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The term tack is used to refer to all of the equipment worn by a horse who is used for riding or driving. It is usually made and supplied by a saddlery, a company which specializes in making equestrian equipment and commonly carries supplies for riders as well as horses. Numerous things can be considered tack, including saddles, bridles, and all their parts, along with breastplates, martingales, halters, driving harness, and other equestrian equipment. Learning how to select and care for tack is an important part of learning how to ride.
The two primary pieces of tack are a saddle and bridle. Although non-equestrians think of these objects as being relatively generic, saddles and bridles are actually customized to the horse and application. In addition to the primary division between English and Western equipment, saddles can be found intended for use on the trail, in the show ring, on endurance rides, for jumping, and in numerous other equestrian disciplines. Since many disciplines have very specific equipment requirements, many riders have several saddles for use in training and showing. In addition, the saddle must be fit to the horse, as larger horses will require larger saddles and girths, while small horses need smaller ones. Bridles are also customized for the discipline the horse is trained in, and include interchangeable bits and reins.
Numerous pieces of tack are designed to attach to the saddle, including girths used to keep the saddle on, stirrups for the riders feet, a breastplate to keep the saddle from sliding, and a martingale to keep the horse from raising its head. This is made in a variety of materials and finishes to coordinate with saddles of all styles. Some tack is also specifically designed for driving, which requires a special harness that fits the horse and the vehicle it is being attached to.
Leather and nylon are the two primary materials used to make tack, depending on its intended purpose. For formal disciplines like dressage, leather is the preferred material in the ring, while endurance riders tend to use lightweight nylon saddles, as they are easier on the horse during a long haul. Leather tack needs to be regularly soaped and polished in order to stay supple and attractive, while nylon versions require less routine care.
I spent a few hours stuck in a tack shop recently waiting for a friend to get fitted for cowboy boots. I was surprised by the level of craftsmanship of all the leather goods. Some of the metalwork was equally impressive.