and your horse's tack should 'go together' as accents for your performance.
By
Suzanne Vlietstra
Hobby Horse Clothing Co. Inc.
Show folks spend thousands of dollars on western show tack, but don't always consider the role their tack can play in coordinating the look of horse and rider. We tend to buy what's trendy or new, rather than what looks best on our horse or what flatters 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 color, and should complement 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 cream colored leather chaps and vest, adorned with feminine floral embroidery and rhinestones, would seem out of place riding a saddle with rustic 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.


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From headstall, saddle, vest and blanket, all colors harmonize beautifully with this palomino.
Think about your tack and saddle blankets as part of your show wardrobe. Clothing, tack, and saddle blankets should create and reinforce a subtle theme that you always strive to create, whether it's one of a no-nonsense professional, a feminine, flowery presentation, or a ranchy western feel. All the pieces of your attire and your horse's tack should 'go together' as accents for your performance.

If you're a petite showgirl, don't seek tack with massive, masculine southwestern-styled silver unless you are in love with truly in love with the look. Likewise, a man's tack can be bolder, perhaps with horsehair, oxidized iron, or other heavier accents.

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A smaller-scaled headstall and appointments perfectly suits this petite horse and rider team.
Basketweave 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 magazines and online 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 belong, 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 shape of a headstall or halter buckle, as well as the cut 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 possibly distracting contrast.

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This two-tone leather headstall favors the horse's dark bay color and serves as a high contrast backdrop for its silver trim.
Let's consider a current tack trend in depth. For more than two decades, light-colored western tack has been popular, but ponder whether pale tack is always the best look for every horse loping around the show pen:
  • Pale tack blends with and flatters sorrel, chestnut, and palomino horses
  • Pale tack contrasts sharply with black and dark bay horses
  • Pale tack tends to turn pink or pale brown over time
  • Pale tack is easily soiled by abrasion, silver cleaner, and sweat
  • Pale tack provides minimal background contrast to silver accents


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Light-colored leather flatters sorrel, chestnut, and palomino horses, but can turn pink or pale brown over time.
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 darker headstall and saddle, with even minimal silver, on that same horse, or look for pale tack with darker leather accents for extra versatility on a variety of horses.

Remember too that all pale leather will eventually darken when exposed to sunlight, 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!

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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 buy a flashier, cheaper saddle that's all glitz and no guts.
As with show apparel, invest in the very best show tack you can find, even if it means second-hand. Quality saddles and tack hold their value well over time and are usually a better value than bargain tack made from cheaper grades of leather. Look for dense, fine fibers rather than a stringy consistency at the sides of cut leather pieces, flexibility when the leather is bent, and a great feel in your hand in better leather goods, and trust brand names that have been in business for many years.

Next: Chapter 13 - Care and Feeding of Your Show Wardrobe


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© 2017 Suzanne Vlietstra
Hobby Horse Clothing Co. Inc.

About the Author: Suzanne Vlietstra is a horse parent, show clothing designer, boarding stable owner, and writer. Her current horsehold includes a Haflinger and a pinto pony. Comments? Reach her at suzi@hobbyhorseinc.com