Everything in Its Place

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At riding schools, every lesson begins and concludes in the tack room. Because it’s a focal point for students, tack management becomes essential, so each rider can locate the gear that matches his or her assigned horse. Because saddlery is crucial to a successful lesson program or summer camp, your equipment is a valuable asset. That’s why it is important to organize your equipment to be safe, secure and practical. The added benefit is that it can save you money and worry.

Design for Safety

Make your tack room safe for both you and your clients to avoid accidents that can affect your barn’s profitability. Authorized staff and riders should be able to enter the room to store or retrieve tack with minimal risk. It’s a busy space, so reduce possible hazards by starting with non-slip flooring and a ceiling high enough to allow your tallest rider to stand erect. Consider your youngest, oldest and most accident-prone riders. Arrange the area’s fittings with sufficient space so people can safely enter and exit. Add lights if necessary—dark leather straps in a dark room can entangle arms or legs.

Set saddle racks at heights convenient for the intended riders, with your smaller, child-sized models closest to the floor. Your racks should be solid, so any rider can slide a saddle free without it falling due to the rack shifting. You can choose between wall-mounted or free-standing racks, buying manufactured metal models or crafting your own of wood.

Patricia Kinnaman operates the Traditional Equitation School at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center and manages more than 50 school horses and 500 lessons a week. “The best racks are metal ones,” she says. “They bolt right to the wall. We use English racks for English saddles and Western ones for Western.” Her school is the first in the West to become a riding establishment approved by the British Horse Society (BHS).

Kinnaman maintains two tack rooms, each 8 feet by 16 feet in size. “Doors open at both ends,” she says, “so you can go in, get your saddle and go out the other way. The rooms are carpeted and have lights.”

Jane Shaw teaches at her Thumbs Up Riding Club at North Middle Ranch in Lake View Terrace, California. She explains that the farm stores 20 saddles on one wall of its tack room on a bank of stainless-steel racks. The racks slide into receptacles on a wall-mounted plate and are stacked five high, in sets of three and two. “Adults can easily reach the top one,” she says, “and a 10-year-old can reach the bottom three racks.” About 20 students ride her 10 school horses during the week, and she also runs day camps during school vacations.

Joanne Young at Houghton College Equestrian Center, N.Y., describes her tack room: “Our saddles are mostly on wall-mounted racks, purchased from State Line tack. A couple of the heavier Western saddles are on free-standing saddle racks. The wall-mounted racks are in three tiers, with the saddles used by the smallest riders on the bottom racks.”

Other hangers keep your strap goods off the floor. Metal bridle brackets, coated in vinyl, store bridles, halters, reins and martingales. Flexible plastic hooks can also hold straps. Wall-mounted pegs or a tack-cleaning hook can hold girths stored separately from saddles.

Protecting the Gear

Besides safeguarding its users, your tack room should also protect the items stored within its walls. In this enclosed area, maintain tack in usable condition and protect it from theft, the climate and animals.

Safeguard your valuable equipment with locks on entry doors and interior cabinets. It might be wise to choose to establish two tack rooms: one for your riding students and the other for saddlery belonging to you and your boarders. A separate tack room can house those items your students don’t need, such as horse clothing and medical supplies.

Store leather goods away from extreme temperatures and humidity. If possible, dedicate a rack to each saddle; however, limited space sometimes means stacking saddles. Leather needs to breathe, even when secured in a locked room and tubular metal racks allow air to reach the saddle’s underside so leather panels and sheepskin can air out between uses.

School tack requires regular maintenance. “We have a rule that every piece of tack used gets cleaned by the user every time it is used,” says Young. “A safety check is done by the instructor on all tack before a student is allowed to mount.”

Kinnaman’s staff attends to tack on Mondays when the school is closed. They launder saddle pads, sterilize brushes and hoof picks, and spray shared riding helmets with Lysol. They also inspect stirrup leathers and girths every week.

Good Routine Equals Efficiency

In a well-managed tack room, you expedite rider access to tack and grooming kits. And your tack room operates like a library, where clients check out items and then return them to storage.

At Liz Sanchez Training Stable in Albuquerque, N. M., “the instructors write each rider’s name and horse’s name on the white board outside the tack shed,” says Beth Piper, an instructor at the school. “Each rider is assigned to one of the cross ties: Number 1, 2 or 3. Their grooming boxes are numbered by the cross tie.” The barn has three cross ties, each containing two grooming stalls for a total of six horses at a time. “The system is great for us,” adds Piper. “The young students are self-sufficient. The older ones have the job of keeping all the tack labeled and the brush boxes organized.”

This barn has a day camp and lesson program with 14 school horses. Piper says with this system, even riders as young as six are able to locate their own tack. “The adults like it, too. They want to do it on their own.”

Shaw maintains a collection of saddles for riders in small, medium and large sizes at Thumbs Up. “I have a chart that lists the saddles. It tells what the tree is and lists each horse and corresponding tree size.”

Young describes a similar system at Houghton College: “A master list of saddles is posted in the tack room with the names of all horses that saddle fits. Any horse with a specially-fitted saddle has its name tag attached to the D-ring on that saddle.”

With a smaller number of saddles, you can eyeball the racks for a quick inventory. Kinnaman keeps track of her 48 English and 25 Western saddles on the computer and counts saddles every evening. “We update the computer inventory every six months and we take pictures of each saddle and log it in a notebook.”

She identifies saddles by attaching round brass tags to them and also brands the leather with the school’s initials.

A saddle’s pad can remain with it, either under the saddle on the rack or on the seat upside down to air out. Or, you might choose to keep all the pads together.

On hunt seat horses, Shaw uses thin square schooling pads next to the horse and then a fitted hunt seat pad on top of that. All the pads are arranged on three sawhorses. “I set them in a triangle in the middle of the tack room floor. I wash them fairly often and interchange the thin pads,” she says. “The fitted pads are not in contact with the horses.”

The school horse’s bridle is also identified. A horse may have several bridles, if used for multiple disciplines. Piper says bridles are labeled with the horse’s name, marked on white tape on the browband.

Young says that each horse at the college has a labeled bridle rack with hooks on the wall just under it to hang that horse’s girth for a jumping saddle. Western bridles are hung on labeled racks separate from the English bridles.

Shaw describes an identification system using colored tape: “Cloth tape is very helpful to mark tack, because you can peel it off to change a name. We mark the halters and lead ropes using the same color for one horse.”

Hang girths beside their saddles or group them all together. Western cinches should remain attached to the offside latigo, folded over the seat or horn for safety. For the shared riding helmets, group them by size so riders can easily locate a helmet that fits. List the size on the helmet’s crown, on tape or with a permanent marker.

To properly manage your tack room, remember the proverb, “A place for everything and everything in its place.” Or, as Kinnaman summarizes, “Organization, labeling, cleanliness and following through are the keys.” [sm]