On the Right Tack

How do you handle a facility where every school horse has Western and English tack? It's all in the organization.

Your lesson program relies on safe, durable tack. With a steady schedule of students practicing and showing, your tack must perform every day—as trustworthy as your school horses.

Joni Fitts has refined the selection, use and storage of tack over the past 22 years that she has operated the Joni Fitts School of Horsemanship (JFSH). She runs three concurrent lesson programs at Pretty Penny Ranch, Scottsdale, Arizona, using 30 school horses.

She and her assistants instruct the general public, from six-year-olds through senior citizens. She also teaches students from Scottsdale Community College, along with horsemanship skills for beginners through the City of Scottsdale Parks and Recreation. In all, the JFSH and Parks and Recreation students total more than 100 each week. When college is in session, these numbers increase.

Her horses represent all breeds, ages and talents. “We have horses just for walk-trot lessons, up to those riders who want to advance and learn how to train horses,” Fitts says. “Some students ride in open hunter-jumper shows, or in Quarter Horse, Arabian or Appaloosa shows.” She has two three-year-olds, and the oldest school horse is 24.

One other complication:?“Most of the horses are privately owned,” says Fitts. “People put them in the school and I pay one-half the board.”

All this variety makes managing tack a challenge. So Fitts has developed a system to assure that her school tack can handle every situation. Here’s how she does it:

Acquire the Right Tack

Tack must match the type of lessons taught, for both riders and horses. For the JFSH, Fitts buys new and used saddles, including many Wintecs. “I buy them for the maintenance and cost,” she says. “I can’t buy a lot of $1,200 saddles.”

The Wintec all-purpose style, she says, is “great in a school situation. Everything I teach is built on dressage. The kids want to do cavalletti and cross-rails. They can sit deeper in a Wintec than in a close-contact saddle, and they first need that secure seat.

“I do buy some used Stubbens, Crosbys and Passiers, so the riders can get used to different saddles.”

Her horses carry riders in both English and Western lessons. Fitts has a mix of 70-percent English riders and 30 percent Western.

For example, the beginner students from Parks and Recreation start in Western saddles. Fitts stocks a variety of leather saddles in various sizes. “This year I bought my first Wintec Western saddles. They are so light. I have some elderly riders, too, and they can’t pick up the standard Western saddles,” she says.

She buys bridles through Congress Leather. “They are durable, safe and very economical,” she notes.

Fit Tack to Horse and Rider

The more school horses you have, the more you’ll need to adjust tack. Fitts gets around this problem by assigning every horse his own equipment. “Every horse has a Western and an English bridle, already adjusted for him,” she says. “Each has its own halter.” The student doesn’t need to change the lengths of cheekpieces to fit the horse. And she knows the assigned saddle and girth will fit that horse.

Organize Tack for Easy Access

The more lessons you teach, the more vital is an organized tackroom. You want your students to be able to locate exactly what tack they need for each lesson, on any horse.

To that end, Fitts maintains a list by horse’s name, his number, his stall location and his tack. Tack includes the saddle and any special equipment such as orthopedic saddle pads, or leg wraps or boots.

The JFSH tack is spread across two rooms. The main tackroom contains bridle racks for the 60 bridles—English and Western for every horse—all hung on racks according to the horse’s number. Saddles are grouped by type, each with a number.

Pads and girths are arranged by type in an adjacent tackroom, along with “overflow” saddles, tiedowns, martingales, boots and leg wraps. Fitts also maintains storage for extra tack, such as replacement reins, curb chains and bridle parts.

When a JFSH?student arrives to tack up, she consults the list for her assigned horse, then assembles his halter, bridle, saddle, pad and girth.

Her next stop is to collect the horse’s assigned grooming kit. Each horse has his own grooming bucket of equipment, identified by his number. Each contains a standard kit of curry, two brushes and a hoof pick. A separate Rubbermaid portable shed houses these buckets, along with bottles of fly spray. Another portable shed stores shampoo and other bathing needs.

School policy requires every rider to wear a helmet. For those who don’t own one, Fitts stocks a supply of SEI-certified helmets in a range of head sizes. Helmets are sprayed inside with Lysol once daily and disinfected once a week.

Examine Tack Condition

Your riders’ safety—and your business itself—rely on sound equipment that performs reliably. A broken rein, girth, stirrup leather or cheekpiece could cause a serious accident and legal problems.

“Liability is a huge issue,” says Fitts. “We make sure our equipment is checked. We have never had any equipment failure in all these years, because we’re up on it.” That’s part of the explanation for her safety record:?in over two decades of teaching thousands of lessons, Fitts has had no serious injuries to students.

With the school’s large supply of gear, Fitts employs a full-time equipment person to handle school tack.

The equipment specialist inspects and cleans each piece of tack twice a week. “It takes one entire day to clean 30 English or Western bridles,” Fitts says. This employee also sorts gear that needs to be sent for repair and launders the pads that can be washed.

Fitts sees girths and bridles as the articles requiring the most inspection and repair or replacement, along with stirrup leathers.

“We now use some synthetic leathers,”?she says. “Nylon lasts well, but nylon stirrup leathers are hard to adjust. The synthetic leathers start to crack, and then they fray where the vinyl wears off.”

Some synthetic saddles experience wear as well, she says. Pressure from the rider’s legs can wear into the fabric, and can form a hole through the fabric layer.

Clean Tack

Regular cleaning maintains the school’s tack. Conditioning leather also prolongs its life and extends your investment.

“I’ve had some bridles for years, because I take care of them,” said Fitts. “I go back to using Leather New. It’s quick and easy, and it keeps leather flexible. Some people can overoil leather, or wet it too much with saddle soap.”

Like most riding schools, she involves students in cleaning tack. After cleaning, each bridle is put up “figure-eighted” (the throatlatch wrapped around cheekpieces).

Her care pays off in reliable equipment. “Some tack can last more than a lifetime,” says Fitts. Her oldest saddle is about 80 years old—she purchased it from an estate sale of a trail horse stable. “I bought two old saddles from this trail horse operation,” she says. “They are solid, with the original seats.” That type of durability is worth a little care and attention.

Tack Sources

Here are some sources for the equipment that Fitts uses:

1) Wintec all-purpose saddles: Weatherbeeta USA Inc. 1-877-927-4337. Email:

2) State Line Tack:

3) Dover Saddlery:

4) Wintec Western saddles: Schneiders at 1-800-365-1311.

5) Valley Vet Supply:

6) Congress Leather: (Note: This company sells wholesale to qualified firms only.)

7) Farnam Leather New: Widely available at the above sources and your local tack shop.






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