Friday, January 17, 2014

Is Your Bridle Really Clean?

Have you ever arrived at a horse show with tack that you thought you had cleaned thoroughly the night before, only to find that it looks dull or, worse, has noticeable grime on it? This is an easy situation to get into if you don't clean your tack daily or if you just quickly wipe down your tack without really giving attention to the areas where dirt builds up the most easily. Clean tack is not only a sign of respect for the judge, but it also contributes to that first impression that tells the judge whether or not you are there to win.

Wetting the layer of grime while washing tack can actually make the dirty layer temporarily appear dark and transparent, which is why you often notice the next day, when the tack is dry, that it isn't as clean as you thought it was. Tack that is truly clean has a very recognizable lustre and richness that is well worth the extra effort.

To avoid the surprise of tack that isn't as clean as you thought it was, there are certain areas of the bridle that can serve as warning signs that your tack needs a very thorough cleaning. Because it's difficult to spot the grime once it has gotten wet, I recommend scheduling the intensive cleaning session for at least two days before you show, giving you an opportunity to spot and re-clean any missed areas the next day. 

Here are the areas of the bridle to which you should pay extra attention. Other spots will still need attention, but I have found that these are the most easily missed:

Inside the browband and noseband:

These areas will not be visible while you're showing, but I imagine that horses must appreciate not having sticky, rough surfaces in contact with their faces. Less-than-thorough cleaning here will also often indicate a lack of cleaning elsewhere.

How to clean it: While some prefer to use a toothbrush to get into the small spaces, I actually prefer to scrape out the stitched areas with a fingernail, being careful not to scratch the leather. After a wipe with your soapy sponge, the grime should become soft enough to scrape off, and following up with a clean wet sponge should take care of any remaining residue.

The buckles:

Look closely at the buckles, particularly where the tongue of the buckle rests. Dirt builds up easily on buckles and dulls them. 

How to clean it: Use a wet, soapless sponge to wipe off any dirt. If there is a lot built up, gentle use of your fingernails can again be very effective. Be sure to lift up the various parts in order to clean the buckles thoroughly without leaving grimy edges.

The insides of your reins:

This is one of the worst locations for grime build-up, thanks to the movement of the reins against the often-sweaty neck. Not only does this indicate that your tack needs cleaning more often, but the grime is also visible from the other side under your horse's neck!

How to clean it: Once again, I find my fingernails to be most effective here. Wipe the area down with water and saddle soap to soften the dirt, and then run your fingernail gently down the length of the dirty area, making enough passes to cover the width of the rein. Wipe off any remaining residue with the sponge and then repeat as necessary. Don't forget to pay close attention to the raised strip where the grippy part of the reins begins.

Where the reins attach to the bit:

This area tends to attract a lot of saliva from the mouth, making it both a magnet for little bits of hay and prone to dryness. Keeping it clean (and conditioned) will help the leather last a long time without failing on you mid-ride.

How to clean it: Try to squish your sponge enough that it will fit in there and then expand to pull everything out with it. If that doesn't work, the trusty fingernail/toothbrush or unfastening it to open it all up will do the trick.

The throatlatch:

This is one of the least obvious areas to look at, but it is often dirty! There is an area on each side of the throatlatch, just above the bottom of the horse's chin, where dirt can build up thanks to the motion of the loose leather and any flexing of the head and neck. It usually creates a line that will be slightly dull or appear a slightly different colour than the rest of the throatlatch.

How to clean it: If sponging alone won't do it, gently run your fingernail down the dirty area and then sponge it off. I find that this area is one of the worst for appearing clean when wet and then reverting back to being dull when dry, so pay extra attention to it the day after the thorough tack cleaning.

Some other areas to pay attention to are any with deep stitching (surrounding any raised areas), as well as holes on straps which can become clogged with dirt (the tongue of the throat latch buckle is very handy for cleaning out clogged holes). These areas are, however, easy to clean in a single session and don't tend to suffer from the same level of grime build-up as do the above-mentioned trouble spots. If you are able to keep these five special areas clean, it's likely that the rest of your bridle will end up spotless as well.

Friday, January 10, 2014

FAQ, Part 12

How do you read distances on a hunter course diagram?

The distances on a course diagram for the hunter ring are usually written in feet rather than in strides. This allows you to see which lines are set shorter or longer than others (those heading towards the in-gate will generally be slightly longer to account for the horses being more eager to head "home"). If you memorize the multiples of 12, or whichever stride length your division is likely to be set at, you can quickly convert a 60 foot line into four strides, 72 feet to five strides, 84 feet to six strides, etc.

What should you do with the string on a fly veil?
A well-fitted fly veil with enough space
behind the ears for the bridle to sit upon

If the fly veil has a sufficiently wide piece behind the ears for the crown of the bridle to sit upon, the long string provided to keep the fly veil tied in place should be cut off. Quality fly veils generally do not come with these strings because they aren't needed to keep a well-designed bonnet on the head.

If you wish to compete using a fly veil that comes with a string, try riding with the string simply tucked away and not tied. If it stays in place, you should be able to safely cut the string off without worrying about your bonnet flying away. If your bridle does not keep the fly veil in place on its own, I would suggest keeping that one just for schooling and finding a different bonnet for showing. There are no rules against wrapping the string around the throat latch to tie a fly bonnet in place, but I find it messy-looking and distracting (and not wrapping the string puts you at risk of tying it too tightly).

What should you do if there is a loose horse?

The answer will depend on what the loose horse is doing and how your own horse tends to behave. Many recommendations call for dismounting your own horse, but that could lead to multiple loose horses if your horse gets spooked and pulls away from you. My preference in a warm-up ring is to stay mounted unless your horse is behaving in a dangerous way that could result in a bad fall. The exception to this is if the loose horse is a stallion and you are riding a mare. The safest place for the rider of a mare when there is a loose stallion around is off of the mare's back, so ride as far away from the stallion as you safely can and then dismount. You should not attempt to exit an enclosed area if opening the gate would risk the loose horse also getting out.

If those on the ground are having trouble catching the horse and you know that your horse is well-behaved in close proximity to other horses, you may attempt to calm and catch the loose horse by riding slowly towards it.

In the show ring, a loose horse can be contained in the ring until it is caught, and there is usually little danger to other horses if there is only one horse in the ring at a time (unless the horse jumps out of the ring, which will simply result in the above warm-up ring scenario). If a horse becomes loose during a flat class, you should listen for instructions from the judge as you remain under the judge's orders.

If you hear a call of "loose horse" in the stabling area, be on the alert. Loose horses can charge down aisles without notice and without regard for who or what might be in their way.

Which horse shoes are legal for showing in the hunter ring?

As far as I am aware, there are no rules in Canada about shoeing for the hunter ring (though it is always a good idea to double-check, and to check any local rules as well). The judge is unlikely to notice what is underneath your horse's feet while you are cantering by, anyway, so if a horse requires special shoeing (for example, an egg bar shoe), it is unlikely to be a factor in a performance class. It's possible that in a class judged on conformation a judge might take unconventional shoeing into account if it indicates that the horse has problems, but that would be at the individual judge's discretion and you could simply avoid entering such classes if your horse is shod specially. In the US, light pads and bar shoes are explicitly allowed, but it is noted that such shoes might count against horses in Conformation classes.

Steel and aluminum are both popular materials; many hunters are shod in aluminum because the shoes are lighter and therefore allow the horse to move better.

Avoid using hoof boots for hunter classes. While I am not aware of a rule that explicitly forbids them, they could fall under the general category of boots, and are unconventional on top of that. Hoof boots have a very obvious look and sound that would be difficult for any judge to miss.