Imagine going into your barn a few days before Christmas and finding your tack room nearly empty—17 saddles gone; $35,000 worth of equipment stolen. That’s what happened to Archie Pickett and Jan Corum of Wea Valley Ranch in Lafayette, Indiana, nearly two years ago. “Whoever did it had done some scouting around. It looked like they just walked in like they owned the place, jammed a steel bar into the door and cut the lock,” says Pickett.
In the horse business for more than 40 years, the couple has made a lot of friends and dealt with folks all over the world. Many people have come through their barn, but they never imagined they’d need more than a padlock to keep someone out while they were at home—on the same property—asleep in the middle of the night.
Disturbing scenarios like this are rare, but they can be serious. Just before this break-in, another barn was hit in Wisconsin. Afterward, there was a major theft on the Indiana-Ohio line, and then a series of others that progressively moved eastward. “We came to the opinion that they were working their way to a port,” says Tippecanoe County Sheriff’s Department detective Mick Gillen, who worked the case. Barn managers can take precautions to help protect their tack rooms from the same situation. There are also ways to make your tack more easily identifiable if it is stolen.
There are six steps you can take to help safeguard your tack room from theft:
1. Lock the door.
Having a lock on a door doesn’t guarantee your tack room is safe—Wea Valley’s tack room was locked—but a really solid lock, such as one that cannot be cut with bolt cutters, can make a thief think twice. Tack rooms need to be locked whenever they’re not in use.
2. Install bright lights.
Motion-sensor lights can deter a would-be burglar from a nighttime job.
3. Keep a noisy dog.
Whether the dog is a threat to strangers or not, you want one that can alert you that someone is on the property.
4. Set up a surveillance system.
“You can put cameras in your barn. You can even put up fake cameras,” says Stolen Horse International founder Debi Metcalfe. “Whether it’s real or not real, never let anybody know it’s not; not even your best friend in the barn.”
A security alarm is more costly, but also a good investment.
5. Post warning signs.
Homeowners post signs on their property stating their home is protected by a security system, and barn owners can do the same. Metcalfe suggests you post signs warning that your horses and equipment are permanently identified (more on that later). Her website, www.netposse. com, has a selection of signs for farm and trailer, with a few humorous choices, as well.
6. Know who’s in your barn.
Tack and saddles can be taken in broad daylight, especially in a busy barn with people coming and going.
“Approach newcomers in the barn to see who they are and what they’re doing,” suggests Robert Jordan, director of the Mississippi Agricultural and Livestock Theft Bureau.Take down a description of people and vehicles you might not recognize as “regulars.” If someone is checking out your barn as a potential target, it’s good to have information about them. If a nearby barn gets burglarized, your unknown visitor might be a lead for law enforcement.
If it Happens to You
An obvious first step after discovering tack missing is to call local law enforcement. In an emotional state, it’s difficult to think through a logical progression of events, but remember those television crime shows—the police need to examine the scene and collect what evidence they can before you go in and disturb it. “Usually it’s a well-intentioned owner or bystander who hinders the investigation in some way,” such as by sweeping the aisle or cleaning broken glass, says Jordan. When police arrive, provide them with all of the information that you can about the tack. Rely on boarders for assistance, too. You should have photos of all of the saddles and valuable equipment in your barn. Take photos from all angles, and be sure to capture any scratches, brands, or other identifying marks. The police will likely need all the help you can offer. “Oftentimes, law enforcement may not be familiar with different types of tack,” explains Jordan. “We end up having to work as a team,” says Gillen, who admittedly had not seen a stolen tack case before December 2005.
Photos will not only help to prove ownership, but will help officers distinguish a Billy Cook cutting saddle from a Crates reining saddle.
You should have an inventory of all of the tack and valuable equipment, including their identifying marks and their serial numbers. “Put copies of all of it into an envelope, seal it, and mail it to yourself,” suggests Metcalfe. Don’t open the envelope. In the event that you actually need to provide this information to police, you have what’s called a “poor man’s copyright”—a date-stamped proof of ownership.
Some saddles already have serial numbers engraved on them—keep these recorded somewhere safe. For those without serial numbers, add your own. Metcalfe suggests etching your state initials followed by driver’s license number on a piece of the tack that cannot be removed. Don’t use your social security number, she cautions, because if your tack is targeted, the thief will not only have your saddle but also your identity.
The FBI has a National Crime Information Center database into which law enforcement can enter the serial numbers of items reported stolen. If your tack is recovered, the agency that finds it can check its identification number against the database. Likewise, if you use your driver’s license number with state ID, you can be found through your state motor vehicle department.
You can also have saddles microchipped, just like you do your horses. However, these can be read only if the person who finds the tack knows the microchip is in there. Only the size of a grain of rice, you wouldn’t be able to tell the microchip was inside just by looking at the saddle. After working with the police, start your own search. Use your network of friends, clients, and colleagues for assistance. Provide them with the same identification information you gave to police. While stolen tack is usually moved out of the area, notify tack stores, pawn shops, and local auctions of the items. Keep an eye on eBay and other online tack sellers, too. Stolen Horse International is also a great resource for missing tack. “If they send us enough information, we send out an alert on the tack. We want people in the area to know this tack has been stolen,” says Metcalfe. Stolen Horse International has a network of “NetPosse” members, law enforcement groups, online discussion groups, and state horse councils that receive e-mail alerts as well as 70,000 to 80,000 unique website visitors every month.
Recovering stolen tack is not an easy job. “We probably have a recovery rate of 25 to 30 percent,” says Jordan. Barn owners are best served by taking safety precautions, making sure tack and equipment are identified, and being vigilant to guard against theft striking at their barn.