The Old Standby

January’s unseasonably warm weather in the north Texas area I call home got me thinking about spring cleaning a little earlier than usual this year. And because everyone knows it’s much more fun to clean the barn than the house, I started in my tack room. 
 Shelf by shelf, I went through it all. Old bottles of ointment that had long since dried up were quickly trashed. Extra brushes were set aside to give to the horse-crazy girl down the road. Blankets and sheets were folded and stored, or marked for repair and washing, as needed. My goal was to get rid of the unnecessary and organize what was left.

But then I got to the tack.

As much as I hate to admit it, if A&E TV had a show called “Tack Hoarders,” they would probably be knocking on my door. Hanging on hooks were more halters and lead ropes and headstalls and lunge lines than I could ever need. And then there were the bits – English bits and Western bits and more kinds of snaffle bits than you can shake a stick at. They were on headstalls, in drawers and even on my kitchen table. And one by one, each bit brought back memories of the horses on which they have been used. They all have a purpose.

It seems I’m not the only one who loves bits. This is the annual Tack & Equipment Issue of Quarter Horse News and, as such, Editorial Coordinator Jatona Sucamele talked to three horsemen about the bits they keep and use. Their bit preferences vary by discipline, and often depend on the age and training level of the individual horse. Personal preference also plays a big role in the bits they turn to time and time again. Turn to page 102 to read John Sanislow, Casey Deary and Tom Neel’s thoughts and comments on bits.

My personal bit collection includes an O-ring, copper-mouthed snaffle that is my absolute favorite all-around bit. It is hanging on a harness-leather browband headstall minimally adorned with rawhide braiding. It’s not fancy, just functional. What I really like about that bridle, though, is the reins.

When it comes right down to it, most horsemen have one piece of tack or equipment that just fits, like a faded pair of well-worn jeans. You might try to replace it, but you can’t. Even if you buy the exact same item, brand new, it isn’t ever the same as the old standby in your tack room. My old standby is that set of reins.

They weren’t expensive and they aren’t even pretty, but I love them. I found them years ago in a hole-in-the-wall Western store in a Mexican border town while on a family vacation. I haggled and dickered and negotiated the price down to $20 (I still probably paid too much), and they were mine. I didn’t think they would be my favorite reins; I thought they might be OK on a back-up bridle. Turns out, after a coat of oil and a few hours in the sun, these reins are perfect. The weight is perfect. The length is perfect. The width is perfect. They have the perfect combination of suppleness and strength. And, most importantly, they just feel right in my hands.

I have other sets of reins – several, in fact. They attach to the bit in different ways, have differing lengths and are of various widths. Some of them I bought thinking I would like them, only to have them sit, unused, in the tack room for years. Some of them have a very specific purpose and get used only occasionally, such as the reins on my show bridle. None of them are as comfortable and reliable as those old Mexican reins.

Walk into any horseman’s tack room and you’ll probably see a large and varied collection of tack. Like my reins, you’ll probably find some old standbys in the lot, whether they are saddles, headstalls, bits or pads. There will probably also be some new stuff mixed in, and some long-forgotten, dust-covered items that have seen better days. All of it – every piece of tack and article of equipment – is there for one reason and one reason only: It serves a purpose.

One of the most purposeful pieces of tack is the breast collar. Tack maker Dennis Moreland calls the breast collar a “functional tool” that can prevent a saddle from slipping and causing a wreck, especially in high-performance equine activities such as reined cow horse and cutting. Quarter Horse News Associate Editor Robin Fowler talked to Moreland about breast collars and shares his thoughts beginning on page 108.

Fowler also talked to San Angelo, Texas, saddle maker Tim Piland, who actually made me feel better about my tack-hoarding tendencies. Piland said, “Cowboys and ranchers don’t get rid of anything until it’s used up. More gear is actually lost long before it is broken or worn out.”

He’s right. Every piece of tack – every bit, stirrup, headstall and halter – went back into my tack room. I failed miserably in getting rid of everything unnecessary, but it is more organized. And hanging on that first hook, in easy reach, is that bridle – the one with the snaffle bit, the harness-leather headstall and, of course, my old standby reins.